After a weekend event in Bridgeville where hundreds of people didn’t wear masks or socially distance, the state Division of Public Health is working with the state Department of Justice on enforcement actions for those who flout state COVID-19 rules.
No one identified the property owner or participants in Gov. John Carney’s Tuesday COVID-19 press conference, but he and Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of public health, said they had seen social media photos of people standing shoulder to shoulder.
WDEL later identified the event as a rodeo that as many as 2,000 people attended Sunday at Rancho El at 14079 Redden Road, according to Delaware State Police. Video posted to Facebook shows a concert stage with live music, dancing and a lack of mask wearing, the radio station said.
Hitting Phase III is going to depend partly on what happens with testing in the next week or two, Carney said, because that will reflect how well people wore masks and maintained social distancing over Labor Day weekend, the last big party weekend of summer. Beach crowds were huge up the Eastern seaboard because of the glorious weather.
The number of positive cases in Delaware has been on a downward trend, although it seesawed with jumps on a few days in the last week, partly because testing was ramped up for students and teachers, Carney and Rattay said.
The state is looking at how positive cases spread from hot zip codes in Wilmington (19801, 19802 and 19805), Newark (19711 and 19713), Bear/Glasgow (19702) New Castle (19720) and Dover.
Newark is home to the University of Delaware, which just started classes again and has been testing students and workers. UD has reported 41 positive cases since Sept. 3, Rattay said. Dover is home to Delaware State University, which brought students to campus two weeks ago. Rattay did not mention case numbers there.
Carney said some people believe society is back to normal because the number of positive cases and hospitalizations had generally been going down. For example, Beebe Hospital CEO David Tam posted on his Facebook page Sunday that during the last 24 hours, its medical center had no positive cases admitted, the first time since March 20.
At the same time, testing at state sponsored events has dropped by as much as 30 percent in recent weeks, although it was back up to 15,000 people last week, said A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.
The state would like to test 80,000 people a month, partly to spot and deal with any small outbreaks before they grow.
“Everything is not going to be back to normal until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment,” Carney said. “We need to have protections in place to keep this spread down and to protect our particularly vulnerable populations and allow teachers to teach in classrooms with students without the fear of getting COVID-19.”
Carney and Rattay talked about the Bridgeville party in response to a question from a reporter about whether the owners of the property at which the party was held would face any punishment.
“It appeared that the target audience was communities in Sussex County that have already seen significant spread of COVID-19,” Carney said.
“It was appalling. It was horrible,” Rattay said. “I think one of the most disappointing aspects of this is Delawareans, Delaware businesses have made tremendous sacrifices over the months, and an event like this can really just counter all of the efforts that have taken place.”
The party was illegal, Rattay said.
She did not elaborate about talks with the Department of Justice, except to say that it would include “next steps.”
Carney said that problems seem to be moving away from bars, where outbreaks occurred at the beaches in June. Most spikes in the positive rates in Sussex County have not been at the beaches, as they were in June, he said.
“We know where the challenges are,” Carney said. “They’re increasingly in unstructured environments, house parties, not so much in bars and restaurants.”
The governor said that the state will increase testing at the beach to check for any outbreak from Labor Day and also around Bridgeville, where the party could end up being a super-spreader event if people were positive. Schall said testings may be added on Saturday this week.
Rattay urged anyone who had been to the party in Bridgeville to be tested.
The UD cases are a result of a variety of things, Rattay said.
“What our epidemiologists or case investigators are finding is that there’s no one single point of exposure,” Rattay said, “but a number of these young adults are either in group living situations or involved in off-campus social activities and that seems to be how they are getting exposed.”
Carney was a lot blunter: Young adults, especially when alcohol is involved, think they are invincible.
Rattay said most young adults assume if they get it, it will be a mild case. State statistics show that about 60 percent of people who test positive have no symptoms.
“We know a number of young adults have had very significant illness,” Rattay said. “Again, we don’t know the long-term impact of this, but we’re seeing more and more studies showing that, for example, athletes may be having significant cardiovascular, heart or lung impacts from COVID-19, so we’ve got to all take this seriously, no matter what age.”
Rattay also said that the Newark Urgent Care has testing available around the clock, every day.
The city of Newark last month passed an emergency rule that says only 12 adults can be inside a private home and no more than 20 outside without the home owner facing fines and community service. It was used the first weekend after it passed to break up a party of 75.
Other interesting bits
— More businesses than expected applied for some of the state’s new $100 million grants to help businesses cope with COVID-19. That will eat up the $20 million to $30 million expected to go in the first round, and the state will soon announce a second round of funding, Carney said.
— The extra lost wages payment for those receiving unemployment will kick in the week of Sept. 14, and will be retroactive to Aug. 1, which is when the federal $600 million expired, Carney said.
–The Division of Public Health will soon begin posting the number of positive cases as it does now and also as Johns Hopkins University does. The university numbers are widely quoted. The two sites use a different tallying system. Public Health tallies each Delawarean only once, no matter how many times that person has been tested. Johns Hopkins tallies the test total. Rattay said using the Johns Hopkins system will make Delaware positives appear to be lower. “We’re going to post it both ways so people can see how we’re doing,” she said.
–Testing for schools is moving along. The state sent 10,000 online codes to teachers. About 7,000 tests have been taken and results returned, said Schall. The positive rate was .6 percent, or about 40 tests, he said.
–The state will announce an expansion of the test-at-home program to people over the age of 60 or people who have trouble with transportation. They will be required to sign up for the program, will take the test with the help of a state workers over the internet and drop the test in a UPS box or site. Results should come in 24 hours, Schall said.
–The state has rapid-testing machines in two schools for a trial. Those give responses in 15 minutes. That will help the state achieve its goal of testing each student and teacher every month.
–The state plans to have 15 to 20 static testing sites that will be open five to seven days a week, Schall said. It’s working with the National Guard to help with testing at state service sites.
–Five more Walgreens testing sites will come online next week, bringing the state’s total to 8. They offer tests on weekends. Most city-, county- and state-sponsored testing is not available on weekends, particularly Sundays.