The percentage of positive COVID-19 cases and the number of hospital admissions are increasing again in Delaware, according to the state’s database.
An average of 18.6% of tests were positive this week and the state reported 130 hospitalizations Thursday, including 11 critical patients.
The last time Delaware saw that many positive tests was in late January. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 had also been steadily declining through March and most of April, but was back above 100 on May 6.
To put this in perspective, there were more than 750 people hospitalized with COVID during the Omicron surge in mid-January, and that number dropped to just 20 people at the end of March.
So what do all these numbers mean for our current situation in the pandemic?
dr Karyl Rattay, director of the Department of Public Health, said in a recent interview that the number of hospital admissions is considered the most accurate indicator of the severity and spread of COVID-19 – but she also said it is a lagging indicator .
That means public health officials won’t see that spike in hospitalizations until about two weeks later if there’s a surge.
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This is one of the reasons Rattay said the state needs to look at all the indicators together and look for trends. She also recognized that the number of positive cases remains too low, especially now that many people are testing at home and not reporting their results.
“I’m thrilled that home testing is now so widespread because it allows people to quickly know their status to do what they need to do to take care of themselves and protect others,” she said. “But absolutely positive cases from home tests do not make it into our records. Whether it’s the flu, measles or whooping cough, we’re tracking confirmed cases.”
Cases of infectious diseases and viruses have always been undercounted, Rattay said, and public health officials in Delaware and nationally have known that from the start. But even without any data point, the trends are still there.
For example, in late December and early January, Rattay said public health officials could see numbers skyrocketing despite the likelihood that many people were taking home tests at that time.
Also consider anyone who has no symptoms and may never test. There will always be cases that go missing, Rattay said, but that doesn’t mean the data isn’t helpful.
How does Delaware compare?
During a May 4 interview, Rattay said that while cases and hospitalizations were increasing, she was pleased that cases were increasing at a slower rate than some other Northeast states.
But now Delaware appears to be catching up, even surpassing the percentage of positive cases in states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, all of which had positivity rates between 10% and 14.9% as of May 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The effects of COVID are still ongoing in so many Delaware communities. Just this week, Dover announced it was closing city buildings – including the town hall, library and recreation center – Friday through Monday due to an increased number of COVID-19 cases among staff.
COVID-19 cases have risen in most states, largely because of new and more contagious omicron subvariants, dwindling immunity to both vaccines and previous infections, and fewer people in masks, according to a White House briefing Wednesday.
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While the CDC estimates that nearly 60% of all Americans have had COVID-19 at this point, there’s still a lot of unpredictability and unknowns about how much this immunity protects people from future variants.
What health officials do know is that immunizations and booster shots offer further protection against COVID-19 — whether or not people have recently tested positive for the virus.
More than 64% of Delawareans are fully vaccinated as of Thursday, but more than 70% of children ages 5 to 11 are not yet fully vaccinated.
“This is of great concern to me as a public health official and pediatrician,” Rattay said, referring to low pediatric immunization rates in Delaware and across the country. “We don’t typically see such hesitation in families in our pediatric population.”
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Despite reports showing that the Pfizer vaccine was well tolerated in this 5- to 11-year-old age group, Rattay says parents still have significant safety concerns. She advised all families to contact their pediatrician or healthcare provider with any questions, rather than seeking information on social media or other sources.
Precautions and Policies
Now, as cases in Delaware are rising again, Rattay advised people to remember what resources are still available to protect them from contracting COVID — most importantly, staying up to date on vaccines and booster shots.
While people are clinging to some optimism as masks become rarer and fewer people die from COVID-19, it’s important to remain cautious, Rattay said.
This is especially true for people at high risk — such as those over the age of 65 who are immunocompromised or have chronic conditions — or those who spend time with other people who are at high risk or who are unvaccinated.
Here are some things Rattay says people can do to stay alert:
- Get the second refresher if you are over 50 years old.
- Consider wearing a mask more often in public spaces, especially indoors.
- If you have symptoms of illness, stay home and get tested.
- If you have been exposed, get tested and wear a mask in the meantime.
- If you are not vaccinated, it is advisable to test regularly.
- If you have tested positive, notify those you have been in contact with and stay home. Ask your doctor about possible treatment options.
“Delawareans have been hearing these recommendations, many of them for two years. And they have the tools in the tool box,” Rattay said. “You know what the right thing is. So we really hope that people are doing what is necessary to protect themselves and each other.”
Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from the inland towns to the beaches. She also wants to tell powerful stories about the health and well-being of communities across Delaware. Contact her at [email protected] or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.