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Carney: A rough couple weeks ahead

Meredith Newman
Delaware News Journal
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

During a wide-ranging and candid interview, Carney said the state has been scouting places to set up to increase hospital capacity to treat the critically ill, refurbishing 200 old ventilators to add to the 400 in hospitals and ordering more personal protective equipment for health care workers.

Delaware will see a spike in coronavirus cases in the next three weeks, with more than 3,000 cases and at least 500 hospitalizations.

His predictions are based on reports he has received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, state health officials had confirmed 319 COVID-19 cases.Ten people have died.

In a Facebook Live interview with Delaware Online/The News Journal, Carney said Delaware’s hospitalization rate is higher than officials would like. About 17% of Delaware’s confirmed cases have been hospitalized.

Carney said this is a result of the age of people infected, which is skewing older.

The state, he said, is working with Bloom Energy to repurpose old ventilators sitting in a Delaware warehouse that “outlived their useful life.”

 California has also repurposed old ventilators. Around the country, states such as New York and Washington are desperately trying to find ventilators to save the lives of the sickest.

“We’re guardedly optimistic that we will be able to do that,” Carney said. “That would significantly increase the number of ventilators available to the hospitals.”

Delaware has about 2,000 licensed hospital beds, Carney said. In addition to setting up mobile units, the governor officials are looking at vacant space at Nemours/A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Rockland.

The building that housed the old Milford Memorial Hospital also will likely become an overflow location. The state is also considering using vacant hotels.

The Governor Bacon Health Center, which cares for the chronically ill, was to move some of its patients into other facilities to clear up space. However, a staff member has tested positive and roughly 35 patients in addition to employees there are staying put.

Such locations wouldn’t be used for patients who are in need of critical care, Carney said. The state’s sickest patients would still be treated in the hospitals.

Assisted living

The state has confirmed 13 cases in two assisted-living nursing homes – HarborChase in Talleyville and Little Sisters of the Poor Jeanne Jugan Residence in Ogletown.

Donna Winegar, executive director of Brandywine Living at Seaside Pointe, near Rehoboth Beach, said Monday a resident in their 90s had died from the virus Sunday. The person was in hospice and had severe health issues, she said. No other residents have been confirmed, and no staff members are self-isolating, she said.

Carney said during Monday’s Facebook Live that he has a “quite a bit of concern” that nursing homes and assisted living facilities haven’t been doing enough to prepare and protect patients and workers.

In states like Washington, nursing homes have become hot spots. Carney said the state is discussing what to do with individuals who have tested positive, are under quarantine and are still living in the facility.

“We have ratcheted up the advice and guidance that we’ve given there,” Carney said.

Where's the gear?

Here in Delaware and across the country, there’s been a concern about the lack of equipment, particularly masks, for health care workers. It’s led to Delawareans creating and donating masks for hospitals and health care facilities.

The Delaware Emergency Management Agency announced Sunday it had ordered 250,000 more pieces of personal protective equipment for health care workers.

This amount is “significant,” Carney said, but won’t take Delaware very far in terms of what hospitals need long term.

“Until they show up, and we can see them and have them,” he said, “I don’t count those as resources that can be put to use.”

Carney said on Monday that the state is on a “week-to-week basis” with the number of testing kits it has. Last week, the state health department said it had run 639 tests and had collected 2,167 samples since March 26.

The state’s ability to continue running its coronavirus testing will depend on the demand on health systems, he said, and whether they need health care workers now taking samples to provide care instead.

Delaware must preserve a certain number kits for health care workers, first responders and law enforcement, Carney said.

“We want to continue testing to know when this thing has flattened out and peaked, so we can start transitioning back to people going back to work and getting our economy running again,” Carney said. “We need data from which to base those decisions.”

The lack of reagents — chemicals used to complete testing — for the kits has been an issue for some Delaware hospitals, Carney said.

Because of this, the state has been working with local companies and the University of Delaware to develop its own reagents, which could be a “game-changer,” the governor said.

In the weeks since Delaware has confirmed its first case, the governor has issued a stay-at-home order and closed schools until May 15. On Sunday, he ordered out-of-state travelers coming to Delaware to quarantine for 14 days.

Carney did not offer when schools might return to session. He said districts have been encouraged to focus on how they can provide online learning to students.

“It would be a very bad thing if our students lost a whole half a year,” Carney said.

In an amusing example of how staying at home has affected everyone, toward the end of the interview, Carney asked to pause a moment because his computer was about to lose power.

His home IT staff — his wife, Tracey Quillen Carney — brought a charging cord.

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Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or at mnewman@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @merenewman.