How Do You Fight Coronavirus Without A Health Department? Delaware County Is Finding Out.

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By Kimberly Lawson

April 2, 2020

Nearly 400 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and seven have died as a result of the virus.

Nearly 400 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and seven have died as a result of the virus. With a population of more than 560,000 residents, Delaware County is also one of the largest counties in the U.S. without a department dedicated to public health.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the county has to rely on the agencies of neighboring counties and state services in Harrisburg, two hours away. The state Health Department operates a center in Delaware County, but state Sen. Tim Kearney, a Democrat, said it’s not enough for a crisis of this magnitude.

“With no public health department, Delaware County lacked the infrastructure to respond to the initial cases,” Sen. Kearney, told NBC News. “While the state’s Health Department has been very responsive, this crisis highlighted the fact that health concerns are a local issue and need local people working on these issues who better understand the community. The lack of specific case information created confusion for our residents and health care providers.”

In Pennsylvania, six counties have their own health departments: Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Erie, Montgomery, and Philadelphia. Four municipalities also have their own: Allentown, Bethlehem, Wilkes-Barre, and York.

As of noon on April 1, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 5,805 positive cases of COVID-19 across 60 counties. The Delco Times is reporting that those who have tested positive are either in isolation at home or being treated at hospitals. The current number of statewide deaths related to the virus is 74. The two most recent deaths related to COVID-19 in Delaware County were that of an 87-year-old woman from Marple Township and a 69-year-old man from Marple Township.

Without a health department, Delaware county—which shares a border with Philadelphia—is limited in its ability to help residents who are symptomatic of the coronavirus by testing them or tracking down those who may have inadvertently been exposed to the virus. Neighboring Chester County has stepped in to help navigate various aspects of the crisis—they are currently under a temporary contract with Delaware County strictly related to COVID-19-related issues.

RELATED: Gov. Wolf: All Pennsylvanians Now Under Stay-At-Home Order

“Chester County is doing an amazing job aiding us during this crisis,” said county council chair Monica Taylor, per NBC News. “They are performing all contact tracing, quarantining, and isolation of those infected, organization of all health care networks and hospitals in the county.”

After the November election last fall, Democrats were elected to all five seats on the Delaware County Council—marking the first time since the Civil War that Republicans no longer hold a majority.

Council members immediately got to work trying to create a health department in January. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to establish a concrete department—which can take up to two years, according to Taylor—before the coronavirus pandemic swept through the county. 

Sen. Kearney warns that what is unfolding in Delaware County now is the result of political disregard. “Local Democrats have been calling for a county health department long before the coronavirus crisis. But for years, the Republican establishment said having a health department would raise taxes and be too costly,” he said. “We are now seeing the costs of inaction.”


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