The Delaware Public Health and Medical Ethics Advisory Group voted Tuesday to accept the recommendation of the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to target health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities in the first phase of vaccine distribution.
In doing so, the state panel agreed to accept the CDC's definition of health care personnel, which includes not just direct-care providers such as doctors and nurses, but virtually anyone working in a health care setting. That also would include maintenance, laundry and administrative personnel who potentially could be exposed to infectious agents.
The panel also signaled its intent to include personal attendants and direct care providers working with people with disabilities in community or home settings in the high-priority "1A" group.
Disabled people themselves currently remain in the second priority "1B"group for vaccine distribution. That group also includes high-risk workers in essential industries such as food and agriculture, public safety and infrastructure, and education, along with people with chronic health conditions or those over age 65.
State medical director Dr. Rick Hong, said decisions about the distribution of the vaccine depend not just on supply issues, but on operational and logistical challenges in targeting various groups.
"We're going to do our best to vaccinate as many people as we can in 1A, but if there are opportunities to start 1B based on those other factors, I think that's a consideration," Hong said. "There's just a lot of unknowns given the supply chain."
Hong said there are roughly 7,000 workers and an equal number of residents in long-term care facilities in Delaware. At least 50,000 people work in the health care industry. The initial amount of vaccine state officials are expecting is enough for only a fraction of those populations.
"The first week has already been spoken for," Hong said, referring to shipments going to hospitals, first responders and other groups. Hong said shipments to hospitals will be based on their reports on the number of staff that might qualify for the vaccine.
"We just use a percentage for that," he said.
Federal officials, meanwhile, have partnered with pharmacy companies to vaccinate staff and residents at long-term care facilities. State officials will collaborate with their federal counterparts to decide how many doses go to long-term care facilities, Hong said.
State officials are expecting an initial shipment of 8,775 doses from Pfizer as soon as next week, and at least 8,335 doses from Moderna perhaps the following week. A "ultra cold" storage unit that costs $15,500 and is capable of holding almost 300,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at a state warehouse on Tuesday, officials said. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored and shipped at about minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit).
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-related hospitalizations in Delaware hit an all-time high of 338 on Monday, one more than April's peak of 337, officials said. Forty-one of those patients were in critical condition.
"That's very concerning to us," said Gov. John Carney. "Protecting that hospital capacity has been one of our main priorities and objectives."
Officials noted, however, that the current concern regarding hospitals involves adequate staffing, not bed capacity or ventilator availability."
Officials have ramped up testing significantly in recent days, with the 7-day moving average for positive results climbing to just under 10%.
"The prevalence of the virus in our community is significant," Carney said, noting a 7-day average of 730 new cases per day.
Officials have reported 803 coronavirus-related deaths to date. The vast majority, 666, involve people 65 and older, and more than half of the deaths, 448, involve residents of long-term care facilities.
Last week, Carney issued a stay-at-home advisory and a mask mandate requiring people to wear face coverings even in their own homes if someone outside the immediate household is present.
"If that person next to you is not your wife, or your son or your daughter, then you ought to be wearing a mask even in your own home," he said Tuesday.
Carney also recommended that schools suspend in-person instruction of students from Dec. 14 to Jan. 8, saying schools are "safe places" with little virus transmission but that their operations are affected by what's going on in the community. He acknowledged, however, that it's more difficult for students to learn in a remote setting than in a classroom environment. Winter sports competitions will be prohibited during that same period.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.
MORE DELAWARE COVID-19 HEADLINES
Governor John Carney issued a statement this weekend after the State of Delaware surpassed 300 COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time since April.
Several Delaware school districts are transitioning to all virtual learning to fall within new recommendations from the state as COVID-19 infections reach a record high. Gov. John Carney released recommendations Thursday advising districts to transition to only remote learning starting Dec. 14th until Jan. 11th.
Delaware Governor John Carney announced a new stay-at-home advisory on Thursday, urging all residents to avoid gathering indoors with anyone outside their household to combat the rising COVID-19 cases. The order goes into effect from December 14 and lasts through January 11.
Delaware Governor John Carney expressed concerns Tuesday about the rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state. Nearly 250 residents are currently in the hospital with coronavirus, and that number is growing.
Hospital leaders have told the governor that they are confident they can manage the surge. Still, officials are reminding everyone to adhere to COVID-19 mitigation guidelines.
Health care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line when the first coronavirus vaccine shots become available, an influential government advisory panel said Tuesday.
A Delaware hospital will play a leading role in administering the vaccine to the region.
Ten freezers just arrived at ChristianaCare in Newark this week and will be able to house the coronavirus vaccine in temperatures as low as -94 degrees.
Hardware store closing
After 37 years in business, a locally-owned hardware store can't survive any longer. New Castle - Do It Best - Hardware Store in Delaware is getting ready to close for good.
Owner Jim Smyth says it's been getting more and more difficult to keep up with big-box stores and online retailers.
Right now, all merchandise is 50% off while supplies last. The store will close by the end of the year.
Moderna Inc. said it would ask U.S. and European regulators Monday to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine as new study results confirm the shots offer strong protection - ramping up the race to begin limited vaccinations as the coronavirus rampage worsens.
The nation's top health officials are warning that recent travelers are at an increased risk of possibly spreading COVID-19 after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Americans should expect more COVID-related restrictions and advisories for the Christmas holiday, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert.
United Airlines has begun shipping the first batches of the COVID-19 vaccine on charter flights, a source told ABC News.
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*The Associated Press contributed to this report*