State health officials point to COVID-19 case statistics and a map that shows how widespread new cases are as examples of why new restrictions are needed.
That map of Delaware shows not five or six but more than two dozen virus hotspots throughout the state. For the first time in the months it’s been used, a Kent County town — Dover — shows up.
“It’s easy to imagine why we’re now pretty fearful about what might happen with Thanksgiving gatherings,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health.
The rising number of novel coronavirus cases is why Gov. John Carney on Tuesday announced a 30% seating capacity limit on restaurants, a 10-person restriction on indoor restrictions, and a 50-person restriction on outdoor gatherings.
Carney and Rattay also asked people to limit Thanksgiving celebrations to only those in the home and to find ways to celebrate virtually — and maybe help out their favorite restaurants by buying dinner or side dishes from them to help during the restrictions.
Delaware currently is averaging 347.3 new cases of the virus each day over a 7-day average.
Carney pointed out in his Tuesday COVID-19 press conference that he had been upset in the summer when the state kept landing on quarantine lists when its new case numbers were 97 a day.
That number has now more than tripled, despite state pleas to wear masks, social distance and wash hands.
When Rattay put up the state map during Tuesday’s press conference, she noted that she’s used the same criteria to show hot spots, and it was usually only a few places in the beginning.
“Now it’s much of the state that meets the same criteria,” she said.
In addition, she said, Kent County, which traditionally has had the lowest number of new cases, is seeing the highest increase in hospitalizations. Rattay said that suggests that the number of cases there could be higher than reported.
New Castle and Sussex counties still have the highest number of positive case areas in the state, with Sussex having a higher positive case rate.
Kent County, which routinely has the fewest cases, now has the highest number of hospitalizations, suggesting that the number of cases could be higher than reported.
Her map of towns they’re watching includes:
- New Castle County: Newark/UD, Bear/Christiana, Bear, Middletown, Townsend, Claymont, Wilmington/Elsmere, Wilmington, Stanton/Newport and New Castle.
- Kent County: Dover.
- Sussex County: Milford, Lincoln, Ellendale, Milton, Lewes, Rehoboth/Dewey, Bethany Beach, Frankford, Selbyville, Georgetown, Brigdeville, Seaford, Laurel, and Delmar.
Officials are particularly worried about hospitalizations. As of Tuesday, Delaware had 153 people hospitalized for COVID-19, with 32 of those being critical cases.
Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, meaning that they occur days to weeks after an infection.
So if cases are high now, hospitalizations will rise in a week or more.
Carney noted that on April 6, the state had a similar number of hospitalizations, 140. Eleven says later, as the virus peaked in the spring, the state was at 337 hospitalizations.
“We don’t want to go from 153 to 353,” Carney said. “That could be the trend that we’re on.”
The state only has the capacity to handle 400-450 hospitalizations right now, partly because hospitals are still doing elective surgeries. In the spring, hospitals stopped doing them to keep beds clear for COVID patients.
Officials also are worried that Delaware has officially entered flu season, with its first lab tested case last week in Kent County. In recent flu seasons, people who have it have jammed hospitals in the winter months, and officials fear a surge in both COVID and flu cases overwhelming hospitals and health resources.
Carney and Rattay stressed that a big driver in Delaware’s surge of cases is casual gatherings of people, including things like dinners with friends, weddings and gathering to watch football games.
“House parties are more common than I expected,” Rattay said. “We’ve seen some house parties where we’ve had 30 or more people. More than 50% of people who attend these parties become ill afterwards.”
Halloween parties are believed to be a big piece in explaining the current surge throughout the state, she said.
Other gatherings of concern include religious services, funerals, large and small parties involving restaurant dining, and small social gatherings inside homes.
“We’ve seen 10 outbreaks related to religious services, and a number of them involving more than 30 people,” Rattay said.
The state is currently investigating outbreaks related to weddings, a funeral and both large and small parties in restaurants.
“These are some of the key concerns we have and really the key drivers for the restrictions,” Rattay said.
Both Carney and Rattay warned families to change their Thanksgiving plans to only have those in their household and to be wary of students returning from colleges and other schools.
State colleges are trying to make sure their students are tested before being sent home. If returning students are not, Rattay said the returning students should wear masks and avoid being in close contact with the rest of the family until they can be tested.
And she took aim at a popular Thanksgiving tradition.
“We know young adults love to be around their high school friends to have high school reunions,” Rattay said. “This is just not the year to do this in person, so we hope that parents, you’ll help support this … which we know is very difficult.”
She also urged caution in Black Friday shopping.
“Please go to your local, local favorite shops,” she said. “But also look at opportunities to shop online and just do things differently this year.”