DOVER, Del. (AP) - Amid rising cases of COVID-19, Delaware’s governor is issuing a stay-at-home advisory and implementing a universal mask mandate requiring people to wear cloth face coverings even in their own homes if someone outside the immediate household is present.
Democratic Gov. John Carney on Thursday also recommended that schools temporarily cease in-person instruction of students from Dec. 14 to Jan. 8 and resume hybrid learning on Jan. 11. Winter sports competitions will be prohibited during that same period.
The mask mandate will require all Delawareans to wear cloth face coverings anytime they are indoors with anyone outside their immediate household. Delaware has had a public mask mandate since April 28, requiring Delawareans and visitors to wear a cloth face covering in public settings where social distancing is not possible.
It’s not clear how the new mask mandate will be enforced.
“We rely primarily on voluntary compliance,” said Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey. ”We believe Delawareans will continue to pull together and protect lives this winter.
Carney’s office said the stay-at-home advisory does not apply to Delawareans in workplaces and traveling to and from their jobs. He plans to formalize the advisory and universal mask mandate in a forthcoming revision to a COVID-19 emergency order he first issued in March.
Earlier this week, Carney continued to maintain that schools were “safe places” and should continue using a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual classroom instruction.
On Thursday, he noted that the risk of virus transmission in schools when social distancing protocols are followed is “not significant,” while the harm of keeping students out of school is real.
“Given those facts, there is not really a public health reason to close schools right now,” said Carney, who nevertheless advised local school districts to do just that.
“We live in a complicated world and a complicated time, and it’s clear to me that there are operational needs that make considering a brief pause a good idea,” he said. “Educators, school nurses, and administrators need a chance to figure those challenges out and regroup. And the Division of Public Health can use this time to retool and streamline its school-related procedures.”
Under school reopening guidelines issued earlier this year, state officials look at the number of new COVID-19 cases, average daily hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests in determining whether schools should use in-person instruction, online classes or a combination of both.
Some school districts in central Delaware have moved to online-only classes in recent days as the case rate and test positivity rates have spiked. Statewide, the number of new cases per 100,000 people also has been in the “red” zone for the past five weeks, suggesting significant community spread of the virus, but the other two indicators remained below the threshold for online-only classes. That changed Thursday, when officials said the 7-day average in the percentage of positive tests hit 8% on Monday.
“School personnel are not immune to the effects of rising community spread, and as more school personnel are forced to quarantine, it becomes increasingly difficult for schools to operate,” Carney said.
Carney’s decision came after the state teachers’ union praised school district officials in central Delaware for returning to remote learning and urged administrators in other districts to consider doing likewise.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is calling on Delaware corrections officials to release hundreds of inmates and take other measures to help stem a spike in coronavirus cases among prison inmates and staff. The organization said state officials should expedite the release of medically vulnerable inmates and those over the age of 60 whose sentences would end in the next two years.
Any inmate whose sentence would end in the next six months, and anyone being held on a technical probation violation or detained because they haven’t been able to post bail also should be considered for expedited release, according to the ACLU.
Department of Correction officials continue to defend the steps they have taken to protect inmates and staff from the virus.
“Today’s repeated call by the ACLU for the mass release of inmates before the end of their court-ordered prison sentences reflects the organization’s longstanding political and policy goals but does not provide protections for inmates or support public safety,” said DOC spokesman Jason Miller. “It also cites false and misleading accusations as a basis for this extreme and unprecedented step.”
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