With state hospitals operating over capacity, Delaware officials on Tuesday again asked state residents to stay out of hospital emergency rooms for anything that’s not dire.
ChristianaCare and Beebe hospitals were at 130% of their capacity, and ChristianaCare intensive care units at 170% over capacity, officials said during Gov. John Carney’s COVID-19 press conference Tuesday.
Nemours Children’s Hospital Delaware on Sunday hit a high-water mark of 70 children hospitalized because of COVID-19, said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health.
Two out of every five people who are hospitalized have COVID-19, Rattay said. Many others are hospitalized with flu, she said.
Of the 734 people in the hospital with COVID-19, 72 are in the ICU and 51 are on ventilators. Of those, 70% were unvaccinated and 90% were unboosted, she said.
Most of the state’s hospitals — ChristianaCare, Bayhealth, TidalHealth Nanticoke and Trinity-St. Francis Hospital — have declared they will be operating under a Crisis Standard of Care. That allows them to change normal staffing and operating rules.
As an example, said Dr. Ken L. Silverstein, ChristianaCare’s chief physician executive, instead of requiring all meds to be given at 8 a.m., some meds that can be delayed without harm to a patient may be delayed until 9 a.m. so nurses can handle something else.
The hospital overload is powered by a shift in the ratio of Omicron variant to Delta variant cases that occurred at the end of December — just in time for holiday gatherings.
Rattay said that random tests of positive cases in December showed that Omicron was responsible for 78% of the cases, and Delta the rest.
State officials also said during the press conference that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to set up a mass COVID-19 testing event for two to three weeks at the Delaware City DMV to help ease waits for tests.
Details for that will be forthcoming, said A.J. Schall Jr., director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.
Demands for testing exploded around Christmas, and many places providing it ran out of tests or manpower. Many of the workers either had COVID-19 themselves or had been exposed to it and couldn’t work.
During the first week of January, 61,128 people were tested, said Schall, who oversees testing. The week before, 52,305 tests were done.
When cases were rising in the 2021 winter surge, federal authorities said Delaware should shoot to do 80,000 tests a month, and the state neared that in a week and surpassed it in two, officials pointed out.
So many have been coming in so fast that the state has had to update its daily summaries repeatedly to reflect cases that were finally added to the state database.
Many of the people showing up in ERs are seeking tests, officials said. They should seek tests at state service centers or pharmacies, officials said. Find a place at de.gov/gettested.
Rattay said only people who exhibit symptoms, have been exposed or are unvaccinated should seek tests.
Schall said that people who need tests for work or to return to school can ask the state for Vault tests.
Those tests can be taken at home with a Vault worker online witnessing the test. They can be dropped in a FedEx or UPS box, arrive quickly and results are quick, he said.
Rattay also urged people to no longer wear a simple cloth mask.
The CDC has changed its guidance to say that they should wear a multi-layer mask like a hospital mask or an FDA-approved KN95 mask, she said.
Asked why he waited so long to institute an indoor mask mandate, which Carney did Monday, the governor said he had hoped people would wear them on their own and businesses would require them.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Carney said. “With the hospitalization numbers reaching crisis proportions, I didn’t want to leave any tool on the table to try to stem the tides of new positive cases and, more importantly, any additional hospitalizations.”‘
Instead, he said, the state is focusing on helping hospitals decompress through things like allowing them to discharge patients who no longer need hospital care, and asking the Delaware National Guard to put members in hospitals to help them with non-clinical work while staff members focus elsewhere.
Carney said about 100 patients could be released if there was a place for them, and National Guard members now are taking a certified nursing assistant course to help staff nursing homes so they can do that, perhaps as early as this week.
He and Rattay said they didn’t know how long it would take the mask mandate to have an effect on new-case numbers. Federal authorities have predicted they surge would peak in mid- to late January.
Carney also said he didn’t plan to leave the indoor mask mandate in place one day longer than he had to.
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