FENWICK ISLAND — Coastal Delaware communities took a step back in their COVID-19 recovery plans this week when Gov. John Carney modified his existing state of emergency declaration, but it’s important to note the changes do not mean bars and restaurants are shut down heading into the holiday weekend.
After being abundantly cautious through much of the spring and the onset of the COVID-19 situation, Delaware was moving quickly in recent weeks through its phased recovery plan. Delaware appeared poised to move into Phase 3 of its recovery plan as soon as this week, but a spike in cases and an apparent relaxing of public safety measures by many, particularly in the coastal communities in eastern Sussex County caused Carney this week to pump the brakes and take a step back to an earlier iteration of Phase 2, especially in the coastal communities.
In a release announcing the modifications of the state of emergency declaration issued on Tuesday, the opening paragraph specifically mentions “closing bars in eastern Sussex County to limit the spread of COVID-19,” but a closer inspection of the modified order reveals that is not entirely accurate. Instead, the new order eliminates sitting or standing at bars and eliminates the gathering of large groups congregating together.
“Delawareans and Delaware businesses have made significant sacrifices to flatten the curve,” he said. “We are beating this disease, but COVID-19 has not gone away. We need to protect our progress and stay vigilant. Know your status by getting tested, especially if you have spent time in our beach communities.”
Carney reiterated the importance of continuing the public health measures that have been in place since the onset of the pandemic.
“Wear a face mask in public settings as you’re required to do under the state of emergency. Remain socially distant. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. We know those are the best and easiest ways to prevent the transmission of the virus. Let’s not go backwards.”
Delaware had been moving comparatively quickly through its phased recovery plan and even Carney said in a statement last week he believed the First State was moving closer to Phase 3. However, in the same statement, he basically admonished the apparent flaunting of the precautions, particularly in the coastal resort areas.
“Too many Delawareans and visitors are not following basic public health precautions,” he said. “We’ve heard and seen concerns, especially in our beach communities, in restaurants, in gyms and at sporting events. Now is not the time to let up. You’re required to wear a mask in public settings and keep your distance from those outside your household. These are common sense steps that, frankly, are not that difficult to follow, and they’re a small price to pay for keeping our friends and relatives out of the hospital.”
The temporary restrictions apply to businesses in coastal areas of eastern Sussex County including, but not limited to Lewes, Rehoboth, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island and West Fenwick Island along with inland areas such as Ocean View and Millville, for example. The areas in which the modified restrictions are being applied are also defined by specific zip codes.
The modified restrictions announced on Tuesday pertain specifically to large groups of patrons sitting at bars without practicing social distancing or large groups standing and congregating in bar areas.
“Taprooms, brewpubs and restaurants may not permit patrons to sit or stand at a bar, but may open the bar to prepare drinks to be brought to diners seated at tables,” the modified executive order reads. “Taprooms, brewpubs and restaurants that choose to use designated bar space for seating patrons must arrange tables consistent with the Phase 2 Reopen Plan to allow for minimum social distancing.”
The modified executive order then goes on to prescribe the public safety measures to which bars and restaurants in the designated areas must adhere. For example, tables and booths must be arranged in a way that ensures seated patrons at one table are at least six feet apart from seated patrons at another table. For booths, that typically means every other booth can be utilized for guest seating.
Free-standing tables with pull-out chairs should be placed eight feet apart to ensure a seated patron is six feet apart from seated guests at another table. Inside and outside seating areas must comply with the defined standards and tables must be disinfected between each party.
Patrons from different households may sit together at a table as long as they are socially distanced, but all patrons must have seats. Orders should be placed from and delivered to a table unless an alternative exists that ensures patrons who are not of the same household are socially distanced at all times. All patrons must where face coverings when entering and exiting an establishment and when they get up from the table to use the restroom, for example.
In an attempt to clear up the confusion from news media outlets reporting bars were shutdown by the governor for the weekend, the Bottle & Cork in Dewey took to its Facebook page with a message. The post from the Bottle & Cork, Rusty Rudder, North Beach and Jimmy’s Grille, read, “All of Dewey Beach restaurants and bars will be open this week and weekend. The only change is the governor ordered us to take the stools away from the bars. Therefore, all drinks must be delivered to you at your table (in effect we are back to phase one).”