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Health officials urge care to prevent spread of coronavirus

Precautions make their impact felt across the area

  • 8 min to read
Clayton Theatre closed

Gov. John Carney expanded the mandatory closures certain kinds of businesses on Wednesday, March 18, adding movie theaters, spas, bowling alleys and gyms to the list of establishments that must remain closed to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The historic Clayton Theatre in Dagsboro anticipated the closure order by one day, closing on March 17 with a dose of wry humor.

With little warning, life has changed considerably in Delaware, in an effort to control the coronavirus, but at mid-week, health department officials asked residents to do even more.

“We must act as though we might be carrying the virus,” Delaware Department of Health & Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker said during an online update on Wednesday.

“The coronavirus is 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu and, for most of us, it will feel very different.

“Stay a safe distance at work and at the grocery store,” Walker advised, reaching out her arms to illustrate a distance two arm lengths away from other people.

That’s how far away she was sitting from Dr. Karyl Thomas Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health.

“Check your temperature,” Walker advised, urging those in the healthcare field to take it twice daily to be sure it isn’t 101.7 or higher.

Thermometers are quickly selling out, but inexpensive strips that measure temperature are as effective, she said.

No one should shake hands or touch their faces, and everyone should sanitize their hands after being in a store or pumping gas, they advised.

“We know this is a challenging time for a lot of people,” Rattay said.

“We’d love to say this is just for a few days, but this may be a way of living our lives for a while, so it’s important we do everything that is being advised,” she said.

On Tuesday this week, the first case of coronavirus in Sussex County was announced by the Division of Public Health, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Delaware to 19, with 17 in New Castle County and the first one in Kent County.

“Sadly, this individual is critically ill,” Rattay said of the Kent County patient.

“Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we all take the steps that are needed to take care of our own personal health, as well as help and protect all of those around us,” she said, instructing those who are ill — especially with fever, cough or shortness of breath — to not leave their homes.

Once recovered from the virus, it’s unknown if it can reoccur, Walker said.

“This is certainly something we are looking at,” she said.

Rattay said those who are well should go outdoors, and take walks and bicycle rides, as long as they stay 6 feet away from others.

“Going for a walk at a time like this is really good for our mental and physical health,” she said.

During upcoming days, there will be more testing options, she noted.

Answering questions that were sent to them, Rattay said there are “a lot of unknowns” about the virus, including whether those without symptoms can spread it.

Delaware residents who have questions about the virus, or their exposure risk, can call the Division of Public Health’s Coronavirus Call Center at 1-866-408-1899, or 711 for individuals who are hearing-impaired, from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or e-mail

Coronavirus testing

Beebe Healthcare’s Dr. William Chasanov told the Coastal Point this week the term “test kit” can be misleading in respect to COVID-19, because there are two versions.

There is a sampling kit, which is “what we as healthcare workers — nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, etc. — use to obtain the swab,” Chasanov said.

“The second kit is what would be used by the laboratory (State of Delaware Public Health Labe, LabCorp, Mayo Labs) to analyze the sample and provide a result.

“We carry the sampling kits, and we do not have a current shortage of those,” he said.

Earlier, Chasanov had released information stating the hospital’s infection-prevention team “have been working closely with state health leaders to stay up to date on the latest information regarding the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.”

“Our facilities have necessary equipment and environment that aligns with the CDC’s guidelines to safely treat patients and prevent the spread of an infectious disease, while Beebe’s protocols and personal protective equipment keep our team members safe,” he said.

At Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Md., test kits for the coronavirus are not being used, according to Roger Follebout, who handles public relations.

“This is an incredibly busy flu season, on top of all of this, which has similar symptoms. Those patients who meet the criteria are being tested. At this time, about 10 percent of all of our ED patients are seeking treatment for fever and cough. The vast majority are the flu. Few meet the criteria to be tested,” Follebout said, for the coronavirus.

Free school lunches for students

When schools closed, the Delaware Department of Education received a waiver from the federal government to allow school nutrition programs to provide meals.

Beginning on Wednesday, the Indian River School District started providing breakfast and lunch. Meals are free and available Monday through Friday to children 18 or younger who live with parents. The children must be present at pick-up. Locations and times are:

  • Fenwick Island Baptist Church, 11:45 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.
  • Selbyville Police Department, 10:45-11:15 a.m.
  • Hickory Tree park, Selbyville, 11:25 to 11:40 a.m.
  • Pepper Ridge park entrance, Frankford, 11:45 a.m. to noon
  • Frankford Town Park parking lot, 10:45 to 11:15 a.m.
  • Old Dagsboro Fire Hall, 11:30 a.m. to noon.
  • Gumboro Community Center, 12:20-12:50 p.m.
  • Millsboro Middle School bus parking lot, 10:45 a.m. to noon
  • Indian River Volunteer Fire Company Station 1, 10:45-11:30 a.m.
  • Indian River Volunteer Fire Company Station 2, 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Pot-Nets Lakeside pool, Millsboro noon to 12:15 p.m.
  • Pot-Nets Seaside, parking lot near Pot-Nets Rd., 11:10 to 11:25 a.m.
  • Pot-Nets Bayside, pool #1, Millsboro, 11:35 to 11:50 a.m.
  • Pot-Nets Creekside Pool, Millsboro, 12 to 12:15 p.m.
  • Long Neck Apartments, 10:45 to 11 a.m.
  • Shoppes of Long Neck, 11:10 to 11:25 a.m.
  • Enchanted Acres Park, Long Neck, 11:35 to 11:50 a.m.
  • Rehoboth Shores pool, Long Neck, 10:45 to 11 a.m.
  • Georgetown Elementary School front entrance, 10:45 a.m. to noon.
  • North Georgetown Elementary bus parking lot, 10:45 a.m. to noon
  • Richard Allen School, Georgetown, 11:15 to 11:30 a.m.
  • Dunbarton Apartments, Georgetown, 10:45 to 11 a.m.

Food pantries go mobile

The Food Bank of Delaware is hosting three drive-through mobile pantries for struggling families during the coronavirus public health crisis, in Sussex, New Castle and Kent counties. In Sussex, the drive-through will be open on Thursday, March 19, starting at 11 a.m. at Crossroads Community Church, 20684 State Forest Road in Georgetown.

Area food banks include First State Community Action, Food Closet—Sussex County in Georgetown, (302) 856-7761; Blessed Giving in Georgetown, (302) 339-3905; Catholic Charities in Georgetown, (302) 856-9578; Thurman Adams State Service Center in Georgetown, (302) 515-3000; Dagsboro Church of God, (302) 732-6550; and Bethel Tabernacle Church of God in Frankford, (302) 539-6768.

Free meals available

Two Milford restaurants, Nancy’s Café and My Sister’s Fault, announced initiatives where they will offer limited free food to those affected.

Nancy’s Café posted a message stating, “As long as we are able, Nancy’s Café will offer free soup and bread to any of our visitors. You do not have to come into the café; we will hand you a bag with the soup, bread, spoon and napkin out the front door. … Stay safe.”

My Sister’s Fault, a bakery and restaurant owned by two Puerto Rican sisters, announced that during the next two weeks, while Delaware schools are closed, they will provide free meals to children Wednesday to Friday.

Restaurant delivery

Many restaurants ordered to close to dine-in service, will now be delivering, including DiFebo’s Italian restaurant, which said this week, “Let us continue to feed you during this uncertain time” and Bethany Diner. See restaurants’ websites and social media pages for more information, or visit the Coastal Point’s website for our current list.

Hours at DMV change

Hours at the four Department of Motor Vehicles offices have changed to 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, with no evening hours, to eliminate overcrowding.

Changes were implemented for a two-week period but could be extended.

In Newark, the Biden Welcome Center closed, to limit crowds from gathering. Fuel will still be available, and the restroom will stay open.

Help for businesses

The Delaware Division of Small Business announced this week that the State is working on an Economic Injury Declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration to open new loan options for small businesses “to help them better weather effects of the coronavirus.”

To fill out a form, visit

The form asks for a rough estimate of the impact coronavirus could have on business revenue during the next nine months.

Unemployment benefits

Secretary of Labor Cerron Cade issued new guidelines to provide cash assistance to Delaware workers unemployed because of the virus, and who would not typically qualify for benefits.

Workers will be eligible for benefits if an employer needs to close operations temporarily because of the state of emergency. A worker who has been ordered by a doctor to self-quarantine will be eligible for benefits to care for children.

Workers forced to quit or take unpaid leave to care for a loved one with coronavirus will be eligible for benefits.

Those unable to work because they are ill with the virus, and part-time employees, could also be eligible.

Tax deadline extended

Individuals and businesses will have an extra 90 days to pay the IRS what they owe for 2019, according to Individual and small-business filers may defer payments of up to $1 million, and corporations can defer up to $10 million.

Help for veterans

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is asking veterans with fever, cough or shortness of breath to contact their Veterans’ Administration office. Veterans can sign into My HealtheVet to send a message or use telehealth options to explain their conditions.

Local government

  • Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson this week said Town Hall will be closed and all interaction with the public will be through the drive-through window on the right side of the Town Hall complex.
    Hudson said town officials were exploring options for electronic Town Council meetings, but weren’t yet certain what will be done. The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, April 6.
  • In Ocean View, officials closed all town offices to the public early this week and announced payments should be made by mail or at the drop box. Future Town Council and committee meetings will be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Sussex County Council met as planned this week, but the meeting was condensed and in-person public access limited. No spectators, other than staff, were permitted in the council chamber and no public comment was heard. The County Council is not scheduled to return to session until March 31.
  • In Sussex County, courthouses remain open for administrative staff. Petit jury duty is canceled, although some grand jury proceedings will be held. Grand jurors should report as directed. Call phone numbers listed on any court papers served and see for the most recent updates.
    The Delaware Court system issued a statement saying the coronavirus has potential to affect daily operations and was being monitored by the Delaware Judiciary, in conjunction with partners at the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and Department of Public Health.

All civil and criminal jury trials are suspended through April 15.

Carney clarifies closings

Just hours after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced his emergency plan early this week, Delaware’s governor announced many of the same restrictions in Delaware.

In a virtual press conference with DHSS’s Walker, he answered pre-written questions and provided information including the following:

  • No cash tolls will be collected at toll booths.
  • No restrictions on travel are being implemented at the state level.
  • Hair salons will not close because there aren’t usually large crowds there. Carney asked employees to sanitize regularly.
  • Liquor stores will not close.
  • Daycares will not close because, Walker said, young children are less likely to contract or transmit coronavirus.
  • To continue to educate children, in case school closures are extended, a working group has been formed at the state level to determine how to continue to educate, Carney said.
  • Summer school could be required, although it hasn’t yet been determined.
  • Resources are available for those who can’t pay mortgages or rent.
  • State officials are working with courts to prevent those who can’t pay rent from being evicted.
  • Sussex County hospital officials are working to determine where to open drive-through testing centers.
  • Avoid reusable shopping bags — state Sen. Gerald Hocker shared information from an article in the New York Post warning reusable tote bags can sustain the coronavirus and flu viruses, and spread them throughout stores.

Church services canceled

  • The Wilmington Diocese of the Catholic Church canceled all church services, including those at the Parish of St. Ann Catholic Church in Bethany Beach, which posted on its website a Prayer to St. Raphael, imploring help for the sick.
  • At Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church in Ocean View, all services were canceled last week, and the Rev. David Humphrey’s sermon was available at
  • All church events were also canceled, through Saturday, March 21.

Payment for service

In nearby Dewey Beach, members of Highway One Companies, owners of The Bottle and Cork, announced that upcoming shows will be canceled, but the owners will pay performers who were slated to play.

Closings in nearby Maryland

In nearby Maryland, Wor-Wic Community College campus closed to the general public on Monday, March 16, with the college remaining open for employees.

Wor-Wic President Ray Hoy announced the college will be open for employees and said employees in high risk categories, including those 60 and older and employees with underlying health conditions, are eligible for liberal leave.

Wor-Wic officials this week were exploring graduation ceremony options, such as virtual ceremonies

The Wicomico Youth & Civic Center, Wicomico Recreation, Parks, Tourism and Civic Center facilities closed on Tuesday, March 17, with plans to remain closed through Sunday, March 22.

Public events at the Civic Center were postponed or canceled through March 29.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.