Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee 7-31

The Delaware Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee released their interim report Friday, detailing how Delaware would handle a response to another surge of novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases. 

Co-chaired by Lt. Governor Bethany Hall Long and Secretary of State Jeff Bullock, the group had subcommittees focused on health, business, and equity, so that the best decisions could be made with all interests in mind. 

"[You] have done a really difficult job over the last several weeks as we prepare for the possible rebound, resurgence of the COVID-19 virus in our state. The last four months have been unprecedented in the history of our state. Uncharted waters all the way around," said Governor John Carney to the committee members gathered for a virtual presentation of the interim report. "Delaware has really came together to push down that curve pretty significantly."

Carney said Delaware is currently hovering around a kind of limbo where things could swiftly improve or deteriorate, and he hopes the committee's findings will help improve conditions. 

"[We are] now in this kind of middling range between not really good and not bad. I'd like to be better than this," he said. "I think the recommendations and the observations that are in this report will help us...I know there are lots of other observations, conclusions, and recommendations in this report. I want to thank all the people involved with the three subcommittees, it's really important work you've done, and it's will be a real challenge for us to go through it and to put into action, into place the recommendations that you've made."

Echoing Carney's long-established catchphrase during pandemic recovery that, in order to have a healthy economy, the state first needed to have a healthy community, Hall Long said their "road map" should provide a path to both. 

"I like to call it the pandemic playbook. It is a playbook for us to look to the future with. We have lost over 550-some Delawareans," she said. "What are we going to do to make sure [Delawareans] have equitable healthcare, equitable business opportunities? So, we have this interim--and I mind you, it's interim--report. We will be getting additional metrics later."

Even while the task force toiled on constructing a response plan to a resurgence of the virus in the future, the current wave of COVID-19 continued to contribute to changing conditions on the ground. 

"Even in the time since this task force has been working, this pandemic has continued to change. It's still very much with us. And it's gotten a little bit younger," Bullock said. "It's gotten a little more serious in some states where it was a serious couple months ago, but it shows no signs of going away anytime soon. And with it, we've seen a growing economic crisis that I think is only going to get worse as well, with time. So our charge has changed a little bit in that we have looked at this as: how do we handle both these things simultaneously? Right? The pandemic, the deadly virus, as well as the growing economic crisis. And it ain't easy."

Possibly the most vital thing Delaware can do right now to combat COVID-19 resurgence is to ensure the virus doesn't find a foothold in the community now that will let it spread further in the future, said Dr. Nancy Fan, chair of the health-focused subcommittee. 

"To make this successful, to make sure that we actually don't need to implement a lot of the recommendations that would result from having a resurgence is that optimizing the collaboration between all the community sectors--healthcare, the state, business--and really making sure that [everyone understands]--especially for the public--we're all in this together," Fan said.

She added, among the subcommittee's recommendations, ensuring there's no shut down of health care services again.

"The negative health outcomes that can come from that--delaying both preventative care and as we go into flu season, talking about vaccinations, delaying care for people with chronic diseases, and also being able to address concerns with mental health, substance use, maternity care, I think all of these are essential," said Fan.

She said the state also needs to make sure it's not once again behind the eight ball when it comes to obtaining personal protective gear, for all essential workers--not just health health care workers--amid a possible resurgence.

"Being able to learn our lessons and expand on how not we can just have greater supply, but also use of our PPE in both our health care sectors and other parts of our community that need it to make sure our community is safe."

A flexible, "nimble" working group was recommended for Delaware to avoid the failures seen in places like Texas, Florida, and Arizona, where resurgence has really taken hold.

"I don't want to go back to a place, where we're shutting things down again because I don't know that we can afford to," said Gov. Carney.

The group would respond quickly to changing conditions, making sure all subcommittee groups were aware of changing conditions and ensuring a greater supply of personal protective equipment was stockpiled in the state. Additionally, Fan highlighted the prioritization of maintaining healthcare access amid a resurgence.

"One of the lessons I think we learned in the healthcare sectors was the negative consequences of having closed down all health care access to our patients--the negative health outcomes that can come from that, from delaying both preventative care and, as we go into flu season and talking about vaccinations, the delaying care for people with chronic diseases and making them feel safe so they can access their health care," she said. "Also being able to address concerns with mental health, substance use, maternity care. I think all of these are essential that we have learned that we need to be able to maintain access for, even if we're talking about resurgence numbers."

Chair for the equity-focused subcommittee Eugene Young said equity for both humans and the economy were priorities, and it was a challenge finding a balance for both. 

"We have a lot of men and women--because...[of] the ending of the federal subsidies for unemployment benefits--who are really struggling right now, in regards to making rent, mortgage, and support there is certainly needed," he said. "There's many cases where people were already struggling prior to COVID-19, and now this pandemic even really ramps a lot of that up."

Among that subcommittee's recommendations, expanding of emergency financial assistance for low-income workers impacted by the pandemic.

"That's been a major issue that we've seen because unemployment benefits have ceased...we want to make sure that we're able to meet them where they are," he said.

He also recommended an expansion of rental and mortgage assistance programs, which he noted, was an issue for struggling families even before the pandemic. 

Read the full report of recommendations:

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WDEL's Amy Cherry contributed to this report.