Fire up the grills and break out the booze. After more than a year of strict pandemic-related restrictions, parties are once again legal in Newark, effective immediately.
City council voted Monday night to repeal the city’s social gathering law, which capped gatherings at 10 people indoors or 20 people outdoors.
Instead, the city will follow current state guidelines, most of which were lifted by Gov. John Carney last week.
The state now permits gatherings of up to 250 people. Larger events still require a permit from the Division of Public Health.
However, Newark’s pre-pandemic law requiring a city permit for gatherings over 150 people will remain in place.
The stricter restrictions on gatherings will be reinstated if the city sees two consecutive weeks of 125 or more cases per 100,000 residents or a positivity rate of 6 percent or higher.
Newark initially planned to repeal the restrictions effective June 1 – timed to coincide with the departure of the university students – but Councilman Travis McDermott made a motion to make the repeal effective immediately
“This is not an anti-college party ordinance. This ordinance was enacted to combat a pandemic,” McDermott said. “If we’re at the point where the governor has lifted these restrictions, the residents of the City of Newark, in my opinion, shouldn’t be subjected to anything more than what the rest of the state is subjected to.”
However, City Manager Tom Coleman urged caution, adding that he was in favor of making the repeal effective immediately until an incident Friday night. A party on Choate Street got out of hand and spilled onto Main Street, and the partiers threw bottles at police officers who came to break it up.
“It was not a good situation,” Coleman said.
Ultimately, council voted 4-3 to make the repeal take effect immediately, with McDermott, Councilman Jason Lawhorn, Councilman Jay Bancroft and Mayor Jerry Clifton in favor.
Newark was the first jurisdiction in Delaware to restrict private gatherings on March 16, 2020, after the state’s first coronavirus cases were identified at the University of Delaware. Concerns about student partying that weekend prompted city council to take quick action – which state officials later credited with helping quell the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Newark.
The restrictions were loosened some last summer but were strengthened again before UD students returned for the spring semester.
Monday’s vote comes as Newark and Delaware approach a level of normalcy not seen since early March 2020. Following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Carney repealed the state’s mask mandate and limits on capacity at businesses last week.
So far, Delaware has administered more than 830,000 vaccine doses, and more than 56 percent of Delawareans 16 and older have received at least one dose.
The state continues to see a decline in COVID-19 cases, averaging 102 new cases per day, the lowest since mid-September. Newark is averaging three new cases per day, the lowest since August.