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Carney weighs vaccine access for select state employees

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Gov. John Carney said the state is exploring all options to stem the spread of COVID-19, including expanding vaccine access to select state employees and a school mask mandate. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON — As the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread in Delaware, Gov. John Carney is exploring other options to stop the spread short of reissuing a state of emergency declaration that expired in mid-July.

Although COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled in the last few weeks and Delaware recorded a 135 seven-day average for new cases, Carney has no plans at this time to require customers or workers to show proof of vaccination for select activities. But the state is considering requiring some state employees in at-risk locations to receive at least one vaccine dose.

In particular, Delaware will be focusing on expanding vaccine access to correctional officers and those who work in state nursing homes and juvenile detention centers.

“We have public health powers that apply in some circumstances but not others, and we have employee relationships that are subject to collective bargaining and contractual obligations. So it’s a little more complicated depending on what employee group you’re talking about,” Carney said during Thursday’s press conference.

The state government is the largest employer in Delaware, with 32,600 employees, according to Delaware Business Times records. ChristianaCare, the largest private employer and second largest employer overall, is requiring all of its 14,500 employees receive at least one vaccine shot by the end of September, except under certain circumstances.

“The biggest complaint I hear [from employers] is not being able to find enough employees for the jobs they have, and that’s extremely relevant when it comes to our correctional officers … we do not want to make that worse by doing something that may be unnecessary at one level and we might be able to do in a different way,” Carney said. 

When Delaware ended the state of emergency on July 13 — and ending the governor’s executive abilities during a crisis — the state held a seven-day average of 30 cases. But as the state reopened more, cases slowly began to climb again. As of Thursday, 53 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications, and about 99% of those people were not vaccinated.

Delaware officials once celebrated that the state had reached President Joe Biden’s 70% vaccine threshold before July 4, but health leaders are now seeing worrying trends with young adults and COVID-19 transmissions. About half of the state’s population between the ages 18 and 34 have not been vaccinated, and provide the highest case count.

About 51% of COVID-19 cases samples sequenced by the Delaware Division of Public Health were positive for the delta variant, which is more than twice as contagious as any other variant of the disease.

To date, the state has administered 1.06 million vaccine doses, but 472,645 Delawareans are fully vaccinated. DPH Director Karyl Rattay noted that the vaccine may not protect everyone who received a vaccine from getting infected, but it will soften the more severe symptoms.

“Vaccines are the way to end this pandemic. It is the most important public health tool we have against death and hospitalization,” Rattay said.

While New York City has moved to require workers and customers to show proof of vaccination through a smartphone “passport” app, Carney said the state does not have the infrastructure in place to carry out a similar move. The focus moving forward would be getting more people vaccinated, he added.

“I’m hearing from other states that there’s a lot of anxiety and fear about delta, particularly where the vaccine rates are quite low. There’s more talk about the challenges of that rather than the passport idea,” he said. “Our focus has been about thinking what’s preventing people from taking that step [of getting vaccinated].”

Delaware officials are also recommending unvaccinated people to get tested at least once a week. Unvaccinated people who are exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine and get tested five to seven days after exposure. Delawareans who are vaccinated and exposed must wear a mask for 14 days and get tested between three to five days after exposure.

Carney is also weighing emergency powers when it comes to a universal classroom mask mandate, as most state students are due to return to schools in just a few weeks.

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