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Delaware beach town eyes gradual reopening to visitors

May 12, 2020 GMT

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Officials in Delaware’s largest beach resort are making plans to slowly begin welcoming visitors amid Democratic Gov. John Carney’s ongoing stay-at-home order aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

Rehoboth Beach commissioners agreed Tuesday to reopen the city’s beach and boardwalk on Friday for foot traffic, although sunbathing, sitting and swimming will remain off-limits. Visitors will be allowed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and must wear masks and practice social distancing.

Officials indicated that tennis courts will also be open, but not for doubles play. Parking meter enforcement is not expected to begin until May 22 at the earliest.

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But the interim steps still leave many decisions to be made about a broader reopening of hotels, restaurants, bars and vacation home rentals that are the backbone of Delaware’s billion-dollar beach tourism industry.

“I think everybody would really like to know when the short-term rental ban will be lifted,” said commissioner Lisa Schlosser, who also believes vacation homeowners who live out of town should be allowed to return.

Mayor Paul Kuhns said Carney is likely hearing from business owners eager to resume operations in time to take advantage of the summer tourism season.

“I’m sure the real estate lobby, just like the restaurant lobby, is in the ear of the governor. ... I’m sure the hotel lobby is doing the same thing,” he said. “Over the next week and a half or so, the governor’s going to have to make a lot of those decisions.”

Carney last week extended a state of emergency declaration he first issued in March through May 31, setting June 1 as the target date for “Phase I” of Delaware’s economic reopening.

“Because of the ongoing threat in Sussex County, we are not in a position yet to open Delaware’s beaches, or remove restrictions on short-term rentals and out-of-state travelers,” he said at the time. “We need everyone to really lean into the effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in southern Delaware.”

Nevertheless, Carney said Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised by the decision by Rehoboth commissioners, and that it was consistent with what his administration has been doing. He noted that his order closing Delaware’s beaches includes exemptions for people to exercise or walk their dogs where permitted, while allowing local officials to enact tighter restrictions.

“We just want to prevent large gatherings,” Carney explained. “It’s complicated, but we are working together with the beach communities.”

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Meanwhile, a Facebook group called “Reopen Delaware,” is urging people opposed to the ongoing restrictions on businesses and individuals to attend a “Storm the Beach” protest in Rehoboth at noon on Saturday.

State officials on Tuesday announced 12 new deaths related to the coronavirus, bringing the total to 237. All 12 individuals had underlying health conditions, and seven were residents of long-term care facilities.

As of Monday evening, officials reported 6,741 cases of COVID-19 in Delaware, with 276 people currently hospitalized.

Most people infected by the coronavirus have mild or moderate symptoms, such as cough and fever, that clear up in two or three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness, or death. In Delaware, people 65 and older account for 19% of COVID-19 cases, but 81% of COVID-related deaths.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak