Coronavirus confirmed in Delaware: New Castle County man first case

Gov. John Carney elbow bumps officials before a press conference regarding the coronavirus at the Carvel State Office Building in downtown Wilmington on Wednesday. Special to the Delaware State News/Butch Comegys

DOVER — Health experts said it was only a matter of time, and now Delaware has its first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

The Delaware Division of Public Health announced Wednesday a New Castle County man over age 50 “who is associated with the University of Delaware community” represents the first positive diagnosis in the state.

DPH said the man, who is not seriously ill and quarantined himself at home as soon as symptoms appeared, was exposed to a confirmed case of the virus in another state.

The agency did not release any further information about the patient.

The state and the university are working to identify individuals who may have been exposed and will provide guidance to anyone affected by the virus.

“The patient is doing well. We understand that news of a positive case in the state is concerning, but this is something we have been preparing for over the last several weeks,” DPH Director Karyl Rattay said at a news conference Wednesday.

At this point, containing the virus is the top priority for state health officials.

The fallout from the announcement has started, with the University of Delaware making major changes to its operations for the upcoming months. UD is transitioning to online classes for the rest of the semester and suspending courses today and Friday. Spring break, originally scheduled to begin March 27, will now start Saturday.

Classes will resume — online — on March 23.

UD said students can stay in their dorms during the break, and dining halls will offer meals.

Prior to Wednesday’s news, the university had outlined a series of steps it planned to take “out of an abundance of caution” due to the threat of the coronavirus. It opted not to allow fans to attend the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association basketball tournament at the Bob Carpenter Center, prompting the games to be moved to area high schools, and suspended classes for its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Other events on campus are being evaluated to determine whether they should be canceled, postponed or offered online, the university said.

Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, speaks about the coronavirus during a press conference at the Carvel State Office Building. In the background, at left, are Gov.r John Carney and Dr. Kara Odom Walker, secretary for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.

Students, faculty, and staff who have concerns about potential exposure risks should contact the university’s call center at 302-831-1188 between 9 and 5 Monday through Friday.

While many people may be worried, state officials said Wednesday there is no reason to panic. Delaware has been preparing for an outbreak for months, and Gov. John Carney said the system worked in this instance, enabling the state to confirm the case.

Gov. Carney, who has been in contact with the White House and other governors, urged businesses to let their employees work from home as much as possible.

“The most important thing we can do is listen to the advice of Public Health” and the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, he said.
State employees will not have to use their sick leave and should receive guidance soon about possible changes to their duties, according to state officials.

A few hours after detailing the case and the state’s response in a news conference, Gov. Carney hosted a virtual town hall with Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker. The event, which was originally scheduled as an actual in-person forum, saw the two field questions about both the virus and more mundane subjects.

The General Assembly, which is scheduled to resume Tuesday after a six-week break, is considering altering its schedule, although no decision had been made as of Wednesday evening.

Since the first case was reported in Wuhan, China, late last year, more than 120,000 people have been diagnosed worldwide, with more than 4,300 deaths. The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic.

Thirty-one Delawareans have been tested for the disease, with nine still awaiting results.

Individuals who have traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea in the past 14 days or had contact with someone who has are at elevated risk for the disease, as are the elderly and people with chronic underlying health conditions.

The virus causes symptoms such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath. There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for infection at this time. Delaware’s health leaders said 80 percent of those infected with the virus have mild symptoms.

Delaware Governor John Carney elbow bumps Michael Purnell, a Capitol Police officer after a press conference regarding the coronavirus held at the Carvel State Office Building.

Regardless of whether they’ve traveled recently, individuals are urged to remain home as much as possible and practice good hygiene, such as coughing or sneezing into tissues, cleaning commonly used surfaces and objects and frequently washing hands. Staying hydrated can help people dealing with the affliction recover faster.

Gov. Carney suggested people bump elbows instead of shaking hands to prevent the spread of the virus.

Those in the high-risk category should make a special effort to avoid traveling, limit contact with others, stock up on supplies and develop a plan in the event of an illness.

Delawareans with questions can call DPH’s coronavirus hotline at 1-866-408-1899 or email DPHCall@delaware.gov. The call center is currently staffed from 8:30 to 4:30 Monday through Friday but hours will likely be expanded.

The state can provide free testing, although Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro on Tuesday sent a notice to insurers that coronavirus testing is a necessary benefit required to be covered by health care.

The White House said Wednesday about $4.6 million has been awarded to Delaware to help it respond to the situation.

For the latest on Delaware’s response, go to de.gov/coronavirus. Details about the virus and the country’s response are available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.


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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