Town and gown in the age of Covid

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Good afternoon,

Even though the Newark City Council holds its meetings through the ancient but less hackable GoToMeeting platform, you could still feel the tension in the air Monday night over the return of students to the University of Delaware.

Nationwide, the return of the economic drivers are being greeted with dread by “townies” as outlinedin this Politico story and other media accounts.

It did not help that elsewhere in the country, parties that happen around campus during the summer led to Covid-19 outbreaks.

The Newark area was the first site of the first Covid-19 outbreak stemming from a get-together by members of the university community. The virus also took a heavy toll at long-term care facilities in the area.

Since that time, residents have taken pride in a low rate of positive tests and avoiding the outbreaks that occurred at the beach.

The issue – students come to UD from all over the region and the nation for that matter. More than a few have engaged in high-risk behavior by Covid-19 standards as the realization creeps in that a lot of things will change in the fall.

In response, Newark had a couple of emergency ordinances in the works that would limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer, while banning bar seating. The restrictions would go beyond state emergency orders.

The bar seating action apparently triggered a fierce response from a couple of dozen unnamed restaurants that threatened a lawsuit by way of high-profile attorney Tom Neuberger. Neuberger had previous threatened action related to religious services. Houses of worship, like bars, can spread the virus without social distancing and capacity restrictions.

The bar restriction appears to be off the table, much to the frustration of Mayor Jerry Clifton.

The council may be moving toward further restrictions on gatherings, although council members expressed reservations about the maximum figure of 10.

Restaurants in Newark have plenty of concerns of their own. Business is in a permanent “June” pattern that comes in that period before UD students trickle into town for summer sessions and the university holds a variety of campus and schools.

The number of vacant store and restaurant spaces numbers the low double digits and will likely grow.

This fall, some students will return to a mostly virtual class format. The exact number remains unclear although one council member suggested that the blend of faculty, staff and students could total 10,000.

Football games, parents’ weekends, and other things that bring people to Newark are off the table this year.

Still, council members and the community are nervous.

Meanwhile, with a couple of weeks to go, UD students will be required to get a Covid-19 test before returning to campus. Fasten your seatbelts. It shapes up to be an interesting late summer and early fall. –Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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