Delaware will soon limit indoor gatherings to 10 people and limit indoor dining at restaurants to no more than 30% capacity.
It’s part of the latest round of restrictions that Gov. John Carney announced on Tuesday in response to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases that is sweeping across the state and country. These new restrictions in Delaware will go into effect at 8 a.m. on Monday, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Restaurants will still be allowed to have outdoor seating.
The state is also restricting event venues, including weddings, places of worship, performances, political meetings and funerals. Starting Monday, those venues won’t be allowed to host indoor gatherings at more than 30% capacity.
Outdoor gatherings will also be limited to 50 people, though up to 250 people are allowed if it’s pre-approved by the Delaware Division of Public Health.
Starting two weeks from now, interstate youth sports will also be banned. Youth sports organizations, teams and venues won’t be able to host or participate in tournaments with out-of-state teams starting 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Delaware teams are prohibited from traveling across state lines for tournaments.
More grants are on their way for the businesses that are going to take a hit. The state is giving up to $25 million in additional relief for hundreds of businesses that have been disproportionately impacted by these decisions, the Tuesday release said. Those businesses, including restaurants and bars, will get double their original grant allocation.
The Delaware Division of Public Health continues to recommend that K-12 public schools operate in a hybrid model with a mix of in-person and remote instruction, the release said.
By 1:20 p.m., a small crowd of a few dozen protesters stood outside the Carvel State Office building in Wilmington, where Carney will speak more about the new restrictions during his weekly coronavirus press briefling at 1:45 p.m.
The weather was cold and windy, but the protesters appeared to be in good spirits. Many did not wear masks. Some carried signs that said “Reopen Delaware!” and “All jobs are essential!”
The state’s decisions follow a spike in positive COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks that is breaking records set in the spring and summer.
The state has set all-time highs for the average number of new cases in 12 of the past 13 days.
Delaware on Tuesday reported 344 new cases, raising the seven-day average to an all-time record-breaking 347.3. The state also reported 12 new hospitalizations, bringing the total to 153 – the most since June 2. The percentage of tests that are positive, averaged over the past week, is at 5.5%, the highest mark since June 10.
Of the 29,552 people who have tested positive for the virus in Delaware, 739 have died.
The spread of the virus is worsening in every state. More than 11 million cases have been reported in the U.S., with the most recent million added in just six days.
Carney and public health officials have attributed the spread largely to “unstructured” indoor gatherings with people from outside their own household, which is only expected to continue as the holidays get closer. In Delaware, young adults age 18 to 34 have for several months led the uptick in cases, according to state data.
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Carney says his administration has looked to its neighbors for precedent when handling any new restrictions this winter. On Sunday, Carney met with the governors of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey to talk about COVID-19 policies during the latest surge.
Neighboring states aren’t uniform in their latest measures to slow the virus from spreading. But restaurants, a public place where it’s definitionally impossible to wear a mask, appear to be one of the drivers of the latest spread and have borne the brunt of restrictions in neighboring states.
Maryland last week cut restaurant capacity from 75% to 50%, while New Jersey and New York ordered restaurants and bars to close early.
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While news in those states made it more and more apparent that another lockdown was around the corner for Delaware, residents were especially anxious after Philadelphia on Monday announced it will shut down indoor dining, as well as gyms and museums, through the end of the year. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s health secretary said that the Keystone State has no plans for new statewide restrictions.
The Delaware Restaurant Association has fought against Carney since the start of the pandemic, urging him not to further restrict a suffering industry where thousands of residents depend on bartending, waitressing and other food service jobs for income. On Monday, the association’s CEO, Carrie Leishman, told Delaware Online/The News Journal that restaurants cannot afford any more restrictions while already operating at a loss.
Public health experts from outside the state indicated that limiting or shutting down indoor dining would be one of the most effective ways to slow down the virus, and Delaware Division of Public Health Director Karyl Rattay said last week that dining out with people outside immediate households is one of the riskiest behaviors Delawareans can engage in.
Delaware is still trying to recover from the initial wave of the virus after Carney ordered restaurants to halt dine-in services in mid-March – one of his first pandemic-related decisions that cost thousands of workers their jobs. Other businesses were forced to close, too, leading to an unprecedented deluge of business loan applications and unemployment claims that, for many, went unanswered for months.
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Delaware has already suffered a dramatic drop in state revenues because of the suffering economy. It’s unclear how much longer the pandemic-induced drop in revenues will continue, forcing the state to dip into a limited pool of savings and shave off expenses. So far, the state has been able to balance its budget without severely hurting its public services and employees.
New York and New Jersey have also limited indoor gatherings to 10 people, while Philadelphia has banned them altogether – making it a violation of city regulations for residents to gather with people outside their households around the holidays.
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This story will be updated.
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