Delaware is closing in on the 3,000 mark for COVID-19-related deaths and the state is experiencing another surge in transmission levels.
It’s a different time for the state’s mitigation strategies however. Capacity limits have not been seen in more than a year while masking requirements only made a short-lived comeback when the omicron variant caused a record-breaking surge over the winter.
Instead, the onus is now on each individual.
This follows federal guidance as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, said in April each American should do their own personal risk assessment when it comes to COVID-19.
But the risk management aspect of protect oneself against the virus can be pretty tricky, said Dr. Jennifer Horney, founding director of the University of Delaware’s epidemiology program.
“We are pretty bad at assessing risk, so this is a difficult question for many,” Dr. Horney said. “Some clear factors are your own personal health risk. Are you and your household vaccinated? Does anyone in your household have an autoimmune condition that reduces the vaccine’s effectiveness or a chronic condition that may increase your risk for severe disease? The other question is community risk — in Delaware, all three counties are now designated as ‘high’ community transmission, which means masking indoors, getting up to date on vaccines and generally taking additional precautions if you are high risk.”
Cases in Delaware have increased more than 40% in the last several weeks.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of new positive cases is at 530.1 cases per day, according to the Delaware Division of Public Health’s most recent report on Friday. The last time Delaware was averaging more than 500 cases per day was in early February at the tail end of the winter surge.
Hospitalizations are also up with 112 hospitalized with the virus in Friday’s report. That number was as high as 155 last week which was the most since 164 were hospitalized on Feb. 15.
Given the current statistics, Dr. Horney said large indoor gatherings where masks are not worn are likely to result in the spread of COVID-19.
“Wearing a mask is really a very minimal action we can all take to protect ourselves and others when in crowded indoor spaces,” she said. “As all counties in Delaware are now categorized as ‘high’ levels of spread, returning to masking indoors is recommended for everyone.”
Since April 1, 27 Delawareans have suffered COVID-19-related deaths. This number is just those deaths which have occurred in April or May and does not include deaths that have been added to the state’s total during this time after reviews of Vital Statistics records as these deaths occurred in prior months.
Delaware has totaled 2,956 COVID-19-related deaths over the course on the pandemic. Of those, 79% (2,340) have been among individuals 65 years old and older.
Aside from age and vaccination status, people with certain medical conditions will have a higher risk of developing complications or severe infections from COVID-19, said Dr. Bill Chasanov, Beebe Healthcare’s chief population health officer.
“Those tend to be those who are actively going through certain types of chemotherapy for cancer treatments or those who are immunocompromised with certain autoimmune diseases or things that may have happened prior in their lives,” Dr. Chasanov said. “This could be a lung transplant, a kidney transplant or a heart transplant. These individuals generally take some type of immune suppressing medication to bring their immune system down.”
Dr. Chasanov added another worry is individuals who have heart and lung disease.
“If they do develop infection, it puts additional strain most likely on their heart or their lungs, or both, which could lead them to having a more severe course of illness than if they did not have health issues,” Dr. Chasanov said.
Dr. Horney said it is still important to emphasize the overall severity of COVID-19 and that it can lead to severe complications, including death.
She used the example of one of the most deadly recent flu seasons which had about 61,000 total deaths in the United States. At the beginning of last week, the country had recorded about 170,000 COVID-19-related death in the first five months of 2022
“It (COVID-19) is not just ‘the flu’” Dr. Horney said.
Dr. Horney added those who are vaccinated should check if they are due for a booster dose.
“The longer out you are from receiving your vaccine, the less protection it offers against getting infected,” she said.
DPH’s most available dataset showed 71% of Delaware’s COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred in individuals who have not received a booster dose of vaccine during the week of May 9-15.
The following groups are eligible for boosters:
• 5 years old and up and it has been five months after a second dose of Pfizer
• 18 years old and up and it has been five months after a second dose of Moderna
• 18 years old and up and it has been two months since an initial dose of Johnson & Johnson
• Qualified for an “additional/ fourth” dose of Pfizer or Moderna because of certain immunocompromising conditions or are age 50 and older. The booster (fourth) dose can be done six months after receiving the additional/third dose.
Dr. Horney also said children, who are still newly eligible to be vaccinated, should take the necessary steps to protect themselves. She added 90% of the children hospitalized between December 2021 and February 2022 in the United States were unvaccinated.
“I think the main message here is get vaccinated — period,” Dr. Horney said. “If you are eligible for a booster, it’s been at least five months since your primary series, get boosted. Get your kids vaccinated or boosted. The current surge is showing us yet again that it’s not yet time to put COVID behind us and we should all expect more variants.”