Delaware officials warn of renewed restrictions if COVID cases continue pace

WILMINGTON — State officials issued a warning on Tuesday of possible restrictions if Delaware’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.

Dr. Karyl Rattay, the director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, said at the state’s weekly COVID-19 press briefing that DPH is looking at social activities where the virus is being transmitted. The state is currently experiencing a spike in positivity not seen since the height of the pandemic earlier this year.

“The recommendations are not going to be what people want to hear,” Dr. Rattay said. “It’s important that we do everything we can to turn this around right now,”

There were 208 new positive cases of COVID-19 reported by the DPH on Tuesday — the sixth consecutive day with 200 or more. Delaware has now recorded a total of 27,112 positive cases.

The seven-day rolling average of percentage of positive tests is at 4.4% which is the highest it’s been since July 11. For percentage of persons testing positive, where each person is counted once regardless of how many times they’ve been tested, the seven-day rolling average is 11.8%, a number not seen since it was 13.3% on May 12.

The DPH reported three additional COVID-19-related deaths to bring the state’s total to 722. The three most recent deaths ranged in age from 52 to 86 years old.

All three individuals were New Castle County residents and all three had underlying health conditions, the DPH said. One was a resident of a long-term care center.

The DPH also reported 127 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tuesday’s report, which reflects data as of Monday at 6 p.m. That is the most hospitalizations since there were 128 hospitalized on June 4.

Of the current hospitalizations, 29 are considered critical, according to the DPH. New Castle County has the most amount of individuals hospitalized with 61, followed by Sussex County’s 51 and 15 in Kent County.

If the state keeps experiencing elevated levels, Dr. Rattay said some options the DPH would have to consider would be limiting the number of individuals allowed at gatherings, especially indoor events, and restricting sporting activities.

Dr. Rattay added some states have imposed curfews, but did not say if that was being considered for Delaware at this time.

“We’re telling you this now because this is not what we want to do,” Dr. Rattay said. “We don’t want to be in a position where we have to put further restrictions in place. We don’t want to close schools again and have any additional impact on the economy. This virus wants to spread and this virus doesn’t care. It doesn’t care if you’re tired of being cautious. This virus wants to spread and any moment where you’re not cautious is where it can get to you, your family or your friends. All of us as Delawareans have a responsibility and the ability to turn this around and we’re asking that you help us so we don’t have to take additional actions.”

Data obtained from the state’s contact tracers show the virus is being spread the most at unstructured social events such as house parties, weddings, eating indoors with members from other households and other private social gatherings, according to Dr. Rattay. The DPH is advising Delawareans to wear a mask whenever they are around individuals from outside their home.

One example Dr. Rattay provided at Tuesday’s briefing was a Halloween party hosted by staff members of a school district on Oct. 31. DPH contact tracers eventually determined at least 11 of the 20 attendees ended up testing positive, which impacted four different schools.

Gov. John Carney said enforcing compliance at private events like that is difficult, so the state is trying to get the word out as much as possible.

“We might have to do something that gets the attention of folks where it’s more on the top of their mind,” Gov. Carney said. “We’re not about to go knocking on doors and enforce mask-wearing in people’s homes. We rely largely on voluntary compliance so the question is, how do you achieve that?”

Gov. Carney added if the state does impose restrictions to help curb the spread of COVID-19, it will look similar to restrictions in surrounding states.

“A lot of things are on the table, mostly things being done in other states around us,” he said.

The biggest rise in cases and percent positive rates came in New Castle County last week, Dr. Rattay said. Sussex County however is still producing the highest new case rate per 100,000 people.

Dr. Rattay said the hottest spots in Sussex County for outbreaks are Seaford, Laurel and Delmar, which has been the case for several weeks. The DPH is also monitoring elevated levels of community spread in Georgetown, Lincoln, Ellendale, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and Selbyville.

In New Castle, the areas with the highest level of concern for the DPH are Bear, Christiana, Stanton and New Castle, according to Dr. Rattay. Dr. Rattay also mentioned Newark, both within the University of Delaware community and outside it, along with Claymont, Wilmington, Middletown and Townsend.

For Wilmington, Gov. Carney urged those who attended President-elect Joe Biden’s event over the weekend to get tested, especially those who were not part of the official event, who congregated outside the security barriers.

“I worry about it like I worried about some of the social protests we had back in the spring,” Gov. Carney said. “Most people were wearing masks. The event itself was done in consultation with Public Health in terms of social distancing and the measures taken there. But the spontaneous crowd that kind of gathered, there were things that were hard to control.”

Dr. Rattay also asked attendees to get tested, but said she was pleased with the amount of mask-wearing, saying it was similar to the social protests Gov. Carney referenced in the spring, which did not lead to elevated case rates.

“I will tell you we really kept a close eye on the outcomes of the protests we saw months ago,” Dr. Rattay said.

“We did not see any incidents of spread from those protests. By in large, people were wearing face coverings and were outdoors. We keep taking these deep dives into our data and it really is these indoor settings where people don’t have face coverings, which are really driving the spread in our state. Frankly I’m more concerned about people gathering with friends, watching football games and the Biden speech at home without face coverings. But I do agree, anyone who was there should get tested.”

A full list of COVID-19 testing sites in Delaware can be found at de.gov/gettested.


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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