Delaware to allow limited reopening for business Friday; beaches still to come
WILMINGTON – Gov. John Carney announced Tuesday that the state was taking “baby steps” into the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, allowing some business to begin again starting Friday while the wait for beach days continues.
The loosened restrictions represent the first move by the state toward a broader reopening of businesses, coming 44 days after the governor required residents to remain at home unless doing an essential activity or job.
Most retail shops will be allowed to reopen at 8 a.m. Friday, but they can only allow curbside pickup of items. Businesses included under that provision are clothing stores, shoe stores, sporting goods, hobby shops, music stores, bookshops, department stores, tobacco and vape shops, office supply stores, gift stores, and used merchandise stores.
Jewelry stores will also be allowed to reopen by appointment only, and Carney directed the state Division of Small Business to consider the same for other similar retailers. Previously gun shops, furniture stores and car dealerships successfully appealed the state’s closure order to allow customer appointments.
Hair salons and barbershops will also be allowed to reopen, but they will only be allowed to serve essential workers. The stylists will also be required to limit appointments and sanitize frequently.
Carney’s order also allows golf courses to begin using carts again, provided that only one person ride in them and they are cleaned between customers. Drive-in movies will also be permitted, but patrons must remain in their vehicles.
The governor said in a Tuesday press conference that the interim steps were derived from feedback his administration has received from the various businesses. Notably, the administration has been hosting teleconference calls with business leader and the public at-large around the state in recent days.
Carney repeated Tuesday that he won’t advise fully reopening the state’s economy unless he feels that officials have the public health threat under control. Once that happens, restrictions will be gradually lifted to ensure a new spike in cases does not occur, he said. The state is adhering to guidance from the White House’s Opening Up America Again plan, which calls for 14-day declines in cases before new phases of reopening. A sense of normalcy likely won’t return until the second phase.
“Things are going to be different,” Carney said, noting social distancing and face masks will be commonplace for some time.
For now, Mike Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, called the new allowances “a positive, first step.”
“We believe that employers and employees have a solid understanding of what’s expected of them, and are prepared to make safe, durable and smart decisions. As more businesses reopen, employees return to work and customers become more active, Delaware’s business leaders will do their part to manage these realities responsibly,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Bob Older, president and CEO of the Delaware Small Business Chamber, said the measures were a start but “nowhere near where we need to be or where we should be already.” He explained that curbside service would not be enough to jumpstart most small businesses and he questioned why hair salons could reopen but not nail salons, and why the changes weren’t effective for several days instead of immediately.
State officials often reasoned that the business restrictions were necessary to prevent an overwhelming surge of cases at hospitals, but Older noted that has never materialized. Hospitalizations have occurred at nearly half the rate than officials once prepared for. Older argued that small businesses should be allowed to reopen to customers under heightened safety precautions and at perhaps lower capacities.
“We’re just not doing enough,” he said. “There’s a lot of concern that businesses won’t survive.”
Meanwhile Carney called the decision on when to reopen Delaware’s beaches “probably the toughest decision we have coming up.” The mayor and city council of Ocean City, Md., surprisingly announced Monday that it would reopen its boardwalk and beaches May 9.
Carney said that he had hoped to coordinate reopening of beaches with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, but the local officials made their own decision. It’s unclear how much input Hogan had in the city’s decision, as Maryland still has a stay-at-home order in place.
The Association of Coastal Towns in Delaware recently wrote a letter to Carney noting the need for a consistent plan, as each Delaware beach town is different. Carney noted that Fenwick Island, which borders Ocean City, would be particularly affected by changes in Maryland.
He noted that his executive order did not prohibit walking on the beach or surf fishing by individuals – local officials in Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach did close their beaches and boardwalks though – but he conceded that most visitors would be looking to sunbathe and enjoy the ocean as the weather warms. As to when that might be allowed, Carney indicated that Memorial Day might be the best bet.
“I think looking toward the end of the month would be kind of the best estimate of when that might occur,” he said.
By Jacob Owens