COVID in New Castle County

Collier Zug, News Writer

     2020 has been dominated by Coronavirus. The world has been beset by a virus that has ravaged hundreds of countries, including the US, which has lost over 220,000 people so far. In response to this crisis, New Castle County quickly and organized a successful county-wide testing program.

     New Castle County’s initial response to the crisis was slowed and weakened by Beauracratic actions on the state and national levels. Early on, Matt Meyer ’90, a Wilmington Friends alum and the New Castle County Executive, had hoped to test everyone, but the national government was only supporting the most hard-hit areas. The Federal Government was giving most of the available tests to New York or New Jersey because they were being overrun by the virus. There were surges in cases in Philadelphia and southern Delaware, so New Castle was surrounded by COVID hotspots and was in desperate need of tests. “There were a lot of people who were asymptomatic and contagious who are spreading this disease without knowing it, and by having widespread testing, it helped prevent outbreaks,” said Meyer.

     In late March, about ten days after Wilmington Friends went on spring break, Washington passed the Cares Act, a bill that set aside 2 trillion dollars for coronavirus relief. (That was the largest stimulus plan in U.S. history.) Delaware received $1.25 billion; New Castle County got $320 million. Now that money wasn’t a problem, it was time to get the tests.

     The question of what kind of coronavirus testing would be used was solved quickly. NCC hired Curative, an organization that was co-founded by a twenty-five-year-old man, Fred Turner, who had found a way to make the saliva test more effective and convenient. These tests were self-administered oral swabs. Once New Castle County had Curative testing kits, it was just a matter of administration. Testing started in March, but crucially, on June 1st, NCC started allowing people without symptoms to get tested. NCC needed a lot of people to help out and create sites, so they hired about 80 temporary employees. Many local organizations partnered with the county government with the enormous process of setting up 70 different testing sites and 180 testing events according to Matt Meyer. As of October 14, over 275,000 tests have been administered through the county’s testing system. That is half the population of New Castle. Of those tests, 11,747 people have tested positive for COVID.

     With many testing sites, things seem to be going smoothly. However, some people have questioned the speed of the testing. “After thirty minutes I’d advanced only three car lengths,” said Jonathan Huxtable, Head of the Middle School. “I had not anticipated that kind of a wait for “drive-through” testing.” That’s not all. Even beside lengthy waits, the process can be a little uncomfortable. “In terms of functionality, they are pretty efficient… but it’s just a really weird vibe,” says Pablo Charriez ’24. “I would say the experience at a COVID facility is that of some horror/pandemic movie, just because of how weird the whole experience is.” Since only around 25 people are working at a site, the process can be long.

     For the future, New Castle wants to continue testing patients, symptomatic and asymptomatic, to get a better scope of how far the virus is spreading. Meyer and other organizations in and around New Castle are looking for new ways to reopen businesses and institutions that are closed while staying safe. “Imagine if there was an app on your phone,” Meyer said, “and when you put it in your hand, it tells you if you test positive for COVID or not.” That is what the county is looking for as an end goal going into winter. Also in the future, New Castle County might be involved with the circulation of a Coronavirus vaccine. AstraZeneca and Incyte, two NCC based companies, are working on a vaccine and NCC will probably play a central role in rolling it out. “Planning for vaccine dissemination is ongoing,” said Meyer, “and your NCC government stands ready to help if needed.”