COVID numbers ‘dropping like a rock’ in Delaware but school mask mandate remains through March

In this November 2021 photo, students and staff at Odessa High School near Middletown are wearing mandated masks. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

In this November 2021 photo, students and staff at Odessa High School near Middletown are wearing mandated masks. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

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Delaware’s key COVID-19 metrics have finally fallen from the record-shattering explosion of a month ago to the levels seen at Thanksgiving, leading Gov. John Carney to declare Tuesday that his state has “beat the winter surge.”

The most closely watched figure — hospitalizations — is now 190. That’s 75% below the 759 mark of Jan. 12 and the lowest since Nov. 26.

The weekly average of new daily cases has plummeted to 306 — a 91% drop from 3,386 on Jan. 12. The last time it was that low was Nov. 15.

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The positivity rate is 8.8% — 73% below the 32.0% reached on Jan. 11. Not since Nov. 28 has it been so low.

Gov. Carney is banking on those numbers, and the impact of the coronavirus, to keep dropping, even though he lifted the monthlong indoor mask mandate Friday. Carney is also hoping there won’t be a new spike from Sunday’s Super Bowl parties and Monday’s Valentine’s Day dates.

“The numbers are dropping like a rock,’’ the governor said Tuesday during what he said would be his last weekly coronavirus briefing, at least unless the situation changes for the worse.

The governor stressed, however, that, “we’re not where we want to be. We’ve still got a little work to do.”

Carney is aiming for a repeat of July, when daily cases and the number of infected in the hospital were both below 20.

The goal is to keep those figures at least below 100, he said.

To help keep the numbers falling and get to his goals, Carney is keeping his school mask mandate in place until April 1 and the requirement in courthouses and other government facilities statewide indefinitely.

Several Republican lawmakers wrote Carney a letter Tuesday urging him to lift such restrictions immediately, but Carney said he was continuing on the current course. “We will continue to evaluate and make decisions appropriately,’’ the governor said.

Instead Carney is stressing vaccinations and boosters, as he has done repeatedly for months.

Along with two Cabinet members — education secretary Mark Holodick and social services secretary Molly Magarik, the governor continued his relentless push for parents of K-12 students to get fully vaccinated and boosted.

Of children ages 5 to 11, who have been eligible for vaccination since the fall, 31% are partly vaccinated and 24% fully vaccinated. Those children are not yet eligible for the booster shots, which medical and public health authorities say provide the best protection against infection, hospitalization and death.

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Children ages 12 to 17 are also lagging, Magarik said, with 65% partly vaccinated, 57% fully vaccinated and 12% boosted.

By contrast, 93% of adults are partly vaccinated, 71% fully vaccinated and 37% boosted.

“Our vaccination rate among youth is lower than we’d like it to be,’’ Magarik said.

She noted that numbers for minors continue ticking up, but “we hope that accelerates as we get closer and continue to move towards the expiration of the mask mandate in schools” in about six weeks.

She reiterated that the lowest vaccination rates for children are in Delaware’s most rural areas — western Kent and Sussex counties.

Holodick said higher inoculation rates make for safer schools. He noted that individual districts will have several weeks to encourage vaccination and hold clinics to get shots into more kids.

Delaware’s 19 districts, charter and private schools can still opt to keep a mask requirement, and Holodick said they will be weighing their options and the situations in their respective districts.

But regardless of what is decided at the local level, the secretary of education unequivocally stated his preference.

“Get your children vaccinated,’’ Holodick said. “It puts us in the best possible position.”

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