Carney: Wearing masks is key to opening everything

Gov. John Carney in Tuesday's coronavirus press conference

Gov. John Carney in Tuesday’s coronavirus press conference

Wear a mask, and we can safely allow our students and teachers to return to the classroom this fall.

Wear a mask, and we can allow more businesses to open up and to open up more fully.

Wear a mask, and we can drop our number of positive cases and get off other states’ quarantine lists, like the one Delaware was just put on in Washington, D.C. Being on those lists threatens businesses at the beaches, which are already hurting from coronavirus fallout.

Wear a mask.

 

That was the overriding theme of Gov. John Carney’s weekly COVID-19 press conference Tuesday.

“We’re going to be able to accomplish those goals and reopen businesses if we do a better job, lean into it a little bit more,” Carney said.

Carney said again that Delaware public schools are likely to start in the fall in a hybrid mode. The state’s number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percent of infections among those tested don’t seem likely to fall enough to open everything, he said.

That means some classes will be in-person and some will be remote learning, he said. He repeated again that younger children learning to read need to be in school for many reasons. Infection rates among younger children are low, he said, pointing to Delaware data.

 

Schools will not open if the districts don’t feel like it’s safe to do that, Carney said.

Delaware has a positive test rate of 4.1% over seven days. The state would like to see that under 3%, he said. Delaware also has 94.6 new cases per 100,000 residents, he said.

Delaware residents could help knock that infections number down by going to get tested even if they feel healthy and don’t think they have COVID-19, the governor said.

“Because if you’re not sick and you’re getting tested, that’s going to help with that fraction there,” Carney said. “It also gives us an idea of where we have asymptomatic spread, and we’ve learned that there’s a lot of that out there.”

Carney said the state can’t yet announce that schools will open in a hybrid mode because the numbers keep changing. But if everybody wore masks, he said, it might drop the infection rate about 25 percent.

 

 

Schools

Carney and Dr. Rick Hong, medical director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, detailed the criteria the state will use to decide how schools open. Under minimal spread, in-person classes will begin. With minimal to moderate spread, schools will have a mix of in-person and remote learning. With significant spread, all classes become remote.

School districts will have the final say about their schools.

“We do understand that each school is different,” Hong said.

 

One of the most common questions the state gets is what happens if a teacher or student tests positive, he said.

The state and schools should plan for positive cases, whether it’s staff, faculty or students, he said.

He cited two examples:

— If a teacher tests positive, but has consistently worn a mask and was not closer than six feet for more than 15 consecutive minutes to any of his or her students, students do not need to quarantine.

— If a first-grade student tests positive, sat at a desk less than six feet apart from another student for more than 15 minutes and did not wear a mask, that other student would need to quarantine. But if they were wearing face masks, the student next to the positive case would not need to quarantine.

 

He warned that masks needed to be worn correctly and that people who had a medical condition that prevented them from wearing wear a mask should be careful and follow other guidelines.

Finally, he said, a negative test is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It only means you were negative at that moment.

“You can become positive at any moment,” he said, so continue to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

 

Businesses

Jamie Mack, chief of Health Systems Protection for the Delaware Division of Public Health, said the state is about to step up its enforcement of COVID-19 rules in businesses.

So far it’s had 1,000 complaints in July and done more than 300 on-site compliance checks, focused mostly on educating the businesses involved.

It will increase its presence in August, he said, and be prepared to step up punishments that can include closing the businesses.

 

Carney said the point in policing businesses is to continue to flatten the curve so more businesses can be open.

The state can go in and limit the ability of businesses to be open, but would prefer not to, Carney said.

“We’re going to try enforcement and targeted enforcement at first,” Carney said. “So folks need to think about the conditions in their establishment so that we can really make the progress that we need to right now.”

Mack responded, “It’ really counterintuitive to think that we’re increasing enforcement to keep businesses open but that’s really the case.”

 

He said the state checks face coverings on staff and customers; social distancing requirements; whether there is a reservation system; capacity; hand washing and sanitizing; and whether there are appropriate floor markings, counter and door signage.

“Thankfully at this point, once we start putting some dollar signs on inspection forms, masks tend to appear very quickly,” Mack said.

He hailed Buckley’s Tavern in Centreville, Lucky’s Coffee Shop in Wilmington and Restaurant 55 in Dover for having 100 percent compliance.


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Betsy Price