Coronavirus

Sussex County is seeing an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

The spike is so high, Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said she could not single out zip codes. Sussex saw a 50% increase in case rates in just the past week, she noted.

"This is the first time in quite a while that we've really seen all of Sussex County light up like this," she said. "Most all zip codes in Sussex County, right now, if not all, have over 500 cases per 100,000 people this past week, which is a fairly high case rate."

Early on in the pandemic, areas where Delaware chicken plant employee live and work in western Sussex were declared COVID-19 "hot spots" while the Delaware beaches area were labeled a "hot spot" over the summer.

Rattay said her singling out significant community spread of the virus in Sussex doesn't mean New Castle and Kent counties are doing well.

"That is certainly not to say we're not seeing it in other parts of the state, but by far, the biggest increase over the past week, especially, has been in Sussex County."

Meantime, at Tuesday's weekly coronavirus news conference, Rattay said Delaware has not yet identified a single case of the United Kingdom variant strain of coronavirus, known as B-117.

"I won't be surprised if and when we find it because multiple other states now have found the UK variant, so our laboratory has a technique, where they can screen to identify whether a particular specimen needs an additional analysis, which gets sent to CDC," she said.

Maryland announced its first two cases of the variant strain in the Baltimore area Tuesday. Pennsylvania announced its first case last week in Dauphin County. New Jersey joins Delaware in not seeing a confirmed case of the variant strain yet, though Gov. Phil Murphy said we should act as though it's circulating.

While the strain is said to be more contagious, it's not been found to cause more severe illness, but it will likely have "concerning" implications on virus spread.

"If and when we begin to see spread of it, it's certainly possible that we'll see a higher level of infectious spread in the state," said Rattay. "There's potential for another surge with that."

The state also said Tuesday it plans to ramp up plans to vaccinate healthcare workers, first responders, and long-term care residents and staff who remain in Phase 1a, who've not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine. They'll be holding mass drive-thru-style inoculation clinics aimed at increasing vaccination numbers.

The decision comes alongside a federal government plan to send higher amounts of vaccine to states that can show speed in administering vaccine. So far, Delaware has administered less than half of the nearly 59,000 doses of vaccine its received.