Governor Carney told officials at the State Health Operations Center (SHOC) in Smyrna today that he initiated a “pretty dramatic shutdown action” in his attempt to “flatten the curve” as the number of coronavirus cases climbs in the state.
The governor toured the facility to observe the 75 people now deployed to the crisis on behalf of the state. “It’s been a long week with a situation that’s evolving on a day by day, almost minute to minute basis,” said Gov. Carney.
The State Health Operations Center is the centralized location for a response for any statewide emergency. It handles the logistics, media, a call center, and testing in another facility on the campus. Epidemiologists there are also doing contact tracings – finding out who a coronavirus-positive person has come into contact with – and a medical staff provides recommendations.
Volume at the call center, which is staffed by eight to ten people at any given time, depends on news cycles. During a four-hour period last Saturday, the staff fielded 300 calls, and on Sunday they took 200 calls. Many queries come in through email.
Delawareans with questions about COVID-19 or their exposure risk can call the Division of Public Health’s Coronavirus Call Center at 1-866-408-1899 from 8:30 am to 8 pm Monday through Friday, and 10 am to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday. Or they can email DPHCall@delaware.gov.
“I’ve just been so impressed walking around here at the Operations Center to see all the folks and resources that we’ve put to this pandemic in our small state,” said Gov. Carney. “The overall objective is to keep everybody safe and try to prevent the spread of disease,” he said.
Carney added that the slow ramp-up of available testing is now available to people who show symptoms of the disease. Until last week, testing was limited to people 65 years of age and older, those connected to overseas travel from coronavirus hotspots, or individuals who had contact with others who had tested positive for the virus.
Possible ninth victim of coronavirus in Delaware
During the operations center walkthrough, Carney shared that one person who participated in the coronavirus drive-through event sponsored by ChristianaCare on Saturday has tested positive to the disease, which would bring the total number of cases in the state to nine.
But Delaware’State Health Officer Dr. Karyl Rattay, who accompanied the governor on the tour today, said epidemiologists are still examining that case and that it might be a false-positive. “So we are trying to get more information before we release that. But what I can tell you with certainty is that the individual is isolated and has had little exposure with other individuals,” said Dr. Rattay.
The official count of all COVID-19 cases in the state remains at eight.
“Delaware is ahead of the curve” in battling coronavirus
DNREC Laboratory Director Sergio Huerta, M.D., told the governor that Delaware is “ahead of the curve” and that SHOC is confident in their preparedness to combat the coronavirus crisis. Huerta is part of a team of five physicians who regularly provide recommendations to other members of the staff.
Comparing their effort to other states, Huerta said that the Division of Public Health pre-planned the entire structure of the response and put a network of communication in place months ago. “We are in a better position to respond more adequately to the situations if they happen to occur,” said Huerta.
State Medical Director Dr. Rick Hong added that communication with physicians, the first to address queries from potential patients with the virus, is a top priority. “In terms of our planning perspective and our collaboration with our healthcare partners — with hospitals, long term care facilities and other important partners — why we feel pretty confident we’re where we need to be,” he said.
At today’s tour, Dr. Rattay said the state testing lab is now testing about 40 cases a day and could extend beyond that if they needed to.
Just an hour after announcing that bars and restaurants statewide would be closed — limited to offering take-out and delivery-only starting tomorrow — Governor Carney said that decision and the overall impact of the coronavirus on small businesses around the state has weighed heavily on him.
“It’s the toughest part of the decision, balancing out the public health and safety with the reality that you’ve cut people’s jobs and livelihoods who depend on being open, and, you know we wrestled with that all day.”
But Carney said he and others worried that many Delawareans were not taking the State of the Emergency seriously enough. “Activity over the weekend was just kind of over the top — apparently there were full houses. Some of the presence at the bars in Wilmington and at Dewey Beach were just too much. And then you have St. Patty’s Day tomorrow. So, I was really worried about these gatherings,” he said.
Carney added that with President Trump’s announcement late today that gatherings should be limited to no more than 10 people, that he had no other choice. “All the other states around us were making those decisions and so we couldn’t afford to have people streaming over the borders, from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and maybe even to New Jersey.”
Carney briefly addressed concerns of many small business owners faced with possible closures of indefinite length and who may have to layoff employees. “It’s a real issue. In a normal situation, we’ve got an unemployment fund that can accommodate a certain amount of folks that are out of work. But this is a situation that’s beyond that fund,” he said.
He added that the state will take a fiscal hit over the crisis but that the budget does have an economic “cushion” as well as a Rainy Day Fund, which he plans to use to address the emergency.