FENWICK ISLAND – Officials in Fenwick Island agreed last week to reopen the town’s beaches for walking and exercising and to approach the governor about outdoor dining.
Last Thursday, the Fenwick Island Town Council met in a special teleconference meeting to provide residents an update on COVID-19 and its impacts on the town and its residents and business owners.
“Unfortunately, cases keep going up in Sussex County,” Mayor Gene Langan said, “and I think they went up the last couple of days because of testing in Georgetown and Seaford.”
As the summer season approaches, Fenwick officials focused most of last week’s discussion on efforts to prepare for the eventual reopening of businesses and the influx of visitors. On May 8, Gov. John Carney extended his state of emergency declaration through May 31, but also announced June 1 as the target date for entering phase one of Delaware’s economic reopening.
“Ultimately, our ability to move into Phase I at the beginning of next month will depend on our ability to contain COVID-19 hot spots in Sussex County, especially along the Route 113 corridor,” Carney said. “Because of the ongoing threat in Sussex County, we are not in a position yet to open Delaware’s beaches, or remove restrictions on short-term rentals and out-of-state travelers. We need everyone to really lean into the effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in southern Delaware.”
Officials Outline Town Efforts, Economic Challenges
Town Manager Terry Tieman told the council last week the situation changes with each day, but that the town continues to prepare for the summer season. She noted, for example, that the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol had ordered personal protective equipment and made plans for social distancing out on the beach and within beach patrol headquarters.
“We don’t think the governor will open the beaches for full use until after Memorial Day …,” she said. “But we do think we may need some lifeguards that weekend to monitor what’s happening on the beach.”
Tieman said the town must also prepare for the influx of visitors this summer once travel and short-term rental bans are lifted. She suggested the town launch an informational campaign encouraging people to social distance, wash their hands and wear their masks.
“It’s very important we get and keep that word out there,” she said.
Town officials also provided a business update last week.
Langan said the town’s Business Development Committee Chair Tim Collins was working with Fenwick merchants to seek financial relief. While many were struggling, Langan noted the reopening of curbside pickup for some nonessential businesses in Delaware could help.
“I think the problem is people bought their inventory in January and February,” he said. “They are paying for it now and they are out of cash. They thought they would be back in businesses by now … Maybe curbside business will help.”
Tieman said the town had also noticed a drop-off in revenue since March.
“Our revenue from the last two months is down about $30,000 …,” she said. “What will be affected next fiscal year will be gross receipt tax for rentals. So we are rebuilding the budget.”
Council Agrees To Allow Beach Exercise, Explore Outdoor Dining
The town council voted unanimously last Thursday to allow walking and exercising on the beach starting May 9 after signage is installed at each entrance.
Through the governor’s executive order, the public is prohibited from accessing the beach except to exercise or walk their dogs if dogs are permitted. However, some municipalities – including Fenwick – have chosen to enact tighter restrictions.
Last week’s vote means residents will now be able to access the Fenwick beach to exercise. However, the beach will remain closed to all other activity.
“We will probably need to get more signs as we progress forward,” Tieman said.
The council also voted unanimous to approach Carney about allowing restaurants to open with additional outdoor dining, which would provide for social distancing.
“We want to get back to business, but we want to do it with safety in mind,” Tieman said.