WILMINGTON, Delaware (WPVI) -- A state advisory panel is recommending that Delaware officials follow federal suggestions for prioritizing distribution of COVID-19 vaccines with an initial focus on health care industry workers and long-term care facilities.
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.
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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.
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Right now, all merchandise is 50% off while supplies last. The store will close by the end of the year.
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*The Associated Press contributed to this report*