Newark Main St reopening

First outdoor dining event on Main Street in Newark on June 25, 2020.

Newark City Council narrowly voted to continue their stricter-than-Delaware private gathering limits, but did at least give clues when they could go away.

In a 4-3 vote, council voted to maintain the 12-person indoor and 20-person outdoor private gathering restriction, but not before they spent nearly an hour trying to figure out what the end game will look like.

James Horning eventually recommended using City of Newark data from the MyHealthyCommunity page the state has been using to track COVID-19 cases. 

His proposal was a approved, with the two key metrics coming from the state's reopening schools plan: percent positive (less than 3%) and new cases per 100,000 people (less than 10). Newark's 7-day averages as of Sunday were 8.4% and 8.3 cases.

In order to end Newark's restrictions, both of those achievements would need to be reached for three straight weeks. 

Police Chief Paul Tiernan told council that there haven't been a lot of gathering limit citations issued in the past two weeks.

"Since September 13, I think we've only had about five of the large gatherings, and they were not extremely large, so it's been working out well. It's been a mix of some university students and some who were not."

Tiernan added that the reduction of students around campus and gathering limits have combined for a major positive for his department.

"Usually at this time of year on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night from about 11 to early in the morning we're just swamped going from house party to house party. Usually we have a whole platoon of officers at a house party, breaking that up, and as they're getting a hold of that, I'm usually sending an officer to the next five house party calls to see which is the worst, and the whole platoon goes to that. We haven't had that, so besides dealing with the COVID issue, it's helped with the community disorder."

University of Delaware representative Caitlin Olsen said the school has been trying to help Newark PD clamp down. 

"You cannot tell us you don't know the rules any more, those rules have been made very clear. Actually, everyone who has come to the Office of Student Conduct has admitted they know the rules."

That knowledge of the rules is why Jason Lawhorn quickly shot down any thought of moving the restrictions even tighter.

"They're smart about it, if you want to call it smart. They are gathering inside, and they are hiding, and they are finding ways when they're having their parties tell people when they're coming to not all come at once, so it doesn't look like they're all coming. That's a behavioral thing, and I don't think changing the gathering limits will change those people from those behaviors."

Newark said they had approved eight permits to extend the private gathering restrictions, with another two pending, with the average turnaround being about 24 hours.

Before tackling the gathering limits, City Council voted unanimously to extend provisions allowing the city's restaurants to use additional outdoor space for dining.

City Manager Tom Coleman supported the extension, but said as it gets cooler, he will not be recommending restaurants be allowed to put up awnings or tents.

"Our plan would be to heat the spaces as best you can to make it comfortable, but it shouldn't be an extension of the indoors, it's an extension of the outdoor seating."

The outdoor dining extension would end upon Governor Carney lifting that part of the State of Emergency, or movement by the state legislature on HB 349 or any other bill that would direct dining rules in Delaware during the pandemic.