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Delaware governor orders more expansive virus control effort

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Gov. John Carney meets with staffers during a tour of the State Health Operations Center on Monday, March 16 to get an update on how Delaware is monitoring and responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. John Carney declared a public health emergency on Monday as state officials reported a tenfold-increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Delaware compared to a week ago.

The declaration, which took effect at 5 p.m Monday, authorizes state officials to direct vaccination, treatment, isolation, quarantine and other measures to contain the spread of the virus. It also calls for a prompt assessment of emergency medical supplies, capacity needs, and the immediate purchase of all necessary supplies and drugs.

The declaration also waives state Medicaid requirements and orders health insurers to waive all prior authorization requirements for the lab testing and treatment of confirmed or suspected cases and waives and suspends state contracting and procurement requirements for materials or services needed to address the outbreak.

The Delaware Emergency Management Agency and the Division of Public Health issued a companion order to the governor's declaration. It allows health care professionals licensed in any other state to provide in-person health care services in Delaware during the emergency. That order also allows Delaware health care professionals whose licenses have expired in the past five years to provide health care services, assuming their licenses were in good standing for the five-year period.

Meanwhile the number of coronavirus cases in Delaware climbed to 87 on Monday, more than 10 times the number reported a week earlier.

"We're acting with urgency to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases that could overwhelm our hospital system," Carney said in a prepared statement.

In a separate move, Carney ordered that all Delaware schools remain closed through at least May 15. On March 13, he had ordered that schools be closed for a two-week period ending Friday.

"This two-week period was intended to help school leaders and educators plan for what came next," Carney said.

Carney's emergency declaration and expanded school closure order came one day after he issued a stay-at-home order and directed the closing of "non-essential." Under that order, which takes effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Delaware residents who otherwise don't work at the exempted businesses will be allowed to leave their homes only to obtain groceries, medicines or medical treatment.

The Carney administration also said Monday that it is extending this year's filing deadline for state income tax returns. The moves follows the Trump administration's decision to extend the federal filing deadline to July.

State Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger said the deadline for state personal income tax returns will match the July 15 deadline for federal returns. Under Delaware law, the deadline for final corporate income tax payments for 2019 was automatically extended when the federal deadline was pushed back, he said.

State officials said previously that extending the filing deadline past June could result in $114 million in personal income tax payments and $68.3 million in estimated payments being pushed from fiscal 2020 to fiscal 2021. That prediction assumes that 75 percent of final payments for 2019 and 75 percent of estimated payments for 2020 that have not yet been received this fiscal year move to next fiscal year.

Geisenberger emphasized that state officials are still accepting and processing tax returns for 2019. But the postponement of the filing deadline will likely have a significant impact on preparing a state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

"It has some significant impacts, but given the circumstances there aren't a whole lot of options," Geisenberger said.

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