Although nearly 145,000 doses of vaccines to protect against the coronavirus have been administered, protective face masks can’t be abandoned and should fit tightly or be doubled.
“You still have to wear a mask,” Gov. John Carney said firmly during his Tuesday, Feb. 16, press briefing.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, said that if two interacting people are both wearing masks, the chance of infection will be reduced by 95 percent.
Replying to a question from Coastal Point, Rattay said those who are vaccinated are not considered protected from the coronavirus for at least two weeks after receiving the second dose. The vaccine provides 95 percent effectiveness, but some people could still get sick or carry the virus. The vaccine is effective at preventing severe and symptomatic coronavirus, but its effectiveness against transmission is not yet known, she said.
Those who have received both doses and are exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed coronavirus are not required to quarantine if they have been vaccinated in the last three months and are not symptomatic, she said.
Carney credited Delaware residents for “staying vigilant, because the reports we get from our mayors is that people are wearing masks and being careful,” he said.
Positive cases continue to decline in the state, with 318 new cases on a seven-day average as of Tuesday this week, and 1,291 deaths from the virus, “a reminder of the seriousness of this virus and the sickness that can occur particularly for the older populations,” Carney said.
“Our numbers are better, but we still need people to bear down on this and take every precaution,” he said.
About 1.4 million tests have been administered to 609,758 people, indicating some have been tested repeatedly. The state also administered 154,483 doses of the vaccine. Delaware had received 162,050 doses and had 7,567 remaining as of Tuesday.
“We continue to get additional supply,” Carney said.
Asked about the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is forthcoming, Rattay said state officials are eager to hear recommendations about it but are aware a study suggested it has slightly lower efficacy.
“There are some people who may be less interested because of that lower efficacy. … We want an informed public who understands the pros and cons of all the vaccines available. We want all Delawareans to know they have a choice,” Rattay said.
“The J&J vaccine looks like a good one to me,” the governor said. “I know it will help us with people who aren’t in the high-priority groups.”
A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said snow and freezing conditions could delay vaccination sites this week but that second vaccinations will be administered to certain people for six days at Dover International Speedway. People who got their first vaccinations at a series of state-run events in late January are eligible to get their second vaccinations at the upcoming event. That was originally scheduled to start on Saturday, Feb. 20, but, due to weather impacts, will now be starting on Sunday, Feb. 21. People were urged to make appointments via the website at del.gov/fema starting Feb. 17.
The registration process for appointments is now more abbreviated, with no profile or log-in needed. The user chooses the event and is required to take their original vaccination card to the site as proof of the first vaccination.
He said residents continue to be tested and that the state is providing testing, as are pharmacies. In Sussex County, 11 sites will be available this week. See de.gov/coronavirus for more information.
Carney said many children are back in school and offered reassurance that the number of positive cases in the schools is a fraction of the total, with about 51 cases of in-person infection. He thanked teachers and administrators for “keeping their guard up, because we haven’t seen a spread.”
“That’s a really positive thing, because we know the best thing for children is in-person instruction,” he said.
Replying to a second question from Coastal Point, Rattay said there is not yet a timeline for vaccines for children.
“I can tell you as a pediatrician, we are eagerly awaiting studies, but we are not there yet. There are folks estimating toward the end of summer there will be vaccine available for children. I think we’re all excited about that, but these vaccines have not been studied yet,” she said.
The current vaccines are not approved for anyone younger than 16 (Pfizer), or younger than 18 (Moderna). Pfizer has begun trials for children ages 12-15, while Moderna is still in the recruiting phase for its adolescent trials.
Asked about vaccines for residents of long-term care facilities, Carney said there was a separate federal program allocating vaccine to pharmacies for long-term care residents and staff. State officials haven’t had control over it, he said.
Rattay said 27,000 doses of the vaccine have been delivered in that program, with 19,504 administered. “Now they are circling back around for second doses,” Rattay said. About 80 percent of such residents have been vaccinated.
“We are eager to allow for visitation in these long-term care facilities. We know it is extremely important for patients and residents. We are not there yet, but are certainly getting to a better place and very much understand the importance of visitation,” she said.
Asked how those in long-term care facilities will be helped to overcome the feeling of isolation, after nearly a year, Rattay said as loved ones get to spend more time with them, more information will become available. She said staff at each facility have tried to help residents who feel lonely.
“They are doing what they can to assist them,” she said.
Asked about air travel and restaurants being busy during the Valentine’s Day holiday, Carney said he worries about inappropriate social activity but that travel and going to restaurants is not inappropriate.
“We just ask people to wear masks and take precautions,” he said.