Governor John Carney is not just concerned about a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall, he's worried about a possible resurgence right now, after Delaware's endured months of economic shutdown to flatten the curve.
He said, anecdotally, he's hearing and seeing that coronavirus restrictions, aimed at preventing spread of the respiratory illness, like social distancing and wearing face masks aren't happening as often as he'd like, particularly in retail establishments and in youth spots.
"We just need to emphasize those important measures--that we all need to be taking--in order to [prevent] the spread of the virus in our community in the short and long-term. There's been a high price that's been paid particularly in the business and economic sector, by individuals and business owners, organizations with respect to lost revenue because of shutdowns, and now, it would be a shame to now have to moderate or change the direction in which we're going because folks have gotten complacent and [are] not taking protective measures."
As Delaware is in the second week of Phase 2 of reopening, the state continues to keep a close eye on hospitalizations, which had dipped down to the high 70s, but rose to 91 after the weekend.
"[It's] still comfortably below our ability, our hospital capacity to treat COVID-19 patients, but concerning in terms of the existence and severity of the virus in our communities," he said.
In other states, like Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona, where coronavirus cases are increasing at alarmingly rapid rates, they're doing so among individuals in the 18 to 34 age range. Carney said we're seeing similar, albeit, smaller spikes in cases among that age group in Delaware as well.
"I think it's indicative...anecdotally of behavior, young people eager to get back outside, and back to the beaches, and inside to restaurants, and the bars that might be connected to them, or beach houses and parties," he said. "The virus still exists in our community, and these large gatherings, in particular gatherings where people are not able to keep 6 ft. apart, and obviously, if you're at a party down at the beach house, that's probably not something you're paying attention to or certainly wearing a face mask, and so we're seeing an uptick there in the number of positive cases in that 18 to 34 age group."
Last week, Delaware announced three teens, connected to the same beach rental in Dewey, celebrating senior week, tested positive for COVID-19. Tuesday, the Division of Public Health said eight teens, tied to senior week activities, have now tested positive. The teens lived in two separate beach rentals--with three testing positive in one home and four testing positive in another. The eighth case is unrelated to those two groups, but is someone who attended senior week activities.
Carney said the small outbreak tied to senior week activities is less about the availability of short-term rentals and more about behavior.
"They probably would've been in private homes. The issue there really is the protective measures and behavior, lack of social distancing, larger groups, and particularly, with folks that may not have been in the same group or neighborhood from other areas," said Carney.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said testing is key among that population, and she expects cases among teens to go up. She said, if you attended senior week activities--you are at risk for COVID-19, irregardless of symptoms, and you should get tested.
"Getting tested really is so very important...a lot of folks in this age group who are positive don't ave symptoms, so waiting for symptoms is not going to tell you that you should be tested," she said, "we're not saying anyone is in trouble for participating in senior week activities. What's important from our perspective--we need to understand the facts; we need to know who's positive, who was exposed so we can decrease the spread of infection, and I think that's also extremely important for anyone involved to think about grandparents and others who will be exposed."
Delaware health officials said they're not aware of any clusters of COVID-19 cases among protesters.
"We don't have any evidence, here in Delaware," said Dr. Rattay. "It's not to say that there aren't cases of protesters, who are positive, but because these are largely outdoor events, and in general, good face covering compliance, we think that they may be a big reason why we're not seeing a resurgence...outdoors really seems to make a huge difference."
"We didn't get much compliance on social distancing, but on mask-wearing, there was a lot of mask-wearing," remarked Carney.
He stressed that testing remains the best way to curb spread of the virus, and he's disappointed the state won't meet its goal to test 80,000 Delawareans this month.
"We have a lot more test sites, and we're not getting quite the interest that we expected," said the governor. "we need folks to come out and get tested, particularly if they think they've been in an environment--maybe at the beach, or at a large gathering...at a graduation party that's concerning, we encourage you to get tested."
On his coronavirus call with other governors, Carney highlighted observations in Florida.
"About half of those tested were asymptomatic, so I think you're going to see, I think the data and the science suggests...that kind of the younger you are, the less likely you are to be symptomatic, and to be carrying the virus, shedding the virus, if you will without symptoms, and obviously that's a big concern, and a reason that we're emphasizing that everyone should be tested whether they have flu-like symptoms or not."
The governor said he doesn't want to shutdown the economy again and would prefer to use cease-and-desist orders for establishments not complying with coronavirus restrictions.
"The idea of shutting down again, while that will always be something that you can use, but it's a very destructive, blunt instrument, and we need to do these other things...and perfect these other mechanisms first."
Carney has not set a date for the state to move into Phase 3, which allows large venues to open with limited physical distancing and allows visits to long-term care centers, which have been hard-hit by the virus, to resume.
"There have been some observations of activity in Phase 2 that give us some concern about folks not wearing face masks as protection, indoor gatherings, in particular, and social distancing, folks being a little less concerned about that," he said. "This is not the time to let our guard down, not the time to be complacent. In fact, it's time to really cash in on all those investments in the health of our community so that we can have a healthy economy."
"We need to everyone to act with a sense of responsibility and community, and awareness of that your actions affect your neighbor and vice versa, and so wear a mask in public...secondly, keep your distance from those, your six-foot radius from those outside of your household...and make sure you get tested on a kind of regular basis."