Two Delaware related deaths reported: COVID-19 cases hit 143 as officials urge sick to stay home

A Cheswold Fire Co. ambulance arrives at Bayhealth in Dover on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Delaware announced its first two official coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday. The deceased were a 66-year-old man from Sussex County and an 86-year-old man living at the Little Sisters of the Poor Jeanne Jugan Residence in Newark, the Division of Public Health said in announcements about seven hours apart.

The Jeanne Jugan Residence is also the site of the first outbreak in a long-term care facility in the state: Six residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

The source of exposure for both cases is still being investigated by DPH.

Both of the deceased had underlying conditions.

The state also said Thursday Delaware has seen 143 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 24 from the day before and of 113 from one week prior. Its first official case was revealed March 11.

Nationally, more than 81,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus in the United States, with approximately 1,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and media reports. Experts say the storm is still building, even as the United States passes China and Italy for the most known cases, and the number of deaths could rapidly increase.

In Delaware, the 143 affected individuals range in age from 1 to 90. Fifteen are currently hospitalized, with nine critically ill as of Thursday evening.

Ninety-one of the cases are from New Castle County, with 33 from Sussex and 19 from Kent.

Among those who came down with the virus are multiple health care workers, an ominous sign that’s nonetheless unsurprising.

DPH’s official tally includes four people who have recovered, or gone at least a week without symptoms.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the (men) who died, as well as to all who have been diagnosed with coronavirus
disease,” DPH Director Karyl Rattay said. “This is a tragic reminder that that this disease can be fatal.

Stacy O’Dell puts hand sanitizer on her children, Givliana, Seraphina, Dominic and Jonathan after receiving one free bottle from the Smyrna Police Department on Thursday

“We need to make sure that we are protecting vulnerable persons from this disease, particularly older individuals and those with chronic health conditions. This reinforces why it’s so important for everyone to stay home — especially those who are ill with any symptoms including fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath and even stomach aches, nausea and diarrhea.”

DPH said the state is working with nursing homes to ensure they are implementing necessary safeguards like limiting visitors, canceling group activity and screening staff.

The first individual who died passed away in the last 72 hours after displaying symptoms typical of COVID-19, such as a fever, health officials said Thursday. He was hospitalized out of state and died not long after being checked in.

DPH said it is not releasing further information, including the state he was in or his hometown, due to privacy laws.

Delaware has been in a state of emergency since March 12, and Gov. John Carney has since closed schools and non-essential businesses and instructed Delawareans to avoid contact with others.

The state has faced issues with people not taking social distancing guidelines seriously enough, prompting the closure of the beaches and other public spaces. Community spread of the virus is occurring in Delaware, including through people who felt ill, were tested and did not quarantine themselves, Dr. Rattay said.

“If you are ill, ill enough to be tested, then you need to be in isolation, which is at least seven days from the time your symptoms began,” she said. “You should not be leaving your home.”

If necessary, DPH can enforce a quarantine through court order. Anyone who knows of an individual who has tested positive for the virus but is not isolating should contact the agency at 1-888-408-1899.

Among the businesses ordered to cease operations were firearms dealers, some of whom defied the closure order that began Tuesday. In response, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency issued cease-and-desist letters this week to several gun shop owners.

The ban on firearms sales elicited a torrent of online criticism from gun owners. On Thursday, Gov. Carney lifted the ban, allowing firearms and ammunition sales by appointment only.

He similarly modified a restriction on automobile dealerships, which were considered “nonessential businesses” that must remain closed during the state of emergency. Dealers are now allowed to sell at showrooms by appointment only, with no more than two appointments per half-hour.

Officials urge awareness

The most common symptoms include shortness of breath, fever or coughing, but more patients have been displaying a sore throat, body aches, nausea or diarrhea, according to health officials. The elderly and people with underlying conditions are most at risk.

Anyone who suspects he or she is sick should stay home and contact a primary care provider instead of first heading to the emergency room or an urgent care center. A person experiencing a medical emergency such as significant trouble breathing should call 911.

Statewide testing at standing health facility sites began Monday for patients with a doctor’s recommendation. Those without a primary care provider can contact DPH at 1-888-408-1899, but individuals should not just walk in to one of the testing sites.

People awaiting test results should expect to hear back from their medical provider.

DPH acknowledged Thursday many individuals have wondered why additional information about the cases isn’t being released, holding a conference call with members of the media to answer some commonly asked questions.

Skip Deamer shows off his free bottle of hand sanitizer that he received from the Smyrna Police Department on Thursday.

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prevents the agency from sharing virtually any identifying details about specific cases, while technical and real-world limitations make it difficult to track the number of people who have been tested, Dr. Rattay said.

Initially, the agency’s daily coronavirus update included that figure, but it has not been among the details shared in any releases for the past 12 days.

The reason, Dr. Rattay said, is some health care providers and testing sites are sending samples to commercial labs instead of the DPH lab, making it very challenging to determine the exact number of tests at a given time. While the DPH lab can determine a result in 24 to 48 hours, commercial sites generally take a few more days, and the limited number of analysis kits has created a backlog at the DPH lab of negatives from commercial labs, Dr. Rattay said.

As of the close of business Wednesday, the state lab had run 639 tests, with 48 coming back positive (and included in the overall count).

A total of 2,617 samples had been collected at seven standing test sites set up around the state and at a drive-through testing event held by ChristianaCare two weeks ago, health officials said. That does not include samples taken elsewhere, such as at individual medical practices or emergency rooms.

The first few official updates also noted the cases were associated with the University of Delaware, information Dr. Rattay said was included because UD exceeds the threshold of 20,000 people required by the federal government to share more identifiable details.

The state updated its online counter at Thursday to display new graphics and more information, including the number of cases by age and a rolling count of the increase.

Delawareans with general questions about COVID-19 or their exposure risk can call DPH at 1-866-408-1899 (711 for individuals who are hearing impaired) from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday or email

For more information, visit

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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