Governor curbs beach bars, delays Phase 3 indefinitely
WILMINGTON – Citing a spike in COVID-19 cases traced to state beach communities, Gov. John Carney is placing new restrictions on all bars in coastal Delaware before the start of the lucrative Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Carney also announced during his weekly press conference Tuesday that he was delaying the move to Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan indefinitely in order to ensure that the uptick in cases doesn’t get worse.
“Clearly, we’ve had an outbreak among bars, restaurants, social activities in Delaware beaches,” he said. “We also have witnessed across our state, but in particular in the beach communities, complacency with respect to mass wearing and social distancing.”
Carney noted repeatedly that he did not want Delaware to end up like other states experiencing dramatic spikes in cases, such as Texas, Florida, and Arizona. To that end, he is ordering new limits on bars in beach communities starting at 8 a.m. Friday, July 3.
Many bars in Dewey Beach, which has been hit with a number of cases, voluntarily shut down this past weekend in order to test employees and clean their establishments in the hope of remaining open for July 4. Those hopes were dashed by the governor’s precautionary move that limits bars in Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Long Neck, Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, West Fenwick Island, Ocean View, Millville and some unincorporated areas of east Sussex County to serving only seated patrons. Bars had been allowed to serve standing customers under the Phase 2 guidelines, but that will no longer be allowed.
As of Monday evening, Delaware has 64 patients hospitalized with the COVID-19 virus, 13 of whom are in critical condition. Both statistics are down slightly over the past few days, but the governor is particularly concerned about a rising number of cases found in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach.
After reporting more than 100 cases on Saturday and Sunday, the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) reported 98 new cases of the virus were detected Monday. Many of those cases were detected at Delaware beaches, with more expected to be announced after 1,300 restaurant workers were tested Tuesday.
DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay reported Tuesday that a June 25 test site in Rehoboth found 102 positive cases, translating to nearly 10% of all people tested that day. A June 26 event found 12 of 93 people tested to be positive, or nearly 15% of those tested.
The beach cases come after a cluster of teens celebrating Senior Week earlier in June were found to have contracted the virus and in the last week or so, staff members at beach bars and restaurants have been found to have the virus. Three Rehoboth Beach lifeguards and two employed by the state have also reportedly contracted the virus. Rattay noted that the virus was spreading among full-time residents of coastal Delaware as well.
Both Carney and Rattay noted that young people between ages 18 and 34 have now become the largest demographic group with the virus in Delaware, with more than 3,000 of the state’s more than 11,000 cases. That raises some additional concerns, because most of the younger patients are asymptomatic or show mild symptoms.
“We can’t stop the virus. It isn’t going to go away. There’s no vaccine … We’ve got to stamp it down ourselves by our own behavior,” he said. “To those who say, ‘Well, I don’t want to wear a mask anymore.’ Do it for your family members. Do it for your grandparents … Do it for your neighbor. That’s the way we’re going to control the virus.”
Carney said a mix of extensive testing for the virus, offered for free through state testing sites, as well as contact tracing of positive cases will help the state curb the growing outbreak in Sussex County. The governor noted that the state is still awaiting results for about 5,000 tests there taken in recent days.
“We don’t want it to get out of control. Too many people have sacrificed too much for us to see another really dramatic uptick,” he said.
By Jacob Owens