COVID-19 testing rates dip in Delaware and nation

Delaware National Guard Senior Airman Madelyn Burns, front, and Army National Guard Master Sgt. Savage Howard explain COVID-19 testing procedures to vehicle occupants at the Milford High School testing site on Friday morning. Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller

DOWNSTATE — Nationwide, the rate of COVID-19 testing is down, and although Delaware is doing a better job with testing than many states, others have it beat.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, a data compilation site put together by the Atlantic in conjunction with the Center for Anti-Racist Research, coronavirus testing in the U.S. peaked on July 24, when 927,196 tests were conducted nationwide.

According to the same website, the 635,605 tests conducted on Thursday was the country’s worst showing since early July.

According to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, with a rate of 22,216 tests per 100,000 residents, Delaware has the nation’s 14th highest testing rate. It sits below Michigan and above Massachusetts, which have rates of 23,962 and 21,684 tests per 100,000 residents, respectively.

“We have seen a little bit of a decrease in the last three weeks,” said AJ Schall, Delaware Emergency Management Agency director.

He said that pattern was partially due to Tropical Storm Isaias, which shuttered many of his agency’s testing sites when it struck Delaware this month, but he’s also seen demand for testing statewide decrease in general.

“We’ve also seen a slight drop in some of our sites,” Mr. Schall said. “Where we used to see 1,110 or 1,200 people in the past, we’re only getting to the 900 range right now.”

He described demand for testing as episodic.

“It comes and goes,” he said. “If there’s something in the news that makes people want to go get tested, we see a quick type of emotional response to that.”

Mr. Schall said the state’s testing capacity has not decreased.

“Testing numbers are a function of both testing availability as well as public uptake of testing,” said Dr. Rick Pescatore, the Delaware Department of Health’s chief physician. “We here in the state of Delaware have done a really good job when it comes to diversifying our testing resources and making sure we have the supply lines and availability that are not moldable or changeable based on larger nationwide factors.”

At a free drive-thru testing event at Milford High School on Friday, people were still seeking tests, even if the event was not as crowded as others in the past.

“I am a former carrier of COVID. I was in the hospital for three weeks, so I’m being re-tested,” said Chester Speights of Cheswold. “It was a rough three weeks there, and I’ve also been quarantining in my house for another 14 days.”

Jodie Cantey, clinical nurse and Delaware National Guard major, explains COVID-19 testing procedures to a driver at Milford High.

He said his whole family has been tested as well.

“I think the governor is doing a great job, and I think Delaware overall is hanging in there, just like everyone else,” Mr. Speights said.

MacKenzie Jones and Jacob Waldron, two actors from New York City, were also tested at the Milford High School event.

“We’re actually doing a show at the Clear Space Theater in Rehoboth (Beach),” Ms. Jones said. “We have to get tested weekly to do that.”

They both praised the ease and speed with which the Milford High site operated.

“We usually do the nasal swab in New York, so this was much easier,” Mr. Waldron said.

“We leaned into and adopted very early on testing procedures, protocols and availability that were focused on the patient,” Dr. Pescatore said. “That included specimen collection types that are not as fearsome and off-putting as the deep nasopharyngeal swab.”

According to the Coronavirus Resource Center, Delaware conducted 1.7 tests per 1,000 residents last week, which is right on par with the rate in Colorado, but behind rates in Connecticut and New York, which had 3.5 and 3.9 tests per 1,000 residents last week.

The same site said Delaware’s testing rate is much closer to those of outbreak-prone states like Florida and Georgia, which have done 20,218 and 19,732 tests per 100,000 people, respectively, than it is to the rates in New York or New Jersey, which are 37,214 and 28,711 per 100,000, respectively.

Ease of access helps

Dr. Pescatore said the ease of access provided by free drive-thru testing events and testing sites at pharmacies like Walgreens have done a lot to improve Delaware’s rate, and that the state’s early outreach to traditionally under-represented groups went a long way in minimizing the impact of the virus in those communities.

“The classic under-representation and under-engagement of minority communities is well-documented, and even in just the short time of this pandemic, has been demonstrated to result in greater harm for those communities,” Dr. Pescatore said.

“That was an early recognition by every bit of leadership in the state as well as our hospital and community experts and partners,” which he said led to “a commitment to make sure that testing was made available and accessible to communities that might classically, or within the data, not be regarded as having as good access.”

Senior Airman and medical technician Raelyn Blevins checks in a driver at the Milford High testing site.

Although non-Hispanic white people make up the majority of those who have been tested in Delaware, Latinos and non-Hispanic black people in Delaware are tested at much higher rates. Latinos and non-Hispanic blacks are tested at rates of 1944.7 and 1926.6 people per 10,000, respectively, in comparison with rates of 1,461.0 and 1025.8 per 10,000 for white people and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

That ethno-racial divide is even clearer in some locales like Milford, where non-Hispanic black people are tested at a rate of 3,189.6 per 10,000 people, almost two times the rate at which white residents are tested, which is 1604.5 per 10,000.

In Milford, Latinos have been tested at a rate of 2,350.3 per 10,000, but in Georgetown they’re tested at a rate of 3645.8 per 10,000, which is almost three times the rate at wich non-Hispanic white people are tested there, which is 1306.1 per 10,000.

Dr. Pescatore said the cumulative rate at which people in Georgetown are or have been infected, 833 positive cases per 10,000 residents, is misleading.

“That probably reflects… the early outbreak in the poultry community, which has long since been brought under control. To be honest, I think that is one of the greatest accomplishments we have seen during the pandemic,” he said.

“I was actually down in Georgetown today and saw our first site there and got a little nostalgic, to be honest. This was a time of incredible shortages of testing resources, incredible shortages in information about the virus.” Dr. Pescatore said. “The partnerships and procedures that were put in place early, I do believe, saved a lot of lives down there.”

The overall rate of testing in Georgetown is 3142.5 per 10,000 residents, which is roughly on par with the Lewes area’s rate of 3218.1 per 10,000 and higher than the rate in Milford, which has 2912.0 people tested per 10,000.

Rehoboth leads testing

Still, Rehoboth Beach’s ZIP code has the highest rate of testing statewide with 4,583.1 people tested per 10,000 residents. There, the rate of infections is 479.7 per 10,000 residents, which is lower than the Ellendale area’s rate of 549.7 per 10,000 but higher than rates in Milford, Seaford and Smyrna.

The testing rate remains much lower in the westernmost ZIP codes in Kent and Sussex counties. The only area that has a rate higher than 2,000 tests per 10,000 residents is Seaford, which has had 2,306.8 people tested per 10,000.

Dr. Pescatore noted that the state’s partnership with Walgreens to provide testing sites, including the one in Bridgeville, has been very successful in increasing access to testing statewide.

“We will be expanding our Walgreens sites quite soon,” he said.

Mr. Schall had some anecdotal theories about low turnout at some of the DEMA testing sites in western Sussex.

“I don’t know if the schedules don’t align for people or if there’s not an interest there, but it’s a balancing act,” he said. “We want to make sure we get the testing at the right place at the right time with the right message.”

For example, DEMA had a testing site “in Harrington after the fair because we had some interest,” Mr. Schall said.

“We’ll be in Marydel again next Wednesday,” even though “we were there a few weeks ago and we had less than 200 people come… Marydel didn’t get us a lot of people a few weeks ago, but we’re still going back.”


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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