Coronavirus update: Cases jump to 928 in Del.; first prisoner tests positive

A man walks on Market Street in Wilmington, Del., wearing a protective mask and gloves.

A man walks on Market Street in Wilmington, Del., wearing a protective mask and gloves on Friday, March 27, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

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Updated 6:45 p.m.

As of Tuesday evening, Delaware reported 145 new coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total to 928. The state also reported one more death for a total of 16.

First incarcerated person in Delaware tests positive

The number of coronavirus cases in Delaware continues to accelerate rapidly, officials announced Tuesday while noting the first case of a state prisoner testing positive.

The state now has 928 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 16 patients have died. Currently, 147 people are hospitalized.

The prisoner who tested positive is incarcerated at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.

The man is over the age of 60, and is held in one of two housing units that have been quarantined and monitored with twice-daily temperature checks. The man first registered a fever Monday, and was sent to the prison infirmary and tested. He is receiving treatment in a “negative pressure isolation room” and is in stable condition, Deputy Bureau Chief of Prisons Paul Shavack said.

A second person from the same housing unit who had a fever Tuesday has been tested and the results are pending, Shavack said. He is in isolation in the infirmary, said Shavack, who did not provide the man’s age.

No one else held in those two units has symptoms of coronavirus, Shavack said..

Those incarcerated in the housing unit where the man tested positive are being moved to a vacant building that “provides greater physical separation among the inmates,” Shavack said.

In addition to the safeguards being taken in that unit, officials have taken the following steps in adjoining housing units:

  • Issued face masks and twice-daily temperature checks to incarcerated people.
  • Sterilizing the units with a “specialized fogging machine” to augment multiple cleanings daily
  • Serving meals using single-use paper products

“We have been preparing for an inmate to test positive for COVID-19 and have implemented our treatment and containment plan,” Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said. “DOC has a strong track record of containing infectious diseases, and we will do the same with this coronavirus.”

Six correctional officers and two contract behavioral health employees have also tested positive for coronavirus, officials said.

State ‘confident’ Delaware hospitals can handle short-term demand

Delaware hospitals should be able to manage the number of patients as cases of coronavirus rise over the next week. That’s according to Delaware Emergency Management Agency director A.J. Schall who joined the governor at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“For the next five to seven days I feel confident that the hospitals are able to adequately respond to the increased demand,” Schall said. “At the same time, we’re also worried about the staff that’s there.” Schall said those healthcare workers are the heroes of this crisis, but an outbreak among hospital staff, would reduce that confidence in that ability to handle the surge.

He said the state’s hospitals are already in talks about how to share resources to manage that scenario.

State officials are hoping to see signs of improvement in the increase in cases as next Monday marks three weeks since Carney’s stay-at-home order was issued. Right now, they’re working under an assumption that about 20% of positive cases will require hospitalization. Schall said under that assumption, there’s projected to be about 650 people in the hospital on April 12. “At that point five days from now, the hospitals would still be managing within their walls, with their staff, very comfortably,” he said.

He said that with elective surgeries canceled, and a smaller number of flu cases being treated in hospitals, the state’s hospital census is a little below what it would have been this time last year.

Blood Bank collecting plasma from recovered patients

The Blood Bank of Delmarva is joining the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to collect plasma from COVID-19 patients who have recovered. The goal is to help current coronavirus patients recover faster with an injection of “convalescent plasma.” The antibodies in a recovered patient’s plasma could help treat seriously ill patients.

The FDA approved the plasma collection effort last month. Donors who are qualified will be referred to BBD by area hospitals. The FDA will only approve patients for treatment using the plasma on a case-by-case basis.

Plasma donors must be completely symptom free for at least 14 days before they are allowed to visit a blood donation center.

Short-term rentals banned in Delaware

In the tenth update to his state of emergency order, Delaware Gov. John Carney has shut down short-term rentals as of 8 p.m. tonight. That means vacation home rentals, hotels, motels and condo rentals are prohibited until May 15, or until the public health threat from coronavirus is eliminated.

“This is not the time for a vacation or tax-free shopping in Delaware,” Carney said. “All of Delaware’s restrictions are intended to prevent a surge in cases, preserve our hospital capacity, and save lives.”

The order does make exceptions for those taking care of sick family members, healthcare providers, journalists, and Delawareans with public housing vouchers. Victims of domestic violence who need a place to stay are also exempt from this order.

In addition to short-term rentals, the new update also forces pawn shops, video game and electronics retailers to close. It also bans door-to-door solicitation. “Delawareans also should not go out in public unnecessarily. Stay safe. Stay home,” Carney said. “Protect your neighbors. We’ll get through this – but it’s going to take all of us.”

Following Carney’s decision, Sussex County Council moved to suspend the 3% tax implemented in January on hotel, motel and tourist home stays. That tax, approved in November, funded projects like beach nourishment and waterway dredging. “We are mindful these are very trying times, and anything the County can do to take some stress off our customers’ wallets is something we should strive for,” Sussex Council President Michael Vincent said. “These are small but important steps that will do a tremendous amount of good.”

Wilmington rescinds event permits

The city of Wilmington will revoke all event permits it issued for public gatherings of more than 100 people through at least the end of June. That includes the Wilmington Grand Prix bike weekend in May and the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival which was scheduled for June 17-20. Cancelations could extend further into the summer and fall.

“The City will continue to hold out hope that life will return to normal for all of us very soon, but reality calls for some certainty regarding these events which organizers spend months planning,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki in a statement. “I urge all event organizers and supporters to keep their spirits up as we stand together to pull through this crisis and hope that circumstances change more quickly than anticipated.”

Woman threatens to infect shoppers

Police arrested a woman at the Brookside Shopping Center near Newark after she screamed that she had COVID-19 and didn’t care who she infected. Police say that caused panicked shoppers to flee the store to avoid the woman.

They say 54-year-old Kelley Hines was arrested and taken to a hospital for testing. After she was “medically cleared,” she was charged with felony terroristic threatening and other charges for making false statements that caused the building to evacuate. She was released on $5,200 unsecured bail.

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