Andrea Lindsey’s husband works as a patient guide at Wilmington Hospital.
So as she waited outside the entrance to pick him up after his shift Monday morning, Lindsey said she was delighted that all visitors must now either show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test within the previous 72 hours.
“I agree with the policy because the [delta] variant is getting worse,” Lindsey said. “It can affect the whole hospital itself.”
The policy took effect Monday for ChristianaCare, the state’s largest hospital system, which is also limiting patients to one visitor a day. All visitors must be screened upon entrance and wear masks.
ChristianaCare chief operating officer Sharon Kurfuerst told WHYY News the move was necessitated by the recent increase of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations statewide in the last six weeks.
ChristianaCare, whose Christiana Hospital is the state’s largest, has seen their COVID-19 patient census rise from six to more than 100 during that time, she said, and the “vast majority” are unvaccinated.
Statewide, over the last six weeks, the weekly average of new daily cases has skyrocketed more than 1,200% — from about 25 a day to 330. The number of infected Delawareans needing inpatient treatment has gone from 27 to 188 — an increase of nearly 600%.
Kurfuerst said hospitals have learned their lessons during the pandemic.
“As we’ve seen, the transmission of COVID-19 can happen from visitors to patients in our hospitals,” Kurfuerst said. “And we certainly know that patients are vulnerable to infection, many being immunocompromised. We need to be especially vigilant in their care.”
The new policy comes on the heels of the hospital ordering all 14,000 employees and contractors to get at least one vaccine shot by Sept. 21 or face termination. That edict led to two vocal protests outside Christiana Hospital this month, including by some nurses who said they would forfeit their jobs rather than get vaccinated.
A hospital official said two weeks ago that about 70% of the 14,000 workers had received at least one shot. Kurfuerst said Monday she could not provide a percentage update, but added that more and more workers are opting to get the shots.
Gov. John Carney this month also ordered all state workers and all health care workers to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing by Sept. 30. The governor has not issued an order specifying what regular testing would entail or how it would be enforced.
The order does not include school teachers. Carney has ordered school workers and students to wear masks, but has stopped short of calling for teachers to get vaccinated, a step Gov. Phil Murphy just announced in New Jersey.
Kurfuerst said ChristianaCare officials only have one mission: to have a safe environment.
“We’ve got the right protocols in place to ensure safe care,’’ she said of the new visitation policy. “And although we understand that this may present, you know, a little bit of a hardship for families, we truly believe that this is in the best interest of the safety and well-being of all of our patients, visitors, and caregivers.”
Still, not everybody thinks it’s a fair policy.
Gwendolyn Young, who was waiting outside Wilmington Hospital while a friend picked up a prescription, said she can’t get vaccinated for health reasons. It’s unfair to mandate vaccinations, she said, though if she really had to go in to see a patient, she would get tested first.
Hospital officials said this month that not a single employee who has been vaccinated experienced serious side effects.
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