December 9, 2020

Vaccine on its Way, as Virus Rates Surge

By Donald Gilpin

“As we struggle through these last —hopefully last — months of the pandemic, I don’t think it’s a mixed message, but it’s a complicated message,” said Princeton Board of Health (PBOH) Chair Dr. George DiFerdinando in a phone interview on Tuesday.

At their meeting held Tuesday night after press time, the PBOH was preparing to vote on an advisory directed at people in the community at high risk — those 65 or older and those with significant health conditions — to help them to protect themselves in this latest surge of COVID-19.

“Now is the time for people with high risk conditions to really protect themselves,” DiFerdinando said. “Based on the data we can see in the country, in New Jersey, in Mercer County, and in Princeton, there is virus circulating throughout the community. You should presume that whenever you leave your home, you have a substantial likelihood of being exposed.”

DiFerdinando emphasized the difficulty and complexity of the current moment. “It could be as soon as Friday that health care workers in our area will start receiving the vaccine,” he said. “That means there’s a type of light at the end of the tunnel. But between now and the vaccination it’s going to be a really hard six weeks, especially for high-risk people. Between now and late January it’s going to be both the time when the vaccine is about to show up, and when it looks like there’ll be the most virus ever circulating in the community.”

Calling for common sense and safety, not fear, DiFerdinando emphasized that just staying in the house in complete lockdown might not be the best response. If you need to go out, “go, but be safe when you go,” he said, emphasizing that people who need to go to the doctor should certainly go to the doctor.

The PBOH, he said, is boiling down the message, coming also from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to deliver to Princetonians: Wear a mask at all times when you’re out, and even at home if there are household members who have symptoms. Social distance. Avoid non-essential travel. Avoid public places and gatherings. Stay at home if you’re sick. Limit guests in your home.

DiFerdinando went on to comment on the complicated messages for shops and schools. “We want you to shop and we want to keep local businesses open, and we want you to do that as safely as possible,” he said. “It’s a nuanced message. How do we make sure that the enthusiastic message to shop is consistent with the cautionary message to stay as safe as possible?”

The issues are similar for schools. The PBOH and the Princeton Health Department have been working closely with Princeton Public Schools officials and nurses at all the area schools. “We want to do everything to keep as many youngsters safely going to school as we possibly can,” he said. “We’re all on the same page.”

He added, “The business community and the schools are very important functions that we have to figure out how to maintain while at the same time protecting ourselves. It’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It’s complicated.”

The Princeton Health Department on Monday, December 7, reported a total of 30 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days, down from its highest seven-day total of 35 registered in late November. There have been 54 new cases in Princeton in the past 14 days, one fewer than the highest 14-day total of 55, also tallied last month. Health department officials are still anticipating further effects of a post-Thanksgiving surge in infections caused by gatherings and travel.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on December 10, after confirming, on December 8, the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. The New Jersey Department of Health has said that hospitals could begin vaccinating staff within 24 to 72 hours after that approval and at-risk individuals within a few days from then. 

Mercer County announced Monday that, in partnership with Vault Health Services, it would be offering free COVID-19 testing at pop-up sites in Trenton and Hamilton. On Friday, December 11 testing will be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Colonial Firehouse, 801 Kuser Road in Hamilton. This saliva test is available to County residents 14 years or older and anyone employed as a first responder or health care worker in Mercer County.

The testing will be limited to 300 people each day, but additional pop-up testing sites will be scheduled in the near future.  Mercer County also offers an at-home saliva test for COVID-19, which can be requested by visiting An updated list of COVID-19 testing locations in Mercer County can be found on the Trenton Health Team’s website at

In their Princeton Coronavirus Update on Monday, Princeton Council and Mayor Liz Lempert continued to advise caution and vigilance, and to recommend limiting travel and the size of holiday gatherings. “This year will be a holiday season like no other as we continue to maintain our vigilance against COVID-19,” they wrote. “We must find ways to celebrate safely and responsibly to ensure healthy holidays.”