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This page offers all of Delaware Public Media's ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it is affecting the First State. Check here regularly for the latest new and information.

More appointment-free testing comes to Sussex, Delaware's new official COVID-19 'hot spot'

Beebe Healthcare
Beebe Healthcare

Infections and hospitalizations rose fastest in Sussex County over the last two weeks — and Gov. John Carney officially designated the county a COVID-19 hot spot Tuesday. 

The per capita rate of known cases in Sussex is nearly four times that of New Castle County. And Hispanic and Latino residents of Sussex County are the hardest hit.  

“It’s a very serious situation,” said Gov. Carney during a live-streamed press briefing Tuesday. “We have a very intense spread within crowded communities in Sussex county that we’re responding to.”

State officials say 35 percent of test results from community testing events in Sussex County last week were positive. More than 750 people were tested.

“[That] was obviously a serious data point for us,” said Carney. “So our response will be increased testing, both in employment centers and in the community, community outreach and education ... and a series of urgent communications that we will be getting out there for all Sussex county [residents].” 

State officials have announced a series of community testing and outreach events hosted by Beebe and Bayhealth in Milford and Georgetown over the next few days. The events will not require a doctor’s order or referral. 

Testing will be geared toward those with symptoms of COVID-19, those living or working with someone who has tested positive for the virus, family members or housemates of poultry workers, and those with chronic conditions including asthma, diabetes or hypertension, state officials say.

The events will offer rapid and nasal swab testing and “immediate case investigation” for positive cases. Those who test positive will be connected to a resource coordinator for services such as food and housing. And care kits will be distributed to those with a “high risk of household transmission” who cannot purchase the supplies themselves. 

The state says it is working with hospital systems, Federally Qualified Health Centers, community organizations, and employers on its outreach in Sussex. 

A team of federal officials with epidemiology, laboratory science and occupational safety expertise arrived Monday to help with testing and contact tracing, according to state public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay.

“Several of them are in the poultry plants today,” Rattay said during Tuesday's press briefing. “They’re looking at our data, and they’re really helping us to quantify and understand the extent of the spread, the transmission routes, and also help us what are the other ideas we should put in play to mitigate and decrease the spread of infection.”

One hospital has set up a care center in the heart of the Sussex outbreak to try to keep patients out of the hospital.

Beebe started operating a COVID Positive Care Center Monday at its clinic in Georgetown, where around three percent of the population has tested positive for the virus. The center provides chest X-rays and monitoring — and other care to try to prevent virus patients from ending up in the hospital. 

Hospital officials are describing it as a centralized place for all COVID-19-related care needs. The center does require an order from a healthcare provider and an appointment, which can also be obtained through the Beebe COVID-19 screening line. Language interpretation is available on both the screening line and the care center.

Beebe President and CEO Dr. David Tam says keeping COVID-19 patients from getting sick enough to require intubation sometimes means taking care of other underlying conditions— like diabetes or asthma. 

“Do you have COPD? Were you a smoker, and if so, what’s your pulmonary status?” he said. “How do we make sure that you’re the healthiest you can be even with a COVID positive test result, so that you avoid getting sick and ending up in the hospital?”

Virus-related hospitalizations in Sussex have accelerated in the past two weeks, according to state public health officials. Tam says Beebe has seen a slight increase in hospitalizations from the Georgetown and Millsboro areas — but is not yet nearing capacity.

Hospital capacity is one indicator state officials say they are monitoring as they decide when it will be safe to begin reopening the economy. 

Tam says he does not know why so many cases have appeared in Georgetown. 

“It is an area that we’ve done a lot of testing because we have a clinic here,” he said. “The more you test, the more positives there will be. Doesn’t mean that it’s a dangerous place, it just means that you’re testing more people and as a result you’re getting more positive as well as more negatives.”


So far, the testing rate is highest in the ZIP code around Georgetown, according to the Division of Public Health (DPH). Roughly 556 tests per 10,000 residents there have been reported to DPH as of April 28.

Ellendale has the next highest testing rate, with 466 tests per 10,000 residents of the surrounding ZIP code. 

As of April 28, the state has received upwards of 21,500 COVID-19 tests in Delaware as a whole. That’s about 223 tests per 10,000 people.

The most tests have been run in New Castle County, which has at least twice as many residents as either of the other counties. But the most tests per capita have been run in Sussex County— roughly 342 tests per 10,000 residents.

This story has been updated to include information on testing rates.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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