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Newark mayor to ask council to delay vote to stop bar service

There has not been an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Newark and the city doesn't want one, said Mayor Jerry Clifton.

Newark’s mayor is going to ask the City Council Monday night to table an emergency bill that would order restaurants there to stop bar service for patrons.

Mayor Jerry Clifton said he planned to meet with city businessmen Wednesday morning to talk about the ordinance.

“I think they are going to have some suggestions for me in the spirit of compromise,” Clifton said. “There’s always compromise in Newark. That’s the way we do business.”

Emergency Ordinance No. 20-05 would also ban any social gathering with more than 10 people in the city that’s home to the University of Delaware. It would also allow police to break up any group larger than 10 on Newark streets and sidewalks.

As part of ordering an end to bar service, the ordinance orders restaurants to seat bar and restaurant patrons at tables and space them out according to state guidelines for social distancing.

If passed, the ordinance will allow limited restaurants, taverns and bars to continue providing food and beverages through take-out, drive-through and off premises delivery.

Clifton said the ordinance is designed to be a pre-emptive strike that protects residents, businesses and the University of Delaware from a surge in the number of coronavirus cases, especially a surge that would cause businesses or the university to have to close.

It comes after state health officials blamed a rise in the number of Delaware cases on an outbreak at Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach, caused by people gathering in large groups without masks and not observing social distancing. Gov. John Carney asked bars in those areas to cover for the Fourth of July weekend to try to stop the spread of the virus.

“It’s just so difficult to backtrack once the surge starts to go up.” Clifton said.

City manager Tom Coleman said postponing the vote makes sense. It allows businesses to have input, and it will allow the council to make its decision at the last meeting it has before the UD students return to campus en masse.

There has not been an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Newark, Clifton said.

Everybody has been asking that question, the mayor said.

“What concerns a lot of the neighbors is the University of Delaware coming back and a lot of the students coming from areas that do have high cases, which quite frankly is still New Jersey and New York, although they don’t want to admit it,” Clifton said.

Many students also will be coming home from spending the summer at beaches. Delaware’s recent high number of cases is largely because of an outbreak in the Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach areas, health officials said. Clifton said some students will be coming from Ocean City, Maryland, where five bars have been shut down to slow the number of cases.

“Once the rise starts to occur, the horse is out of the barn,” he said.

A government’s job No. 1 is the health and safety of the population, he said.

The city also doesn’t want to see the university open and then a rise in cases because people are getting together and socializing. That could force the university to have to close again, like it did in the spring when the number of cases first started to rise.

“If people are concerned about the business community, then the university is our economic development engine,” Clifton said. “If their students and staff aren’t here, that is devastating … To go though a second wave, particularly with the university feeling they would need to close, would almost be the death knell.”

The city’s move comes a month after it hosted a Welcome Back party to Main Street because road construction had ended there, encouraging people to shop outside and eat al fresco.

The ordinance cites national and state guidelines about social distancing and says it is in the best interest of Newark residents to protect them from a public health emergency that could threaten the lives of people who live and work there.

The Newark ordinance points out that Carney allowing further opening of the economy is based on the numbers of cases continuing to decline, and that depends on social distancing.

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