Delaware Public Media

Sussex business owners concerned about length of phased reopening in first virtual town hall

Apr 27, 2020

The state held the first of a series of virtual town halls focused on the plan to reopen Delaware’s economy Monday.

The meeting was hosted by the Delaware Division of Small Business and the Delaware Prosperity Partnership and focused on Eastern Sussex County businesses. There were about 325 participants logged in, including small business owners as well as elected local and state officials.

The hosts used the meeting to introduce a state plan for phased reopening. The first phase requires 14 days of declining presumed positive COVID-19 cases among other public health requirements. It would keep Delaware’s economy largely shut down with only a few returning to work.

Jim McGrath of Bethany Surf Shop was one of several participants in the meeting offering concerns that those requirements are still a long way off.

“The numbers of cases are rising, in some cases rapidly, courtesy of what I would say probably poor oversight by the health department of the chicken processing plants in Sussex County and their employees,” said McGrath of the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in central Sussex. “What we’re looking at now, phase one is miles away.”     

Phase one would allow restaurants and large venues to reopen with strict guidelines. Gyms would also be allowed to reopen under strict social distancing and sanitation protocols.

Gina Hall of Energy Gym in Selbyville says she believes gyms can open with ramped up sanitation, traffic patterns and UBC lights to sanitize the air.

“One thing that’s not being mentioned about gyms is the benefits of exercise,” said Hall. “There’s a lot of illnesses, diseases, I mean, some people would say that it has to do with your mental health. And a lot of people would agree with that. So I’m hoping that the gyms are one of the first ones that get the go-ahead.”   

Phase two of the plan would require another 14 days of declining COVID-19 metrics in the state. It would keep many restrictions in place, but allow bars to reopen with reduced standing room occupancy, allow gatherings of 50 or more people and schools and youth activities could reopen.

Bob Ricker owns Baker’s Hardware in Millsboro, an essential business currently open during the pandemic. He says his patrons have not been properly wearing masks to protect against the spread of the virus.

“These phases are going to come a lot slower than what you folks think,” said Ricker. “Because the general public, the people that we see all day long aren’t getting it. Lastly, you folks who haven’t been open, you need to brace yourselves and your employees for when you do open, because you’re going to meet with some challenging folks.”

It’s not until phase three Delaware’s vulnerable individuals would not be asked to shelter in place, and visits to senior living facilities or hospitals could resume.

Six more small business town halls on Delaware’s reopening plan are scheduled into next month - along with four town halls for the public.