Gov. John Carney had advice this week for those who have not gotten vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“If you are hesitant, seek out advice for whatever hesitancy you might have, because this is the solution to the pandemic,” Carney said during a press briefing on Tuesday this week, the first such briefing since June 29.
Among those 18 or older in Delaware, he said, the percentage of those vaccinated is now close to 80 percent, although young adults are the least likely to be vaccinated, despite being vulnerable to contracting and spreading the virus. “The way to fix that is to get vaccinated. We’re seeing the most spread where we have the lowest vaccination rate,” in towns including Frankford, Dagsboro, Georgetown and other parts of lower Sussex County, he said.
As of Tuesday this week, there were 453 new cases of the coronavirus in Delaware on a seven-day average, compared to just 20 new cases on average at the end of June; 7.3 percent of tests were positive, compared to 1 percent in the last week in June; 476 current hospitalizations; and 1,950 total deaths. About 1.2 million vaccinations have been administered, with 557,955 Delaware residents being fully vaccinated.
Vaccination-or-testing requirements going into effect
Healthcare facilities including ChristianaCare now require all employees to be vaccinated, the governor said, referring to a newspaper headline stating that 150 of 14,000 employees had refused — but because getting vaccinated is a condition of their employment, just like wearing a uniform or being tested for drug use, those employees would be terminated and ineligible for unemployment.
State employees, too, must be vaccinated by Sept. 30 or get tested regularly, he said. That requirement will include K-12 public and private school employees, effective Nov. 1, as well as volunteers and contractors in schools, who all have the choice between weekly testing and getting vaccinated. Religious and health exemptions “will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Asked by a reporter whether he is concerned that requiring vaccinations or regular testing will lead to a shortage of employees — including school bus drivers, who are already in short supply — Carney said that’s possible but has to be weighed with the risk of spreading the virus.
In the southern part of Delaware, vaccination rates are “lower than what we need — especially in African-American communities. Latino rates are higher,” Carney said.
Since Aug. 2, the overwhelming percentage of COVID-19 cases were contracted by those who were not fully vaccinated, though breakthrough cases have occurred, as they can with any vaccine, explained Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, who was with Carney at the press briefing.
She used the analogy of holding up an umbrella in an ordinary rainstorm and staying dry, but being more likely to be sprayed or even drenched in a strong storm.
“The delta variant is like a downpour. Because it’s raining harder, some people with umbrellas are still getting wet, even if they are less wet than they would be without an umbrella,” Rattay said.
The likelihood of catching the coronavirus is 10 to 22 times higher among the unvaccinated, she said.
The delta variant continues to be the predominant variant of the virus in the state, accounting for about 99 percent of positive test samples.
Third doses being administered, boosters begin
Third doses of the vaccine were authorized on Aug. 13 for those with compromised immune systems, although additional doses were not OK’d for those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Rattay said.
Last week, the Food & Drug Administration approved booster doses, but only for those who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months prior. The CDC has since recommended booster doses be made available to select populations among those who were vaccinated with their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months prior.
Among adults 65 or older, data shows the vaccine remains effective, but less so over time.
“And the delta variant has made it even more complicated, making boosters more important for seniors,” she said, adding that booster shots are not yet authorized for those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
For those who received the Pfizer vaccine, boosters fall into two categories: those who should a booster and those who may receive one.
Those who should get a booster shot include anyone 65 or older, residents of long-term care facilities and those 50 to 64 years old with underlying health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, organ transplants or stroke.
Others eligible to get boosters include anyone 18 to 49 years old with underlying conditions or those 18 to 64 at increased risk due to their occupation.
Rattay said the Division of Public Health “remains focused on getting more of the state’s population fully vaccinated to begin with.”
Concerning the coronavirus in children, Rattay said cases among youngsters ages 5 to 17 have increased, with the greatest increase in early August. Although it has slowed, there has been a rise in the past six weeks among school-aged and younger children, evident in pediatric hospitalizations, although in Delaware those hospitalizations have not been as dramatic as they have been in southern states.
Asked if worries about possible pregnancy complications and fertility are preventing some people from getting the vaccine, Rattay said that, while the federal government is the expert in tracking the number of women affected by pregnancy and vaccinations, both issues have been well studied and there is strong evidence that taking the vaccine during pregnancy is safe, with very limited side effects. The vaccine also protects the baby, she said.
There is no evidence of an impact on fertility among either women or men of reproductive age, she said.
Schools working to recover from pandemic year
At the briefing, Carney also introduced Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, who said all educators and school staff must either get vaccinated or be tested regularly to “create a safe environment for learning and to prevent the disruptions to learning we had last year.”
She said she and fellow educators are pleased to have schools open. All charter and regular school districts are offering in-person instruction, with some offering some virtual options. Education officials are trying to establish baselines to determine proficiency levels, especially in math and language arts, and what support is needed to bring students to levels of achievement that were affected when schools closed at the beginning of the pandemic and remained closed for much of the last school year, Bunting said.
The state is “very blessed” to have stimulus money to ensure students receive “whatever they need to help them be successful this school year,” she said. Although it might take longer than this school year to get students back to where they should be, funding and provisions are available, she said.