Abundance of caution spurs hospitals, universities, government to react to COVID-19 threat

Delaware’s number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus remained at zero Tuesday night as waves of precaution continued to spread through Delaware.

The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association scrambled to find venues for the high school basketball tournament after the University of Delaware announced Tuesday it would not host games with fans.

Gov. John Carney made his latest town hall a virtual experience rather than gather the public at the Newark Senior Center Wednesday. He and Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker will answer questions from the public through a livestream.

Delaware’s General Assembly leaders started discussing how the virus threat could affect the legislative session, set to resume March 17, and steps to take.

The Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission delayed its March 21 community expo to April 4 because of concerns about the virus.

The University of Delaware, as part of a multi-faceted response outlined Tuesday, suspended classes at its Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning citing the Centers for Disease Control’s guidance for older adults and those with chronic health conditions. Programming there is for members age 50 and older.

The Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce cancelled its March 18 mixer, to be held at Harrison Senior Living, after the business limited visitors to all of its facilities because of the increased threat the virus poses to those with compromised immune systems.

“We definitely understand them wanting to protect themselves,” said Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Thompson. “It makes sense.”

Brandywine Living at Seaside Point in Rehoboth Beach took similar precautions.

Christine Warrington, community operations director at Brandywine Living in Rehoboth, said, “We’re cancelling any large groups from coming in the community and also limiting our excursions and outings for our residents out into the community. And we’re doing other precautionary things inside the building as well.”

Friday Rotary Club meetings have been suspended, she said, and corporate meetings and similar activities are being held via video conferencing.
“Everybody is taking it seriously,” Ms. Warrington said.

Hospitals at the ready
Downstate hospitals urged Delawareans to follow procedures, information and protocol provided by the state Division of Public Health and the CDC.
‘We’re all following the guidelines from the state,” said Sharon Harrington, Peninsula Regional Health Services’ director of Strategic Communications for Delaware that includes Nanticoke Memorial in Seaford. “So, if you wake up and you have symptoms and fever and the flu-like symptoms — what you want to do is to call your provider. And they will screen you on the phone. You don’t want to just show up in the office because you don’t want to spread that.”

“If a person has traveled outside of the United States and thinks they may be sick, they should either call their primary care provided before going to the office or call the Delaware Department of Health call center,” said Ms. Harrington. “This way the potential patient can be screened over the phone and information given on what to do next. This removes the risk to other patients in the waiting room.”

Beebe Healthcare Spokesman Ryan Marshall said the Lewes-based hospital with sites throughout eastern Sussex County follows the state’s lead and has a “large group working on COVID-19 and all the response to that.”

Beebe’s Dr. William Chasanov, who is board certified in Infectious Disease, said, “As (COVID-19) continues to evolve, the best advice to Delawareans is to protect yourself and others by stopping the spread of germs that cause respiratory diseases, like influenza and Coronavirus.”

“The Division of Public Health and CDC websites are filled with information on proper hand hygiene along with cough and sneeze etiquette that will help stop the spread of germs. The CDC has said older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, should take extra precautions if COVID-19 spreads to their community.”

“The CDC does recommend staying home unless medical care is needed,” Dr. Chasanov said. “The State of Delaware Division of Public Health has set up a Coronavirus call center, and they urge the community to call them with questions or if they feel they may have been exposed to COVID-19.”

The state call center number is 1-866-408-1899. Community members can also email DPHCall@delaware.gov and the agency’s website contains up-to-date information concerning COVID-19, including downloadable/printable materials.

“Beebe Healthcare is closely aligning our guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), CDC and the Delaware Division of Public Health to ensure the safety of patients, staff and visitors,” Dr. Chasanov said. “The CDC and State of Delaware are recommending to stay home, rest, and avoid others if you are sick and not requiring medical care.”

Bayhealth spokesoman Pamela Marecki said Tuesday the healthcare system with campuses in Kent and Sussex counties was not experiencing increased emergency department visits due to the virus but “are seeing higher patient volumes due to other health issues, such as the seasonal flu.”

While constantly under review, Nanticoke has not yet implemented any additional change to its visitor policy that is in place during the seasonal flu season.

“As a part of flu season, we already ask that hospital visitors be 16 years or older. In addition, we are also making adjustments for specific, at-risk populations,” said Ms. Harrington. “We are constantly monitoring information about COVID19 and are a part of daily updates with the Delaware Department of Public Health. As the situation continues to evolve, we will continue to evaluate our visitation policy and may make further adjustments as needed.”

Beebe Healthcare’s Chief Quality & Safety Officer Marcy Jack said, “Beebe Healthcare is actively considering visitor restrictions.”

University updates
In addition to suspending Osher classes, the University of Delaware on Tuesday outlined other actions, including encouraging professors to move to online courses if possible due to the coronavirus.

The university, in a release, said it has activated the Emergency Operations Center and is monitoring the situation every day to prepare for the virus’ impact on the community in Newark.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are gearing up for online delivery of all of our courses in the event that we have confirmed COVID-19 cases on campus.

“The Provost’s Office is now asking faculty who are ready to do so to move their courses online at this time. This guidance aligns with actions currently being taken by peer institutions, and we need to be prepared.”

Officials said assistance would be available for students and teachers in adapting to that set up. Students were to attend classes as usual until they heard otherwise from professors.

UD is also considering altering upcoming events, and university-sponsored travel to all international locations is prohibited through the end of the semester. Faculty, students and staff are urged to register all travel plans with the institution.

The university is opening a call center today for individuals who have questions about coronavirus and its impact on the campus. The line will be staffed Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Concerned university personnel can call 302-831-1188. Emails can be sent to coronavirus@udel.edu as well.

Salisbury University leaders delivered a response plan to its community Tuesday as well that limited meetings and large gatherings and encouraged remote learning and teleworking. It also discourged international and national travel.

“While no positive cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are currently known at SU or on the Eastern Shore, the University continues to make preparations to help prevent the spread of the virus to our area,” it said in a statement.

Salisbury canceled classes for Thursday and Friday so faculty could prepare for online instruction.

Government business
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride released a statement late Tuesday given the virus.

“Since this is a shifting situation, we must remain flexible and our response could change depending on the circumstances. The most important thing we can do now is prepare for a variety of possibilities, up to and including the potential postponement of session. To that end, we are currently discussing the logistics of implementing such a decision and how staff could work from home, if necessary.

“The legislative session is currently scheduled to resume on March 17. Any change to that schedule is a decision that we will make after carefully reviewing the most current information and consulting with the experts in the executive branch and our state agencies. Our primary concern is the health and safety of our staff, our fellow lawmakers and the hundreds of Delaware residents who visit Legislative Hall when we are in session. We are prepared to take whatever steps are recommended to minimize the spread of the Coronavirus and protect residents’ health.”

Members of Delaware’s congressional delegation said they, too, are working with state and local officials to respond to the situation.

“We want to increase Delaware’s capacity to screen for the virus and ensure that Delaware’s families are supported if businesses or schools need to close,” Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester said in a statement.

“We were proud to have passed bipartisan legislation last week to provide Delaware with a minimum of $4.5 million in additional funding to prepare for potential outbreaks from a total package of more than $8 billion to support our nationwide efforts to protect Americans and find a vaccine.

“Those funds are just a first step, though: We will continue to work together to ensure every community has the resources they need to protect public health.”

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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