Delaware officials warn against New Year’s Eve parties

As the holiday season comes to a close, officials in Delaware believe they have passed the peak of the surge in COVID-19 infections, which followed Thanksgiving.

But now, Gov. John Carney and other officials worry that Christmas gatherings and upcoming New Years Eve parties could lead to another spike in cases.

“We are incredibly concerned about a surge on top of a surge,” he said Tuesday.

“We saw a surge coming out of Thanksgiving. It appears to be flattening out at the moment,” the governor said. “What we can’t afford now is to have a surge out of Christmas that mirrored what we saw coming out of Thanksgiving.”

Although Delaware has seen the rate of additional positive cases ticking up since early November, Thanksgiving did seem to beget more positive cases.

Between Nov. 19 and Thanksgiving, the state added 3,282 positive cases to its rolls while between Thanksgiving and Dec. 3, the state added 4,244 positive cases.

Since Christmas, the number of positive cases has trended down. On Christmas Day, the state reported 810 new positive cases. Since then, that metric has come all the way down to the 420 new positive cases reported on Tuesday. Although there was a brief spike to 714 cases on Monday.

But the impact Christmas gatherings will have on the coronavirus situation in Delaware is still playing out.

“Time will tell as we move out of this Christmas week into the new year,” Gov. Carney said. “We just recommend everyone be careful. Vaccines are being distributed across our state.”

Dr. Rattay went through a potential timeline for the possible “surge upon a surge.”

She said typically “five to seven days after exposure, you’ll have a positive test… You start to see your numbers going up five to seven days after exposure. But they can go up and continue to go up as it’s transmitted to others.”

Dr. Rattay said New Year’s celebrations could coincide with a surge in positive tests stemming from Christmas gatherings.

“(But) there won’t be a lot of testing going on those days,” she said. “Before or after is when we would expect our numbers to go up more.”

Then, five to seven days after New Year’s, Day there’s a potential for an additional surge, she said.

“I think we’re going to be holding our breath until we get out three weeks from now to see what our numbers look like,” Dr. Rattay said on Tuesday. “You see increases in cases. Then several weeks later, you see an increase in hospitalizations.”

Minimizing the number of COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals is another goal for Delaware’s leaders.

“Our hospitalizations are staying at a pretty high level,” Gov. Carney said.

In the weeks following Thanksgiving, the state saw a big increase in hospitalizations related to the virus.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, only 185 people were hospitalized with the virus statewide. Since Thanksgiving, the state has not seen a day with fewer than 200 people hospitalized. The number of daily hospitalizations has not gone below 400 since Dec.15.

“(That’s) one of the major reasons we have the mitigation efforts in place at the moment,” Gov. Carney said, “to give those hospitals the room that they need to treat anybody that presents with COVID-19 symptoms.”

Minimizing risk

Two big elements of this effort are the state’s stay-at-home advisory, which means students are going to class from home until Jan. 11, and the universal indoor mask mandate.

Although Christmas gatherings that already happened were a concern, at this point Delaware’s leaders are more focused on minimizing the risks some Delawareans may take.

“We’re especially concerned about New Year’s,” Dr. Rattay said. “New Year’s Eve tends to be a time when people get together. On New Year’s Day, a lot of people get together to watch football.”

She stressed that inebriation makes social gatherings even less safe.

“The consumption of alcohol makes people less likely to follow social distancing rules. So, as we have seen from our own data, house parties easily lead to super-spreader events,” she said. “We’re strongly urging people, please don’t have in-person celebrations at this point.”

Gov. Carney, determined to set a good example, recounted how he celebrated this year.

“For the first time ever, I didn’t spend Christmas Day with my 89-year-old mother,” he said. “She did have dinner with one of my brothers. I delivered Christmas Eve dinner to her door and she was pleased.”

Abbreviated plans

At testing sites around the Kent and Sussex county line, some locals said they had followed the governor’s lead with their own Christmas plans

Henry Boyd Jr., a Harrington resident, got tested for COVID-19 at Lake Forest East Elementary School in Frederica on Tuesday with his wife and his 9-year-old granddaughter Shania Polk.

“We didn’t get a whole bunch of people in the house,” he said of his family’s holiday celebrations this year. “I don’t want no one bringing nothing to me.”

Mr. Boyd said much of his extended family is in Virginia

“They said they wouldn’t come up here because they didn’t want to bring anything from down there up here and give it to me,” he said.

“I’m 74 years old. I’d be in the hospital,” he said of getting the virus.

Mr. Boyd said this has already happened to people he knows.

“A friend of mine died at the Milford hospital from that disease (Monday),” he said.

So instead of a New Year’s Eve party, Mr. Boyd said he’ll be spending some of the holiday outdoors.

“We’re going fishing,” he said. The cold weather brings “the big rockfish” in, he said.

Lewes resident Tim Van Brunt was also getting tested at the Frederica site with his family. But his Christmas was very different from Mr. Boyd’s.

“I’ve just been around people for the holidays,” Mr. Van Brunt said. “I figured we’d rather be safe than sorry.”

He said he traveled out of state with his adult children and his first grandchild.

“It was just my kid. But I have four kids, so yeah, it was a big gathering,” Mr. Van Brunt said.

He said he viewed testing as more of a formality than anything else.

“Public perception says I have to go get tested… Public perception is what keeps the economy open,” he said. “I still need to go to work.”

Mr. Van Brunt believes the virus has been vastly overblown by politicians as part of a “ruse” to sway public perception in an election year.

“I don’t think COVID makes it safer or less safe,” he said of holiday gatherings in 2020. “It’s all about self accountability. If you have underlying health conditions, then you need to take steps to prepare and protect yourself.

“A government big enough to give you everything you need is big enough to take everything you have. We’re one step away from a socialist country where you have to wait in food lines to get your essential daily needs.”

On Wednesday, state-run testing was also being carried out at the Ellendale Volunteer Fire Company. There, Ellendale residents Prentice Banks and Tighmir Sayles were standing next to each other in line.

Mr. Banks said he “stayed home right by myself,” for Christmas and Thanksgiving. He plans to do the same for New Year’s.

Mr. Sayles, on the other hand, has a job to do.

“On New Year’s Eve, I’ll be in church, but I’ll be the only one there,” he said.

As an assistant pastor and technology director at Mt. Enon Baptist Church in Milford, he’s responsible for livestreaming the service to the rest of the congregation.

Both men agreed that testing is important. Mr. Banks said he’s been tested for the virus five times.

“This is the first line of defense we have,” Mr. Sayles said.

His family agrees, but they’re not being as cautious as Mr. Sayles has been.

“I would say it’s a mix. Some of them are,” he said when asked if other members of his family had gathered for the holidays as they normally would. “I know for my family, they wouldn’t gather if everybody hadn’t been tested in the last seven days.”

For this year, Dr. Rattay and the governor had some suggestions for pandemic-safe alternatives to traditional New Year’s gatherings.

“There’s lots of creative things we can do together even though it will be different,” Dr. Rattay said.

She suggested that those looking to get together could hold “Zoom parties to try to guess each other’s New Year’s resolutions or (have) video chats to watch the ball drop together.”

Dr. Rattay also stressed the need to support local restaurants.

“Something we’ve been doing a lot of is ordering special dinners from your favorite local restaurants to celebrate with your immediate family,” she said.

But as Mr. Banks put it, at the end of the day, “people are going to do what they want to do.”

Mr. Sayles agreed.

“We can only do what we can do,” he said. “We can’t control what other people do.”

Staff writer Noah Zucker can be reached at nzucker@newszap.com.


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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