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New emergency order requires masks in homes, private gatherings

'That's about letting people know they should be wearing masks, socially distancing whenever they're around people outside their household.'

When Gov. John Carney rounded up all the modifications of his State of Emergency Order and put them into one new document, it added a sentence:

“A private residence where there is an indoor gathering of more than 10 people who do not reside at that property shall be considered an indoor space open to the public for purposes of this Order.”

That is new, confirmed Carney spokesman Jon Starkey, “though we have had some restrictions on private gatherings for a while.”

The new rule comes as Labor Day weekend is heading into full swing, with the last parties and cookouts of summer.

The new verbiage showed up Thursday, when Carney issued a press release saying that he had signed the 27th modification to his State of Emergency, combining all active COVID-19 restrictions into a single order, creating an Omnibus Executive Order.

The modification also formalized reopening bar service in Delaware beach communities and required that businesses more strictly enforce face covering requirements among their employees. 

The new addition — in the section about face coverings — essentially requires homeowners and guests to follow the same protocols that restaurants and other public places do: wearing masks unless eating, but making sure the face coverings are on if you are moving around.

“That’s about letting people know they should be wearing masks and socially distancing whenever they’re around people outside their household,” Starkey said in a text.

The addition also gives the state some enforcement powers about house parties, Starkey said.

Efforts were unsuccessful Friday to get comment from the state Division of Public Health about how that would work. Their office of Health Systems Protection often enforces the COVID-19 business and gathering rules.

“In this case, the specific goal is targeting the type of gatherings we know lead to outbreaks,” Starkey said. “We’ve seen evidence across the country that big private gatherings, parties are a real concern.

“We saw it at the beach and we’re seeing that at colleges across the country.”

The issue of gatherings has been a big one in Newark, where the City Council voted last week to limit private gatherings to 12 adults in a home and 20 outside the home, including the homeowner.

Carney praised the move, saying it would keep the state from having out breaks and maybe even save lives.

The council passed the rule the Monday before University of Delaware students began moving into dorms over the next weekend. One councilman said he considered the law a tool in the city arsenal to deal with big gatherings.

But that tool got used the first weekend to break up a party of 75.

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