As state nears 5,000 COVID cases, officials highlight progress but note crisis isn’t over

DOVER — Delaware continues to make progress in the fight against COVID-19 but is not ready to reopen, Gov. John Carney said Friday as protesters gathered in several locations to rally against restrictions he has imposed.

The state is now at 4,918 confirmed and probable cases and 159 deaths related to the virus, according to the Division of Public Health, including 184 additional cases and seven more fatalities announced Friday. Not only does Delaware remain well below hospital capacity statewide but new admissions are decreasing.

Additionally, the percentage of people testing positive has declined over the past two weeks, officials said during a news conference on the situation.

Despite those steps in the right direction, Delaware remains short of the needed supply of testing materials and officials still want to see a longer-term downward trend in cases and hospitalizations. Only then can more businesses open and restrictions like the one requiring people to cover their faces in public will be lifted.

“The reality is it is still not safe to be out in our communities,” DPH Director Karyl Rattay said.

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, 281 people were hospitalized in Delaware from coronavirus-related issues, with 58 critically ill. DPH said 1,403 individuals have recovered, meaning they have gone without symptoms for at least a week. The most recent deaths include a 30-year-old, the youngest Delawarean to die from the virus so far.

Delaware’s first official coronavirus case came on March 11, with the first death announced March 26.

One week ago, the state was at 3,442 cases and 100 deaths. There were 2,075 cases and 52 deaths one week prior to that.

There have been 22,585 total tests, DPH said, although it cautions the figure is preliminary and should not be used as a substitute for the overall number of Delawareans who have been tested.

Much of that jump is attributable to Sussex County. The state’s southernmost county has seen outbreaks in the poultry industry, with many involving Hispanics or other minorities, prompting DPH to partner with health care providers, poultry plants and other organizations to offer free testing in Sussex.

More than 1,100 people have been tested at these events, which are aimed especially at hard-to-reach and oft-overlooked groups, according to Gov. Carney.

In all, there have been 2,292 positives involving residents of Sussex, 1,829 involving those living in New Castle County, 773 involving Kent Countians and 24 involving people with an unknown residence so far.

Despite the fact it has only 24 percent of the state’s population, Sussex has been the home of nearly 47 percent of Delaware’s COVID-19 cases. Many of those are clustered in the greater Georgetown area. S

Of the people who died, 70 were from New Castle, 62 were from Sussex and 27 were from Kent.

The big spike in Sussex in recent weeks has obscured the fact Delaware is slowing the virus’ spread in Kent and New Castle, Gov. Carney said, urging people to continue following social distancing and other mandates or recommendations.

“Our success in moving to the next phase will be how effectively we stay the course with respect to current social distancing. Social distancing and the restrictions on movement and large gatherings up until this point has been working,” he said. “We are flattening the curve, but we’re not quite there yet.”

The state has begun hosting virtual conference calls with business owners and other concerned citizens to gather ideas about reopening. Based on guidance from the White House, Delaware officials don’t plan to take any big steps toward restarting the state’s economy until there is evidence of a decline over the course of two weeks.

So far, Delaware has tested 1.7 percent of its 973,000 or so residents, top 15 among states, according to Dr. Rattay. Still, more tests are needed.

Almost every state is in the same situation in regard to not having enough tests, prompting fierce competition among them.

“If there’s one thing … the federal government can help us with, it’s testing,” Gov. Carney said.

Asked directly about Friday’s protests, which took place outside the state capitol in Dover and the main state office building in Wilmington, the governor expressed empathy for those struggling financially but indicated he’ll stick to his guns.

“I hear them,” he said of the protestors. “They have every right to do what they’re doing. They do not have the right to do it in the way that they’re doing it, but it’s counterproductive, I think, to pick fights.”

Similarly, the governor said he understands the urgency felt by some lawmakers, including the 15 members of the House Republican caucus who sent a letter Thursday urging him to reopen the state as soon as possible. While Gov. Carney said he gets their concerns and has spoken with caucus leadership, he also noted most of those 15 represent Sussex, describing the letter as sending a bad message to people there.

Officials Friday appealed to people to continue staying the course. Many Delawareans may be tempted to go outside this weekend due to the warm weather, but they should be sure to follow social distancing if they do, Gov. Carney said, half-joking he hopes it rains.

“This is our test. This is the test of this time and this generation and we’ll be measured by it with history as to how we responded,” he said, comparing COVID-19 to other major historical events like World War I and II.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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