EDITORIAL: This is critical for all Delawareans. Please DO NOT go to your local emergency room. If you have symptoms, you could infect others. Call a doctor first.

As Gov. John Carney said in announcing his stay-at-home order, the more the coronavirus spreads, the tighter the restrictions we need to employ to protect the people of our state. Now, we all have a role to play in slowing the spread of COVID-19 – and protecting ourselves, our families and our neighbors.

We need to take this virus seriously. No more gatherings on a boardwalk. No more sleepovers or play dates. No more standing outside in a group at a convenience store or at a local park.

This virus is highly contagious, and anyone who is infected – whether they know it or not – can spread it to two to three more people. We all need to model our actions as if we already do have COVID-19.

And it’s not just for the protection of seniors and other vulnerable populations -- although they do remain our greatest concern. Earlier this month, we saw that half of the lab-confirmed cases in Delaware are in the 18-49 age group. We all have some risk, and seniors and people with serious chronic illnesses such as lung or heart diseases and diabetes are at the highest risk.

That’s why we all must end unnecessary contact with others, continue to practice social distancing, go out for essential groceries or prescriptions only as needed, and go to work only if we are in an essential business.

That doesn’t mean you can’t go outside. In fact, we encourage you to go for a walk, run or bike ride in your neighborhood or a local, county or state park. Staying active – while avoiding groups and maintaining social distancing – will keep us all mentally and physically healthy.

Now, let me give you and update about testing. Starting Monday of this week, in partnership with the health care systems in our state, we began a statewide coronavirus testing program.

In order to be tested, you must have a referral from your primary care doctor, or better yet, through a telemedicine service associated with your health plan. Once you have that referral, you will be directed to a testing location.

If you do not have a doctor, please call the Division of Public Health Call Center at 1-866-408-1899 – or 711 for individuals with a hearing impairment – and an operator will connect you with a medical professional to evaluate your symptoms and make a referral.

This is critical for all Delawareans: Please DO NOT go to your local emergency room. If you have symptoms, you could infect others. It’s important that keep the emergency departments as free as possible to care for the sickest people.

And just a reminder about the symptoms of COVID-19 that are likely to require that you be tested. They are:

A fever AND Either a cough OR shortness of breath


If you are healthy and free of symptoms, we need you to stay that way. You and your family can help by following those steps we’ve repeated so many times:

Wash your hands often – and for 20 seconds -- including the backs of your hands and under your nails. Clean commonly use surfaces often. Cough or sneeze into your elbow. If use a tissue, throw it away immediately. If you are sick, stay home – whether you suspect it is coronavirus or anything else. If you have the symptoms, call your doctor or consult with a telemedicine doctor to see if you need to be tested. If you are healthy and do go out, practice social distancing – stay 6 to 10 feet away from the next person. At home, eat healthy meals. Try to get a good night’s sleep. And, as I said earlier, stay active regularly.

Finally, as a mom of two little ones and as the daughter of older parents, I understand the worries that so many Delawareans have. We will get through this crisis by sticking together, offering support to one another, and doing what we can to support those in need in our community.

Our Division of Public Health and our heath care systems expect infections and hospitalizations to increase even more in the coming days, so we promise to keep you updated with the information you need to keep your loved ones safe and healthy. And, if anyone in your family gets sick, we will get them tested and, if needed, get them the medical treatment they need as quickly as we can.

Kara Odom Walker is the Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Health and Social Services and a practicing family physician.