Coronavirus Pandemic Continues to Grow
By Donald Gilpin
As the number of coronavirus cases grows rapidly throughout the state and the nation, officials are taking unprecedented measures — restrictions, cancellations, closures—to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
There were 267 confirmed cases in New Jersey as of Tuesday afternoon, and Governor Phil Murphy announced late Monday that a third New Jersey resident, a man in his 90s at Hackensack University Medical Center, had died from the disease.
Murphy has also announced the closure of all schools, movie theaters, indoor malls, amusement parks, casinos, gyms, nightclubs, and racetracks. He has also banned dining in at restaurants and gatherings of more than 50 people, and he has recommended a statewide curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. except for emergencies and essential travel.
Locally, the Princeton Health Department announced on Sunday the second, third, and fourth confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Princeton. The first Princeton case, announced Friday, March 13, was a Princeton University staff member. The other three cases were members of one family. All four attended a February 29 social gathering.
Two people from Boston, who also attended the February 29 gathering, returned to Boston, experienced symptoms and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
The Health Department has been seeking to identify those exposed and to encourage isolation of those who may be at risk of contact with these individuals.
Three Pennsylvania residents and two residents of South Brunswick, who also attended the party, have subsequently tested positive. A total of three Princeton University staff members have tested positive and remain in self-isolation, according to a University announcement Tuesday. It is not clear how many of those are Princeton residents.
According to the March 15 Health Department announcement, “All identified cases in Princeton have so far been directly associated with this particular event. However as several of the persons involved were in the community prior to being requested to isolate, we must presume some level of community exposure has
occurred. All people of Princeton, especially those at highest risk, should monitor their own health.”
“Due to limitations in testing and other factors, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 likely understates its prevalence in the University community,” Tuesday’s announcement from Princeton University stated. “For that reason it is especially important for everyone to practice social distancing and follow other public health guidance.”
Princeton University announced last week that regular classes would end and remote instruction would begin. Most students have left campus and returned to their homes.
Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon, “The Princeton Health Department is continuing to work with county and state authorities to assist residents with obtaining testing when they meet criteria. We are also preparing to assist with larger scale testing.”
Grosser said that he was unable to speculate how many possible cases there might be in Princeton, but promised that “things are going to continue to change. And what is going to change includes guidance from authorities, what we know about the virus and transmission, and what social distancing techniques are working and where we have to do better.”
Emphasizing the importance of social distancing to curtail the growing number of infections, Grosser added, “We are going to continue to update the public with what we are hearing and what we find through investigations to best combat this ongoing pandemic.”
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert announced a state of emergency on Friday with all public meetings canceled through April 5, all municipally sponsored events canceled through April 30, and the public urged to use online resources to conduct any government business that can be done online.
The Princeton Police Department (PPD) announced Tuesday that all meter regulations and all on-street parking regulations were suspended until further notice, and that all municipal buildings will be closed through Friday, March 20, with only essential employees reporting to work. Municipal playgrounds and sandboxes are closed until further notice.
Reminding the public of the importance of the precautions of social distancing and frequent handwashing, the PPD announcement continued, “Princeton’s officials are monitoring the situation on a continuous basis and are working closely with other municipalities in the county and state as well as with local, county, and state health and emergency management officials. These directives will be modified or supplemented as the ever-changing situation warrants. In the meantime, we urge the public to check Princeton’s website regularly for updates and, above all else, to stay safe.”
Princeton Public Schools (PPS) announced Monday that its first day of distance learning had gone well. “Today has been a day of ‘firsts’ as we launched remote learning, as we distributed food and technology to our students, and as we implemented the many changes necessary during this crisis,” PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane wrote to parents and guardians. “I would like to thank everyone for remaining calm in circumstances fraught with chaos.”
For more information on COVID-19 and the evolving situation, visit the Princeton municipal website at princetonnj.gov, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) at nj.gov/health, the Center for Disease Control at cdc.gov, or call the NJDOH hotline at 1-800-222-1222.