COVID-19: One Year and 625 Cases Later
By Donald Gilpin
One year ago the Princeton Health Department announced Princeton’s first positive case of the new coronavirus, a 49-year-old resident who had attended a private party in Princeton where two people from the Boston area were later found to be infected.
Fourteen of the 47 people at the party were Princeton residents. They were all contacted by the Princeton Health Department, and nine of them reported one or more symptoms of COVID and were tested. On Sunday, March 15, 2020 the health department announced the second, third, and fourth COVID-19 cases in Princeton. Since then there have been more than 620 cases and 21 COVID-related deaths, with an additional 13 probable COVID-related deaths, reported in Princeton.
Noting that there has been little time for reflection over the past year, Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser wrote in an email on Tuesday, March 9, “Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Princeton’s first confirmed case reported to the health department, although we had already been contact tracing prior to the first confirmed case because reporting was delayed in the beginning due to laboratories scrambling to deal with the influx of new specimens.”
Emphasizing the ongoing struggle with the pandemic, he added, “It’s hard to believe it has been a year. The health department has not had much reprieve in the last 12 months, with all of the changes and new things learned about COVID-19. It has put public health to the test, and reflection has not been an option, nor a priority.”
He continued, “The only priority the health department team is focused on right now is vaccine distribution to as many people as possible. And after that, time will tell but it will likely be the catching up of many preventative health services delayed due to the pandemic, along with the social and emotional repercussions we are just starting to skim the surface of.”
On Monday, March 8 the Princeton Health Department reported a continuing decline in cases, with just three new positive cases in Princeton in the past seven days, and 12 cases in the past 14 days.
As of Tuesday morning, March 9, New Jersey has administered 2,558,570 vaccine doses, including 1,688,812 first doses and 869,104 second doses. The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) received its first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved one-shot vaccine last week to join the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage, which makes it transportable to homebound individuals and others who cannot get to vaccination sites.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Monday, March 8, that fully vaccinated individuals can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or social distancing.
Currently eligible for vaccines are the following individuals: health care workers, residents and workers at long-term care and high-risk congregate-care facilities, first responders, individuals over 65, individuals 16-64 with medical conditions that increase the risk of severe illness from the virus, Pre-K to 12 educators and staff, and child care workers in licensed and registered settings.
Beginning March 29, frontline essential workers in the following categories are eligible for the vaccine: food production, agriculture, food distribution, eldercare, warehousing, social services support staff, elections personnel, hospitality, medical supply chain, postal and shipping services, clergy, and judicial system.
To receive a vaccine, individuals must first register through New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System (NJVSS) at covidvaccine.nj.gov. Princeton residents are encouraged to continue using individuals portals — such as CVS, RiteAid, and ShopRite — to make vaccine appointments, as well as other New Jersey COVID-19 vaccine locations listed at covid19.nj.gov.
The demand for vaccinations continues to exceed the supply in New Jersey, and delays and frustrations in scheduling appointments are likely to continue through March, but New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has predicted improvements by April, when he anticipates significant increases in the vaccine supply.
A Vaccinator Call Center at (856) 249-7007 will assist New Jersey residents 75 and older with registration and scheduling appointments.
Residents can also contact Princeton Human Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 688-2055 with technological issues or for assistance in Spanish or English.
As vaccinations proliferate and case numbers continue to decline, Grosser commented on the opening up process and the road ahead. “The easing of restrictions is certainly motivating,” he said. “And we will carry that motivation with us to the finish line of this pandemic. We have faith in the leaders at the CDC for the newly released guidance on indoor gatherings with other vaccinated individuals. We hope that while restrictions are lifted, residents continue to remember not everyone is vaccinated and they should still practice mask wearing and physical distancing until further direction.”