Stress ‘skyrocketed’ in at-risk communities, says lieutenant governor

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DOVER — This has been an interesting time for Bethany Hall-Long.

Most of you know her as Delaware’s lieutenant governor.

But she is also a University of Delaware nursing professor, one who specializes in public health. During a conversation Friday, she was thinking about photos of Philadelphia during the 1918 pandemic.

“We’re almost reinventing,” she said, “because we don’t have the vaccination, we don’t have immunity and we don’t yet have the treatment.”

It was on March 11 that Delaware announced its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.

A lot has taken place quickly since then. Delaware Gov. John Carney declared a State of Emergency on March 12, closed school buildings the next day and issued the stay-at-home order on March 22.

“If you look over the past five weeks,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long on Friday, “this has moved a lot quicker and faster, and has demanded more really quick, proactive measures than we anticipated.”

As of Friday, the state’s case total passed 3,400 and the death toll was at 100.

There has been one story after another about the demands on the health system and the economic crisis.

“We knew we were going to have a challenge, but I don’t think we knew the rate of infectivity and how quickly we were going to have to go to stay-at-home and those types of orders,” she said. “On the upside, people responded and that’s one of the reasons why Delaware hasn’t maximized the capacity of the hospitals.”

She said her fellow lieutenant governors across the country also did not foresee the demands the coronavirus would have on the states.

“None of us, I think, had an appreciation of the extent that the challenges that we would have as far as testing, PPE, the challenge of how quickly and rapidly the spread would be, and the need for states, in particular to show leadership,” she said.

Over the past five weeks, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said she has been to screenings – donning the necessary personal protective equipment – and has seen the impact this has had on high-risk communities, including those with addictions.

During one of the state’s proactive efforts, naloxone was handed out. Lt. Gov. Hall said, “The opioid epidemic rages on in the midst of a pandemic raging,” she said. “We’ve had an uptick of 33 percent (in the first three months of the year) in the number of deaths from overdose.”

One screening stop was a hotel that was housing families with nowhere to go.

“We have families who are homeless or individuals who don’t have places to live,” she said. “We really want to get people to shelter at home, but you can’t if you don’t have a home, right?”

What she found at these locations was anxiety.

“The biggest thing is how quickly we had unemployment in our state,” she said. “And how quickly we went to some form of online schooling at home. Moving along with unemployment, not knowing where my next paycheck would come from, has really skyrocketed stress. That is one of the things I’ve seen the most – stress and the unknown.

“However, I’ve also equally seen resiliency because people know it’s not forever.”

Next week, Lt. Gov. Hall will be participating and leading virtual discussions with the public and business leaders. The series of meetings were announced by Gov. Carney to engage the public in the strategy to reopen the economy and recovery effort.

To reopen, the governor has said he will be following the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines, first meeting certain criteria – including a 14-day decline in new cases and setting up a contact tracing system.

Not being ready yet, that played into Friday’s announcement that school buildings would not reopen this year.

“It’s going to be really important that we use the best strategies,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “I lecture on epidemiology and infectious disease. And unless you have a vaccination, a treatment or a herd immunity, we have to use these precautions. We’re going to have to follow the federal guidelines.”

But, in the meanwhile, discussions about what the business community needs will start taking place. The first will be Monday – a Small Business Recovery Town Hall for Eastern Sussex.

Members of the public will be able to participate in the Recovery Town Hall for Kent County at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and for Sussex County at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 6.

There are details about how to participate or listen in at de.gov/economy.

“My goal with the forums is to listen,” she said. “We’re going to have a range of concerns.”

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com