Coronavirus update: Delaware records first COVID prison death

A man being held in Delaware’s largest prison tested positive for coronavirus following his death earlier this week.

Melvin Santiago wear his makeshift mask Friday morning while doing some renovation and repair work at a store on Fourth Street and Delamore Place in Wilmington. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Melvin Santiago wear his makeshift mask Friday morning while doing some renovation and repair work at a store on Fourth Street and Delamore Place in Wilmington. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Are you on the front lines of the coronavirus? Help us report on the pandemic.

As of Friday evening, Delaware has 2,323 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, a jump of 248 over yesterday’s number. That significant increase was expected today because a glitch in the tabulation system on Thursday recorded just 61 new cases when there were certainly more.

Friday evening, the state reported 61 deaths, nine more than yesterday. There are 224 people being treated in Delaware hospitals, an increase of just 15 patients.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Delaware records first COVID prison death

A 73-year-old man incarcerated at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna did have COVID-19 when he died Thursday. Two tests given to Joseph Russo came back negative for coronavirus earlier this week, but Dept. of Correction officials said today a third test came back positive.

“The Department of Correction is deeply saddened that for the first time COVID has been determined to be a contributing factor in the death of an inmate,” DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said. “This reinforces the critical importance of all of the aggressive, proactive screening, monitoring, cleaning and treatment efforts that are being carried out around the clock at each of our facilities.”

Russo was being held in a unit where an outbreak of the virus was discovered earlier this month. So far, 13 inmates in that unit have tested positive. Two inmates in the Sussex County Correctional Center have also tested positive.

Three more correctional officers have been diagnosed with the virus, bringing the total number of officers to 17. The latest three cases all work at Vaughn.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Newark Urgent Care usually has a steady stream of patients from town, the University of Delaware and nearby suburbs. Lately, the flow of patients has just been a trickle.

So the facility has migrated outdoors and transformed into an impromptu testing center for COVID-19.

Medical director Dr. Jack Horowitz says the daily patient count usually surpasses 100 but is down to about 35.

Dr. Jack Horowitz of Newark Urgent Care says patients with COVID-19 symptoms are assessed outside to protect patients and staff. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“I think everyone is staying home, not getting injured, and if they are ill, they are staying home,” Howoritz told WHYY from the STOP sign in the facility’s driveway. “So we have our staff here. We might as well use them, and as a community service provide free screening.

When WHYY visited, physician assistant Taylor Raum and nursing tech Emily Shumer manned a table at the computer, set up with exam equipment and computers.

Physician assistant Taylor Raum and nursing tech Emily Shumer assess possible coronavirus symptoms at the entrance to Newark Urgent Care. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

If you have fever, shortness of breath or other signs of the airborne virus, they take your temperature, measure blood oxygen levels and conduct a survey to assess whether you need a coronavirus test. If you’re there for another malady, you go inside.

“The idea is being able to screen everybody outside rather than them coming inside where they expose our staff and also get exposed to other people,” Horowitz said. “This is just a much better ventilated system.”

Cases at 2,075 but increases still anticipated

Delaware is “days, weeks away from the starting line’’ to begin reopening the state’s economy and relaxing State of Emergency restrictions, says Gov. John Carney.

Speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday after a conference call between governors and President Trump, Carney said he won’t lift his “stay-at-home” order or other limits because Delaware’s caseload continues to increase.

One key criteria to reach the first of three phases outlined by the White House, Carney said, is “14 days of declining cases” but “that’s certainly not the case in Delaware.”

The first phase of Trump’s guidelines keep schools closed but restaurants, movie theaters and other large venues can open with strict social distancing, and some businesses can operate but close common areas.

“But the overall message that we’re opening up as if it’s tomorrow for me is the wrong message here in Delaware,’’ Carney stressed. “I’m still saying, stay at home. Stay safe. We’re still not out of this. We still have not peaked and we will do everything we can to open when the conditions are right.”

Carney has closed schools until at least May 15 and said that while he hasn’t made a final decision on remaining closed beyond then, acknowledged “it looks like that’s probably where we are going to end up.”

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal