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7-day average for new cases, hospitalizations reach high marks for fall COVID-19 surge

Brandon Holveck
Delaware News Journal

The seven-day average for daily coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and the percent of tests that are positive in Delaware — metrics officials rely heavily on to gauge the spread of the virus — each reached high marks for the fall surge on Sunday.

Delaware reported 591 new cases on Sunday, the second-most reported in a single day. The rolling seven-day average for new cases, which officials use to help account for variance in how the data is reported, increased to an all-time high of 483.6.

According to the state's latest data, which reflects the virus's spread as of 6 p.m. Saturday, there were 211 people hospitalized. That's the most hospitalizations Delaware has reported since May 23.

As more tests are conducted across the state around the Thanksgiving holiday, the seven-day average for the percent of tests that are positive is still increasing, showing that the latest case surge is not purely a product of more tests. 

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The seven-day average for the percent of tests that are positive through Thursday (there is a two-day lag in testing data) is 6%, the highest it's been since early June.

Top federal health officials on Sunday forecast a post-Thanksgiving spike in coronavirus infections and deaths, a surge local officials have feared for several weeks. It's too early to tell whether or to what degree the holiday impacted the spread of the virus.

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" from Selbyville and said Thanksgiving travelers "have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected and you really need to get tested in the next week."

Cars wait in an hour-long line to get tested at William Penn High School on Sun., Nov. 29.

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Delaware offered a number of pop-up testing sites this past week, in addition to its permanent testing operations. On Sunday, the line to get tested at a walk-up site at William Penn High School near New Castle extended beyond the school's parking lot onto Route 141, resulting in about an hour wait.

Data reported this weekend reveals a significant surge in tests conducted in the days preceding Thanksgiving, when travelers were also advised to get tested. In the week before Thanksgiving, Delaware tested an average of 6,861 people per day.

The day before Thanksgiving, Delaware recorded 10,634 tests, the second-most in a single day.

The number of cases in Delaware has been increasing since mid-September, but has particularly spiked in the last month. Over the last 30 days, the seven-day average for new cases has increased by 211%.

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In that time, the number of hospitalizations has increased by 137%. A spike in hospitalizations has typically come roughly two weeks after a spike in cases, indicating that even if case increases halted altogether, hospitalizations could continue to rise for several days.

Delaware peaked at 337 hospitalizations on April 27. They hit a low of 29 on Aug. 16.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths, another lagging indicator, is also increasing. Delaware on Sunday reported seven new deaths, raising the state's death toll to 770.

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Delaware's school reopening guidance hinges on three metrics: new cases rate, percent of tests that are positive and average daily hospitalizations.

For more than a month, the new cases rate has been in the "red zone," the most severe of three zones denoting significant community spread. If either of the other figures enter the "red zone," schools would be closed under the state's guidance.

Contact Brandon Holveck at bholveck@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @holveck_brandon.