Coronavirus update: Biggest one-day jump in cases as Gov. Carney says ‘situation in Delaware is getting worse’

Delaware Gov. John Carney

Delaware Gov. John Carney answers questions regarding Delaware’s response to coronavirus during a press briefing at the Carvel State Office building in Wilmington on April 3, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Updated 6:45 p.m.

As of Friday evening, Delaware has 450 cases of coronavirus. Fourteen people in the state have died.

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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases shot up by 57 over the last 24 hours. That’s the  largest single-day jump since the state’s first positive test result on March 11.

In addition, two coronavirus patients have died since Thursday, raising the number of deaths related to long-term care facilities to eight, state public health officials said in their daily update about the pandemic’s impact in Delaware.

Both of the latest deaths were New Castle County women — ages 91 and 66 — who had been hospitalized with underlying conditions.

A total of 63 people are currently hospitalized, and 23 of them are in critical condition, officials said.

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In addition, 71 people have fully recovered from the virus and 4,995 people have tested negative, officials said.

Officials also directed residents to the state’s coronavirus page for updates and information.

Also Friday, state police conducted a checkpoint from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. near Northtown Plaza, a shopping center near Claymont located just past the Pennsylvania-Delaware state line.

Drivers with out-of-state tags were stopped and asked what police said were “limited questions related to their recent travel and purpose for entering Delaware.’’

Gov. John Carney’s State of Emergency order requires non-Delawareans who are not on essential business, such as a job or receiving health care, to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering the state or immediately return to their home state.

Police said the checkpoint stops were “productive and nonconfrontational’’ and even though violating the governor’s order is a criminal offense, none of the approximately 500 drivers received a citation.

Delaware coronavirus cases quadruple

Over the past week, Delaware’s coronavirus cases have quadrupled. “The situation in Delaware is getting worse,” Gov. John Carney said in a news conference Friday afternoon.

On Thursday, the Division of Public Health said 56 people were hospitalized for coronavirus in the state, but Carney said that tally only counts state residents who are hospitalized. He said adding in the out-of-state residents being treated at Delaware hospitals increases the total to nearly 100.

It’s the hospitalization rate number that Carney is concerned about because as that number rises, so does the potential for local hospitals to be overwhelmed.

“We expect over the next two weeks that we’ll see a surge in the number of positive cases and a surge in the need for hospitalizations,” Carney said.

He said tamping down that surge depends on Delawareans abiding by his emergency order to stay-at-home. “With more people catching the virus, unfortunately with more deaths, that will have the effect of getting people’s attention,” Carney said.

Overall, he’s said he’s been pleased with how residents have come together and are following the new restrictions. “Sometimes you have to have enforcement measures,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to remind people about the rules, we’re going to have to show that we’re serious about travelers coming into our state for non-essential activities, and continue to reinforce.”

Enforcing state of emergency orders

Delaware State Police say they will be stepping up patrols on non-interstate roads that have been identified as having a large number of out-of-state vehicles. Police say Gov. John Carney’s emergency order allows them to pull over cars simply for having out-of-state tags.

Officers will ask out-of-state drivers their reasons for traveling and explain to them the emergency order, especially the requirement for out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days. Police say the intent of these stops is “to achieve voluntary compliance” with the governor’s order.

Out-of-state drivers are allowed to drive in Delaware for the following reasons:

  •       Motorists may pass through Delaware en-route to other states.
  •       Motorists may leave their home state (PA, NJ, MD, etc.) to work for a Delaware designated essential business, to care for a family member in Delaware, or for healthcare reasons (pharmacy, going to vet, visiting PCP) in Delaware.
  •       Out-of-state employees who work for an essential business in Delaware but who could otherwise do their work from home should remain home.

The state Department of Justice says law enforcement agencies are permitted to respond, inspect and react to violations of the emergency order. That could mean criminal charges for out-of-state visitors who do not self-quarantine.

Del. DOC healthcare contractor tests positive for COVID-19

A healthcare contractor who works at Plummer Community Corrections Center in Wilmington and the Hazel D. Plant Women’s Treatment Center in New Castle had a confirmed case of coronavirus. A Department of Correction spokesman said the worker hasn’t been in a DOC facility since March 16. The contractor self-isolated at home after feeling flu-like symptoms on March 17. The positive test results came back April 2. By that time, the worker had completely recovered.

“This contract healthcare professional made the exact right decision to stay home from work 18 days ago when symptoms of the virus first developed, and to seek medical attention and testing when those symptoms worsened,” DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said.  “Because of those smart decisions, there is no threat from this COVID-19 diagnosis to DOC officers, staff or offenders.”

Because the worker’s last contact with the prison system was beyond the 15-day incubation period of COVID-19, the DOC has been advised by healthcare leaders that no additional isolation or quarantine measures are needed.

The latest death announced Thursday evening was a 75-year-old man from New Castle County who was living in a long-term care facility and had underlying health conditions.

He’s the sixth long-term care resident to die from the virus. Four of those people were residents of the Little Sisters of the Poor home in Newark.

State health officials said a staff member and a resident at the state’s Governor Bacon site in Delaware City both had cases of the virus. The facility is an intermediate-skilled nursing facility operated by the Department of Health and Social Services.

Two more Wilmington Police officers have also been diagnosed with the virus. They both had interacted with an officer who was found to have the virus on Saturday. One of the officers had last been at police headquarters on March 28. The other was last reported to work on March 24. Both officers are now in self-isolation. Three other officers are currently waiting for test results. Another five officers are either self-isolating or self-monitoring for symptoms.

Chief Robert Tracy said the area of the police station where these officers worked got a deep cleaning on Sunday.

Question marks for graduation at UD

The class of 2020 at the University of Delaware will not get to celebrate commencement as originally scheduled on May 30. When that event might be rescheduled is still up in the air.

“We’ve had to take a series of responsible, yet drastic measures to keep our community safe and healthy, UD president Dennis Assanis wrote in an email to graduating students on Thursday. “Unfortunately, this now means that we must postpone our plans for the traditional commencement ceremony scheduled for May. Importantly, this is not a cancellation.”

School administrators and student leaders are now trying to figure out how to move forward with commencement. They’re asking students to fill out an online survey to offer their opinions by April 9. “This is your celebratory moment, and only with your input can we make it meaningful for you,” Assanis said in the email.

UD students were asked to leave campus by March 17. The spring semester resumed on March 30 with classes taking place via remote learning.

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