Delaware beach-area bars that were asked to close for the Fourth of July weekend because of an outbreak of COVID-19 will be allowed to reopen for Labor Day.
The patrons must have a reservation, they must order food and they must social distance, said Jamie Mack, chief of the Delaware Division of Public Health’s Health System Protection.
“We do recognize that maybe the initial shutdown in that area had a heavier impact on some of the smaller establishments that rely on patrons sitting at the bar for dinner as part of their table service,” Mack said Tuesday during Gov. John Carney’s weekly press conference on COVID-19. “So this allows them to get back to some of that, essentially have a few more seats.”
The news about the bars being opened came with a warning from Carney that federal virus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci had said during a White House call with state governors that Labor Day weekend would be last big test for the country’s containment procedures.
Delaware’s coronavirus numbers are trending well, he said. With everyone following social distancing and mask guidelines, those numbers will continue to improve.
“The goal of course is to get more and more students in the classrooms, on an in-person basis because we know that kind of instruction is most effective,” Carney said.
Mack also talked about how state enforcement of restaurant and bar rules had ramped up in the last month, and in recent weeks shifted from the beach to college towns, where students have arrived.
His team inspected more than 400 food establishments statewide in the last month and 150 sites had no violatons.
“We were not as patient with some of the facilities as we had been in the past. So we have now issued fines and we’ve taken other enforcement actions,” Mack said. “In at least one instance, we walked into a place and the conditions were concerning enough that they were closed on the spot.”
Police helped clear out the space, and the business was able to reopen when it had “a better handle on things,” Mack said.
He said inspectors have been out in Newark, the home of the University of Delaware, for the past two weeks checking out establishments by focusing on nights and on weekends.
“A lot of places do a great job during the week,” he said. “Once they get the crowd starting to come in, things can get a little tougher for them, so we want to make sure they have those visits done as well.”
Newark’s mayor and city council recently had a battle with area bars because the city wanted to shut the bars down to avoid an outbreak like that at the beach in June and currently happening in other college towns. Bars threatened to sue, and the city backed off and asked the state to increase inspections.
The city also passed a new emergency rule saying that only 12 people could gather in a private home inside, and 20 people outside, including the homeowner. While one council member described the rule as another tool in enforcement, it was put into use last weekend to break up a party of 75 people.
Mack said the enforcement inspections always look to provide information on first visits.
“Second visits, we’ve done fines, we’ve done closures,” he said.
He said his staff had praised Caffe Gelato and Homegrown in Newark as doing a great job, as well as Easy Speak Spirits in Milford and One Coastal in Fenwick.