Federal team joins Sussex fight against COVID-19

Testing focuses on poultry workers as state plans to hire tracers
May 1, 2020

Sussex County is getting help from the federal government as state and healthcare workers consolidate forces to fight the spread of COVID-19.

On April 28, Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said an Epi Aid team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were in Sussex County collecting data from poultry plants that have shown a spike in positive COVID-19 cases among workers. The next day, Sussex County posted the highest number of positive cases statewide, reporting more than 450 cases more than New Castle County – the state's most populous county – in the latest statistics.

The CDC team is composed of five scientists focused on epidemiology, laboratory science, and occupational safety and health, Rattay said.

“They’re looking at our data and really helping us to quantify and understand the extent of the spread, the transmission routes and also help us think of other ideas that we should put into play to mitigate and decrease the spread of infection,” she said.

While testing is causing a spike in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, increased testing plays a prominent role in reopening the state, said Gov. John Carney.

“We can't move to reopening until we have a robust test plan and a deployment of that plan in our communities,” he said.

Already, Beebe Healthcare and Bayhealth have ramped up testing in Sussex County offering sites in Georgetown and Milford.

Reopening steps

Multiple indicators are needed before the state can move into the first phase of reopening, Carney said. Along with declining positive cases and declining hospitalizations, Carney said the number of positive cases as a percentage of the total number of people tested must also decline.

“So, fewer cases as a percentage of the population tested,” he said.

A 14-day decline of each of the indicators is part of the criteria needed before the state can reopen, he said.

“You can't just look at one indicator. You need to look at multiple indicators. But when you've hit your peak, and you are on the other side, you're going to have multiple indicators telling you,” Rattay said.

Finding the source of positive cases is necessary as the state moves to reopening, Carney said.

“If you're going to allow more people to circulate publicly, you're going to have to be able to identify those who are carrying the virus, so you can isolate them,” he said. “You can't move into that first phase until you're ready with the testing and contact tracing piece of it.”

Carney said the plan is to hire contact tracers, but they are working out details on how it will work.

“We have a lot of work to do there, but I think we have some good models,” he said.

Rattay said the state may hire up to 200 people to work as contact tracers. “It's a big undertaking, but it's obviously important and that's why we want to hire so many people,” she said.


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