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Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Rising crude oil prices could bring more pain at the gas pump

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Gasoline prices rose by a penny during the week despite a drop in consumer demand, Wilmington-based AAA Mid-Atlantic reported.

Crude oil continued to stay above the $80 a barrel threshold.

The primary reason for the rise in oil prices is the possibility that the Covid-19 omicron variant may ebb, allowing the world’s economic engines to kick into high gear, AAA reported. Delaware has seen a decline in new Covid cases and hospitalizations.

The potential increase in oil demand, coupled with lagging crude production, will only increase prices. Since the oil price accounts for roughly half of what consumers pay at the pump, higher oil costs will likely result in higher gasoline costs.

The higher price at the pump disproportionately affects less affluent Americans, who often own older vehicles, including SUVs, that get fewer miles per gallon.

Some stations were selling below the average price, with Sam’s club in Dover selling regular at $3.05 a gallon, according to the GasBuddy site.

AAA’s Fuel Price Finder reported that Middletown Citgo and Sun Gas, and the Christiana Costco east of Newark were selling regular at $3.10 a gallon.

CURRENT AND PAST GAS PRICE AVERAGES FROM AAA

Regular Unleaded Gasoline

 1/21/22Week AgoYear Ago
National$3.32$3.30$2.39
Pennsylvania$3.52$3.51$2.68
Philadelphia(5-county)$3.54$3.53$2.68
South Jersey$3.29$3.28$2.54
Delaware$3.22$3.21$2.47
Crude Oil$85.14 per barrel (1/21/22)$83.82 per barrel (1/14/22)$52.27 per barrel (1/22/21)

At the close of Friday’s formal trading session, West Texas Intermediate crude ended the week up 2% to settle at $85.14 per barrel, marking a fifth consecutive weekly increase. In addition, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), total domestic gasoline stocks rose by 5.9 million barrels to 246.6 million barrels, an 11-month high. As a result, gasoline demand increased to nearly 21.2 million barrels per day over the past four weeks, similar levels to two years ago prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the past few weeks, we have seen the price for a barrel of oil slowly work its way from the mid-$60s to the low $80s,” said Jana Tidwell, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “And the primary reason is global economic optimism, whether well-founded or not, that the worst of COVID may soon be behind us. Should crude oil prices continue to climb, motorists will likely see gas prices follow suit.”

To check out prices in your area, log on to AAA’s Fuel Price Finder at http://www.AAA.com/fuelfinder

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Republican legislators hope tax cut bills will gain traction

Property taxation

General Assembly Republicans vow to move forward with tax cut legislation, citing the state’s growing surplus, now forecast at more than $800 million.

The bills introduced last year have remained in committee.

“It is an embarrassment that state government did not enact one meaningful tax cut last year,” said State Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, the author of one bill. “After the bills are paid, and appropriate reserves are set aside, I believe government has a duty to return money to the people from which it was taken. That was an obligation the legislature failed to honor last year.”.

Democrats have countered with the argument that much of the surplus is due to Covid-19 relief measures that will go away. Tax cuts would lead to later tax increases during non-pandemic economic downturns, they argue.

A few Democratic legislators have proposed two additional tax brackets for those making earning in the low to mid six-figures, citing the growing income between the rich and poor. Those efforts have gone nowhere.

Federal relief money cannot be used for tax cuts. However, the state has seen gains in income tax revenues that could be used for that purpose.

House Bill 191, sponsored by Collins, would make a 10% across-the-board cut to the state’s personal income tax rates; reduce the corporate income tax by nearly 30%, and cut the gross receipts tax by 50%.  According to the bill’s fiscal impact statement, the proposal would allow taxpayers to collectively retain more than $282 million in the upcoming fiscal year and more than $321 million in fiscal 2024.

“This is an economic development bill,” Rep. Collins said. “In recent years, Delaware has had one of the worst economic growth rates in the nation. I believe allowing people and businesses to keep more of their own money will jumpstart investment, increase employment, and raise starting wages.

Economic growth estimates vary, with one report from U.S. News indicating that the state ranks in the mid-tier among the 50 states in economic growth. The third quarter report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Research had the state ranked second among the 50 states in GDP growth.

State Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, Wyoming, sponsored two bills.. House Bill 172, seeks to temporarily eliminate the state’s portion of the realty transfer tax for certain first-time home buyers.

The bill would apply to people with a gross income of less than $45,000 for single buyers or less than $75,000 in combined income for joint purchasers. To qualify, the purchase price of the home would need to be $250,000 or less. The bill will be amended to “sunset” (expire) on December 31, 2024. Ten lawmakers – nine Republicans and one Democrat – have thus far agreed to sponsor the bill.

Rep. Yearick’s second bill, House Bill 158, would establish the Delaware Resident Low Income Tax Credit. This act seeks to create a $500 tax credit for low income Delawareans. In the case of spouses filing a joint return, the tax credit would be $1,000. Individuals earning between $18,000 and $30,000 annually would qualify, as would spouses filing jointly with household incomes of between $36,000 and $60,000. Additionally, a $110 personal tax credit currently available to certain low- income Delawareans would be increased to $500.

The bill would result in about $77 million going to some Delawareans each year, according to the sponsor.

When the state faced a budget deficit in 2017, lawmakers enacted laws afecting seniors and homebuyers. State Rep. Mike Ramone (R-Pike Creek South) has introduced bills to reverse those moves.

House Bill 108 would restore the senior real property tax credit to a maximum of $500. Four years ago, the credit was cut to $400. A fiscal note completed last year indicates the bill would return more than $4.2 million annually to qualifying Delaware seniors. The measure has bipartisan support and has been pending action by the House Administration Committee for nearly a year, according to GOP legislators.

Ramone’s second proposal, House Bill 71, would decrease the realty transfer tax in Delaware by 25%. In 2017, the tax was effectively raised from 3% of the purchase price of a property to 4%. Local governments are responsible for three-eighths of this total, with the state accounting for the remainder. This bill would reset the state’s take to its pre-August 1, 2017 level, restoring the effective combined realty transfer tax to 3%.

When fully implemented in fiscal 2024, HB 71 would allow homebuyers to collectively keep an estimated $83 million.

“These bills are two initiatives that I have been relentlessly fighting for over the past few years,” Rep. Ramone said. “Given the state’s extraordinary revenue forecasts, there should be no reason to delay implementation of either proposal.”

Republicans say the first four bills have been improperly held in committee without a hearing for much longer than the 12 legislative days allowed under House Rules.

Pospects for the bills, minus bipartisan support, are dim. Democrats control both houses and the governor’s office.

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Felton man arrested in connection with home construction thefts

Delaware State Police arrested Keith Biddle, 41, of Felton, on Thursday in connection with burglaries at construction sites in Kent County.

In late November, troopers began investigating burglaries to construction sites in Kent County.

They determined the suspect would enter a residence under construction and steal new appliances and construction materials.

Keith Biddle was later established as a suspect. On January 20, Biddle was taken into custody by troopers and transported to Delaware State Police Troop 3.

Biddle was arraigned in the Justice of the Peace Court #2 and released on a $13,000 unsecured bond. 

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Covid-19 update: Hospitalization numbers continue to decline

Delaware continues to see a welcome decline in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, the Delaware Division of Public Health reported.

As of Friday night, the number of people in the hospital from Covid-19 totaled 555, down 51 from a day earlier and well below the peak of more than 700. Hospital stays remain above the January 2021 peak of 474.

The report showed a lower percentage of the unvaccinated who died or were hospitalized although the unvaccinated still account for the majority of deaths and hospital stays.

Driving the surge in cases is the Omicron variant, which now accounts for more than nine out of 10 new cases, based on test samples.

In the Saturday report, 23 deaths were reported, 16 recent deaths, and seven from a review of Vital Statistics records from December. Of those who died, 15 were residents of Kent County, six were from New Castle and two resided in Sussex. They ranged in age from their 30s to their 90s. All had underlying health conditions and three were residents of long-term care facilities.

A total of 12 were not vaccinated, while 11 were fully vaccinated. The deaths increased Delaware’s fatalities to 2,480.

Weekly figures

Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations

  • Total positive cases since March 11, 2020: 236,022
  • Seven-day average of new positive cases: 2,006.6, down from 3,187.6 last week.
  • Seven-day average for the percentage of total positive tests: 27.2%, down  from 31% last week
  • Hospitalizations: 606, a decrease of 123 from last week; critically ill: 64, a decrease of five from last week
  • Total Covid-19 deaths: 2,457
  • Total Covid-19 deaths reported since last week: 61 including 21 from a review of vital statistics records

Covid-19 vaccinations

  • Total number of doses administered in Delaware: 1,620,971
  • Percentage of Delawareans 5+ who received at least one dose (CDC data) 84.2%
  • Percentage of Delawareans 12+ who have received at least one dose (CDC data): 89.5%
  • Percentage of Delawareans 18+ who received at least one dose (CDC data): 91.5%
  • Percent of Delawareans who are fully vaccinated (CDC data): 65.7%


COVID-19 Case Vaccination Status Report

The following reports capture a weekly breakdown of vaccination status for cases, deaths, and hospitalizations from Jan.10 – Jan.16.

Weekly Overview
(1/10/22- 1/16/22) 
Unvaccinated Cases 
Total Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated Cases 10,663 
Total Cases 18,910 
Percent of Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated Cases 56% 
Hospitalizations 
Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated Hospitalized  Cases 263 
Total Hospitalized Cases 432 
Percent of Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated Hospitalized  Cases 61% 
Deaths 
Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated COVID-19 Deaths 23 
Total COVID-19 Deaths35 
Percent of Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated COVID-19 Deaths 66% 
Weekly Overview
(1/10/22- 1/16/22) 
Unvaccinated Cases 
Total Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated Cases 10663 
Total Cases 18910 
Percent of Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated Cases 56% 
Hospitalizations 
Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated Hospitalized  Cases 263 
Total Hospitalized Cases 432 
Percent of Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated Hospitalized  Cases 61% 
Deaths 
Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated COVID-19 Deaths 23 
Total COVID-19 Deaths35 
Percent of Unvaccinated / Partially Vaccinated COVID-19 Deaths 66%

Breakthrough Cases (cumulative since the beginning of vaccinations

  • Total breakthrough cases: 16,469, or 2.84% of fully vaccinated individuals
  • Total breakthrough hospitalizations: 197
  • Total breakthrough deaths: 176

A breakthrough case is defined as testing positive for COVID-19 after an individual has been fully vaccinated for two weeks or more. Data may be updated as additional information is received.

COVID-19 Variant Cases in Delaware

Of the samples collected during the week of Dec. 31 – Jan. 6, the Omicron variant represented 94.5% of cases sequenced for a variant of concern, variant of interest, or variant being monitored. The remaining 5.5% of sequenced cases were identified as Delta.

As a reminder, DPH is now providing variant data based on sample collection date rather than sequencing date, due to the length of time between sample collection (when a person is tested) and when samples are sequenced by laboratories, which can take two weeks or longer. This will more accurately reflect the proportion of specific variants that are circulating in the community at various points in time.


The Delaware Public Health Laboratory and other laboratories regularly monitor for the presence of Covid-19 variants, including Delta and Omicron, through routine genomic sequencing of test specimens. Genome sequencing is a public health surveillance tool used to monitor the prevalence of Covid-19 variants. It is not used to diagnose individuals with a specific strain of COVID-19, as treatment recommendations do not differ based on variant strains.

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DuPont electronics business unit completes Ohio expansion

DuPont Interconnect Solutions, a business within the Electronics & Industrial segment, completed the expansion project at its Circleville, Ohio manufacturing site.

The $250 million investment expands production of Kapton polyimide film and Pyralux flexible circuit materials used in the automotive, consumer electronics, telecom, specialized industrial, and defense segments served by DuPont.

“This is a really important milestone for DuPont and the Electronics & Industrial business,” said Avi Avula, vice president and general manager, DuPont Interconnect Solutions. “With this expansion, we can elevate our service levels to our customers to help them grow. This new plant is an indication of our renewed commitment to our customers’ growth agenda and enables us to meet their aggressive demand for new products with higher reliability and supply assurance.”

Click on these links to learn more about Kapton Polyimide films | DuPont and Pyralux Flex & Rigid-flex Laminates and Adhesives | DuPont products.

DuPont is focusing on its electronics business with the planned purchase of Rogers Corp. for more than $5 billion.

With the merger and spin-off of Dow, it also ended up with Dow’s electronics polishing business, which got its start in Newark and was formerly known as Rodel.

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North Wilmington-based Solenis acquires German chemical company

Solenis, a global producer of specialty chemicals, closed on the acquisition of 100% of the outstanding shares of SCL GmbH on January 18.

Located in Ludwigshafen, Germany, SCL produces DMA3, a primary raw material for cationic polyacrylamide production. Polyacrylamide is used in water treatment, minerals, and paper processing.

“The acquisition of this business provides Solenis with the backward integration that supports our polyacrylamide growth plan and better enables us to provide strategic products to our customers around the world,” said John Panichella, CEO of Solenis. “This is our first bolt-on acquisition following our recent ownership change to Platinum Equity. The support by the Platinum team for our strategic growth plan has been excellent, and I am confident that our partnership will yield more of these projects in the future.”

Solenis has been growing rapidly through acquisitions.

Headquartered near  Wilmington, the company has 47 manufacturing facilities strategically located around the globe and employs a team of over 6,000 professionals in 120 countries across five continents. 

 

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Covid-19 update: 10 new deaths as hospitalizations decline for 6th straight day

The Delaware Division of Public Health reported another 10 Covid-19 deaths in its Thursday summary.
 
Hospitalizations declined for the sixth straight day, and new daily cases fell from post-holiday highs. Many areas in the U.S. are seeing similar declines.
 
Of the ten who died, seven were from  New Castle County, and three were from Sussex County. They ranged in age from their 40s to their 80s. One individual did not have underlying health conditions, and six were not vaccinated.
 
The deaths increased Delaware’s total number of Covid-related fatalities to 2,450. 
 
The other number
 
• 1,634 new positive cases, bringing the overall total to 233,843. 
• 27.6% of total tests were positive in the seven-day rolling average, down four-tenths of a percent from the previous day.
• 621 current hospitalizations, down 46 from the previous day,  including 68 in critical condition.
• 23 new hospital admissions, down eight from the previous day.
• 8,402 tests were performed daily in the seven-day average down 368 from the previous day.
• 638,671 people fully vaccinated, up 4,603 from the previous day, according to the CDC Vaccine Tracker.
• 1,647,148 total vaccine doses, up 8,694 from the previous day, according to the CDC Vaccine Tracker.
 
For more data, including breakdowns by age, sex, race/ethnicity, at the statewide, county, and, in some cases, zip code or census tract level, click here.  
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‘Woke’ speed cameras and heat functions

Good afternoon,

Earlier in the month, a social media comment about the installation of speed cameras along an accident-prone section of the I-95 construction zone in Wilmington came with a couple of culture wars references.

“Attn snowflakes HOW will this prevent accidents? Will it WOKE me?,” he wrote.

Politics aside, there are ample reasons for using the cameras, which were briefly taken out of commission by vandals this month.

 The number of accidents has skyrocketed in the construction zone and cleaning up the mishaps is difficult. Enforcement is dangerous for police, and more than one motorist has been stranded in  pile-ups.

Granted,  speed cameras may have been brought in as money-raising tools in some states. Their use has been confined to school and construction zones in our region.

Delaware tip-toed into speed cameras with last year’s General Assembly approving their use in the I-95 construction zone with fines are on the modest side (under $100).

In Virginia, motorists speeding through a construction zone can be slapped with a penalty of up to $500.

A strong case can be made for cameras in other Delaware construction zones and highways where speeding is a big problem  (sections of Route 1 and I-495 come to mind).

For those tooling along at 90 miles an hour and menacing other motorists, a hefty fine via speed camera would be more than justified. If that’s “woke,” I’m OK with that description.

After all, more than one survey has listed the state’s roads as some of the most dangerous around.

A lapse in heat function

Finally, a  note from the motor vehicle site in Georgetown announced on Friday   “a lapse in heat function. As the issue is being addressed, interior temperatures may be colder than usual.” I’ll toss that phrase around the next time the heat pump acts up.

Here’s hoping you see no lapse in heat or other functions this weekend. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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Delaware hospitals seek volunteers to ease staffing challenge

The Delaware Healthcare Association is calling for volunteers to sign-up to provide staffi support for Delaware hospitals at www.deha.org/hospitalhelp during the current Covid-19 surge.

The new online sign-up form is intended for those willing to commit to two or more shifts of work per week at a local Delaware hospital to help fill clinical and non-clinical support roles to help alleviate staffing challenges.

The long-running staff shortage was made worse by the Omicron variant, which led to hospitals operating over capacity.

“In times of crisis, Americans have always come forward and pitched in,” said Wayne Smith,  CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association. “The hour of need is upon us.  Delaware hospitals need your help to meet the great challenge that visits us and must be met.”

The Delaware Healthcare Association  is looking for volunteers who may have prior health care experience as well volunteers from the general public who may be able to fill non-clinical support roles, such as assisting with patient registration, answering phones, cleaning rooms or delivering supplies. 

The www.deha.org/hospitalhelp online sign-up form provides volunteers with different options, including which type of clinical or non-clinical role they would be able to fill, as well as the amount of time they can give.

DHA is pushing the volunteer sign-up site out through social media and is working with Delaware higher education institutions to direct volunteers to the site. 

After volunteers complete the online form, DHA will provide hospitals with the list of volunteers in their county. Volunteers may or may not be contacted by a hospital based on candidate qualifications and hospital need.

DHA asks that candidates not seek a status update once forms are submitted as staffing shortages are affecting all departments and status updates cannot be provided.

 

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Delaware unemployment dips to 5% as gap widens with national figure

Delaware’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in December dipped to 5%, down from 5.1% in November as job growth remained well below national figures.

The Delaware Department of Labor listed  24,600 unemployed Delawareans in December compared to 28,200 in December 2020.

Delaware’s jobless rate remained above the national unemployment rate of 3.9% in December, down from 4.2% in November 2021.

In December 2020, the nation’s unemployment rate was 6.7%, while Delaware’s rate was 5.9%.

In December 2021, seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment was 453,500, up from 452,200 in November 2021. Since December 2020, Delaware’s total non farm jobs have increased by 11,900, a rise of 2.7%. Nationally, jobs during that period increased 4.6%.

 The last time Delaware’s unemployment rate was at or below 5% was March 2020 when the unemployment rate was 4.8%. Delaware finished the year with 11,900 more jobs than one year ago.

Unemployment rates are subject to adjustments this time a year as more detailed payroll information from employers supplements initial estimates.

In December, the leisure & hospitality sector  was up 5,800 jobs over-the-year, while wholesale & retail trade as well as the construction industry increased 2,300 jobs over-the-year. professional & business services and manufacturing were down 1,300 and 500 jobs over-the-year, respectively.

Despite, the state’s higher-than-average  jobless rate, employers are facing a shortage of workers, even in unskilled positions. Early retirements, an aging population and the expiring child care tax credit are believed to be among the factors behind the labor crunch.

Neighboring Mid-Atlantic states have also seen jobless rates above the national average. 

In his State of the State address this week, Gov. John Carney announced $50 million in job training funds in an effort to narrow the gap between available jobs and qualified applicants.

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