The percentage of positive COVID-19 cases and the number of hospitalizations are rising again in Delaware, according to the state database.
An average of 18.6% of tests came back positive this week, and the state reported 130 admissions, including 11 critical patients from Thursday.
The last time Delaware saw so many positive tests was in late January. The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 had also been steadily declining through March and most of April, but it again exceeded 100 on 6 May.
To put it in perspective, more than 750 people were hospitalized with COVID during the omicron rise in mid-January, and that number dropped to as low as 20 people at the end of March.
So what do all these numbers mean for where we are in the pandemic?
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Department of Public Health, said in a recent interview that the number of hospitalizations is considered the most accurate indicator of the severity and spread of COVID-19 – but she also said it is a lame indicator.
This means that when there is an increase, public health officials will not see that increase in admissions until about two weeks later.
That’s one of the reasons Rattay said the state should consider all the indicators together and look for trends. She also acknowledged that the number of positive cases continues to be underestimated, especially now that many people use home tests and do not report their results.
“I’m excited about home testing being so widely available now because it enables people to quickly know their status in order to do what they need to do to take care of themselves and protect others,” she said. “But absolutely positive cases from home tests are not included in our records. Whether it is flu or measles or pertussis, we catch confirmed cases.”
Cases have always been underestimated when it comes to infectious diseases and viruses, Rattay said, and public health officials in Delaware and nationally have known it since the beginning. But even without each data point, the trends are still there.
For example, in late December and early January, Rattay said public health officials could see the numbers rising despite the likelihood of many people taking home tests at the time.
Also consider all those people who have no symptoms and may never test. There will always be cases missing, Rattay said, but that does not mean the data is not useful.
How does Delaware compare?
In an interview on May 4, Rattay said that although cases and hospitalizations increased, she was pleased that cases increased more slowly than in some of the other states in the Northeast.
But now Delaware appears to be catching up and even exceeding the percentage of positive cases in states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, all of which had between 10% and 14.9% positivity rates per capita. May 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The impact of COVID is still ongoing in so many Delaware communities. Just this week, Dover announced that it is closing city buildings – including the town hall, library and leisure center – Friday through Monday due to an increased number of COVID-19 cases among staff.
COVID-19 cases have been rising in most statespredominantly due to new and more infectious omicron subvariants, declining immunity from both vaccines and previous infections, and fewer people masking themselves, according to a White House briefing on Wednesday.
While the CDC estimates that nearly 60% of all Americans have had COVID-19 by this time, there is still a lot of unpredictability and uncertainty about how much these immunity levels protect people from future variants.
What public health officials know is that vaccinations and boosters add another level of protection against COVID-19 – whether people have tested positive for the virus recently or not.
More than 64% of Delawareans are fully vaccinated as of Thursday, but more than 70% of children ages 5 to 11 are still not fully vaccinated.
“It’s a big concern for me as a public health official and pediatrician,” Rattay said, referring to the low vaccination rates for children in Delaware and nationwide. “We do not usually see hesitation like this among families in our pediatric population.”
Despite reports showing that the Pfizer vaccine has been well tolerated among this age group of 5 to 11 years, Rattay said parents still seem to have significant safety concerns. She recommended that all families contact their pediatrician or health care providers with questions they have, instead of seeking information on social media or other sources.
Precautions and guidelines
Now that cases are rising in Delaware again, Rattay advised people to keep in mind the tools still available to protect them from getting sick with COVID – especially to stay up to date on vaccines and boosters.
Although people are holding on to some optimism as masks become less common and fewer people die from COVID-19, it is important to remain cautious, Rattay said.
This is especially true for high-risk people – such as those over the age of 65, who are immunocompromised or suffer from chronic conditions – or people who spend time with others who are high-risk or unvaccinated.
Here are some things Rattay said people can do to stay alert:
- Get the second booster 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 put on a mask in the meantime.
- If you are unvaccinated, it is wise to test regularly.
- If you test positive, notify the people you have been in contact with and stay home. Ask your doctor about possible treatment options.
“Delaware people have heard these recommendations, many of them for two years. And they have the tools in the toolbox,” Rattay said. “They know what the right things to do are. So we really hope that people will do what is necessary to protect themselves and each other. “
Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from the inner cities to the beaches. She also aims to tell meaningful stories about health and wellness in communities across Delaware. Contact her at [email protected] or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @ emily3lytle.