Delaware Gov. John Carney Adds New Mask Mandate, Extends Others, But Churches Stay Exempt

Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases led by the Omicron variant, Delaware Governor John Carney signed a new mask mandate on Monday.

The mandate, which is set to go into effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday, will require residents to wear face masks in stores, restaurants, gyms and other public indoor venues. However, churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement.

The new measures will also extend an existing mask mandate for public and private K-12 schools, as well as child care centers, for the foreseeable future. That mandate was set to end in early February.

The new mandate comes as the rate of positive COVID-19 cases in the state has skyrocketed. According to data from the Mayo Clinic, the average positive test rate in the state jumped from about 10 percent in mid-December to 27.8 percent as of January 8. The rate was only about 5 percent in mid-November.

"Our hospital systems are facing a crisis-level situation with record numbers of Delawareans seeking emergency care," Carney said in a statement. "We need all Delawareans in the fight as we face this winter surge of COVID-19 to make sure our hospitals are not overrun."

The church exemption stems from lawsuits and complaints from Delaware pastors trying to prevent Carney from putting restrictions on religious gatherings.

John Carney, Delaware
Delaware Governor John Carney announced new mask mandates for public indoor places in the state and extended mandates for K-12 schools and child care facilities. Above, Carney prepares to address the media before placing the first bet at Dover Downs Casino on June 5, 2018, in Dover, Delaware. Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

Last month, 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.

Carney rescinded many of the restrictions after the federal lawsuit was filed, and his lawyers argued that the claims were moot. But the plaintiff's attorneys, some of whom are also involved in the lawsuits filed last month, asked for an injunction prohibiting the governor from imposing similar limitations in the future.

Attorneys noted in last month's court filings that, in settling the federal lawsuit, Carney reserved the right to impose "neutral rules of general applicability" that could affect houses of worship, and to take any enforcement action authorized by law against a house of worship or affiliated ministry.

Also Monday, Carney deployed 70 more members of the Delaware National Guard to assist with non-clinical operations inside Delaware hospitals, starting Tuesday.

About 110 members of the Guard, separate from the 70 deployed Monday, are training to serve as certified nursing assistants in health care settings to take pressure off hospital systems. Carney's order waives a requirement that certified nursing assistant trainees must complete 150 hours of training, but states that any individual seeking certification must complete 75 classroom hours and 16 clinical hours before taking the certification exam.

Carney's order also waives a requirement that CNA trainees complete a mandatory orientation period.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.