All capacity limits inside restaurants, retail, other business establishments and houses of worship will be lifted as of May 21, Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Division of Public Health announced Tuesday.
“This is the biggest step towards loosening restrictions we’ve had in the past year and it primarily because the number and rate of vaccinations.” Carney said during the state’s weekly COVID-19 press conference.. “We still need to do more, and 70%, 80% will be way better than as we are now.”
Carney said the capacity decision is a step toward making wearing a mask a choice rather than mandatory, but vaccination numbers need to climb for that to happen. He said he hopes an influx of Johnson and Johnson vaccines will get Delaware to that point before next winter when the state could see another surge of cases.
Currently the state is seeing 227 new cases per day, down from the 300s a few weeks ago, and a 4.5% positive test rate, finally below the 5% state health officials said they wanted to see. There are also 128 people hospital for the virus.
As of Monday, Delaware providers had administered 762,869 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state said 308,674 Delawareans are fully vaccinated. More than 53% of Delawareans 16 and older and more than 87% of Delawareans 65 and older have had at least one shot.
Broken down by counties, more than 53% of New Castle residents eligible for vaccines have had at least one dose; as have more than 46.3% of those in New Castle and 58.7% of those in Sussex County.
Business facilities will be able to use as much capacity as social distancing requirements will allow.
Social distancing requirements imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic will move from six feet to three feet.
“Today’s announced easing of restrictions culminates a 14-month advocacy campaign to safely re-open Delaware restaurants,” said Carrie Leischman of the Delaware Restaurant Association. “As of May 21st, Delawareans can enjoy the freedom and safety of dining with no capacity restrictions both inside and outside at their favorite restaurant ( safety measures still in place).
“Restaurants are most grateful to all of you who have embraced the restaurant community to help these small businesses survive this past year. The DRA will continue advocating for a plan that prioritizes the recovery of restaurants across Delaware. ”
Ryan German, owner of Caffe Gelato in Newark, said the lift comes after 14 months of restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, he said, “We were thinking it was going to be like four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks.”
German said he’s invested in much more expansive outdoor dining, and he thinks it’s here to stay. Diners like it, he said, between tempeatures of 50 and 90 degrees.
“Last Wednesday is was 80-something and we had 200 people eat outside,” he said.
Newark will also continue it’s Wednesday Alfresco nights to encourage diners to come into the hometown of the University of Delaware.
The announcement came with a plea to for Delawareans to act responsibly, wear masks indoors and be vaccinated.
“We are excited to be at the point in our state’s efforts where we can lift these restrictions, but it’s important to remember that our efforts are not over and we are not out of the woods yet” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, Director of the Division of Public Health.
“There will still be some risk of transmission, especially in crowded settings, with the more contagious variants circulating at high levels in our state. So let’s enter this next phase of the recovery responsibly.”
The press release also said:
- Masks will still be required indoors to prevent spread of COVID-19.
- Outdoors, Delawareans should follow masking guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because the risk for COVID-19 spread increases in large crowds that include unvaccinated people. DPH may require masks for crowded venues and large gatherings including concerts, sporting events, etc.
- Customers must continue to remain seated indoors and outdoors at bars and restaurants, unless a plan for dance floors and other areas is approved by DPH, and distancing of at least three feet should be maintained.
- Events over 250 people indoors and outdoors will still require plan approval from DPH to ensure compliance with basic precautions to prevent spread of COVID-19.
Vaccinating younger people
During the press briefing Carney said he was optimistic that the Pfizer vaccine is about to be approved for use in children between the ages of 12-15 a crucial step in the state’s vaccination efforts.
“It’s a very exciting possibility and a subject of our White House call this morning,” Carney said, “I know Dr Rattay and her team have been looking for it and preparing for it.”
Rattay said the state will easily be able to integrate children into the vaccination effort by opening vaccination opportunities at places like Nemours A.I. du Pont Children’s Hospital, DPH public health clinics and Curative clinics.