February 5, 2020

Princeton Responds to Coronavirus Threat

By Donald Gilpin

With 20,438 confirmed cases and more than 420 deaths in China from 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), local officials in Princeton are working to respond to this global health crisis. As of Tuesday, the United States had 11 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, but none in New Jersey.

Health officials, locally and globally, are taking action to assess individuals who might have been exposed to the virus, which has been identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. Major American airlines have canceled flights to and from China, many businesses have been affected, and it is not clear how extensive quarantines, travel bans, and other restrictions may become.

“At this time, the risk in the U.S. to the general public is low,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeffrey Grosser, “and in Princeton the risk is low. At this time there are a small number of cases in the U.S. To limit the risk of spread, health officials are working with health care providers to promptly identify and evaluate anyone they think may have the virus or may be at increased risk.”

Grosser described the town’s response as “an evolving situation,” and he could not say how many Princeton residents might be at risk. “Local health departments are receiving daily updates on guidance from the New Jersey Department of Health,” he said. “The Princeton Health Department has been working with Princeton University to make sure any ill students with a travel history are reported to our office immediately.”

At Princeton University, where many students recently returned to campus for Monday’s start of second semester classes, University officials have been working since Monday morning to assess the risk of about 100 students who had traveled from China.

Based on guidance issued Sunday by the New Jersey Department of Health, everyone the University has assessed so far is low risk, meaning no need to self-quarantine, according to University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss. Low risk applies to individuals who have recently traveled to mainland China (including Wuhan City and Hubei Province), but have not had any close contact with any person confirmed to have 2019-nCoV.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the University was in the process of assessing the last few students. “No one has been sick. No one has shown symptoms,” said Hotchkiss.

Hotchkiss went on to emphasize that the University was closely following the latest information and recommendations from government and health officials. “We have taken this global health crisis very seriously and approached it as a community — at the same time, what we are experiencing is what is being experienced across this country. Our numbers do not reflect Princeton as exceptional or different in this current and ongoing health emergency.”

He emphasized that the University had been in close contact with municipal and county health officials in monitoring the situation. The University has banned all University-sponsored travel to mainland China for faculty, staff, and students until further notice.

Grosser noted that local residents who might have been in contact with people who have recently traveled to China should self-assess their health. “If they experience any type of illness, they should contact their medical provider. They should also get a flu shot. It’s not too late to get protected.”

Grosser added that residents considering travel should reference the Center for Disease Control (CDC) travel health page, which outlines all current health concerns across the world. Grosser urged anyone with specific questions about this ongoing situation to contact the Princeton Health Department at (609) 497-7608.

Updates on the changing coronavirus situation and further information are available at the CDC (cdc.gov), the New Jersey Department of Health (nj.gov/health), the World Health Organization (who.int), and at Princeton Emergency Management on the Princeton University website (princeton.edu).