DPH cautions older Delawareans to take extra care

SMYRNA — With emphasis on protecting senior citizens and other vulnerable, high-risk individuals from the COVID-19 spread, Delaware’s Division of Public Health is urging everyone to act as if they are carriers of the coronavirus.

“I keep hearing stories about individuals who are in their 70s and 80s, getting together for parties. The reality is then we are seeing people succumbing to illness after those events together,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of Delaware’s Division of Public Health.

“It is so important that we all have the belief that we are all carrying this virus, and that coming close to anybody is putting others at risk for illness and for death. We can’t have parties with one another. We must abide by social distancing. We must stay home as much as possible.”

Dr. Rattay issued her plea Wednesday morning during a live panel discussion with Dava Newnam, director of the Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities, and Ken Bock, CEO of Sussex County-based CHEER Inc. at the State Health Operations Center in Smyrna.

Dr. Karyl Rattay

Of the most recent deaths in Delaware due to the coronavirus, all had significant underlying health conditions, DPH stated.

“We are especially concerned about individuals who are at higher risk — individuals over the age of 60, with chronic underlying conditions. The reality is that the older you are, and the sicker you are, the more likely you are to succumb to this illness,” said Dr. Rattay.

Conference topics centered on services, including alternative shopping options for seniors and those at high-risk, continued emphasis on social distancing practices, and non-compliance of some individuals and businesses following precautionary measures.

“This crisis is affecting everyone, but particularly those that are more vulnerable – seniors, those over the age of 60, those living with physical disabilities or those with underlying conditions,” said Ms. Newnam. “It is imperative that all of those individuals strictly adhere to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention suggestions about staying home.”

Meals on Wheels

In Sussex County, CHEER is a staple for thousands of seniors, including nutrition through its Meals On Wheels program.

With CHEER’s senior centers closed during Gov. John Carney’s State of Emergency order, CHEER has altered its meal nutrition program.

“People who depend on coming there daily for meals are no longer going to be able to get together in those congregate settings. So we have changed our program and we are now providing a ‘Grab and Go’ kind of service, where seniors that have the ability to drive to the center location can wait in their car and have curbside delivery by volunteers brining the meals out to them,” said Mr. Bock.

During the pandemic, the number of meals being served has increased.

“In the Meals On Wheels homebound delivered meal program, we’re seeing a huge growth. We have been working over the last two weeks trying not only to serve those additional people coming into the program and those people who can’t come into the senior center but those who still rely on us for meals to make sure they are getting their meals in their homes,” said Mr. Bock.

Additionally, CHEER has ramped up its production capabilities to produce additional frozen meals.

“We have gotten in additional and assembled shelf-stable meals so that we are able to provide up to 15 additional meals in the homes of each of these seniors,” Mr. Bock said. “So, if supply lines get impacted or our ability to deliver gets impacted as we go through this pandemic, the people will have food in their home. They won’t be isolated without access to that nutrition.”

Precautionary measures are taken for both clients and volunteers in CHEER’s homebound meal delivery.

Ken Bock

“Instead of the direct face-to-face contact … now meals are delivered in plastic bags that are hung on doorknobs. Volunteers knock on the door, ring the bell and step back to that social distancing six feet to allow the person to answer the door and take that meal in,” said Mr. Bock.

“We’re providing personal protective equipment. We are trying to do the things that we can to keep everybody – our volunteers, our customers and our staff – as safe as possible, and still ensure that those seniors are going to be able to have what they need to sustain themselves in their homes.”

Dr. Rattay made note of the tragedy in Washington State where several dozen deaths have been linked to COVID-19 at a long-term care center near Seattle. Laboratory testing in the nursing home revealed that about 50 percent of those positive cases were individuals that had no symptoms, which “was quite a surprise,” Dr. Rattay said.

“That again reinforces for us the incredibly important message that we all have to act as though we have the virus,” said Dr. Rattay. “That seems to be especially the case for seniors as well as children, that even though they may not have symptoms they certainly could have the virus and could spread it. We all need to keep that distance from others.”

In Delaware, three deaths have been linked to the Sisters of the Poor senior residence in Newark.

Maintaining compliance

Dr. Rattay said Gov. Carney and the Division of Public Health are “extremely concerned” that many businesses are not being compliant with social distancing.

“We want to say that we intend to crack down on this. Some businesses are doing a great job of keeping people who are ill out of their facilities and also keeping people at social distance in those facilities,” said Dr. Rattay.

“If we find businesses that are not being compliant, we want to know about it. If you are aware of a business where social distancing is not occurring, please send an email to: dphcall@delaware.gov. We want to know. We also want to know if there are positive cases who are not staying home and not being compliant with their isolation requirements.

“Some of the things that we keep seeing over and over in our cases, is that people are not being compliant with a lot of the guidance that is given.

“People are going out. People are going to work when they are ill. And yes, we appreciate the many people who are working for our essential services including healthcare providers, going out and doing the work right now. But anyone, no matter who you are, no matter what your work site is, if you have any symptoms of illness please, please, please do not go to work. Please don’t go to the supermarket, to the pharmacy. Please get somebody else to do that for you.”

Shopping options

“If you have to go to the grocery store – and we are very thankful for our grocery stores and our pharmacies and retail community for really stepping up and opening early so that these individuals have the ability to go and get what they absolutely need without having to deal with a lot of crowds – we encourage you, if you must go to the grocery store or the pharmacy, go during those times,” said Ms. Newnam. “We would ask you to contact your friends, your neighbors, family members and ask them to go for you. And to leave those items outside your door so that you don’t come into direct contact.”

Anyone unable to get to the store or have help from family or community is urged to contact the Aging and Disability Resource Center at 1-800-223-9074 or delawareadrc.com for help.

For individuals in good health opting to shop, Dr. Rattay emphasizes proper hygiene. That includes washing hands well before going out and taking hand sanitizer along.

“Use it several times through trip. Make sure you stay six feet away from any other individuals in the store. The second you leave that store, clean your hands again with hand sanitizer and wash hands well when you get home. And be very careful not to touch your face during that time, until you have done a great hand washing hands once you’ve gotten home,” said Dr. Rattay. “Follow those things, and it should help quite a lot.”

Feeling ill? Stay home

Above all, if there is any sign of illness, the message is to stay home. In addition to initially reported COVID-19 signs of fever, cough and shortness of breath, Dr. Rattay said the health world is now seeing cases that include body aches, sore throat, runny nose, stomach pain and diarrhea.

“So, any sign of illness, please don’t go out,” Dr. Rattay said.

“We are learning every day more about COVID-19. There was a study that was just released a couple days ago that really shows that those especially with diabetes, any type of lung disease like COPD, and those with cardiovascular disease are especially at higher risk,” said Dr. Rattay, adding it also includes those undergoing cancer treatment. “This actually isn’t a change from we saw from China, but it is really reinforced by the data that we are seeing in the U.S.”

Coping with isolation

Seniors who are told to stay home raises concern about isolation and depression.

“I would encourage you to call your family members, call your grandparents, call your friends, call your neighbors,” said Ms. Newnam. “All of you kids that are stuck at home, when you’re caught up on Schoology, call your grandparents, or draw pictures. If you don’t have grandparents who you can call or draw pictures for, send them to the nursing homes. These are tough times for these individuals that aren’t having any contact with the outside world. So please, do what you can to touch base with them by phone, video chat or even letters.”

Mr. Bock concurred.

“If you are a senior isolated in your home right now there are resources out there,” he said. “If you need something – not just if you are not feeling well or feeling symptoms — if you need food, other kinds of necessary support in your home, get on the phone, reach out, go online. There resources available. Don’t sit home and let a bad situation continue to devolve.”

Contact information

Division of Public Health: Call 1-866-408-1899 or email DPHcall@delaware.gov.

CHEER Inc.: Call 302-515-3040 or visit http://cheerde.com.

Delaware Aging and Disability Resource Center: Call 1-800-223-9074, email DelawareADRC@delaware.gov or visit www.delawareadrc.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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