Declaring that Delawareans “face a difficult and challenging winter” from the coronavirus, Gov. John Carney ordered sharp new restrictions on restaurants, gatherings and other activities, saying the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases, increasing hospitalizations and deaths forced him to act.
The new measures, which take effect Monday, Nov. 23, are:
- Indoor service at restaurants is cut from 60% of fire capacity to 30%, with allowances for additional outdoor seating.
- Indoor gatherings in homes are limited to 10 people.
- Indoor gatherings outside of homes are capped at 30% of the venue’s fire capacity, but no more than 50 people. This includes events such as weddings, funerals, religious services, performances, political gatherings and events in public spaces.
- Outdoor public gatherings are limited to 50 people, but that cap can be expanded to 250 with the Division of Public Health’s approval.
In addition starting Dec. 1, youth sports organizations, teams and venues are prohibited from hosting or participating in tournaments with out-of-state teams. Delaware teams cannot travel across state lines for tournaments.
Carney did not change his guidance for schools, which can operate with a mix of online and in-class learning, or remote only. Scholastic sports can still be held in-state with precautions.
Carney issued his new restrictions on the day the Division of Public Health reported:
- The seven-day average number of new daily cases was 347.3 — more than twice what it was just two weeks ago and five times greater than in mid-August.
- The seven-day average for the rate of positive tests was 5.5%, compared with just 3.7% two weeks ago.
- The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized was 153 with 32 in critical condition. Just two weeks ago, there were 114 patients hospitalized, and in August just 29. The peak of hospitalizations was 337 in late April.
The total number of Delawareans who have died from coronavirus-related causes reached 739 Tuesday — a figure that is increasing at the rate of about one death a day.
Carney warned last week that stricter measures might be coming if the numbers didn’t decrease, and noted that hospitalizations are likely to increase in the coming weeks because they lag shortly behind the increase in cases.
When asked during his weekly coronavirus briefing how he would enforce the 10-person limit in homes, Carney said he was hoping for “voluntary” compliance and that authorities won’t be knocking on their doors to see, for example, how many people were in a house on Thanksgiving.
“These are difficult decisions, but we face a difficult and challenging winter,” Carney said about the latest revision to the State of Emergency rules he first implemented eight months ago. “COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising in Delaware and across the country. Our focus must be on protecting lives.”
Carney stressed that his administration will “also continue to support the Delaware families and small businesses who have been hardest hit by this crisis. Let’s all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. Wear a mask. Celebrate the holidays with immediate family only. Stay vigilant.”
To alleviate the hardship on affected businesses, Carney also announced he was doubling the DE Relief Grants program to $50 million. Qualifying businesses, including restaurants and taprooms, will receive double their original grant allocation.
The grants are part of the money Delaware received from the CARES Act. Since the money must be spent by Dec. 31, the application deadline is Dec. 4. The form can be found at www.delbiz.com/relief.
Carney’s move was immediately opposed by the state’s restaurant trade group.
“Although we continue to support action to protect the health of all Delawareans, we believe there is an unfounded impression that restaurants are part of the problem,” Delaware Restaurant Association President Carrie Leishman said in a written statement within an hour of Carney’s announcement. “As a result, restaurants will severely suffer from these inconsistent and restrictive mandates not applied to other industries.”
Then there are foes of any COVID-19 restrictions. One is former local GOP official Chris Rowe, who describes himself as a member of the Delaware Constitutional Republicans.
“We have in essence in John Carney a dictator who says here is what we’re going to do based on what I believe,” said Rowe, who argued that the Democrat-dominated General Assembly has been neutered in the process. “This is a flu that’s going to be with us for a while. Let’s stop acting like it’s the end of the world. We need to get about living and we need to stop these lockdowns.”
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