Despite no cases, Delawareans remain cautious of coronavirus

DOVER — Though there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 in Delaware thus far, the Division of Public Health is encouraging precautions for older Delawareans and people with severe health conditions as the state prepares for when transmission does occur here.

Officials say those at risk should avoid crowds and abstain from travel to reduce the likelihood of catching the strain of coronavirus that’s sickened more than 100,000 people worldwide.

“While we are grateful that we don’t have any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our state, we are planning for community transmission of the disease,” Department of Health of Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker said in a prepared statement. “We urge Delawareans to take these important steps to reduce their exposure to the virus and to prepare when community transmission does happen here.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in early data older people are “twice as likely to suffer a serious illness from the virus,” according to a release from the CDC.

As of Monday, 15 people have been tested in Delaware, all coming back as negative. Testing and results are pending for two people in New Castle County and one in Kent County.

DPH is currently monitoring 18 returning travelers, officials said.

A spokesman for Gov. John Carney said officials are closely watching the spread of the virus and are weighing restricting state employee travel.

Senior centers on alert

Carolyn Fredricks, president and CEO of the Modern Maturity Center in Dover, and Carmel Rickenbach, nutrition director at the Sussex CHEER Senior Center in Georgetown, both said their facilities are following guidelines recently issued by the Delaware Department of Public Safety when it comes to dealing with coronavirus.

“While we have yet to have a diagnosed case in Delaware yet, we are taking precautions when it comes to our Meals On Wheels program as well as having hand sanitizer and everything else we need in following protocol that has been set by the Division of Public Health,” Ms. Fredricks said.

“We’re telling people if they’re sick to stay home and are just doing our normal due diligence. We’re asking people to wash their hands often, cover their mouths when they have to cough and all of those kinds of things.”

Ms. Fredricks said she is anticipating a conference call on Thursday with the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services for further suggestions.

Ms. Rickenbach said operations at the facility in Georgetown are pretty much running the same as any other day, with a heightened awareness of diligently washing hands and covering for coughs.

“What we’ve done here is taken precaution with buying wipes, sanitizers and disinfectant spray … all of the recommendations we have been given to date,” she said. “We just received posters (Monday) that should be posted in each room that encourage people to stay home if they are not feeling well.

“When it comes to preparing food, we send anybody who works in our kitchen staff to ServeSafe, so they know to not show up to work if they aren’t feeling well. We really are encouraging people to not come in if they aren’t feeling well and work around the existing recommendations that we’ve received.”

Making a plan

DPH suggests avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips and cruises, staying away from crowds if possible, not interacting with others who are sick, washing your hands often, taking everyday precaution to keep space between yourself and others, stocking up on supplies like medications and food and preparing a plan in the event of illness.

In preparedness planning, DPH reminded residents “to include older adults and people with disabilities, and the organizations that support them in their communities, to ensure their needs are taken into consideration.”

The recommendations include knowing what medications one is taking and trying to have extra on hand; monitoring food and other medical supplies, such as oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care, needed and create a back-up plan; stocking up on non-perishable food items; and monitoring the situation of those living in care facilities to know the health of the other residents and the protocol if there is an outbreak.

Schools canceling trips

School districts throughout the state, such as Woodbridge, Cape Henlopen and Capital, posted reminders to parents addressing COVID-19, as well as the flu season. Parents should keep students at home if they are sick and have above-average temperatures and are urged to pay extra attention to frequently washing hands.

Students planning to study abroad are facing canceled trips throughout the state due to the continued spread of the virus.

The state’s universities and colleges have suspended short summer trips and study abroad experiences to countries like Italy, China, Poland and others.

No Delaware State University students were abroad when trips were suspended, said Carlos Holmes, a spokesman for the university. Study abroad trips, including one to China, were canceled before the students left the country.

The university also suspended shorter trips abroad that were scheduled for May.

In total, 25 to 30 students were affected, but Mr. Holmes said it wouldn’t impact students’ credits.

“Our suspension is relating to university-sponsored trips; we have no control over what students are doing during spring break,” he said, adding, “We don’t know of any going international.

Laura Mayse, a spokeswoman for Wesley College, said the college doesn’t currently have students abroad or plans for trips abroad. The college will “continue to stay in touch with the appropriate agencies for guidance,” she added.

Delaware Technical Community College decided late last month to pull the plug on spring study abroad trips to the Dominican Republic, Czechia, Italy and Vietnam.

“At that time, we also convened a team of college leaders representing the Divisions of Academic Affairs, Finance, Strategic Communication and Marketing, Human Resources, Public Safety, and Legal, as well as campus directors from each of our four campuses,” spokeswoman Christine Gillan wrote in an email. “This team has worked collaboratively to collect information on a daily basis and communicate with employees and students.

“We also created a webpage that contains information from the college, as well as links to the Delaware Division of Public Health and the CDC. We send students and employees to the webpage using emails and texts when updates are available, but we encourage them to check it regularly as well.”

DelTech plans to send a survey to students this week asking if they have recently traveled to any countries where the virus has been confirmed.

Both the University of Delaware and DelTech are considering greater use of online courses. Ms. Gillan said the college is reviewing planned events and may have to cancel some, although that has yet to be decided.

UD said university-sponsored travel to South Korea, Italy, China and Iran is prohibited and urged students and faculty who will be traveling to register their plans with the institution first.

Organizers of large non-essential campus gatherings that include outside visitors should consider postponing, canceling or offering the event through the internet, UD said.

Cape Henlopen School District typically hosts students as part of a foreign exchange program with Japan, but that trip has been canceled, said Nikki Miller, Cape Henlopen High School’s principal.

“We were alerted through our group that schools in Japan were closing for an extended period of time, and concerns came from our host families,” Ms. Miller said. “We thought it was in the best interest for all involved to postpone the trip this year.”

Cape doesn’t typically send students abroad to Japan. Approximately 14 students from Japan come to the U.S. and spend time in Washington and New York and then stay with a host family and shadow students at CHHS.

“It is a valuable program for us to learn about other people’s culture and to share our cultures,” Ms. Miller noted. “Right now, in the best interest of everyone else, it wasn’t the best time to do it.”

Dr. Uday Jani will hold presentations on the virus at the Lewes Library Wednesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and the Milton Library Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m..

“Boosting your immune system helps you resist not just the coronavirus, but the flu and other respiratory infections prevalent at this time of year,” he said in a statement. “Basic measures, including eating healthy, sleeping well, managing stress, and using certain herbs and supplements, are enormously beneficial to maintaining overall health.”

For more information on the situation, visit de.gov/coronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Staff writers Matt Bittle and Mike Finney contributed to this story.


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

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