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Delaware reports an average of 226 COVID-19 cases per day over the past week amid nationwide surge

Brandon Holveck
Delaware News Journal

Note: This story originally featured state-reported COVID-19 case numbers through Saturday. The story has been updated to reflect the state of the virus as of 6 p.m. Sunday.

As Delaware awaited the results of the presidential election last week, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state surged to levels unseen since mid-May.

State health officials reported 318 new cases on Sunday, the most in a single day since May 15. On Monday, officials reported another 312 new cases.

Delaware has now had five consecutive days with more than 200 new cases for the first time ever. Over the past week, there has been an average of 226 cases per day, an increase of 65% from the average two weeks earlier.

Castle Hills Elementary School principal Janissa Nuneville shows the set up of a kindergarten classroom, ready for year of remote and socially distant learning on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020.

The latest surge cannot be solely attributed to increased testing. The seven-day average for the percentage of people testing positive is at its highest mark since May 13 (11.5%).

Delaware has reported seven deaths over the past week, and 119 people are hospitalized in the state, the most since June 4.

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The number of new cases across the country has soared over the last week, shattering records as temperatures cool and Americans begin to consider how they'll spend the holiday season. According to the New York Times, the U.S. reported its 10 millionth coronavirus case on Sunday, with the latest million added in just 10 days.

Dr. Karyl Rattay, the director of the Division of Public Health, said Delaware is faring better than most states but the recent wave of cases is "really problematic."

In response, state health officials are considering new coronavirus restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health gives an update on the state's coronavirus response in Wilmington on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 at the Carvel State Building.

"We are definitely looking at new restrictions and when they may be needed," Rattay said. "We'd love to not go there, but given our increase in cases, it's something we have to look at."

When asked about the possibility of new restrictions, Jonathan Starkey, a spokesperson for Gov. John Carney, referred to comments made to Delaware Online/The News Journal on Friday. He said then the governor will consider implementing new restrictions "if that becomes necessary to reduce the spread, based on advice from the public health experts."

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"We know what works," Starkey said. "Wear a mask. Socially distance. Avoid gatherings. Wash your hands frequently."

Through interviews with people who contracted the virus, the Division of Public Health has found much of the recent spread is linked to smaller social activities such as house parties and dining out indoors.

Larger gatherings including religious services and weddings have also contributed, Rattay said.

"The bottom line is people should not be meeting, dining with other people outside of their household unless they're outside or more than six feet apart," Rattay said.

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Rattay said the goal of new restrictions would be to "focus in" on the activities that are seeing more spread.

"We've got to get a hold of these more formal or informal social activities," she said.

Carney has said previously a shutdown similar to the one earlier this year is not feasible and Delawareans have to "adapt to a new normal." Rattay added that the state has learned a lot about the virus since it first spread to Delaware in March, which will enable more efficient restrictions.

Delaware runs state COVID-19 testing on the Delaware Tech campus in Georgetown on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.

As they pertain to school reopening, Delaware's metrics remain in the middle of three zones showing "minimal-to-moderate" community spread. Last week, the average daily COVID-19 cases increased to the red and most severe zone: "significant community spread."

The other two guiding metrics, percent of tests that are positive and average daily hospitalizations, are still showing "minimal-to-moderate" community spread. An increase in hospitalizations tends to lag behind an increase in new cases.

Carney said the state will "continue to monitor the new positive cases as it relates to the school status." According to the state's guidance, school buildings would close if two of the three metrics move to the "significant," or red, zone.

Rattay said there hasn't been spread within schools and the state doesn't want to shut schools down. The few issues tracked by the Division of Public Health are related to not using face coverings and not abiding by social distancing, she said.

Last week, officials said Delaware's recent surge was being fueled by upticks in Kent and Sussex counties. Rattay said on Monday officials are now seeing community spread across the state.

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The University of Delaware in Newark reported 88 cases among its students last week, the highest weekly case count reported by the university to date.

Last week, 28 states set weekly case records, and 44 reported high transmission rates, according to the Times. Cases have been rising fastest in Midwest and Mountain West states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Contact Brandon Holveck at bholveck@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @holveck_brandon.