March 14, 2020

Lempert Declares State of Emergency in Princeton

By Anne Levin

At a press conference in Witherspoon Hall Friday afternoon, Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser confirmed that the town has its first positive case of COVID-19. The infected individual is a 49-year-old woman who is on staff at Princeton University.

She attended a private party held February 29 at a home in Princeton. Two people from the Boston area who also attended the gathering subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. Grosser said the results of tests for four other Princeton residents who attended the party, and had symptoms, are still pending.

The woman with a confirmed case of COVID-19 began experiencing mild symptoms on March 3. She attended two events – a dance festival in Staten Island on March 7, and a meeting at Princeton Medical Center on March 9. She has been isolated at her home since then. Grosser said he has been in contact with the coordinators of both of those events to alert them and identify any possible additional exposure.

Mayor Liz Lempert said the town is now under a state of emergency as efforts to contain the virus go into high gear. All scheduled public meetings of Princeton’s boards, committees, and commissions, including the planning and zoning boards, are canceled through April 5, as are meetings of Princeton Council. All municipally sponsored events are canceled through April 30, and all Princeton agencies will coordinate with the Office of Emergency Management. Lempert said the public is urged to use online resources to pay taxes, utility bills, licenses, and conduct any government business that can be done online.

Princeton Public Library is closing through March 29. Materials will not be accepted for return while the library is closed, and fees and fines will be waived. The library’s book drops will be unavailable during the closure, and customers are asked not to leave books or other materials on library premises.

While the building is closed, library cardholders can still access a broad range of digital resources including e-books, audiobooks, movies, music, tutorials, and research tools through the library’s website (

Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane said remote learning will be in place for a two-week period beginning Monday, March 16. The situation will be evaluated at that time. “It is important to note that remote learning does not mean that our schools are closed,” Cochrane said. “The buildings will be open, and many staff will be present to answer questions and offer support.”

The buildings and buses will be extensively cleaned at that time. Large gatherings, field trips, and activities have been canceled.

Cochrane said the students who qualify for the federal lunch program will be able to pick up breakfast and lunch, in boxes, during the remote learning period.

Lempert said there has been a large outpouring of assistance from people who want to volunteer or donate food and household goods. Donations of canned foods, pasta, shelf milk, and other products; household goods such as toilet paper, sanitizer, shampoo, baby wipes, and cleaning supplies; and medical products such as Advil, Tylenol, thermometers, and gloves, can be dropped off next week at Community Park, Johnson Park, Littlebrook, and Riverside School gymnasiums Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Donations can also be made at Henry Pannell Center, 12 Clay Street, March 16, 18, and 20 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:50 p.m.

With those over 60, especially those with underlying health conditions, considered high risk, the community is also looking out for senior residents. The town has been redoubling efforts of its Neighborhood Buddy System program, which pairs residents with neighbors who may be vulnerable.

Dr. George DiFernando, who heads the Princeton Board of Health, said the confirmation of a positive case of COVID-19 moves Princeton from the planning stage to a containment phase. He urged churches, businesses, and community organizations to plan for an increase in cases, and exercise social distancing, keeping people from mingling close together. But there is no data at this time suggesting there has been extensive spread of the virus in the community, he said.

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