There was a good deal of optimism during Governor John Carney's bi-weekly update on Delaware's response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its crawl toward the goal of reopening the economy.
"Consistently, the data that I look at the most--and that we look at as a team most intently--is that hospital data, because it doesn't make any assumptions about people who haven't been tested. It doesn't make any assumptions about asymptomatic spread," Carney said. "People that are in the hospitals, we know who they are. We know what kind of condition they're in. We know if they have COVID-19, or that we presume that they have COVID-19. We know whether they need a ventilator or critical care or not. And right now, that hospitalization number has been going down, which is why we're moving and taking interim steps to reopen the economy. Some will say, 'You're not moving fast enough.' Interestingly enough, I get more complaints, in Sussex County where we have the most cases positive cases than any other part of our state."
It's a complaint Carney has dealt with regularly since shutting the state down as a result of a State of Emergency declaration and close to one-and-a-half-dozen amendments and modifications that forced additional restrictions or rule relaxations as the state moved through the states of slowing the viral outbreak.
"Our message has always been clear; that we're going to do it based on the science, and based on the data, and based on what's good for all of us," he said. "It can't be every man for themselves. It has to be, 'We're all in this together and we're going to get through it together, and what you do and your actions affect your neighbors, and what your neighbors do affects you.'"
Delaware will begin testing 80,000 Delawareans a month for novel coronavirus COVID-19, Gover…
As Delaware strives to meet it's self-set litmus test of 80,000 COVID-19 tests per month, Carney's confidence in the low number of viral hospitalizations has led to loosened restrictions on Delaware beaches in time for Memorial Day weekend and interim steps for expanded operation for retail businesses.
"In order to have a healthy economy, you have to have a healthy community," Carney said. "One of our leading restaurateurs on our call last week said, 'I need to have conditions where my workers are going to feel safe to come back to work, cook the food, work the kitchen, clean the tables, and a condition where customers are going to come back and dine at my establishment.' Georgia arguably moved too quickly to reopen their economy and restaurants, and in their first week, only 88% of the previous population...showed up to dine at their restaurants. That's not the kind of confidence that we want to see here in our state. We're all eager to get open, and we will do it in a way that enables us to have a healthy community, to have confidence in coming back to restaurants and other public places, and where workers feel safe."
An option currently in the works is allowing visitors to remain outside while taking a trip to a business they've missed. Social distancing will remain a part of life moving forward, at least for the immediate future, and it will be important for businesses to enable that feeling of customer safety to adhere to strict guidelines during the reopening process.
"The thing that we've heard so much positive response to [has been] working with restaurants to expand outdoor seating, which is safer than indoor seating when in close proximity to folks," the governor said. "So with the fresh air, [we're working] to enable [restaurants] to work with their local towns and municipalities to provide for additional seating and tabeling there which also is adhering to the social distancing approach."
A portion of Carney's direction to food and drink establishments read:
"All Delaware food and drink establishments may apply to their local municipal or county jurisdiction to expand their outdoor seating capacity. Plans for adding outdoor capacity must consider local traffic patterns and noise ordinances. Boundaries must be clearly defined to prevent beverages from being carried offsite. Applicants that hold a liquor license must also have their plans reviewed by the Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control prior to receiving approval."
Some businesses will find that easier to achieve than others. While restaurants, bars, taprooms and craft breweries can apply for expanded outdoor seating options beginning on May 22 for authorization on their reopening June 1, other retailers will be able to make appointments for visitors if that helps enable safe visiting of their establishment.
"We're also adding to the retail rolling reopening, an appointment-only [option,]" Carney said, adding it will go into effect Wednesday, May 20, the governor's birthday. "That'll be effective tomorrow--May 20, I like that date--and it'll be another way of getting some revenue to those retailers."
Retail establishments newly recognized on Tuesday, May 19, included clothing and shoe stores, used merchandise retailers, and florists. Those retailers can begin receiving on-site customers by appointment beginning Wednesday, May 20.
"We're asking members of the public...stay home if you feel sick," said Director for the Delaware Division of Small Business Damien DeStefano. "If you're an employee--particularly if you're an employee of a business that's now reopening and you may be going back to work for the first time--make sure to check themselves before they go to work. We encourage people to do that...It's important that we're continuing to physically distance from one another as we're outside as we go back and some of these things reopen. It's still going to be critical that we do that to ensure that we continue to see our numbers heading in the right direction...On the business side, there's general guidance on cleaning common areas, making sure that their break rooms are closed, frequency with which you have to be disinfecting and maintaining things like a bathroom...providing hand sanitizer to your customers as they come into your building, and just general general things that all businesses should be doing, both at this time and as we move into Phase I reopening to make sure their businesses are safe as they have customers coming in."
Dr. Karyl Rattay, Director for the Division of Public Health, also shared positive news, saying Delaware had met goals that make it appear safer for expanded medical procedures to take place.
"Rewind the clock a little bit and go back to March," she said. "One of our biggest fears was that we would be overwhelming our healthcare system. And as we watched what was happening in New York City, I think that enhanced our fears. Delaware hospitals, Delaware healthcare providers across the board--including our dental or oral health providers in the state--all did a fantastic job across the board stopping elective procedures at that time. Two main reasons for that were not only did we need to make sure that we had adequate capacity for sick people in our hospitals, in our ICU, adequate ventilators when needed. But also, we were struggling with a significant shortage of PPE, or personal protective equipment."
She said those providers rose to the occasion, and goals have been met, including a proper stockpiling surplus of PPE. It also meant, now, with a better handle on the spread of COVID-19, those organizations could resume operations.
"As the governor just showed you, for our hospitalizations, we have seen a steady decrease for COVID-positive patients," Rattay said. "And although we're not exactly where we want to be in that we don't have as many [hospital] gowns as we'd like to have in the state, we're doing so much better with PPE, in fact, across the board for hospitals and healthcare providers, that everyone's seen an opening of the supply lines for PPE. We're really happy to see those improvements and, because of all of that, it is a very appropriate time for hospitals and healthcare providers across the board to begin to resume elective medical procedures."
Preventative care appointments and patients needing hospital visits they may have been delaying were urged by Rattay to begin making those trips again to get the non-emergency care they may need.
"Normally, in a non-pandemic time, most people are aware that we do a lot of promoting preventive care here and certainly Just annual checkups and visits, cancer screenings, etcetera. A lot of that has been put on hold, including management of chronic diseases where people might go in on a monthly basis for management of their diabetes or their hypertension. And so we're really happy, in coordination with our Medical Society of Delaware and the hospitals, and the [Delaware State] Dental Society, and others, we're at a place where we are all in agreement that it's time to resume elective and non-urgent medical procedures...These are procedures which, if you don't do them at this point, you could increase morbidity or mortality."
Things like pediatric vaccinations, which have gone down last few months, newborn and early childhood care for medical, mental, or behavior health, mammograms and colonoscopies, all examples of being in the vein of important, but not critical. Rattay stressed now is a good time to begin scheduling visits to start getting caught up on those appointments.
Delaware's state House of Representative Caucus sent a letter to Governor John Carney on Thu…
Despite the positivity, Carney showed signs the pushback from those calling to reopen the state more quickly was wearing slightly on him. With some frustration, he detailed the steps Delaware has taken to get itself in the position it currently finds itself.
"Let me just make a couple common sense comments," Carney said. "We're not making this stuff up. I'm not making this stuff up. This is advice we're getting from federal CDC. And with respect to mask wearing, we've been clear...since we required it, that is more for protecting someone else than it is from protecting the mask wearer. And so, if you think about it, it's really a question of: Are you just thinking about yourself? Is this, 'Every man or woman for him or herself,' or is it, 'We're all in this together?' And I'm going to help by wearing a mask to protect, maybe, your grandmother from getting this, because she's the most vulnerable in our community. So at some level, I think you got to cut to the chase with respect to the messaging and why these restrictions and requirements are put in place. That's not to annoy people. It's to protect others, and the community, so they can do what they want to do. Go back more unfettered in the community, at work and at play."
While frustrated, Carney didn't let things like what he called "posturing" in a recent letter sent to him from state Republican congressional leaders deter him from recognizing the good people had been doing in adhering to safety guidelines and protocols and helping everyone reach the goal line sooner.
"This is a time for the people of our state to pull together. This is a situation that we've never experienced in our history. It's uncharted territory for all of us. We've tried to make decisions using the data and the science to inform those decisions," Carney said in closing. "I just want to thank the people of our state, who have proven once again, that if we stick together, if we take the kind of neighborly attitude that's always been a hallmark of the way we live our lives here in Delaware, that we're going to get through this, and I'm confident that we will will be stronger on the other side. When I say 'the other side,' it isn't to imply that we're going to just get to a new opening and everything will be like it was before. We're going to have to adjust to a new normal in order to operate until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment for this disease, but we'll get there. We'll get there faster, and we'll get there stronger, if we walk the road together. And that's why it's important that we do that and still follow the guidance and restrictions, follow the rules. And if we do, you'll protect yourselves and your neighbors, And we'll be able to do more things that we want to do, both at work and at play."