July 22, 2020

Three New COVID Cases; Health Dept. Focuses On Schools Opening

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Health Department reported three new cases of COVID-19 last week, the first new cases in Princeton in more than two weeks. There have been 198 cases in Princeton since March, with 134 recovered, 34 currently active cases, 18 confirmed COVID deaths, and 12 additional deaths probably COVID-19 related.

One of the new cases, at Princeton Care Center, is being documented as a “suspected reinfection” and the other two were related cases tied to travel to the Jersey Shore, where the two individuals stated they were socializing and not maintaining appropriate distance or masking.

Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser emphasized that people must be careful, especially when vacationing. “Be extra cautious with social distancing and make sure you’re not putting yourself in harm’s way, because that’s a way to reintroduce COVID cases in Princeton,” he said.

Grosser noted that he’s pleased to see no other new cases coming in, which he cited as evidence for effectiveness of social distancing and masking efforts. He pointed out that the Health Department has been working closely with the long-term care facilities, PCC and Acorn Glen, where public health measures have been implemented and both facilities are successfully controlling the virus.

”We’ve been fortunate that the cases have been slow in trickling in, giving us the opportunity to do contact tracing to stamp out the spread,” Grosser said. “Without a huge influx of cases we can do that effectively.”

With the curve of coronavirus infections mostly flattened in Princeton, and many businesses opened in the past month, the focus of the Princeton Health Department has turned to the schools and their plans for September reopening.

Grosser has been meeting with a subcommittee of health officers in the state, working to identify standards for schools to reopen safely. The issues involved include required health screenings, how to social distance and enforce mask wearing, operational protocols, and contact tracing.

“How can schools participate in contact tracing and how can we get nurses to be our eyes and ears, so if they have a probably or confirmed case we can take measures to stamp out the spread?” he asked. “With everything we have
learned in the past months, how can we handle the situation if a case arises?”

The Health Department has been in regular communication with school heads and other administrators, and, pending directives from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), will be sending out a letter to schools with preliminary guidelines before the end of July.

“A significant part of the population would feel more comfortable with students doing remote learning from home,” Grosser said. “Another part wants students back in school with more normalcy in their lives. There’s a wide range of individuals that we have to look out for, including teachers, administrators, and staff. We don’t want to open just to close again, or start out in-person just to go back to remote again.” 

Grosser also mentioned a growing concern over travelers from other states, including New Jersey residents returning home. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on July 21 announced an additional 10 states added to the state’s coronavirus quarantine travel advisory, making a total of 31 states qualifying as COVID-19 hotspots.

As new cases continue to surge in many states throughout the country, people traveling from the 31 designated states are being asked to get COVID-19 tests and self-quarantine for two weeks in order to prevent a resurgence in New Jersey.

In their daily COVID-19 updates, Princeton Council and Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert continue to urge frequent hand washing, practicing social distancing, and wearing a face mask when near others. “When wearing a face mask, it’s important to wear it properly,” states this week’s newsletter. “That means covering not just your mouth but your nose and chin, too. Wear a mask in high-traffic outdoor public spaces such as sidewalks on Nassau Street, Palmer Square, and Witherspoon Street.”