Publisher’s View: We cannot wait any longer to reopen Delaware
By Rob Martinelli
Enough is enough.
It’s time for Gov. John Carney to realize that his draconian COVID-19 restrictions have had little incremental impact over the approaches taken in states like Florida and Texas where their governors have done everything that they can to keep their businesses open over the past year.
Have those states gone too far at times? Yes. They should not have removed mask and social-distancing requirements, but the truth is many businesses have chosen to keep them in place because it was the smart thing to do.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is using phrases like “tremendous success” and “really good numbers” to describe his state’s performance compared to others, even with repeated news reports showing students on Spring Break flooding the beaches. But he’s right. His schools and businesses are open; Florida’s 4.7% unemployment rate is well below that of many other states, including Delaware; his cases per 100,000 residents is less than Delaware’s (8,994 to 9,233); and the state’s COVID mortality rate is 156 per 100,000 versus 153 for us.
Here in Delaware, restaurants are still allowed only 50% occupancy; no more than four adults can be seated at a table; and bar seating is still severely restricted.
The state’s hospitality employment has dropped 22% and the state’s restaurants have reportedly lost more than $1.2 billion in annual sales revenues since March 2020. Of the restaurants that haven’t closed, many are surviving on subsidies that will eventually run out.
In Florida, gatherings of all sizes are allowed, but event planners are encouraged to follow safety guidelines from the Florida Department of Health.
Carney did increase gathering limits on Feb. 19 and March 29. In what can best be described as putting a band-aid on a gaping chest wound, indoor events are now allowed for up to 25 people or 50% capacity, whichever is fewer. Organizers wishing to host larger events of up to 150 people can submit a plan to the state’s Division of Public Health for approval.
The truth is the state has spent the past 12 months focused on the daily and weekly metrics, but we’ve got nothing to show for it compared to other states that have been less draconian. In addition to business survival, we haven’t even begun to see the long-term impacts related to mental-health stability and unemployment.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, jobless Delawareans have struggled to survive on the state’s unemployment benefits — the lowest in the region. The national unemployment statistics continue to show women – particularly parents of young children and women of color in hospitality jobs – leaving the workforce at alarming levels. At the same time, mental health issues have increased.
Delaware has been less transparent about pandemic-related mental-health issues, but the national numbers paint a bleak picture. This past August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 had considered suicide in the previous 30 days. The proportion of children’s mental health-related emergency department visits among all pediatric ED visits increased starting in April 2020 and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, that figure increased 24% for children aged 5-11 and 31% for children aged 12-17.
Getting our schools open is critically important. Parents tell me how COVID has affected their families, including lack of physical contact with friends at school and elsewhere; growing inability to balance work responsibilities with adequate oversight of younger children; and the challenge of remote learning, including its impact on high schoolers’ grades and SAT scores as they apply to college.
We need to trust residents and businesses to do the right thing. Many companies will continue to let their employees work from home. We need to focus on getting more people vaccinated and remove restrictions on business while keeping mask and social-distancing requirements in place.
Before it’s too late.
Rob Martinelli is the president and CEO of Today Media, the parent company of Delaware Business Times.