New cases of COVID-19 have risen 20% in Delaware over the past week.
"Right now Delaware is the fifth highest state in the country for case rates after Michigan, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania," Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said.
Delaware is now seeing 358 new cases per day on a seven-day moving average, according to the state's coronavirus tracker.
"We don't want to be headed in that direction. We were moving to 100 new positive cases on a day-to-day basis just a few weeks back, said Governor John Carney at Tuesday's weekly virtual coronavirus news conference.
Dr. Rattay said 52% of COVID cases are testing positive for more contagious variant strains of the virus. The UK variant is the most common strain spreading here with 95 cases to date followed by the B.1.525 New York variant with 81 cases at last check.
"This level of variants among our cases helps explain our case numbers," said Rattay.
Twenty-six zip codes now meet the state's criteria for elevated cases of COVID-19. Just weeks ago, a handful of zip codes met this criteria.
"This is the third week in a row where we have seen an increase in the number of zip codes that meet the criteria. The areas are mostly in New Castle and Kent counties still, with a few in Sussex," Rattay said.
The state's positivity rate is at 5.7%, rising steadily over the past few weeks, and above the World Health Organization's recommended 5% reopening criteria.
Hospitalizations also ticked up slightly to 168, but have remained mostly level the past several weeks.
"We want to flatten that out, and we need everybody's help to do that," he said. "Be conscious of avoiding gatherings, wear your mask when you're in public, don't mix households, just be conscious of your exposure to others who might be carrying the virus. And remember--you don't have to have symptoms to be carrying the virus."
Hospitalizations hit a low in late August when just 29 persons were hospitalized.
"That started to tick up as we went through the fall; students went back to college, we saw an uptick in positive cases, and that resulted in hospitalizations. We hit Nov. 2nd, 107 [hospitalizations], and then that almost tripled in a month to December--again Thanksgiving, holidays, people getting together, a lot of exposure. We topped out, the peak there, in January, after the December holidays, another run-up in cases and hospitalizations. We were making steady progress in February and early March from 326 in February 1st down to under 100, and then gradually growing there," he recapped.
WDEL asked the Division of Public Health, who exactly is being hospitalized with COVID-19 right now.
"Anecdotally, [the hospitals] are telling us it is a younger population that's being hospitalized as compared to the previous surge," said Rattay.
But despite the spike in cases, Carney said he isn't considering new virus-related restrictions.
"There's not anything that we've looked at to say 'hey if we did this we could stop the run-up in some of these cases, other than continue to emphasize the need to wear masks in public places, where they're required," he said.
The state's vaccine tracker shows 240,724 residents, or more than 30% of the state's population, are fully vaccinated. Of those 65 and older, 71% are fully vaccinated while 85% have at least one dose of vaccine.
"We're making real progress," said Carney. "[But] we are seeing a little bit of a softening of demand as we move through the wait-list and our registration list."
The DPH told WDEL the state has had 96 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in fully vaccinated people up from 70 cases the week prior. Three of the 96 fully vaccinated people who subsequently tested positive for COVID were also hospitalized, and there has been one death in an elderly person with underlying health conditions.
The instances of breakthrough cases are very rare, accounting for just .04% of fully vaccinated persons in the state.
Of the breakthrough cases, the DPH said 71 persons received the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first vaccine offered din the state. The remaining 25 cases received either the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but due to such small numbers, totals could not be provided currently to protect personal health information.
Rattay said as cases rise and variants spread, now's not the time to let your guard down.
"These are all signs, even as we have vaccinated many people, that we can't get complacent; the virus is not yet slowing down," said Rattay. "Wearing a mask continues to be so important, in public especially, wear a mask, stay distance from other people in public, avoid indoor gatherings, and getting vaccinated as soon as you can--this is so incredibly important--now that vaccine is available for anyone 16 and up, the cases we're seeing right now it's really an important reminder: vaccination. The more people that take advantage of vaccination, the more we're going to be able to push that down.