May 20, 2020

Princeton Looks to Reopening — With Restrictions

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton continues to see decreases in the daily numbers of positive COVID-19 cases, as social distancing remains but restrictions are gradually lifted throughout the state. As of Tuesday, there have been 17 deaths, seven additional probable (not tested) COVID-19-related deaths, 164 confirmed positive cases, and 80 individuals recovered and released from isolation in Princeton, according to the Princeton Health Department.

Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser emphasized the focus on long-term care facilities, where most of the COVID-19-related deaths in Princeton have occurred. As of May 18, the New Jersey Department of Health reported 47 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths at Princeton Care Center, and 19 confirmed cases and six deaths at Acorn Glen.

“Another large step forward in the battle against COVID-19 was announced by the New Jersey Department of Health in a recent Executive Directive signed by the Commissioner of Health requiring every long-term care facility to verify that they have developed disease and outbreak plans for testing staff and residents by May 19,” Grosser said. “Facilities must amend outbreak plans to include COVID-19 testing; and plans must be implemented by May 26.”

The directive also includes re-testing within three days for individuals who test negative. “The Princeton Health Department has been advising long-term care facilities on the importance of testing staff to ensure that asymptomatic staff are not spreading the virus among such a vulnerable population,” Grosser added.

The Health Department has been working with businesses, nonprofits, and schools in beginning to discuss plans leading to reopening.

Starting last week, the Princeton Health Department has been using volunteers, college interns, and parking enforcement officers to assist with extensive contact tracing. “Contact tracing is a fundamental activity that involves working with a client who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease to identify and provide support to contacts who may have been infected through exposure to the patient,” Grosser wrote in an email.

He continued, “This process prevents further transmission of disease by separating people who have (or may have) an infectious disease from people who do not. It is a core disease control measure that has been employed by public health agency personnel for decades.”

In his daily coronavirus briefing, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Tuesday, May 19 a total of at least 149,013 COVID-19 cases in the state, with 1,055 new positive tests in the previous 24 hours. The reported COVID-19-related death toll was at least 10,586, with 162 new deaths reported.

Murphy noted that the daily numbers of new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations continue to drop and that the lifting of restrictions will continue. Auto dealerships and bike shops are permitted to open May 20 with social distancing restrictions, he said.

State and county parks are now permitted to reopen with restrictions and nonessential retail businesses may offer curbside pickup. Plans are in place to open beaches this weekend, with social distancing guidelines. Murphy described this as the first stage in a multi-stage reopening plan.

The NJDOH announced Tuesday a total of 6,018 Mercer County residents who had tested positive for the virus, with 422 COVID-19-related deaths in the county.

On Monday the Mercer County Correction Center reported that eight inmates and four staff members had tested positive for COVID-19. The NJDOH has designated the facility as being in “outbreak” status and the Correction Center will be required to take direction from the NJDOH and the local health officer.

Inmates who have tested positive have been quarantined and employees who have tested positive are on leave. All inmates are being tested for COVID-19, and health officers anticipate a significant number will test positive. Contact tracing will occur. There have been no COVID-19-related deaths at the jail.

As of Tuesday, Mercer County has relocated its appointment-only, drive-up testing site for COVID-19 from Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrence to the parking lot across from the County Administration Building at 640 South Broad Street in Trenton. The change was made in anticipation of the mall opening for business in the near future.

The county, in collaboration with its health care and municipal partners, will continue to operate appointment-only, walk-up testing sites in Trenton and Hightstown.

Actual numbers of COVID-19 infections, locally and statewide, probably surpass confirmed case numbers because of testing backlogs and residents who have not been tested.

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