"We can't afford another peak on top of this," Governor John Carney said Tuesday during a weekly press conference detailing Delaware's response to novel coronavirus COVID-19.
The First State now has a record-breaking 433 hospitalization due to the virus with numbers at hospitals approaching capacity for how many individuals the state will be able to handle for those who need care. Of those, 61 people are in critical condition.
"We said for some time that hospital capacity, although it's a moving target based on other folks that are in the hospital for for different reasons, and efforts that the hospitals are taking to empty out the hospitals...[but] right up to the peak recently as a result of social activity around Thanksgiving, that we can't afford to have a peak on top of that," he said.
The governor said Tuesday that hospital capacity rests somewhere between 400 and 500 persons.
Carney said Delaware has played by strict rules, which have kept its residents safe while other more lax states have experienced "peaks on top of peaks. Those steps allowed the state to successfully lower its COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, for a time. But with people gathering for holiday celebrations, COVID-19 has had a troubling impact on the the healthcare system in its wake.
Officials are hoping these troubles will be restricted to the first holiday of the season, and perhaps these increasing numbers will serve as a warning to others that Christmas should be celebrated closer to home, with those under your own roof.
"That's what we need to try to avoid now," Carney said. "And the way to avoid it is for all of us to look at our family situations, use the guidance that was provided by Dr. Rattay, to protect one another, limit exposure among households, be careful when you're out in public, limit trips out in public where you're going to have a difficulty staying separate from one another...We don't want people who need hospital care and can't get it. No. Our hospitals are doing everything they possibly can to make sure that there's space when somebody presents and is tested and is COVID-19-positive. This is why we can't see another peak on top of that."
For her part, Rattay said no part of the state remains "untouched" by COVID spread, though fewer zip codes remained areas of concern currently as case rates have stabilized. However, there were still shocking trends, like a 36% positivity rate in Delaware City, which was a leader in spread alongside New Castle, Townsend, Frankford, and Selbyville.
"Going back a little bit to Thanksgiving, as we're now thinking forward to the upcoming holidays. We're in the midst of our current December holidays, we have some important lessons to learn from the data surrounding Thanksgiving," Rattay said. "We saw a significant surge after Thanksgiving and, as the governor said, the hospitalizations we're dealing with now really are, in large part, a reflection of that surge."
Rattay said officials identified a number of Thanksgiving dinners, parties, and gatherings that contributed to more severe spread--in some cases, upwards of 50% of people who attended a given function ultimately became infected. That led to individuals either becoming symptomatic eventually or, more worrying, never displaying symptoms and going about their lives while shedding the virus to others.
"In a number of the ways, we look at data that showed Thanksgiving was really a 'super-spreader' day for us as a state," she said.
Both Rattay and the governor reiterated that hospitals will not be able to handle an increase like the one seen after Thanksgiving.
CEO and President of ChristianaCare, Dr. Janice Nevin, said she is confident the healthcare system can manage what comes their way but:
"I am worried about the holidays. We most certainly saw the impact of the Thanksgiving holiday. That's really what has driven the rise in numbers these last few weeks. We've got to do a better job through the December, early January time period," she said, "It's imperative that we stay in the fight."
Rattay acknowledged though that people will come together for the holiday against public health guidance.
"We use a term in public health we call 'harm reduction,'" she said. "If you are going to gather with others, you've got to consider some factors, and you need to put some mitigation strategies in place, and you need to have some tough conversations."
Rattay said those considerations included:
- Thinking abut who was coming to visit. Are they high-risk for consequences of the gathering?
- Have visitors been following established guidelines like wearing a mask and socially distancing prior to the gathering?
- Have you been quarantining prior to the event to ensure you yourself aren't spreading the virus?
- Did you and those you love get a negative COVID-19 test during your quarantine?
- Are the number of people gathering inside the limitations set to prevent large outbreaks?
- Have you ensured everyone gathered will be wearing a mask during the gathering?
"If people are dining, that's the one of the riskiest behaviors because people don't have their masks on," Rattay said. "The best thing to do is have non-household members dine in separate areas, maybe separate rooms. We've talked about ventilation before. We know that it's probably not realistic for people to dine outside and spend time outside right now, but at the very least, open windows. Get some ventilation. Open doors, get a fan blowing outside of a window to keep circulation going. And it's part of the conversation to have with people to bring some extra layers, it might be a little chilly in your home...Please, be very careful and don't spread this virus over the holiday."
WDEL's Amy Cherry contributed to this report.