Coronavirus update: Another huge jump for cases and deaths in Delaware as Sussex County becomes ‘hot spot’

Maria Buono wears homemade mask in Pike Creek, Delaware

Maria Buono wore her homemade mask, per Gov. John Carney's order, while shopping for groceries in Pike Creek, Delaware. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

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Another huge increase in cases, deaths

Another 413 COVID-19 cases were reported Tuesday in Delaware — the second-highest daily jump, and a record-tying 12 people died — as evidence continues mounting that infections are accelerating, not declining.

The statewide count of 4,575 far exceeds Gov. John Carney’s prediction earlier this month that cases could reach 3,000 in Delaware.

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Carney has said the state needs, at a minimum, 14 days of declining cases to begin a limited reopening. But the number of new cases has grown in five of the last six days, including a whopping 458 reported Sunday.

To date, 137 Delawareans have died. There are now 337 people in the state’s hospitals, another number that continues rising and stymies the governor’s hopes to start loosening restrictions under his March 12 State of Emergency declaration. Sixty patients are in critical condition, up 10 from the previous 24-hour period.

Those limits include Carney’s latest order, which took effect Tuesday at 8 a.m., to wear a face mask into stores and on public transportation at all times, and elsewhere in public, such as parks, when maintaining a six-foot distance from others is impractical.

The epicenter of the disease has also shifted to Sussex County, which accounts for only 24 percent of Delaware’s population but 46 percent of laboratory-confirmed cases. The state has ramped up testing in the state’s southernmost county, home to its treasured beach towns and to agriculture and poultry houses and processing plants.

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Sussex now has 2,114 cases, outpacing New Castle County’s 1,701. New Castle County, the state’s most populous, has 57 percent of the state’s population, but only 37 percent of the coronavirus cases.

Rehoboth Beach removes boardwalk benches
With beaches closed indefinitely, the city of Rehoboth Beach has removed the benches from its iconic boardwalk and commercial strip. (City of Rehoboth Beach)

With beaches now closed, Rehoboth Beach took the symbolic step this week of taking down the signature white benches that line its boardwalk and commercial strip.

“By removing access to benches that invite multiple touches and close personal contact, we are in a better position to combat the spread of coronavirus,” Mayor Paul Kuhns said.

Another Rehoboth icon, Nicola’s Pizza, also has closed its takeout service until at least May 8.

“With the numbers of positive cases in Sussex County continuing to rise we feel this is the best way for us to keep our staff and customers safe,’’ the Italian eatery posted on its Facebook page. The owners “hope this will help flatten the curve.”

Sussex County declared coronavirus ‘hot spot’

Carney doubled down on his commitment to reduce the rapidly accelerating impact of COVID-19 in Sussex County, declaring it a “hot spot” and expanding testing and community education efforts.

Carney said in a 2:30 p.m. news release that the county has been especially hard-hit along the “Route 113 corridor’’ that runs the length of the county and is several miles west of Sussex beach towns such as Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach.

The testing will be concentrated in the Milford and Georgetown areas.

“It’s critical to protect your family and yourself by following the guidance’’ from federal and state public health officials,’’ Carney said. “Most importantly, stay home.”

Testing is geared to reach high-risk populations such as those:

  • With symptoms such as fever coupled with shortness of breath or cough.
  • Living or working with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Family members or housemates of those working in the poultry industry.
  • With chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, or compromised immune systems.

State officials coordinated testing of more than 750 people in Sussex County last week, and more than 35 percent tested positive.

Virtual graduation for Delaware State University

A virtual commencement ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 16, for Delaware State University graduates, the Dover-based school announced Tuesday.

The 10 a.m. graduation will be broadcast live on the historically Black school’s website, and its social media sites.

About 700 students who have been taking classes online since mid-March will receive bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Students have been mailed robes and caps to wear and ceremonial cylinders designed to hold their diplomas, and have been instructed to take photos to be used during the ceremony.

The university will also award an honorary doctoral degree to Donald Graham, the founder of TheDream.US, a scholarship program for undocumented immigrant students. Through that program, about 150 so-called Dreamers have enrolled at Delaware State since 2016 and many will receive their bachelor’s degrees at the ceremony.

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