More than 100 people tested positive following a COVID-19 test event held recently in Rehoboth Beach, and another dozen following a Dewey Beach test site, prompting the Delaware Division of Public Health to recommend people in the Delaware beach area, particularly in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach, get tested for COVID-19.
DPH has communicated with those who tested positive and anyone they may have been in contact with, and public health officials are providing guidance on how to safely self-isolate or self-quarantine. DPH continues to investigate any potential cases in the beach area as well, said Dr. Karyl Rattay, DPH director.
“We are extremely concerned by yet another cluster of COVID-19 cases in the beach area and the potential for spread to others both at work and in social gatherings,” Rattay said. “We know that some of the positive persons have been at parties recently, potentially transmitting the virus to others, who may still be here or may have returned to their homes in other counties or states. We are also concerned by our own staff observations in the beach area and pictures seen on social media of people not wearing face coverings or social distancing while they are out and about, including at bars and restaurants. Make no mistake, continuing this behavior is a recipe for disaster. It is a sure way for us to end up with widespread infection that ultimately may not be contained to the beach area.”
Officials said the following people should be tested:
• Those living in the beach area with people who are not part of their own family.
• Those attending parties, or visiting restaurants/bars in the last two weeks where they were not wearing a face covering or social distancing.
• People working in the restaurant, hotel or retail industry who have frequent contact with other people.
Rattay said the risk for widespread infection, hospitalization and even death is higher when people spend more time close together (not social distancing), in an indoor setting such as a restaurant or bar, where they are not using face coverings.
Test sites open
A testing event for restaurant workers originally slated for Tuesday, June 30, at Touch of Italy parking lot, 19724 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth, has been canceled. Beebe Healthcare, in partnership with the Delaware Restaurant Association, is hosting a free drive-thru COVID-19 testing event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1, at Rehoboth Elementary School. The event is primarily for those who work in restaurants, but the public is also welcome. To register go to beebehealthcare.org/patients-visitors/screening-testing-treatment-beebe?fbclid=IwAR1OHdkbpPkWzT6y38s687cRkwKMXEv6MVSrcqnGRUeLdvrxAzfdGeCE6yc.
On Thursday, July 2, a test event open to anyone in the community will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Epworth United Methodist Church, 19285 Holland Glade Road, Rehoboth Beach.
Additional community testing sites in the beach area are likely to be scheduled in the next week or so, officials said. Registration is open at http://delaware.curativeinc.com.
Enforcement against violators
The Division of Small Business in partnership with DPH’s Health Systems Protection section will begin enforcing violations of the state’s reopening requirements in Delaware businesses, officials said.
“We truly need the public’s cooperation to report when they see persons at businesses not wearing face coverings or social distancing as required,” said DPH Medical Director Dr. Rick Hong. “Every individual has the opportunity to play an important role in our statewide infection-control efforts by telling us when they see something wrong.”
Public health officials ask anyone who sees staff or patrons of a business not wearing a face mask or social distancing to report them to HSPContact@delaware.gov. All complaints are anonymous.
While collaboration and education for noncompliance is the preferred action in most cases, officials said, they will close businesses if warranted, among other enforcement actions they may take. Officials said they commend restaurants and bars that have already closed, limited hours, or limited services based on concerns over the spread of infection in the beach community.
Phase 3 reopening still uncertain
After weeks of guessing by beach-area officials and business leaders about when the state's Phase 3 reopening would begin or what it would entail, Gov. John Carney announced it wouldn't be happening June 29.
“I know many Delawareans expected us to move into Phase 3 of economic reopening on Monday, June 29 – and that had been my hope, as well. But we are delaying that decision so we can get a better handle on what’s going on in Delaware and around the country. We intend to make a decision early next week regarding the start of Phase 3,” he said in a June 25 press release.
Jessica Borcky Weinberg, deputy communications director for Gov. Carney, said June 29 was never announced as a start date for Phase 3; however, there was an expectation that Phase 3 would begin after two weeks in Phase 2. The state's Phase 2 reopening, which opened most businesses to 60 percent capacity, began June 15, but the guidelines were announced June 2 – the day after Phase 1 reopening began.
Carney said he would be using the results from a June 25 test site in Rehoboth Beach to guide his decision on the state's Phase 3 reopening.
“Too many Delawareans and visitors are not following basic public health precautions. We’ve heard and seen concerns especially in our beach communities, in restaurants, in gyms, and at sporting events. Now’s not the time to let up. You’re required to wear a mask in public settings. Keep your distance from those outside your household. These are common-sense steps that, frankly, are not that difficult to follow. And they’re a small price to pay for keeping our friends and relatives out of the hospital,” Carney said. “In Delaware, we are beating this disease. We have flattened the curve. But that’s because Delawareans stayed home and made significant sacrifices to keep others safe. Make no mistake: COVID-19 has not gone away. We’ve seen what has happened in other states when folks let their guard down. Let’s not be one of those states.”
Although more than 100 in the beach area recently tested positive, bumping the percentage of positive cases to 6.5 percent, there have been no reported deaths from COVID-19 since June 24. State data from June 27 reports 78 hospitalizations with 14 in critical care – numbers comparable to early April. The state's peak hospitalizations were 337 on April 27. About 65 percent of those who have died were elderly or had underlying health conditions. Officials say those at most risk from COVID-19 are older adults and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions – including serious heart conditions, chronic lung conditions including moderate to severe asthma, severe obesity and those who are immunocompromised, such as those undergoing cancer treatment.
“We need the assistance of all COVID-19-positive persons to identify the people they have been in close contact with so that those doing contact tracing on behalf of DPH can reach out and give your close contacts guidance on how to safely quarantine,” said DPH's Hong. “In order to control the further spread of potential infection, we need everyone who is confirmed to have COVID-19 and those who may have been exposed to voluntarily self-isolate and self-quarantine.”
If you are sick with any of the following symptoms, stay home: fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, chills, shaking with chills, loss of smell or taste. Other symptoms such as headache or digestive symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or lack of appetite) have been identified as potential symptoms related to COVID-19 and may prompt further screening, action or investigation. If you are sick and need essential supplies, ask someone else to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy to get what you need.
Individuals with questions about COVID-19 should call Delaware 2-1-1; those who are deaf or hard of hearing can text their ZIP code to 898-211, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Medically related questions regarding testing, symptoms, and health-related guidance can be emailed to DPHCall@delaware.gov. For the latest on Delaware’s response, go to de.gov/coronavirus.