March 25, 2020

Health Officer: “Not Out of the Woods Yet”

By Donald Gilpin

“I’m proud of Princeton for its first full week of dedicated social distancing, but we are not out of the woods yet,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser in Tuesday’s COVID-19 Update.

The Princeton Health Department (PHD) announced an additional positive case in Princeton on Tuesday, which brings the total to 10. The latest case is a Princeton University student, who is currently in isolation on campus. The PHD is investigating the source of the infection and who the individual may have come into close contact with.

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert warned that current statistics probably understate the magnitude of the epidemic. “It is important to understand that the prevalence of coronavirus in the community is likely to be significantly higher than these numbers indicate,” she said. “It is vitally important for everyone to be heeding the governor’s order to stay at home whenever possible, and to practice social distancing when leaving your house.”

She continued, “Slowing the rate of spread will help give our medical system and first responders the much needed time to gear up to treat people who fall sick and help control the volume of people who will be needing care.”

In his daily COVID-19 press briefing Tuesday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy delivered what he called “a sobering report.” He announced the largest single-day increase in deaths with 17 new deaths from coronavirus, bringing the total in the state to 44. There are now at least 3,675 coronavirus total cases in New Jersey, a one-day increase of 846. New Jersey ranks second in the nation after New York for the number of cases.

In delivering the daily update on the website, Grosser urged a focus on preventing the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable populations and on preparing for the possibility of a hospital surge. “Those are the individuals who should be central to our efforts. We need continued community support to reap the benefits of reducing disease transmission through the coronavirus.”

He continued, stressing the importance of social distancing “to break the chains of transmission and slow the number of people who become sick.”

He noted that the vast majority of deaths from COVID-19 have been those age 60 and above. More than three-quarters of the deaths in Italy, which has the highest number of fatalities, have been people age 70 and older.

He went on to point out that South Korea and Singapore have been successful at controlling the spread of the disease through “active approaches to ensure that the elderly don’t become infected.”
Assisted living facilities and nursing homes are being closely monitored, Grosser said, and “these facilities are receiving priority access to testing when necessary. Seniors in communities outside of care facilities also need to be closely watched,” he added.

“Older citizens may need assistance and support to help with food and obtaining necessities,” he said. “They also need to access information about protective measures. Priority resources and attention to the population most likely to produce the greatest number of severe illnesses has the best chance of preventing the overwhelming hospital surge we are seeing in parts of Italy and we are anticipating to happen in parts of the U.S.”

Municipal officials are taking measures to address such a surge by preparing for additional patient beds and temporary hospital structures. “Municipal officials are actively working with county, regional, state, and federal authorities to prepare for this potential need,” said Grosser.

“We need to push the message: If it’s not essential, stay home. But if your neighbor needs something, help them out,” he said.