‘Community spread’ in Del. as cases jump to 87, Gov. Carney declares public health emergency and school closure extended to May 15

The University of Delaware is donating supplies of personal protection equipment from shuttered research labs to the Delaware Emergency Management Agency. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

The University of Delaware is donating supplies of personal protection equipment from shuttered research labs to the Delaware Emergency Management Agency. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Updated at 8:50 p.m.

Delaware confirmed 31 new coronavirus cases since Sunday, and the Division of Public Health said in a news release that “the source of exposure for many of these positive cases is unknown, which indicates community spread of the virus is occurring in the state.”

Of the 87 laboratory-confirmed cases since the first positive result on March 11 — 12 days ago — seven patients are currently hospitalized and three are in critical condition, state officials said.

Forty-four are male and 43 female, and their ages range from 1 to 90.

“We know this is a startling increase for Delawareans to see,” said Dr. Kara Odom Walker, secretary of the state Division of Health and Social Services and a practicing family physician.

“It is an indication of spread that we expected to see, but it is also reflective of the state’s increased testing capacity which is leading to more results — both positive and negative.  It also shows us why we need Delawareans to stay home and stay safe.

“We all must end unnecessary contact with others, practice stringent social distancing, go out for essential groceries or prescriptions only as needed, and go to work only if we are in an essential business. We will get through this, but we must do it together.”

Several testing sites are open, but officials stressed that they are not “walk-in” facilities and patients need a physician’s order or prescription, except for Bayhealth Medical Center, which is screening patients by phone.

People without a primary care provider can call the public health call center at 1-888-408-1899.

Governor issues “stay-at-home” order

On Sunday night, Gov. Carney issued a “stay-at-home’’ order for all but those who work in essential industries. People are still allowed to leave home to perform essential tasks, such as buying food and getting medical tests and treatment.

As of Sunday night, Delaware has 87 cases of coronavirus. Of the confirmed cases, 58 are in New Castle County, 20 in Sussex County and nine in Kent County.  The individuals range in age from 14 to 80. At least six of them are hospitalized, and three are critically ill.

Gov. John Carney declared a Public Health Emergency on Monday as the number of coronavirus cases jumped to 87.

Carney also ordered all public schools closed until May 15 and said that if they can reopen then, he recommends that none extend the school calendar beyond June 30.

Carney’s Public Health Emergency order, in conjunction with a companion order by Delaware’s public health and emergency management agencies, allows:

  • Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, mental health providers and other health care professionals with active licenses in any U.S. jurisdiction to care for patients in person or through telemedicine.
  • Delaware health care professionals whose licenses expired in the last five years to provide care, as long as their licenses were in good standing when they expired.
  • Students enrolled in a Delaware Board of Nursing-approved school to conduct medical exams and tests, and perform administrative duties under the supervision of a nurse, physician assistant or physician with an active Delaware license.

“We’re acting with urgency to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases that could overwhelm our hospital system,” Carney said in a news release. “These new orders will help make sure Delaware has the supplies and the health care professionals necessary to respond to COVID-19. I want to thank all of Delaware’s health care workers who are on the front lines of our response. We owe you all a debt of gratitude.”

Carney had declared a State of Emergency and put the National Guard on alert on March 12 and has steadily added to that order.

On March 13, he ordered schools closed until March 27.

On Saturday he closed Delaware’s beaches, less than 24 hours after crowds descended to the surf and Rehoboth Beach boardwalk on an unseasonably warm day.

University of Delaware donates safety supplies to hospitals

Unused masks and protective gear from research labs at the University of Delaware will augment the state’s supply of safety gear for hospitals and first responders.

In a rainy parking lot on the University of Delaware campus, Mark Seifert helped load boxes of hand sanitizer, N95 masks, gloves, gowns and other protective gear into the back of a truck. UD’s director of emergency management said with campus activity suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, it just made sense to donate the gear to the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.

“All the things that some other states are experiencing some shortages, we’re trying to get ahead of things and be proactive and work with our partner and supply that from the university,” Seifert said.

Delaware’s first coronavirus cases included a UD professor and graduate students who attended an off-campus event. That led the school to move to online classes about a week and a half ago. On March 15, UD president Dennis Assanis ordered research labs to shut down. Labs that work with animals, critical cell cultures, or unique substances or mixtures used in chemical analysis are exempt.

“As part of their everyday operations, their research operations, obviously to keep themselves safe during their research operations they use these products,” Seifert said. “Obviously we’re not going to be using those products in the near term, so why not put them back to the folks on the front line that really need those materials.”

Nikki Testa of the state emergency management agency said the supplies will help tremendously. “As everybody knows there’s a shortage across the country, so any little bit helps, this is fantastic. We’ve had a great partnership with the University of Delaware, and this is just another example,” she said.

Supplies will be inventoried and stored at DEMA until it’s distributed by the state Division of Public Health to hospitals, firefighters, police, and other agencies on the front lines of the virus response effort.

Only three courts in Delaware to remain open

On Sunday, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz ordered all Delaware courts to close with the exception of the 24-hour Justice of the Peace Courts in each county. Those three courts handle bail payments for all courts and emergency criminal and civil filings.

“Since the declaration of a judicial emergency on March 14, 2020, the courts have done remarkable work using video and telephone instead of in-person appearances while postponing non-emergency matters,” Seitz said in a statement. “Despite these measures to reduce the traffic in our state courthouses, we have had several possible exposures which have been reported publicly.”

On Friday, court officials shut down the courthouse in Georgetown after a worker started showing symptoms of coronavirus while at the courthouse. That person later tested negative for COVID-19.

“Given the escalating nature of the public health emergency, we needed to take further measures to protect the safety of the courts and our judicial partners,” he said.’

Attorneys and members of the public without access to e-filing too

Delaware hospitals coordinate testing plan

In an effort to streamline the testing for coronavirus, hospitals in Delaware are partnering with the Division of Public Health to set up a coordinated process to test patients in each county. ChristianaCare will operate two testing sites, in Newark and Wilmington. St. Francis Healthcare will also operate a testing site in Wilmington. Bayhealth will run a testing site in Dover. Beebe Healthcare will operate sites in Millsboro and Frankford. Nanticoke will test patients in Seaford.

“It is critically important that we all work together to reduce the burden on our health system and keep Delawareans safe,” Gov. Carney said. “Our goal right now is to limit the spread of the virus. The community-based testing plan we are announcing today builds on our already established infrastructure in Delaware’s health system in an effort to make testing more readily accessible for those in need.”

Health care staff will only test patients with a prescription or order from a doctor. Tests will be administered at no cost to patients.

Anyone without access to a health care provider can call the DPH coronavirus hotline at 1-866-408-1899 to be evaluated. If testing is determined to be necessary, medical personnel can provide documentation to take to the testing site.

Health officials say people experiencing coronavirus symptoms should not automatically go to the emergency room. They say only go to the ER if you are having significant trouble breathing. “Delawareans also have a critical role to play in keeping our health care providers safe: if you suspect you have been exposed to coronavirus, stop and call your health care provider first,” said Wayne Smith, president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association. “It is vitally important that you do not go directly to your doctor’s office or the Emergency Room to protect the health of health care providers and vulnerable populations.”

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