According to the state’s data dashboard, as of July 7, 2020, Delaware, with a population of 974,051, has suffered 512 total COVID‑19 deaths. Additionally, the state has had 6,778 patients recover and 114,886 residents test negative. The total number of positive cases in Delaware is 12,293 with 11,249 of these cases confirmed.
The large majority of positive cases have occurred in New Castle County (5,489) and Sussex County (4,952). Significantly, however, Sussex County has experienced a much higher per capita rate of positive cases, 259 per 10,000 people versus 95 per 10,000 people in New Castle County and 100 per 10,000 people in Kent County (1,761 cases). By comparison, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania has experienced 139 cases per 10,000 people, while Queens County, New York has experienced 292 cases per 10,000 people.[i]
The increased per capita rate of infection in Sussex County is attributable to a high incidence of cases amongst the county’s poultry industry workers. Sussex County, Delaware, in the southern third of the state, leads the country with the most chicken sold for food.[ii] Accordingly, it has faced the same COVID-19 problem seen across the country with respect to the meat packing industry, namely that the close working conditions found in the industry present an efficient medium for viral transmission. The effectiveness of PPE at poultry plants is offset by such close working conditions. More than half of the 300 workers tested recently in one Sussex County poultry plant were found to be positive for COVID‑19. Fortunately, the state’s hospitals promptly responded to the surge in cases by establishing nearby temporary COVID-19 testing sites to permit better assessment of the virus’s spread and facilitate containment measures.
While experiencing a relatively low rate of cases through the first half of April, Delaware’s hospitalization rate accelerated in the month of May. However, the rate of new hospital admissions for confirmed and suspected COVID‑19 cases is now decreasing rather substantially. Currently, 54 Delaware residents remain hospitalized for COVID‑19 with 15 of those counted as critical hospitalizations.
The state’s response to the COVID‑19 pandemic appears to have been timely and largely effective. On March 4, in anticipation of the spread of COVID‑19, the Delaware Division of Public Health opened its coronavirus call center at its State Health Operation Center in Smyrna to assist with public questions relating to the disease.[iii] On March 11, 2020, the first case was reported in New Castle County. On March 12, Governor John Carney declared a state of emergency, which permitted the Delaware National Guard to take specific actions in response to the spread of the disease, allowed the state to conduct electronic public meetings, and prohibited price gouging measures for retail goods. In accordance with CDC guidelines, Governor Carney then recommended the cancellation of all non‑essential public gatherings involving more than 100 people. On March 23, the Governor issued a stay‑at‑home order, and all non‑essential businesses were ordered closed. On March 29, he ordered all out of state travelers to self‑quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in Delaware. The order included exemptions from the self‑quarantine requirement for travel through Delaware to out-of-state destinations, travel to an essential job, and travel to care for family members. On April 24, the Governor announced that all schools would remain closed for the remainder of the school year. However, schools were to continue to utilize remote learning.
On June 1, Delaware began Phase I of its reopening plan. Specific businesses were allowed to reopen at 30% capacity. These included restaurants, shopping malls, retail stores, barber shops, gyms and casinos. Additionally, outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people were permitted. On June 15, Delaware began Phase II. Businesses allowed to open in Phase I could now increase their capacity to 60%. Additionally, childcare services were permitted to open for all residents, having previously been restricted to children of essential workers. In reaction to a spike in cases in Sussex County during the month of June, however, Governor Carney, on June 30, ordered bars at the Delaware beaches to close indefinitely, beginning on July 3.
Central to Delaware’s COVID‑19 response has been the collaborative effort of nonprofits such as the Delaware Community Foundation, United Way of Delaware, Philanthropy Delaware, and the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement. These entities have supplemented and supported the efforts of the state government through the Delaware COVID‑19 Emergency Response Initiative.[iv] Through this initiative these nonprofits both generated funds and other supports to obtain much needed PPE and recruited volunteers to address the immediate and long‑term consequences of COVID‑19.
[ii] “Chicken Plants-and the Food Supply-Take Center Stage in Delaware’s COVID-19 Fight” (https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-05-05/chicken-plants-take-center-stage-in-delaware-coronavirus-fight).
[iii] “Delaware Opens Coronavirus Call Center” (http://www.wboc.com/story/41853374/delaware-division-of-public-health-opens-coronavirus-call-center).