Coronavirus update: Gov. Carney rejects university report that Delaware hospitalizations have peaked

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

Updated at 5:45 p.m.

As of Thursday afternoon, Delaware has 1,209 coronavirus cases, and 23 deaths.

With the number of Delaware’s coronavirus cases still shooting skyward, Gov. John Carney on Thursday was quick to dismiss widely publicized projections by the University of Washington that the peak in daily hospitalizations had passed.

“I would have been delighted to be able to come in here today and say our peak was yesterday, or that I think our peak is going to be tomorrow, or that I think the peak is going to be tomorrow,” Carney said during a news conference. “Or that I even think that the peak is going to be next week.”

The projections by the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation have been cited by the White House and media outlets including NPR.

But for Delaware, they have proved erroneous. For example, the projections show that Delaware’s peak for hospital beds used for COVID-19 patients was Thursday, at 87.

But as of Thursday, 201 people were hospitalized in Delaware.

The state reported 1,209 laboratory-confirmed cases Thursday afternoon, including 93 reported in the last day alone. Twenty-three patients have died, including four since Wednesday.

Carney has said the total number of cases could reach 3,000, with roughly 20 percent needing hospitalization.

The university’s projections show only 22 Delaware patients needing hospitalization in two weeks, and none a month from now.

The governor is counting on his stay-at-home order and other measures to flatten the curve of COVID-19’s effect on Delawareans, but as of Thursday he could only report that all numbers were still rising.

Also Thursday, Carney and public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay said the state would immediately be requiring that test results include the race and ethnicity of patients.

The state would ensure that by requiring medical providers to provide that information on the prescription for the coronavirus test, Rattay said.

Delaware’s pledge comes as many states, including Louisiana, Illinois and New York, have seen glaring racial disparities with COVID-19 deaths, with a disproportionate number of Black patients succumbing to the virus.

Rattay said that disparity doesn’t exist in Delaware, where 22 percent of residents are Black. Of the 19 Delaware coronavirus deaths through Wednesday, three were Black. That’s 16 percent.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control study also shows that about one-third of the people hospitalized for the coronavirus are Black, compared with a U.S. black population of 13 percent.

“So at this point our data don’t mirror what some other states are seeing but we certainly have reasons to be concerned,’’ Rattay said. “The kind of diseases that put people at high risk tend to be high among our minority populations, like diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and asthma.”

Shoppers urged to wear masks ‘to protect others”

Delawareans should wear cloth face masks in grocery stores, pharmacies and other “public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,’’ the Carney administration has announced.

The purpose is “not to protect yourself – it is to protect others,’’ the Division of Public Health said while issuing what it’s calling guidance as opposed to an order.

Pennsylvanians have been issued similar guidance by Gov. Tom Wolf, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order requiring face masks in all retail stores by both customers and employees.

Delaware officials don’t want people to wear medical or surgical masks, “which should be reserved as personal protective equipment for health care workers.’’ Instead, officials urge people to wear a cloth covering made in a factory, sewn by hand, or “improvised from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.”

Delaware’s guidance comes as the number of coronavirus cases has accelerated to 1,116 as of Wednesday night – three times higher than a week earlier. Health and political leaders continue warning that community spread is prevalent and that people should maintain a six-foot distance between themselves and others when out in public.

Nineteen Delawareans have died and 177 people are currently hospitalized. A total of 51 patients are in critical condition, a number that includes some out-of-state residents in Delaware hospitals.

The virus has spread to Delaware’s prisons, with two incarcerated men, six correctional officers and three behavioral health contract workers have tested positive.

Eight infected at state psychiatric hospital

Officials also announced Wednesday that the coronavirus has spread to the Delaware Psychiatric Center, where five of the 114 patients and three employees have COVID-19.

The psychiatric hospital patients who have the virus are being “isolated within a unit,’’ officials said, and the employees are self-isolating at home.

“Our highest priority is the health and safety of the individuals we care for at DPC, as well as for the staff who provide the care each day,’’ said Dr. Kara Odom Walker, secretary of the state Department of Health and Social Services, which runs the hospital.

Walker said the psychiatric patients “often have multiple underlying conditions, which puts them at a higher risk for COVID-19.” The hospital staff is also reviewing “screening and infection control protocols,” she said.

In addition to the psychiatric hospital, six other care facilities in Delaware have had cases of coronavirus. Those with multiple cases are Little Sisters of the Poor near Newark, HarborChase and Forwood Manor in the Brandywine Hundred area and Governor Bacon Health Center in Delaware City.

Gov. Carney: mask can ‘help prevent transmission’

Gov. John Carney has predicted the case number could approach 3,000 in the coming weeks, with some 500 hospitalized.

Carney has previously taken several steps to keep people apart since declaring a State of Emergency on March 12. Those measures include issuing a stay-at-home order for all but essential employees, closing beaches and hotels, and ordering stores to limit the number of people inside to 20 percent of the fire capacity.

Carney said in a news release about the mask recommendation that his administration’s response “has been driven by science, and will continue to be driven by science. Our goal is simple. We are working to prevent a surge in cases, protect hospital capacity, and save lives.”

“The science tells us that wearing a face covering in certain public settings can help prevent transmission and spread of the COVID-19 virus. But wearing a face covering is not an excuse to spend more time in public. Stay home. Don’t go out in public unnecessarily. Wash your hands. Disinfect surfaces frequently. It’s important we all do our part to get through this.”

Delawareans who wear a cloth face covering should practice strict hand-washing before and after touching the face covering, officials urged.

Those who are ill should wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth if they must be around other people – even while at home, officials said.


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