Less than a month after lifting the state of emergency placed on Delaware that had dictated public behavior for more than a year, Gov. John Carney said he was looking into other emergency measures now that the number of COVID-19 cases has started to rise again.
“We need to protect everybody. The question is what kind of authority we have to make those requirements,” he said Aug. 5. “We’re looking into other emergency powers that the state has with respect to universal masking and schools.”
At issue is the Delta variant of COVID-19 that has surged across the country and now makes up 51 percent of Delaware’s variant cases – 53 cases total. During the January surge, Delaware’s peak hospitalization count was 475. “Even at 475, we still had a lot of head room,” Carney said, referring to hospital capacity.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division Public Health, said Delaware has lowered its threshold of concern to 100 cases per 100,000, and using that new parameter, she said, western Sussex County areas, including Georgetown and Lincoln, have some of the highest rates in the state.
“Clearly, western Sussex is a hotspot in our state,” she said. “It’s also an area of our state where we have the lowest vaccination rates. So, we’re keeping a very close eye on this, but certainly this is an area of concern.”
As for business restrictions, Carney said, he does not want to go back to closures that shuttered many businesses in 2020, but he has to take public health into consideration.
“Individual businesses are making decisions … we will be looking at that as an employer as well,” he said. “We don’t want to restrict our businesses in a way that’s going to hurt them financially again.”
According to Delaware statistics, young people in the 18-34-year-old age group have the lowest vaccination rate. Rattay said those who remain unvaccinated should get tested once a week, and should wear a mask in public. “There is a responsibility you have,” she said.
Those who are vaccinated and experience COVID symptoms should get tested, she said, and wear a mask for two weeks or until their test result is negative.
“This is a real fear. The fact that we have a lot of this virus circulating now means there are a lot more opportunities for mutation,” Rattay said. “That is one of the reasons that it is so critical to increase our vaccination rates. We have to do all we can to drive up our vaccine numbers even more.”
Unvaccinated guidance updated
Delaware updated its guidance Aug. 3, recommending unvaccinated people get tested five to seven days after COVID exposure, and that they isolate at home immediately if they are exposed to COVID or develop symptoms of it.
COVID-19 cases have been steadily climbing in Delaware during July. New case counts of over 100 per day have been reported for the last five days.
Officials said infections happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated. When these infections occur among vaccinated people, they tend to be mild. With COVID-19 cases increasing in the state and nation, and the majority of cases occurring among unvaccinated individuals, officials said, all Delawareans 12 years old and older should get vaccinated if they have not already received their COVID-19 vaccine.
Delawareans continue to have a variety of testing options. A full list of testing locations and options can be found at de.gov/gettested.
Fixed testing locations
Testing is available as part of the state’s program at several Walgreens locations. Walgreens will be retiring testing at some of its stores with lower volume and refocusing efforts in areas of high social vulnerability. In addition, 30 Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Health Mart pharmacies statewide will offer testing through a new federal program which is focused on areas of high social vulnerability. Testing at the state-run sites and federal program sites is free of charge. Other pharmacies and medical provider sites offer testing but may charge; contacting the site for details is advised.
DPH also announced that it offers testing at its static vaccination sites since Aug. 4. The locations include Georgetown Plaza Shopping Center, 19 Georgetown Plaza, Georgetown, with hours from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 to 4 p.m., Monday and Wednesday; and 11 a.m to 7 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday.
DPH and DEMA continue their partnership with Curative to offer free COVID-19 testing at both static locations and rotating sites statewide. Visit de.gov/gettested for locations.
Libraries offer rapid test kits
DPH announced Aug. 3 a new partnership with Delaware Libraries allowing Delawareans to visit most library locations and pick up a take-home rapid test kit to have in case they or a family member needs it. Library cards are not required to pick up a take-home test kit. Officials ask anyone with COVID-19 symptoms to visit one of the other fixed or community testing locations, not come to the library.
All schools and early learning facilities throughout the state can now take advantage of free rapid antigen testing for staff and students. DPH and Delaware Department of Education recently announced this opportunity through a contract with Quidel Corporation. Quidel provides staffing for testing, analysis and reporting, relieving schools of the burden. Routine screening testing is a key strategy recommended by the CDC and re-enforced in its recent guidance for schools and child care facilities. More information about this program and how schools can sign up is available here.