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Delaware enters ‘acceleration phase’ of virus spread

Keona Berry walks down Market Street with a protective mask on her face on Friday, March 27, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Keona Berry walks down Market Street with a protective mask on her face on Friday, March 27, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

The number of coronavirus cases in Delaware is more than doubling every three days, with a 260% increase in cases over the past week.

Ten people in Delaware have died from coronavirus as of Wednesday morning. There are 319 confirmed cases of the disease and 57 people are being treated in the hospital.

Over the past week, Delaware has ratcheted up restrictions on travel, ordering out-of-state visitors to quarantine themselves for 14 days after arriving in the state. The state has also prohibited out-of-state visitors from accessing state parks. Starting next week, only child care centers serving the children of essential personnel will be allowed to stay open.

“We are in the midst of what’s called the acceleration phase of this,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the state Division of Public Health. “Again, not unexpected, but very concerning.” Rattay gave an update on the state’s status during a live streamed webcast Wednesday morning.

Infections have been found throughout the state among people of all ages, but older residents have suffered the worst. All of the state’s ten who died were over the age of 65 and had underlying health conditions. “The older you are, the sicker you are, the more likely you are to succumb to this illness,” Rattay said.

She said the state has been hearing stories about older residents getting together for parties despite Gov. John Carney’s stay-at-home emergency order. “The reality is, then we’re seeing people succumbing to illness after those events together. I think it’s so important that we all have the belief that we’re all carrying this virus,” Rattay said.

She said the state will begin to “crack down” on employers and individuals who are violating Carney’s order. “The governor and the Division of Public Health are extremely concerned that many businesses are not being compliant with social distancing. And we want to say that we intend to crack down on this,” Rattay said. “If we find businesses that are not being compliant, we want to know about it.” She said anyone who knows of a business or individual who is not following social distancing requirements, they can email the state at DPHcall@Delaware.gov. That email address can also be used to report people who have coronavirus but are not staying home and complying with isolation orders.

Senior center transitions to grab-and-go

The CHEER group, which operates multiple senior centers in southern Delaware, is shifting how it serves meals for seniors. Traditionally, meals are served at the senior centers, but with social distancing rules in effect especially for seniors, those gatherings have been canceled.

Instead, CHEER has transitioned to a drive-through system. “We’re now providing a grab-and-go kind of service where seniors that have the ability to drive to the center location, they can wait in their car and have curbside delivery,” CHEER CEO Ken Bock said.

The CHEER Center in Georgetown, Delaware has transitioned to serving meals for seniors inside their facility to packing boxes for curbside pick up. (courtesy CHEER/Facebook)

The Meals on Wheels program is being utilized more than ever to provide food to seniors who can’t leave their homes, said Dava Newnam, director of the state Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities. “Our meal count has increased in the past just 30 days by over 50% and we continue to see that increase as the need arises,” she said.

CHEER has also seen a “huge growth” in its home delivery program. “We have also ramped up our production capabilities to produce additional frozen meals, and we have gotten in and assembled additional ‘shelf stable’ meals so that we are able to provide 15 additional meals in the homes of each of these seniors,” Bock said. Those extra meals could keep seniors fed in the event that more stringent restrictions are placed on travel that prohibit the food deliveries.

More prison programs restricted

On March 22, the Department of Correction prohibited program volunteers over the age of 60 or those with underlying health conditions from visiting Delaware prisons. Today, that restriction has been extended to include volunteers working in a number of programs that are not considered essential.

Volunteers in essential programs that will still be allowed behind bars include drug treatment, sex offender, and DUI programs. Other programs, like religious services and prison education will be allowed to continue via video conferencing.

“We are taking deliberate steps every day to protect the health and well-being of our staff, inmates, contractors and members of the public,” DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said.  “That means we must make difficult choices about who has access to our facilities.”

She said many of these programs contribute to the quality of life for inmates and improve their re-entry success, and programs affected by the restrictions will have the option to continue through a web-based video platform where possible.

Last week, Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings told WHYY News her office was engaged in daily discussions with the DOC, the Office of Defense Services and the courts to reduce incarceration and detainment rates amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “We want to make sure those who do not pose a public safety risk will be able to be released, and we have agreed to file those petitions for release jointly with ODS,” Jennings said.

In 2019, the prison population fell more than 14% from the previous year — from 5,207 to 4,436, while the pretrial population fell 12%.

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