Does Delaware’s new COVID-19 spike portend a long infected winter? Health officials worried it does

With Thanksgiving upon us and December’s holidays looming, concern grows among Delaware health leaders about ‘bad outcomes’ from indoor gatherings.

A sign notifies customers that COVID-19 vaccinations are available at a pharmacy in a grocery store

In this Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, photograph, a sign notifies customers that COVID-19 vaccinations are available at a pharmacy in a grocery store. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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Less than three weeks ago, COVID-19 cases in Delaware were on a steady and promising two-month decline.

Vaccinations of adults kept increasing, surpassing 80% and kids as young as 5 began getting the shots to keep schools safer.

The vaccine rate keeps trickling upward, but on the eve of Thanksgiving — with no government-mandated restrictions in place and families once again preparing to pack into homes to break bread and watch football — cases and hospitalizations have shot up.

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On Nov. 5, the weekly average of new daily cases had dipped to 235. But on Wednesday, the state reported a daily average of 371. That’s a 58% increase.

Hospitalizations for coronavirus-related illnesses have also risen steadily. On Nov. 7, there were 134 Delawareans receiving inpatient care. On Wednesday the number was 177 — a 32% boost.

One positive indicator is that only about one Delawarean has died each day in the last three weeks. It had been two a day in the previous two months.

Dr. Rick Hong, medical director at the Delaware Division of Public Health, said the sudden reversal of a welcome trend has officials worried, especially with the holidays just over the horizon.

‘We’re not happy about it,’’ Hong told WHYY News.

So what’s going in Delaware and elsewhere across much of the United States, where cases have also been rising in recent weeks?

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Is it the return of colder weather and more people gathering indoors to dine, watch basketball, and concerts?

Hong speculated that in Delaware, those factors are definitely in play, along with a delayed effect from Halloween, slightly more than three weeks ago. Hong said the annual trick-or-treating festivities spurred a late-fall increase last year as well.

That doesn’t portend well for Christmas and the colder months approaching, he said.

“We are concerned, with the holidays coming up that we will continue to see this increase in the number of cases as well as hospitalizations,’’ he said.

With Gov. John Carney already on record saying he doesn’t anticipate new restrictions, and a possible end to the school masking mandate in February, Hong reiterated what he and health officials have been saying, ad nauseum, for months.

“We still want to remind folks that, we want everyone to have a safe holiday, making sure you still remember to wear masks and make sure you social distance and get your vaccine if you haven’t done so already,” he said.

Everyone ages 5 and up is now eligible for vaccination, and state statistics show progress with the kids under 18.

Since children ages 5 to 11 became eligible earlier this month, 11% of Delaware kids in that age range have received at least one shot.

In addition, 58% of children ages 12 to 17 have been vaccinated. That’s higher than the 18-34 age group, which only has a 56% inoculation rate and the highest infection rate.

Hong also reminded all adults that they are eligible for a booster shot two months after receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and six months after getting the Pfizer or Moderna shots.

“Those that are already vaccinated, if you’re due for a booster, please get your boosters. And if you haven’t done so, please get your young ones vaccinated as well, too. We know these are rough times and people are very excited to celebrate the holidays, but we just again want to make sure everyone is safe.”

To the 285,000 eligible people who are not yet vaccinated, a number that includes 186,000 adults, Hong says this:

“Keep in mind, you are at increased risk of getting infected and passing to others. Make sure you wear masks when you are around people, especially those who are not vaccinated. And of course, keep your distance apart from each other.

“There are ways to maintain infection control measures while enjoying your holidays. We don’t want any bad outcomes during your celebrations.”

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