DOVER — As the season changes into the fall, new challenges arise in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only is the height of flu season right around the corner, colder weather means more time inside, posing a greater risk of COVID-19 spread.
Six months into COVID-19, state Division of Public Health leadership is encouraging Delawareans not to give in to fatigue in the battle against the pandemic. DPH Chief Physician Rick Pescatore said the public can help prevent a second wave of the virus by sticking to the best known ways to prevent community spread of the virus — hand-washing, social-distancing and mask-wearing.
“Remember so many of the lessons we learned over the last six months,” Dr. Pescatore said. “Those lessons can’t go away just because it’s been a long, hard fight.”
Delaware has recorded 21,125 positive cases of COVID-19, as of 6 p.m. Friday. There have been 645 COVID-19 related deaths in the state.
Dr. Rick Hong, the DPH’s medical director, recognizes it might be difficult to still be as vigilant against the virus and the challenges it presents, considering how long Delaware has been under a State Emergency Order. But he said the public cannot give in to that exhaustion and start engaging in risky behavior.
“It’s no one’s fault,” Dr. Hong said. “We’ve been doing this since March and it has forced people to change their way of life. We still need to find the strength to finish this battle. We need each person’s involvement to eliminate the risk of infection.
“We just urge the public to continue the fight,” Dr. Hong added. “Get tested to know what your status is. We all need to do our part to be able to beat this. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic.”
One of the DPH’s top concerns is the start of flu season, which always puts Delaware’s healthcare structure under strain.
Last year Delaware had more than 7,000 cases of the flu and 400 individuals ended up hospitalized. There were also 11 recorded deaths due to the flu.
Unlike COVID-19, however, there’s a vaccine for the flu. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting a flu shot by early October.
The CDC offers a free resource online for those looking for a flu shot in their neighborhood: visit www.vaccinefinder.org to search for flu vaccines by zip code.
The DPH launched a communications campaign to mobilize all Delawareans to get their flu vaccinations called “Fight Flu DE” last week. It highlights the “Big 4 locations” to receive flu vaccines this year, which includes medical provider offices or community health clinics, pharmacies, community flu clinics and DPH clinics for uninsured and underinsured individuals.
DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever.
“Every year when we get to the peak of our influenza season our healthcare systems are maxed out,” Dr. Rattay said at a COVID-19 press briefing last week. “They are full. So with COVID with us this year, it is incredibly important that we all do absolutely everything we can to prevent a bad flu season. We are really, really hoping and praying we have a very mild flu season this season.”
Aside from flu season, other events in the fall the DPH is monitoring and urging caution for are Halloween, other holidays, the potential reopening of schools and sports — all of which might increase risk of exposure to the virus.
The DPH also is asking the public to help with contact-tracing in the event of positive tests.
Delaware overhauled its contact-tracing program over the summer thanks to a partnership with the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
If an individual receives a phone call from a contact-tracer, the caller ID should come up as “DE Public Health” or 446-4262. One of the main challenges the DPH has encountered so far is a lot of people do not answer the phone or do not want to talk.
“I know it’s an inconvenience when someone calls and is asking a lot of questions but it is important,” Dr. Hong said. “The test by itself isn’t as helpful without contact tracing.”
Dr. Pescatore said the DPH keeps communicating the best practices to prevent community spread and the latest updates on what is known about the virus. At the beginning of the pandemic, not as much was known about COVID-19 and there was a fair amount of misinformation spread across the internet.
“The misinformation surrounding the virus is as dangerous as the virus itself,” Dr. Pescatore said.
The DPH has relied heavily on its team of epidemiologists, physicians, clinicians and nurses to help guide its decisions throughout the course of the pandemic.
“We’ve stayed with the science and explained our rationale for why we made our decisions,” Dr. Hong said. “It’s all based on science and data. When we do that, I think we can’t go wrong.”