Governor John Carney said today that “the situation in Delaware is getting worse” but that the coming growth in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has been anticipated by state officials.
Referring to the expected surge, Carney said that the Delaware hospital system is working to ensure that every patient requiring a hospital bed has one while the state moves to establish “coronavirus-only” shelters for some of its homeless population.
State health officials believe Delaware’s surge could come in the next 10 to 14 days.
Already today the state hit a new milestone in test-positive cases: 450 confirmed cases — that’s 57 more than yesterday, the single largest daily jump. (The state’s coronavirus dashboard is here.)
Carney was joined at a Friday afternoon press briefing by public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay and AJ Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA).
At the briefing, Director Schall said the state is working to expand the capacity of hospital beds at alternate sites in Wilmington and downstate with a mix of ideas that include mobile tents, cots in conference rooms, and re-opening old hospitals.
Saying that this is going to be a “that this is going to be a long term event for a lot of individuals in Delaware,” Schall acknowledged the state’s staggering unemployment figures and announced plans for alternate sheltering capability for the homeless. He said it was important that the state “take high-risk individuals that may have been exposed or test positive to coronavirus-19 and move them away from a shelter to someplace safe, where they’re not going to be getting other people infected.”
Key updates from the press conference include:
Cases should “surge” in the coming weeks – Carney said state epidemiologists are predicting a “surge in the number of positive cases … and need for hospitalization” over “the next two weeks.”
Hospitalizations in Delaware are closer to 100 right now – Of those, only 56 are Delawareans, which is the number the State must report to the CDC guidelines. Carney said out-of-state residents being cared for at ChristianaCare and downstate hospitals make that number more like 100.
Nemours will serve as alternate care site – Schall said that the Nemours/A.I. duPont Children’s Hospital would serve as the northern Delaware site where non-coronavirus patients could receive care in the event pandemic-related cases exceeded current hospital capacity.
Schall said his agency was working “on a few options” to ensure services and staffing for an expected surge downstate. One possibility includes maybe utilizing the old Milford Hospital.
DEMA is also going down a parallel path exploring what Beebe and Bayhealth can they do on their sites with state support. The scene would look familiar to off-site hospital care stations that already have been set up in major cities around the country, including Philadelphia.
“So whether that means mobile tents, whether that means cots, and everything from clearing out conference rooms and putting beds in them.
He said that he and his team at DEMA expect to have a firm plan in place by the end of the weekend.
Bloom Energy is fixing ventilators – Schall reported that Bloom Energy has “retrofit and refurbished” about 35 ventilators that the state had in stockpile for ten years. He said the state expects them to refurbish another 60 in the next few days “and they will be on the shelves waiting to distribute as needed.”
Seniors and those with underlying conditions are most vulnerable – Rattay said that seniors and those who are immunocompromised are “high risk” populations, as evidenced by recent deaths in long-term care facilities. “We are very concerned about spread of infection and long-term care facilities … sadly, half of our deaths are associated with long term care facilities.”
However, cases are highest between ages 18 and 49 – The “highest numbers [of state coronavirus cases] are among those between the ages of 18 to 49” according to Rattay. “Although many of those individuals have been more mild or moderate illness, certainly we’re seeing spread throughout the ages.”
Essential businesses list won’t be changed – Carney acknowledged that the office of Small Business has received “thousands of appeals” by businesses looking to be included in the list of essential businesses Carney certified in his emergency declaration.
The governor said the list is tightly focused on “businesses that people need in order to survive, food, medicine, home supplies.”
Carney said liquor stores needed to be included because those who are alcohol dependent could otherwise end up flooding healthcare facilities.
When asked whether construction sites would be taken off the “essential” list (as in Pennsylvania), Carney said his “biggest concern at this juncture based on what we’re seeing out there in public, is people just not following the rules.”
“I drive by construction sites all the time,” said Carney. “I was by one here in the city of Wilmington just the other day and I saw a gaggle of workers working on a wall where they were clearly not six feet apart. We’re in constant communication with the Contractors Association and with those business owners that if they don’t follow the rules, we’re going to have to shut them down.
“Our focus is more not so much on adding or subtracting from that (essential businesses) list, but really on enforcing the social distancing rules, in particular, on the job sites and the biggest concern in some cases isn’t just the job sites. It’s the coffee break, you know, during the job. It’s the coming and going … We’ve made it clear you can’t have five people in a vehicle or in a truck out to the jobsite. You need to be one person per vehicle and the like. It’s a lot of changes to the way they’re normally doing business but you know we’ve got to prove that we’re really serious about it.”