October 7, 2020

Health Dept. Emphasizes Two Weapons To Beat COVID: Mitigation, Contact Tracing

By Donald Gilpin

With COVID transmission rates rising in New Jersey and case numbers spiking in various spots in the state and throughout the country, the Princeton Health Department is offering advice on the importance of mitigation measures and contact tracing.

The Health Department reported on Monday, October 5, that there had been six new cases of COVID-19 in Princeton in the previous seven days, eight cases in the previous 14 days, and no increase from last week’s totals. Grosser noted, however, that two or three additional cases that have not been confirmed are pending and will likely show up in the October 7 report. Monday’s report noted six active positive cases in Princeton and 200 cases recovered with isolation completed.

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) reported on Tuesday, October 6, that the COVID transmission rate had risen to 1.27, significantly above the benchmark of 1 that indicates the virus is spreading.

“The way we are seeing COVID affect our daily lives continues to evolve,” said Princeton Press and Media Communications Director Fred Williams in an October 6 email, “but the one constant is our ability to mitigate the transmission of the disease. We have had success through diligently adhering to COVID mitigation measures that continue to be our best defense.”

He continued, “Wearing masks, hand hygiene, coughing/sneezing etiquette, physical distance, and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces is a proven force in combating any virus, let alone COVID-19.”

Wishing President Trump and his affected staff members a safe and speedy recovery, Williams added, “Everything we can glean from the outbreak in the White House shows the importance of following the safety measures in place that preserve our ability to move about safely, while dealing with this virus.”

Williams went on to stress the importance of effective contact tracing, “our second-tier defense.” Contact tracers, he said, “need to have the cooperation to help them do their jobs. Unknowingly spreading a virus does not make anyone a bad person. But knowing where and how a virus is spreading can better protect us all.”

Williams and Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser both commented on the challenges of the fall season, bringing cooler weather, more events indoors, and, in particular, students returning to schools.

Cases of COVID-19 were reported last week at both Community Park School and Stuart Country Day School, with the Princeton Health Department working with school officials to ensure that appropriate contact tracing and quarantining protocols were followed in both cases. The exposure was apparently more limited in the case of the Community Park teacher, who is self-isolating for 14 days. No significant contacts (someone within six feet of an infected person for at least ten minutes) were identified. No students had been in the building with that teacher. In the case of the Stuart fourth grader who tested positive, students and teachers in the affected class are being quarantined at home and attending school remotely for 14 days.

“New cases in schools and in workplaces are an eventuality to be expected,” said Williams. ”The difference now is that there are tools in place to limit and/or isolate transmissions. So outbreaks can be controlled while we live our lives. We can certainly expect that there will be a rise in cases, but with these procedures in place to protect ourselves, we increase our ability to stop or prevent spreader events.”

Grosser emphasized the Health Department’s ongoing work with area schools. “The Princeton Health Department continues to support Princeton schools as they bring children back into the classroom,” he said. “Schools have been working tirelessly spring through summer in order to make returning to in-person instruction as safe as possible.”

He continued, “Parents and guardians can do their part by ensuring each student knows mask etiquette and the rules each school is required to abide by with wearing masks inside schools. They can also assist schools by performing daily symptom checks on students before they arrive at school.”

With Halloween just three weeks away, the NJDOH has issued health and safety guidance for trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities. Face coverings over both nose and mouth are strongly encouraged. Costume masks do not count because they do not provide necessary protection. The NJDOH also strongly recommends that all Halloween activities be held outdoors.

Treats should not be placed directly in the bags of trick-or-treaters, nor should there be communal bowls that multiple hands reach into. Instead, individually packaged candy should be arranged in a way that it can be easily grabbed without multiple pieces being touched. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy added on Monday that trick-or-treating groups should be limited to household members, or, if that’s not possible, should practice careful social distancing, and should also stay local and limit the number of homes visited.

In their Princeton COVID-19 Update on Monday, Mayor Liz Lempert and Princeton Council reported that COVID Alert NJ is a new app that can be downloaded for free and will anonymously alert users if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app does not record any identifying data and all users will remain anonymous.