November 18, 2020

COVID Case Numbers, Hospitalizations Rise

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Health Department reported on Monday, November 16 “a steady influx of new cases” over the weekend, with 18 new COVID-19 infections in the past week, 30 in the past two weeks, and 14 active positive cases in Princeton. New case numbers over the past weeks are the second highest in Princeton since the first-wave peak in early May.

“The majority of these cases have stemmed from organized travel sports and household contacts associated with those cases,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser.

Noting New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent tightening of restrictions on gatherings, Princeton Press and Media Communications Director Fred Williams added, “The governor’s recent changes limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 150 are due to contact tracing data that show public and private gatherings/parties/celebrations have played a role in our community spread of COVID-19.”

In his Tuesday press briefing, Murphy also warned about the harmful effects of fatigue over COVID-19 restrictions, and he mentioned the possibility of another state shutdown to combat the spread of the virus.

“The rise we are currently experiencing is not likely to peak any time soon,” Williams continued. “As was the case with our spring and summer holidays, we have again experienced a spike in cases, this time subsequent to celebrating Halloween. The trend is expected to continue with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s celebrations all occurring within a six-week time span.”

Williams warned that Thanksgiving travel plans and traditions of family gatherings could lead to more cases. He pointed out that many colleges and universities are allowing students to stay on campus during holiday breaks, as well as providing testing and quarantine facilities for students who are traveling.

Both Grosser and Monday’s Princeton COVID-19 Update from Mayor Liz Lempert and Princeton Council emphasize that the
safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to “keep it safe and small,” by limiting your gathering to people in your immediate household.

“Do you have a student traveling home from college?” the Update asks. “The Board of Health has detailed guidance on limiting the risks of contracting and spreading COVID during travel and returning home. Students are urged to get tested on campus and get tested again upon returning home.”

Murphy reported on Tuesday, November 17, that there were 2,320 patients hospitalized in New Jersey with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, an increase of 205 in the previous 24 hours and the highest total in nearly six months.

New Jersey’s transmission rate as of Tuesday was 1.42, the seventh consecutive day of increases and the highest transmission rate since August 3. A rate of 1.42 means that every 100 infected people will spread the virus to 142 others.

In an email message Tuesday, November 17, Grosser discussed the plans for a vaccine, after the recent news of Moderna’s experimental coronavirus vaccine, nearly 95 percent effective in a preliminary analysis. Just a week earlier Pfizer had reported that their vaccine was more than 90 percent effective.

“So now we are looking at two vaccines that are really quite effective, which should see distribution in December and January to health care workers,” Grosser wrote. “This news should serve as hope for Princeton, although it’s necessary to understand we are still months away from widespread distribution of the vaccine.”

Pointing out that the Princeton Health Department participates in weekly vaccine distribution planning meetings with local, county, and state officials, Grosser added, “Vaccine safety and confidence and approval by the general population will need concentrated efforts, and it is not a given that everyone will want this vaccine. There is concern over the speed of its delivery and development. As a town, we must continue to trust science and listen to our experts on the vaccines available and the population at greatest risk of severe complications from COVID-19.”

In its recent memo on “How to Best Navigate the Surge,” the Princeton Board of Health (PBH) urges, “Get tuned up” and “Don’t share your air.”

“If you have one or more chronic conditions that might make you more susceptible to severe COVID-19, ‘tune up’ as much as possible,” the PBH advises. The PBH further recommends not to delay in managing chronic conditions — such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, chronic lung or kidney disease — perhaps via telemedicine or a safe clinic visit; get your flu shot; and exercise, eat right, and sleep well —“now more than ever!”

As far as not sharing your air is concerned, the PBH says, “If you can ‘bubble’ —that is stay in a small group with minimal outside exposures —do so this winter.”

And both the PBH and Williams remind everyone to take extra care with the five basics: wear a mask, keep your distance, outside is better than inside, wash your hands, and avoid crowds.

“The rest of the fall and this winter will be difficult,” the PBH memo concludes. “Working together we can protect ourselves and others to minimize the impact of the novel coronavirus on Princeton, Central New Jersey, and the U.S.”