Health Department Leads the Way, as COVID Cases Drop
By Donald Gilpin
The Princeton Health Department reported on Monday, February 22, only two new cases of COVID-19 in the previous seven days and 15 new cases in the previous 14 days. The highest totals in Princeton were 39 for seven days and 66 for 14 days, both recorded in mid-December.
“The Princeton Health Department began seeing a decline in the number of new cases in December, where we were seeing an average of more than 50 new cases every two weeks at the height of the second wave,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser. “We are now closing in on fewer than 10 new cases every two weeks. There is discussion of increased vaccinations and seasonality of the virus being two main factors in these declines.”
Grosser emphasized the importance of continued mask wearing, physical distancing, and staying home when feeling unwell. “We stand at a period in the pandemic where declining case counts, increasing vaccinations, and continued responsible prevention behaviors are showcasing hope in the face of what has been nearly a year of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Also on February 22, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, citing positive trends in infection rates and continuing improvement in the pace of vaccinations statewide, announced an easing of restrictions on capacity limits for churches and houses of worship and on attendance at professional and college sports.
Religious services will be able to operate at 50 percent of the capacity of the room where they are held. Services were previously limited to 35 percent of the room capacity with a cap of 150, which has been lifted. Masking and social distancing are required.
Collegiate sports can now allow up to two parents or guardians for each participating athlete with the total number of spectators present not to exceed 35 percent of the capacity of the room. Effective March 1, large sports and entertainment venues with seating capacity of 5,000 or more will be permitted to host individuals up to 10 percent of capacity indoors and 15 percent of capacity outdoors. Social distancing and masks, except when eating or drinking, will be required.
New Jersey’s seven-day average for new cases, as of February 22, was down 3 percent from a week ago and 36 percent from a month ago. Numbers of New Jersey hospital patients with COVID, at 2,023, the lowest number since November 12, are down 48 percent from a December 22 peak of 3,872 according to the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH).
The statewide transmission rate dropped Sunday for the third straight day and was at 0.86, significantly below the number 1 that indicates a slowing of the outbreak.
As of Monday, the state had administered 1,676,496 COVID vaccine doses, 509,373 of those second doses, the NJDOH reported.
Grosser pointed out that the Princeton Health Department has successfully scheduled nearly 600 residents for vaccinations at either local community clinics or regional county locations. “The good news is that the number of residents being vaccinated is increasing each day,” he said. “This is indicated by the number of emails we receive daily regarding those receiving doses outside of our allotment. Over 500 residents have informed us that they have received vaccinations elsewhere. This is a good sign in just two months of vaccine distribution to have about a third of our eligible waitlist already vaccinated.”
The health department is requesting that residents email email@example.com if they were registered on the waitlist and have received a shot elsewhere.
Grosser emphasized progress made with many of Princeton’s most vulnerable residents. “As a department, our greatest achievement in the pandemic thus far has been connecting Princeton’s most vulnerable to health services they so greatly need,” he wrote in an email. “Particularly in those instances where family members are calling on behalf of a parent and/or aunt or uncle. And they’re often calling from out of state checking in on how to get their loved one a lifesaving vaccine. These instances fulfill our mission.”
Grosser went on to report that the Princeton Health Department has vaccinated 800 people to date, including a 500-person second dose clinic operated out of the Suzanne Paterson Princeton Senior Resource Center. “Our local vaccination distribution strategy has gone through continuous improvement to where we are capable of vaccinating nearly 100 people per hour,” he wrote. “With enough vaccine supply, at that rate and based on one to two clinics per week, our office is capable of vaccinating 70 percent of Princeton’s adult population within four months.”
Due to the limited vaccine supply the state will no longer supply vaccines to municipal clinics, and Princeton is currently not holding any new clinics and has no appointments available for the vaccine.
Once the supply increases to meet the demand, local health officials will schedule further local clinics. In the meantime the health department will continue to support vaccination efforts underway by assisting the county at the CURE Arena or at Mercer County Community College vaccination sites. Appointments are required at both sites through the New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System (NJVSS) at covidvaccine.nj.gov.
The Princeton Health Department will not be accepting new registrations for the Princeton waitlist. The existing waitlist will be used to identify people to be offered appointments for county-level vaccine clinics. Residents who are able to travel to other sites throughout the state should check the list of vaccine sites throughout the state at covid19.nj.gov and register there for an appointment if available.
The Princeton Health Department advises everyone seeking a vaccination to use the state’s centralized registration and to take the first appointment offered. Customer service phone support is also available at (855) 568-0545.
In his February 23 email, Grosser made a special point of thanking all of the Princeton Health Department staff for their “tireless, committed work” over the past year. “Although this has been the hardest year of our professional careers, it has also brought public health to light in the community,” he wrote. “The pandemic continues to demonstrate the great need for public health in order to properly protect our communities while maintaining the course of disease prevention.”
He continued, “From early days of contact tracing to navigating school and business reopening, first waves and second waves of cases, and now vaccine deployment, the Princeton Health Department continues to serve the community in any way necessary.”
Grosser also cited the contributions of Princeton’s elected officials “who acted quickly in the face of adversity during many periods of unknowns.” He pointed out that getting the health department the necessary resources and specifically hiring a full-time public health nurse to more fully investigate new COVID cases and perform contact tracing, and performing vaccinations, all helped Princeton to have fewer cases than other towns of the same size.