Conflicting estimates on Delaware case increases

DOVER — Delaware’s coronavirus peak has already passed, according to one model, although it conflicts with the state’s own estimate.

Projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation say the outbreak peaked here a few days ago and should be almost over by the middle of May. The institute, which is part of the University of Washington, released updated numbers Wednesday that indicate hospitalizations and deaths should see a steep decline soon.

The estimate says the 10 deaths and 206 hospitalizations Tuesday represent the most the state will see, at least assuming there’s no further outbreak.

“After May 19, 2020, relaxing social distancing may be possible with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size,” the institute’s website says.

Delaware is currently at 3,442 cases and 100 deaths, with 277 people hospitalized. The projections have the death toll hitting 146 on May 11 and remaining flat afterward. Under the estimate, the number of hospital beds needed for COVID-19 patients could be just 13 on May 11.

But numbers unveiled by state officials Friday as part of an update on the COVID-19 outbreak here say otherwise. In fact, according to that prediction, the outbreak could see a steep increase in a matter of days.

The state’s forecast, which is based on modeling from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and adjusted to better fit the situation on the ground here, has Delaware surpassing 6,000 cases by the end of the month. It also estimates more than 900 people will be hospitalized by then.

Per the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the state has 696 hospital beds.

Gov. John Carney on Friday noted a large increase in case totals could be coming today due to testing recently conducted by the state in Sussex County, particularly around the poultry industry workforce, which has seen a large outbreak. The Georgetown Zip code, in the heart of Sussex, has the highest concentration of virus cases in the state.

Several prior state estimates have proven to be too aggressive, with Delaware not hitting the projected totals until a few days later. For instance, projections on April 13 said the hospitalization total would jump from 201 the prior day to 661 seven days later. It was actually 256 cases seven days later.

Delaware announced its first laboratory-confirmed case March 11 and first death March 26.

As of April 16, one week before the latest day for which there is data, the state had seen 2,075 cases and 52 deaths. There were 1,209 cases and 23 deaths one week prior to that, with 393 and 12 as of April 2.

While the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says people may be able to begin returning to normalcy soon as long as there’s enough testing and other preemptive measures, Delaware isn’t at that point yet. According to Gov. Carney, more equipment, including testing kits, is needed.

Based on guidance from the White House, the governor wants to see 28 consecutive days of a downward trend in cases before taking more steps toward reopening. Delaware also needs to hire and train hundreds of people to help trace cases so when someone tests positive for the virus, officials can notify people who may have contacted him or her.

“Coming up with that plan, assuring the supplies and resources and the supply chain for it as well as thinking through how to bring the staff on to do the contact tracing part of it is a critical component of our ability to move forward after we move through the 28 days of declining cases in our state,” the governor said Friday.

When the state hits that milestone, he plans on reopening gradually, giving priority to certain sectors of the economy. Gov. Carney announced this week the state will be soliciting input from many Delawareans through virtual town halls to help build a plan to open businesses and other entities.

“I wish I had a date certain to give you, but I don’t,” he wrote in a letter to the public Thursday. “It’s not clear yet whether our positive cases are on a consistent downward trend.”

A key factor for the governor and other decision-makers is the hospitalization rate, which is correlated with the number of deaths. Delaware’s seen positive signs on that front so far, such as the fact the median age of Delawareans with COVID-19 is less than 50.

Officials have emphasized cooperation between the state, local governments and health care providers, and the Delaware Healthcare Association reiterated that Friday. Patients can be transferred from one hospital to another or to special overflow locations if capacity is exceeded.

Working with the Division of Public Health, both Bayhealth and ChristianaCare this week provided testing in Sussex, with emphasis on reaching minorities who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Still, it’s unclear whether the state is closer to the end or the beginning of the pandemic.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted late last month April 13-23 would be the approximate peak of the virus. At the highest point, according to the earlier forecast, the state would have needed 754 beds on April 18. In actuality, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state was less than 25 percent of that estimate.

The model also had the death count hitting 240 by August, although the growth rate was expected to essentially flatten out by early June.

The United States as a whole is past the peak, according to the institute, which recently estimated the high point for the country came about 10 days ago.

At the most extreme, nearly 60,000 beds were needed on April 15, it says. By May 21, that should be down to around 3,000.

Similarly, the number of deaths, currently slightly more than 50,000, is expected to hit 67,000 by the last week of May and basically remain static from there.

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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