With cases at a two-month high, Delaware nurses group urges vaccines for all, ChristianaCare orders it

The state’s largest hospital system says all workers must have at least one dose by Sept. 21 if they want to keep their job.

Dr. Mike Benninghoff confers with registered nurse Lea Robbins in Christiana Hospital's intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients. (Courtesy of ChristianaCare)

Dr. Mike Benninghoff confers with registered nurse Lea Robbins in Christiana Hospital's intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients. (Courtesy of ChristianaCare)

With coronavirus cases at a two-month high in Delaware and the pace of vaccinations slowing, the state’s nursing group is calling on everyone to get inoculated as the state’s largest hospital system has just mandated it for all employees.

While Delaware’s cases are still relatively low compared to the winter and other periods in the nearly 17 months since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in March 2020, the trend in recent weeks has concerned officials.

As of Friday, the weekly daily case average was 90 — more than quadruple what it was just a month ago. The positivity rate has also more than tripled to 3.5% during that period. Hospitalizations had dipped to 14 a month ago but in recent days have been in the 30s.

Coronavirus-related deaths have been relatively rare — just six of the state’s 1,700 have occurred in the last month — and public officials attribute that to the fact that 72.3% of adults have now had at least one vaccine dose.

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Data analyzed by WHYY News shows that 99% of coronavirus cases in Delaware since January have been in unvaccinated people.

However, the recent increase in cases, stagnant vaccination rate and presence of highly contagious mutations like the Delta variant, led the 26,000-member Delaware Nursing Association to call on everybody, especially nurses and healthcare workers, to get one of the three vaccines authorized for emergency use.

“We must continue to lead the way, guided by science, ethics, compassion, and professional commitments,’’ DNA executive director Christopher Otto said.

Otto added that “nurses are the most trusted and largest of all licensed health professionals. We possess an ethical and professional obligation to those we serve to first do no harm and provide care and knowledge aligned with the best available evidence. We owe these same duties to each other and ourselves.”

Otto also urged hospital systems in Delaware to mandate vaccination for workers. As of Wednesday, only St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington had done so.

On Thursday, ChristianaCare, the state’s largest system and owner of the two largest hospitals – Wilmington and Christiana – followed suit, announcing that all employees, including volunteers, temporary workers and vendors, must have at least one dose by Sept. 21 or face termination. Exemptions will only be granted for medical reasons or religious beliefs, ChristianaCare officials said.

Hospital president Dr. Janice Nevin said about 10,000 employees — more than 70% of ChristianaCare’s workforce — have been inoculated. She noted that President Biden was vaccinated at Christiana Hospital, and that the vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have proven to be safe and effective against serious illness, hospitalization and death.

“The science is clear,” Nevin said. “Healthcare workers must be vaccinated in order to protect the health and safety of our patients, our caregivers and our community. We must take this step as expert, caring partners in the health of our neighbors.”

Nevin noted that her decision comes as organizations such as the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals and the American College of Surgeons have urged mandatory vaccinations for healthcare providers.

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Otto applauded Christiana’s move, and also called on the state’s two other bigger systems – downstate Beebe and Bayshore – to follow their lead.

“We still have a long ways to go,’’ Otto told WHYY News.

Asked about his message to those in healthcare who have refused to get vaccinated so far, Otto said: “The information is out there and we encourage you to seek it from credible sources. We really need to be the leaders for each other and for our community because they trust us. Let’s get over this hump.”

Gov. John Carney has not ordered any vaccinations of state workers, like some governments including New York City have done, and has not issued new guidance about masks, even as federal officials are now urging even the vaccinated to wear face coverings in indoor spaces where community spread is high.

But Carney and public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay have exhorted the reluctant or resistant to get the shots. Their focus is on adults 18 to 14 – 45% inoculated with at least one dose – and children ages 12 and above – 42.6%.

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