Delaware’s coronavirus response reached the tipping point on Friday followed by the stay at home order and the shutdown of non-essential businesses.
On an unseasonably warm day, crowds descended on Rehoboth Beach. Social distancing was rarely observed, and some boardwalk businesses made things worse by staying open and allowing lines to form.
In this era of instant social media shaming, cell phone photos and videos quickly made the scene into a regional and national embarrassment.
Gov. John Carney on Saturday expanded his emergency order and closed beaches and boardwalks. While the order allowed some wiggle room for people walking on the beach, Rehoboth and other towns, shamed by critics, completely barred access.
On the same day, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy responded to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases with a “stay at home” order. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing an increasingly dire outlook in the New York City area, mentioned communicating with Delaware officials.
On Sunday, the inevitable occurred with a list of non-essential businesses ordered to close by tomorrow morning.
The rapidly moving events brought home the need for a coordinated effort by all states in the region to shelter at home and minimize trips across state lines.
Over the weekend, public officials in coastal Delaware and Maryland were telling people with second homes to stay in their first home.
Carney, appearing on MSNBC on Saturday, said he was considering a stay at home order while staying in touch with the region’s governors.
Carney stressed the need for coordination among the states. We saw one example of what can happen when Pennsylvania shuttered its state-owned liquor stores and sent crowds to locations on the border of nearby states, including Delaware.
Carney, like his fellow governors in the region, is attempting to deal with coronavirus while at the same time trying to limit damage to the economy.
But would it have been better to have taken drastic action that would include a stay at home order as well as closing all non-essential retailers?
I saw an example of what can happen on Saturday when driving around Christiana Mall.
While the vast parking lot was mostly empty, the Cabela’s on its boundary, was busy. The store was more than likely drawing a large number of out of people from out of state who by their actions could potentially widen community spread of the virus.
A look at the store directories of Cabela’s and sister chain Bass Pro Shops showed a patchwork of openings and closings. Pennsylvania stores are closed while a Maryland and Atlantic City location were listed as open as of Sunday.
One restaurant owner told me Saturday that shutting down all non-essential businesses earlier would have sent a stronger message, taken away the crowds in Rehoboth and fostered a spirit of shared sacrifice.
I agreed with his assessment. A few hours after writing this piece, the hammer came down. Doug Rainey, chief content officer.