When will Delaware reopen from coronavirus shutdown? What officials are saying


Sarah Gamard,

or nearly a month, Delaware has lived under a state of emergency due to the spread of coronavirus.

Week by week, new restrictions have been added since the state's first case of coronavirus was confirmed March 11. Schools and beaches have closed, restaurants can't serve sit-down meals, and many businesses can't let their staffs come to work. As a result, the state saw 30,000 unemployment claims between March 15 and March 27, with that number expected to keep growing.

It's unclear when the statewide shutdown will end, and officials say it will largely depend on science.

"In the absence of therapeutics and a vaccine, and in the absence of widely available, highly reliable and low-cost testing, it will be difficult for us to reopen with confidence," said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons during a virtual Tuesday evening town hall with other state officials.

Health officials say there's no known effective treatment yet for the virus, and it could take more than a year before a vaccine is available. There's also no clear or inexpensive method of testing people to see if they have had coronavirus and are safe to go back out in public.

Meanwhile, the case count keeps climbing. Delaware is approaching what officials say will be a peak in cases, with Gov. John Carney predicting infections in the First State are likely rise to more than 3,000 in the next 10 days.

When pressed on how a decision would be made on ending restrictions, Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey did not offer details in a written statement Wednesday. Instead, he stressed the need for Delawareans to "do their part" by staying home, washing their hands and not going out into public unnecessarily.

"We have a situation in Delaware that is getting worse," Starkey wrote in a statement. "We are working to prevent a surge in cases, protect hospital capacity for the most critically-ill patients, and save lives. We’re also working across state government to make sure workers and small businesses are supported through this extremely difficult time."

The peak will come and go, but the eventual decline in infections doesn't automatically mean Delawareans will immediately return to normal life.

During the Tuesday evening town hall, Dr. Karyl Rattay, the director of the Division of Public Health, said once things do open back up, we can expect the return to normal life to be "gradual."

“I would not expect an all-clear sign that says we go from the stay-at-home … to everything’s back open,” Rattay said. “I would expect some of the somewhat more essential things that have been closed to be lifted slightly.”

Once Delaware does begin reopening, health officials will pay “really close attention” to see if there are signs of infection again and whether the virus is no longer under control, Rattay said. If there are signs of infection, “we will likely back off again.”

“It’s going to be really important that we keep this under control so we don’t get us back to where we are right now,” Rattay said, adding that it will be "incredibly challenging" to contain the virus completely without effective treatment.

Coons said Tuesday that the governors of each state have to make the call of when to reopen.

Coons and other Senate Democrats are urging the Small Business Administration to swiftly dole out $350 billion for loans and grants to struggling small businesses and nonprofits through the federal stimulus package.

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