Delaware ending state of emergency, mask mandates

February 28, 2022 GMT

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A state of emergency declared by Democratic Gov. John Carney because of the coronavirus pandemic will end Tuesday, and mask requirements for schools, courthouses and state facilities will be terminated, Delaware officials said Monday.

Carney’s office announced that vaccine or testing requirements for teachers and state employees will expire at 11:59 p.m. Monday, and that the state of emergency and school mask requirement will end at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Carney first declared a state of emergency on March 12, 2020. That state of emergency order was modified 29 times and extended 16 times before Carney terminated it on July 13. He then declared another state of emergency on Jan. 3 amid the spread of the omicron variant of the virus.

The termination of the most recent state of emergency will result in a revision to a Public Health Emergency Order issued in July that will allow hospitals and long-term care facilities continued flexibility to respond to COVID-19 cases, officials said.

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Meanwhile, Delaware’s chief justice announced Monday that a mask mandate for all Delaware court facilities will end Wednesday. The judicial branch also will end its mandatory testing program for unvaccinated employees.

In a related move, Carney’s office said the mask requirement in most state facilities will also be lifted on Wednesday.

Officials said the moves are consistent with new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Delaware officials have attributed 2,473 confirmed deaths to COVID-19, and another 236 probable deaths, but hospitalizations in the state have plummeted since infections from the delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus ripped through populations around the world.

“There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about where we’re headed,” Carney said in a prepared statement. “Over the last month, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically, and we are clearly moving into a new phase of this pandemic.”

The changes come three weeks after Carney rescinded an order requiring Delawareans to wear masks in indoor business settings, but temporarily extended the mask requirement in public and private K-12 schools and child care facilities to March 31.

Administration officials said at the time that the extension would give parents time to get their children vaccinated before expiration of the mask requirement while allowing local school administrators and school boards to consider their own mask requirements.

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Monday’s announcement of the end of the school mask mandate came a little more than an hour after the start of a hearing by a Chancery Court judge to determine whether to issue a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit challenging the extension of the school mask mandate. Janice Lorrah of Hockessin, who has a law degree and is the mother of a 6-year-old daughter, claimed in the lawsuit that Carney’s unilateral extension of the school mask mandate violated state law and due process.

Attorneys for the state informed the judge during the hearing that the mask mandate was ending this week, but Lorrah said the underlying case might still go forward.

“This is 100 percent because of the lawsuit and bringing the issues to the forefront,” Lorrah said of termination of the school mask mandate.

In December, two Delaware pastors filed lawsuits seeking to prohibit Carney and his successors from exercising emergency powers that would restrict religious gatherings and practices. The clerics also are seeking a declaration that Carney’s previous COVID-19 restrictions on religious practices were unconstitutional.

The complaints were filed a little more than a year after the settlement of a federal lawsuit in which another pastor had challenged Carney’s coronavirus restrictions as unconstitutional.