Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
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.

'Don't let a lot of panic set in': local experts weigh in as novel coronavirus spreads

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Delaware’s Division of Public Health says it is actively taking steps to prepare for community spread of the novel coronavirus.

Those preparations are being made as federal health officials announce they expect the virus to spread to the U.S.  

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a press conference Tuesday.

So far no one in Delaware has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

There have been 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., the majority travel-related. There have been 43 cases amongst citizens repatriated from high-risk areas, such as the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 

The federal government has enacted travel restrictions and quarantines and is repatriating some citizens from high-risk areas. 

“To date, our containment strategies have been largely successful,” said Messonnier. “As a result, we have very few cases in the United States and no spread in the community.  But as more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder.  Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country.”

Delaware State University Professor Donna A. Patterson teaches global health and Africana Studies. She says one way to prepare for a potential outbreak is developing capacity to test for the virus in Delaware. She notes there are only a handful of testing sites nationwide, which she says need to be scaled up. 

“On the east coast, there aren’t anything in this part of the country,” said Patterson. “You would have to send something to Tennessee or to the CDC in Atlanta. Thankfully they’re not inundated at this point, but if the numbers grow, what will that look like? ”

Patterson adds that tracing the contacts of people who test positive for the virus is important — and warns quarantines are not always effective. 

State Division of Public Health officials say the State Health Operations Center is now activated to allow for “enhanced response coordination.” 

The state is also coordinating testing for symptomatic people with an associated travel history to China. 

“While the CDC’s comments this week indicate heightened concern, it is important to note that we have been making preparations all along to not only contain the spread of the disease, should it occur in Delaware, but also to mitigate the impact of the virus if community spread were to occur,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay in a statement.  “In the coming days and weeks we will be having additional conversations with health care providers, schools, businesses and other state partners and stakeholders about what guidance to consider in the event of an outbreak locally.”

Patterson of DSU advises not to let panic set in. 

“With panic, people can make mistakes,” she said. “Everyday people can kind of turn on each other. And I don’t think we need to have any panic. I think you should be prepared. If you know that there's some medicine that you need that you have to access to, maybe get a three-month supply now. Because in five weeks if something does happen and maybe they are doing some sort of semi-quarantine of places, you want to think about that.”


The novel coronavirus also has economic implications. 

U.S. stock markets fellthis week as a result of fears around the novel coronavirus’ spread in countries outside of China including Italy and Iran.  

The novel coronavirus risks hurting the global economy by interrupting the global supply chain, exports to China and tourism, says University of Delaware  economics professor Michael Arnold.

Arnold notes the First State’s economy is not likely to see much impact since it does not have much manufacturing dependent on parts made in China or markets there.  But he says the situation could change, if there is a significant outbreak of the virus in the U.S.

“The key things that we would worry about in Delaware is if it persisted in the summer months and that the virus spread to the United States,” he said. “Then we would start to worry more significantly about the impacts on tourism.”

Arnold adds Delaware’s agricultural sector— particularly the poultry industry— is more dependent on domestic markets than on exports, and is unlikely to be affected by the new coronavirus yet.

Officials with the state Division of Public health say they continue to follow the CDC’s guidance, and will share new recommendations with the public as they are released. 


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.
Related Content