What to Know About Delaware’s New COVID-19 Restrictions on Restaurants

Adobe Stock./By Kirk

The Delaware Restaurant Association worries that new restrictions such as lowered occupancy could devastate the industry and force many businesses to shutter.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across Delaware, new restrictions are being enacted to help curb the spread, Gov. John Carney announced during a briefing on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The updated restrictions include limits on attendance for indoor and outdoor gatherings, keeping youth sports within the state and an updated mask mandate for gyms. It also includes new restrictions on restaurants, something that received a negative response from the state industry’s officials.

Carney announced restaurants must operate at no more than 30 percent of fire capacity indoors, with allowances for additional outdoor seating. Masks must be worn by patrons at all times except when actively eating or drinking. This includes when ordering at the table and waiting for items to arrive. The new restrictions go into effect Monday, Nov. 23 at 8 a.m.

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Up until Monday, restaurants have been operating at 60 percent of fire capacity indoors with allowances for additional outdoor seating since mid-June. Diners were only asked to stay masked when they were up and moving from the dining table.

“These are difficult decisions, but we face a difficult and challenging winter,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising in Delaware and across the country. Nearly 250,000 Americans, including 736 Delawareans, have already lost their lives to this virus. Our focus must be on protecting lives.”


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As of Nov. 18, the Delaware COVID-19 dashboard showed 344 new positive cases, 153 current hospitalizations, 32 current critical hospitalizations and 17 new hospital admissions. The percent positive seven day spread sat at 14 percent of total persons and 5.5 percent of total tests.

The new restrictions hit an already struggling restaurant industry that’s had to survive on takeout and lower capacity since March. Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, released a statement following the briefing, saying “restaurants have become the convenient and easy scapegoat for reflexive shutdowns while COVID-19 documented spread is accelerating from private indoor gatherings and house parties.”

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She asked Gov. Carney to consider the following when determining further action:

  • Regulations and decisions regarding restaurant operations should be based on facts and complete contact tracing data and not hypothetical simulations of transmission.
  • When restrictive regulations are imposed, such as capacity limitations or shutdowns, it should be clear what health metrics must be achieved to return to the previous level.
  • Restaurant operations should be treated no differently as any other retail establishments. Restricting indoor dining and not monitoring holiday shopping crowds is both dangerous and unfair.
  • Restaurants depend on communication and advance notice for any possible change in regulation.

“The next few weeks and months will be challenging to our leaders and especially to the restaurant industry already struggling to stay afloat,” Leishman continued, citing that restaurants have lost almost $900 million dollars since the March shutdowns began and shed thousands of hospitality workers.

“As a result of these restrictions and shutdowns, job losses have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable of our workforce, including women and minorities,” the statement continued. “Prior to the pandemic, restaurants employed almost 50,000 citizens or 1 in 10 Delawareans. In April, Delaware restaurants lost more employment than almost all other states nationwide.”

Gov. Carney did announce an expansion of the DE Relief Grants program for businesses hit the hardest by the COVID-19 restrictions. The grants provide up to $25 million in additional relief for hundreds of businesses that have been disproportionately impacted. Qualifying businesses, including restaurants and taprooms, will receive double their original grant allocation, according to the news release.

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However, Leishman warned these restrictions could devastate the industry and force many small businesses to shutter.

“The collateral damage will be laying hundreds and thousands of restaurant workers off right before the holidays with no safety net or security of enhanced federal unemployment. These vulnerable citizens have nowhere to turn.”

The Delaware Restaurant Association posted a social media callout on Wednesday listing ways Delawareans can support local restaurants during this time, including:

  • Safely dining out and shopping local.
  • Posting photos of meals when dining out and tagging the business.
  • Choosing a local restaurant to cater holiday meals. (View our Thanksgiving restaurant guide here.)
  • Ordering takeout, delivery or curbside pickup.
  • Purchasing gift cards from local restaurants through the holidays.

For more on Delaware’s COVID-19 response, visit coronavirus.delaware.gov.

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