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Delaware enlists aid for COVID care, testing

Katie Tabeling

Gov. John Carney and his administration announced that the state has put in a request with the federal government to allocate resources to expand testing efforts in the First State | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON — As Delaware begins the new year with a record-setting number for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Gov. John Carney and his administration are focused on lifting the pressure off the state’s overburdened hospital systems.

Hospital systems have been pushed to the brink in the last couple of weeks, as many have temporarily paused elective surgeries and imposed stricter visitation guidelines to limit exposure risk to the highly contagious omicron variant. In the past four days before that, Delaware recorded four days in a row with 3,000 or more cases. The backlog of tests on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were 3,333 and 3,550 cases, respectively.

The state recorded a seven-day average of 2,584 cases and 602 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 as of Jan. 3. In the last two days, hospitalizations have increased by 93 patients.

One out of every four Delawareans are testing positive at this point, Carney said during his Tuesday press conference.

“The hospital systems are challenged at this point in discharging their COVID patients once they recover, in moving them to long-term and assisted care facilities for many reasons but primarily staffing,” Carney said. “Our focus is to help the hospitals by providing resources — mostly staffing resources — to the acute care facilities, with the assurance that with [this help], as approved by the Division of Public Health, hospitals will be able to discharge folks to their care.”

The Delaware National Guard has mobilized 100 guardsmen to be trained in certified nursing assistant (CNA) programs at Delaware Technical Community College, which will end in the next 10 to 14 days. Once training is completed, those guardsmen will be assigned to a health care facility, such as nursing homes, assisted living centers, or a physician rehabilitation center.

That will help free up beds in hospitals for patients battling severe cases of COVID-19, according to Delaware Emergency Management Agency Director A.J. Schall.

“We’re hearing from the medical community that there are people staying in hospitals, waiting to get a bed in some type of post-hospital setting to get the care they need because it’s not opening up,” Schall said. “Staffing is one of those components and this program will help things out.”

The military members may also be used to handle administrative tasks to free up health care workers to work with patients, though the details of that are still being finalized at this point.

Emergency management systems and hospitals have plans in place for “catastrophic” events, which typically involve pulling trained medical professionals and other resources from the outside community to help mitigate the crisis, which the country has seen during 9/11 and natural disasters.

The critical difference this time, Schall said, was that the whole country and the whole world was facing the same event at the same time, making it difficult to tap into those previously-tested plans.

“We don’t need the space. We need the bodies, capable, trained and licensed bodies,” he said. “We have relaxed the licensing requirements in the public health order to allow retired individuals and those who may not be licensed in this state to come help … There’s not many resources at the federal level to come in and save the day.”

The state has reported testing has doubled recently compared to tests conducted in the last two months. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DHSS

Delaware officials did not specify what a critical capacity level would look like. However, for the last three weeks, Carney has invited hospital leaders from ChristianaCare, Beebe Healthcare and Bayhealth to both speak about how some patients were receiving care in hallways at some points and how patients were physically and verbally assaulting health care workers.

Demand for testing has skyrocketed in the last month, and access has been difficult because of the high demand. Through its partnership with Curative, the state has conducted 53,923 COVID-19 tests in the week between Dec. 21 and 28. Antigen tests are available in stores, but as of last week the price for a two-test kit cost about $23.99 and they quickly flew off shelves.

DEMA has put in a request with FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to set up a standing testing site in each county in the next two to three weeks. Those sites will be federally managed and use their own lab testing resources, so that will help lift the strain on Delaware’s own managed sites as well as drug stores.

State officials urge Delawareans to not get tested if they have tested positive in the last three months unless they have symptoms. Those who test positive are asked not to get re-tested to confirm results to maintain resources.

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