The first novel coronavirus COVID-19 death related to the state of Delaware was reported by public health officials Thursday.
According to the Division of Public Health, the 66-year-old man from Sussex County was hospitalized out-of-state. He had underlying health conditions, though the details of those conditions are HIPPA protected. State health officials would not disclose in which state he was hospitalized.
"He initially presented with what we would consider the typical signs of COVID-19, including fever," said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health. "He was not hospitalized long before the disease overwhelmed his body's defenses."
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the gentleman who died, as well as to all who have been diagnosed with coronavirus disease,” she said. “This is a tragic reminder that that this disease can be fatal. We need to make sure that we are protecting vulnerable persons from this disease, particularly older individuals and those with chronic health conditions. This reinforces why it’s so important for everyone to stay home--especially those who are ill with any symptoms including fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath and even stomach aches, nausea and diarrhea.”
Officials said they weren't certain regarding the source of his exposure to the virus.
"Our epidemiologists are still investigating the circumstances," said Rattay.
There were 130 cases of COVID-19 in Delaware since March 11, 2020. Of those, 86 are in New Castle County, 17 are in Kent County, and 27 are in Sussex County. There are 63 men and 67 women, and range in age from 1 to 90 years old. Thirteen are hospitalized, seven critically. Two additional Delaware residents are hospitalized out-of-state.
DPH confirmed health care professionals are among the state's 130 confirmed cases.
"That's not surprising; health care workers are at significant risk of becoming positive because they are the ones caring for individuals...so those in the health care setting are then notified, and take actions accordingly."
Four people have recovered from COVID-19 in Delaware, however, they're still included in the total number of positive cases.
"Unfortunately, you will not see a decrease in those numbers," said Rattay.
Dr. Rick Hong, State Medical Director, said "recovery" per CDC guidelines means a person as been symptom-free for three days without taking any fever or pain medication, and the person must be at least seven days past the first day of the onset of symptoms.
"From there, we do evaluate the risk and we do ask the person to still practice social distancing for up to seven days total without symptoms, and afterwards, we do ask for self-monitoring for 14 days," he told WDEL. "This is just in reaction to some of the data we have seen that some patients with a certain period without symptoms may still test positive."
With tests in high-demand, there's no indication that patients would be re-tested to confirm they no longer have COVID-19.
Delawareans who are sick, Rattay said, should call their primary care provider. COVID-19 nasal swabs at a standing testing site requires a doctor's prescription; walk-in testing is not available.
"Please do not go to your local emergency room," she said. "If you have symptoms, you could infect others. It's important that we keep the emergency departments as free as possible to care for the sickest possible."
"If you are sick stay home, and if you think you may have been exposed to someone, stay home....that means stay home from work if your business is open because it's deemed essential; that means staying home from the grocery store and asking someone to make that trip for essential supplies for you. "
The governor's amended State of Emergency requires non-essential workers to stay home, but Rattay said it's not being heeded.
"We continue to hear instances of people gathering together in groups; we are seeing confirmed cases among professionals, who care for our most vulnerable people. It should not take someone's death to point out that you are sick you could be endangering people's lives--the lives of your patients, your clients, children, parents, families, your friends, your neighbors, and exposing far too many people unnecessarily."
She said everyone must practice social distancing.
Rattay asked anyone who knows of someone who is "definitely" sick and not self-isolating to call DPH 1.866.408.1899 or 711 for individuals who are hearing-impaired or via email at DPHCall@delaware.gov.
"We will work to enforce the isolation, through court order if necessary."