First Delawarean dies from coronavirus as case count rises to 130

Nurses with ChristianaCare wait for the next vehicle to arrive to test people for the coronavirus on Friday, March 13, 2020, at the Riverfront complex in downtown Wilmington, Del. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

Nurses with ChristianaCare wait for the next vehicle to arrive to test people for the coronavirus on Friday, March 13, 2020, at the Riverfront complex in downtown Wilmington, Del. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

Updated at 7:20 p.m.

Delaware has its first death from coronavirus as the case count has risen to 143, public health officials announced Thursday.

The victim is a 66-year-old Sussex County man who died while hospitalized out of state. He had underlying conditions and was already critically ill, officials said, adding that the “source of his exposure is not confirmed.”

The new total of 143 cases includes 26 positive laboratory results reported in the last two days.

Fifteen Delawareans are currently hospitalized, including two in other states. Seven are critically ill, officials said.

Since the source of exposure for many patients is unknown, that fact “indicates that community spread of the virus is occurring in the state,” officials said.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the gentleman who died, as well as to all who have been diagnosed with coronavirus disease,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, Delaware’s public health director.

“This is a tragic reminder that this disease can be fatal. We need to make sure that we are protecting vulnerable persons from this disease, particularly older individuals and those with chronic health conditions. This reinforces why it’s so important for everyone to stay home – especially those who are ill with any symptoms including fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath and even stomach aches, nausea and diarrhea.”

While the number of confirmed cases in Delaware has more than quadrupled in the last eight days, Delaware’s infections have not skyrocketed like nearby states such as New York and New Jersey, which have the most cases in the country. New Jersey, for example, has nine times more people than Delaware, but 34 times more cases for a total of 4,402 as of Thursday morning.

In addition, 62 people have died in New Jersey, compared with one in neighboring Delaware.

Officials also said Wednesday night that four people have “fully recovered” since the state’s first case was confirmed on March 11.

“Patients are considered fully recovered seven days after the resolution of their symptoms,’’ officials said.

GOP lawmakers want economic recovery task force

In another development, leading House Republicans are calling on Gov. John Carney to create a business task force to help reduce the “financial impact’’ of the crisis.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty over the situation forced on us by the pandemic, made all the worse by the inability of the Legislature to meet,” the GOP lawmakers wrote to Carney, a Democrat who this week declared the spread of COVID-19 a public health emergency. “We believe this proposed task force will provide our citizens with needed reassurance that their voices are being heard and that their concerns are being given consideration.”

The Republicans, who are in the minority in both chambers of the General Assembly, want Carney to establish the Business Leaders Recovery Task force “as soon as possible.’’

They want it to be composed of “professionals representing various business sectors throughout Delaware. We are asking that this committee be tasked with addressing the multitude of recovery issues that will result once the State of Emergency in Delaware has been lifted.”

Carney declared a State of Emergency on March 12, one day after the first positive test result. And effective Tuesday, he instituted a “stay-at-home” order except for employees in grocery stores, trucking, health care and other “essential’’ industries, and for people getting necessary items such as food and medical care.

The proposed task force could tackle issues such as:

  • Types of short-term and long-term financial relief for residents
  • Making it easier for small business owners to apply for state and federal relief
  • Assessing the legal ramifications for small businesses

Those issues and more “are likely to keep surfacing in the weeks and months ahead,’’ the lawmakers wrote.

Carney’s office did not immediately respond to WHYY’s request for comment on the Republicans’ proposal.

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