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Coronavirus update: Delaware man dies in prison, was held in coronavirus cellblock

The COVID-19 treatment center at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center is in a stand-alone building on the compound near Smyrna. (Department of Correction)

The COVID-19 treatment center at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center is in a stand-alone building on the compound near Smyrna. (Department of Correction)

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Updated at 5:45 p.m.

Six more patients died in the previous 24 hours, public health officials said Thursday at 5 p.m., raising the number of fatalities to 52.

A glitch in Delaware’s system for tabulating cases prevented officials from reporting all the new positive results, officials stressed while announcing 61 new cases. That brings the total to 2,075.

“Today’s positive case total may make it appear as though we are leveling out or seeing decreases in the daily case count, however that is not an accurate reflection of the situation in Delaware,’’ public health spokeswoman Jennifer Brestel said. “The system should be running normally tomorrow and we anticipate seeing a significant increase in the overall number of cases once again.”

Hospitalizations, however, seem to have leveled out. There are 209 people currently in Delaware hospitals, Brestel said, just one more than on Wednesday and six fewer than Tuesday.

Incarcerated Delaware man dies, lived on coronavirus cell block

Joseph Russo died Thursday after suffering respiratory failure. The 73-year-old had been incarcerated  at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. He was being kept in the same unit where 12 other men tested positive for coronavirus.

Over the weekend, prison health care workers tested 45 men living in the minimum security unit where four people had tested positive for coronavirus. Those tests resulted in another eight cases being identified.

Dept. of Correction officials say Russo tested negative in that initial round of testing. He also tested negative in a second round of testing on Tuesday. Officials are still waiting for results from a third test. He was taken to Bayhealth Hospital on Tuesday evening after developing a fever and respiratory trouble.

The Newark man was serving a life sentence for unlawful sexual intercourse. His body has been turned over to the state Division of Forensic Science.

Unemployment filing slows

Delawareans filing for unemployment slowed last week, but it’s still at a historic pace.

More than 13,000 Delawareans filed for unemployment last week, down nearly 6,000 from the previous week. Another 19,000 filed claims in the last week of March.

Over the past four weeks, the state Dept. of Labor has received more than 60,000 claims. That’s nearly double the total number of claims received all last year.

To date, DOL has processed and paid 70% of initial claims for benefits submitted to their offices since March 1st and is currently paying more than $30 million in benefits to affected workers each week.

Another inmate, correctional officer diagnosed

An inmate at the Sussex Community Corrections Center in Georgetown is the latest person held in prison to be diagnosed with coronavirus. It’s the first case at the prison in southern Delaware.

The patient was moved to isolation when he first started showing symptoms on Sunday. He’s being treated at the prison and is in stable condition. Prison health care workers are monitoring others who were in the same unit as the man, including daily temperature checks. There are now 13 inmates in Delaware prisons who have the virus.

There are now also 13 correctional officers who have been diagnosed. The latest patient is an officer who works at the state’s largest prison, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. The officer was last at the prison seven days ago.

“All of our facilities are continuing to follow our comprehensive prevention, screening, and cleaning protocols while being vigilant in looking for and immediately reacting to symptoms of illness among employees and the individuals in our custody,” DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said.

EMS asks for details on coronavirus patients

Emergency responders are asking anyone calling for help to let the 911 operator know if anyone at their home has symptoms of coronavirus. That will help EMS personnel prepare to protect themselves as they respond to the emergency.

“The stress on our system and personnel is already at an historic level,” said New Castle County Volunteer Firefighters Association president Jim Watson in a joint statement with Dwayne Pearson, president of the New Castle County Fire Chiefs Association. “Adding to that stress by withholding pertinent information unnecessarily exposes our personnel and puts our entire emergency response system in jeopardy.”

They say emergency responders are trying to balance the need to protect themselves while still conserving the limited amount of personal protective equipment. Public safety workers are under self-quarantine and getting temperature checks several times a day.

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