Governor names Sussex a COVID-19 hot spot, announces testing schedule

GEORGETOWN — Gov. John Carney officially declared Sussex County a COVID-19 hot spot Tuesday, the same day the state announced an increase of 13 percent in confirmed cases there.

To combat an explosive spread, the state plans to conduct free testing over the next few days at several locations in Sussex in partnership with health care providers, nonprofits and local businesses.

As of the latest data from Monday evening, Delaware had seen 4,575 cases, including 2,114 involving residents of Sussex and 1,701 involving New Castle Countians. While those numbers may not raise eyebrows, Sussex blows the northernmost county out of the water per capita, given New Castle has more than twice as many people.

Residents of Sussex are about three times as likely to have the virus as residents of New Castle.

Georgetown officials welcomed the attention. While the town of Georgetown only makes up a part of the greater Georgetown area, that 19947 ZIP code is the epicenter of the coronavirus spread. Based on data, it has the highest concentration of ZIP codes statewide.

“We’re still spiking down here, and they know that we’ve got to do a lot with education and testing here in the near future,” said Georgetown Mayor Bill West Tuesday.

Along with cases, Sussex has more hospitalizations than New Castle (132 to 127, with 58 from Kent County), raising concerns it may hit capacity in the near future even if the other two counties are OK, Gov. John Carney said Tuesday.

In Delaware’s southernmost county, outbreaks have taken place in poultry factories, which employ many minority workers who may be difficult to reach. Through partnerships, the state tested more than 750 people in community testing events in Sussex last week, many of them poultry workers, and more than 35 percent tested positive.

“It’s a very serious situation,” Gov. Carney said Tuesday, pointing to the Route 113 corridor and communities of Georgetown, Seaford and Milford.

In addition to individuals living with someone who works in the poultry industry, officials are focusing on employees of essential businesses, such as landscaping and construction, people exposed to someone with COVID-19 and individuals caring for a family member with the virus.

The state last week requested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer assistance in Sussex, and the agency sent a team of five scientists, according to state officials. Several of those epidemiologists were in a poultry plant Tuesday.

Georgetown efforts

Georgetown Town Manager Eugene Dvornick outlined actions his town is taking to spread the message of social distancing and precautions needed to stop the virus transmission.

“Certainly, the most important piece is that constant communication is being pushed out from the town,” he said. “When the Department of Public Health puts out new information — and it’s usually in English and in Spanish — as soon as it comes out, we are very cognizant of trying to get it on our Facebook and those type of social media outlets. Communication is pretty important.”

They’ve also offered logistical support with the police department helping to identify locations for drive-thru testing and screening.

“And just promoting in all respects the education and awareness. If we see a group of people, we usually have someone advise them of social distancing, and most people are compliant with that,” Mr. Dvornick said. “I have seen more people in town prior to today that have been wearing masks … as they are out in public. So, I think the message is getting out.”

The state of emergency order requiring face masks in public began at 8 a.m. Tuesday, but they have been suggested for high-traffic areas such as grocery stores and pharmacies and any place that keeping six feet apart from others may be difficult.

Because isolation is critical if someone has been exposed or is positive for the coronavirus, the state is working with businesses for housing arrangements.

Tru by Hilton, one of the hotels in Georgetown, is being utilized for isolating COVID-19 patients who are unable to isolate at their residence.

“It was secured by the state for isolation of COVID positive patients that otherwise cannot isolate safely at home. It could even be somebody like a single person, that nobody can get food to them,” said Mr. Dvornick.

Additionally, he said there is close coordination amongst the Latino service providers across the county such as La Red Health System, First State Community Action Agency and La Esperanza.

“I think is a very coordinated effort to get the word out and advise folks on what they need to be doing, especially at this time,” said Mr. Dvornick.

Gov. Carney’s proposed partnership to reach targeted populations includes the Delaware Department of Education and local school districts.

Encompassed in the Indian River School District are the Georgetown and Millsboro areas in the north, and Selbyville in the south.

Indian River School District Superintendent Mark Steele said the district would employ a communication strategy similar to what is has done with recent referendum campaigns, creating messages in English and Spanish.

“I think what they really wanted us to do is to partner with them in reaching out and hitting some of the families who are hard to contact, particularly Hispanic families in the Georgetown area and Selbyville area, as well as our Title 1 kids,” he said. “They needed help, being able to get the word out to try to get people to get tested. We’ve got a little network of folks we use, that we’re able to get things translated pretty quickly. If you even send text messages out to some of the Hispanic families, you can get their attention pretty quick.”

Testing available

The testing sites, to begin this week, will include both rapid and nasal swab testing, immediate case investigation for positive cases, distribution of care kits and, for those who test positive, connection to a resource coordinator for services like food and housing. The care kits include bandanas, thermometers, hand sanitizer and cleaning products.

A doctor’s order or referral is not needed for those sites.

Bilingual staff will be on site.

Today, Friday and Saturday, individuals can get tested in Georgetown from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m .in the parking lot between JD Shuckers and the Veteran’s Administration off Del. 404 (from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday). These events will be hosted by Beebe Healthcare.

On Thursday, Saturday and Monday, people can get tested in Milford from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the State Services Center at 253 Northeast Front St These events will be hosted by Bayhealth.

Additionally, Nanticoke Memorial Hospital plans to start community testing within the week and will provide details soon.

Residents of the county began receiving emergency alerts on their phones Tuesday evening about the hot spot status from the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, Delaware Department of Education and local school districts. The state also will be using billboards, social media, digital advertising and more to inform Sussex Countians.

Testing and outreach will be conducted in coordination with the Delaware Division of Public Health, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, hospital systems, Federally Qualified Health Centers, community organizations, and Sussex County employers.

On Monday, Beebe Medical Group opened a COVID Positive Care Center in Beebe’s Georgetown Walk-In in the town’s College Park development to provide a centralized location for patients to receive care related to coronavirus. (As a result, Beebe’s Georgetown Walk-In will be temporarily closed.)

State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, who represents the Georgetown area, welcomed the state’s expanded testing, noting that it would bring increased cases.

“First of all, we need to keep in mind the more people you test, the more positives are likely to come back,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “Last week, they did special testing at the Perdue plant in Milford and the Department of Public Health, I think, was overwhelmed by the number of positive results that were coming, especially because those individuals were asymptomatic — in other words they had no fever. They were showing up to work because they were otherwise appearing healthy, and yet they tested positive.”

“I think until we understand a little bit better some of the tests, or whichever test is being used, a person might be testing positive and have antibodies because maybe they’ve already had it and recovered, or maybe they are going to get active or maybe they don’t ever convert to the active infection, but they do have antibodies for the virus,” she said.

In assessing data, Rep. Briggs King said she would like to have a comparison of number of hospitalizations to the number of positive cases.

“Are they now recovered? I think they are very important numbers. We have to look at all the data. I am very concerned about the positives, but I think we need to look at all the data as well,” she said.

Gov. Carney acknowledged in his Tuesday briefing that because the big jump in positive tests is partially a result of the fact more testing is being done, he plans to use as his metric not new cases but percentage of tests that are positive.

Rep. Brigg King said she looks forward to the state’s contact tracing plans to identify and curb the spread.

“I think what is very important, and I would say — finally — is that we’re going to get some contact tracing, which means that when a person has tested positive, there is going to be some follow-up with that individual to see where they are living, and are there any folks that might test positive in that household,” she said.

For information on COVID-19 and assistance, people should call 2-1-1 or 7-1-1 for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Individuals with specific health-related questions, should email DPHCall@delaware.gov.


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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