A large, black blotch covering Georgetown and stretching toward Seaford, Millsboro, and points north and east, shows one of the highest concentrations of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Delaware.
A Delaware Division of Public Health map released April 12 shows a similar dark splotch surrounding Milford. The map, which lists cases by ZIP code for the entire state, gives a range of 76 to 100 cases in the darkest areas. Only the east section of New Castle County north of the canal and south of Wilmington has more cases.
“From the onset, I've been extremely concerned about two vulnerable populations in Georgetown,” said Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown.
Briggs Kings said she does not want to point negatively at one group or another, but it’s most likely social determinants have played a role in Georgetown's high number positive cases.
Briggs King said Georgetown has three different areas where homeless people live in the woods, and she has been in contact with public health officials since the beginning of the outbreak to address the unsheltered population.
She said there was no response until about a week ago when public health officials took temperatures of some homeless people in Georgetown. “It wasn't a very speedy response. So I'm not surprised that we have things circulating in the area. I think some of those positives probably come from those with less-than-decent housing situations,” Briggs King said.
Unsheltered residents and those living communally may have increased the spread of the virus because of their close proximity to one another, she said, and a lack of communication in the Latino community may also have put those residents at risk.
Briggs King said she has heard the virus has reduced the number of workers at one area poultry processor, and those workers are all connected to the Georgetown area.
“I've asked, but I've not received an official response,” she said.
Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said he has also heard the number of workers is down at one area plant.
“We have seen some issues with the poultry industry in terms of people calling out because they are sick or scared of being sick,” he said.
Pettyjohn said the broad population covered by Georgetown's Zip code is also a factor in its high numbers.
“Geographically it's not just the town of Georgetown,” he said. “It's everybody with a 19947 ZIP code, which is a very expansive area.”
Pettyjohn said the reason behind increased cases is only conjecture without more demographic information.
“Without further granular demographic information, it's hard to really key in on what's causing that spike here in Georgetown,” he said.
Briggs King said many downstate legislators are frustrated by the lack of information they are receiving, and they would like to be able to offer input to the decision-making process. “We've sort of been left out of this,” she said.
“Someone from Wilmington who is making decisions may not have that close knowledge and relationship about who's here and who's doing what and what it really looks like. If we're not included in some of these discussions we're missing an extremely valuable resource,” she said.
Gov. John Carney did not respond to a question on whether Sussex County legislators will be included in future decisions about Georgetown and the surrounding area. He also did not respond to a question about homeless testing in the area.
Division of Public Health officials said they will soon provide an ethnicity breakdown of COVID-19 positives.
Residents in long-term care facilities and nursing homes account for more than half the deaths in Delaware. In Milford, Genesis Healthcare reported 61 residents have tested positive in the 135-bed facility. There are also 13 staff members who have tested positive.