March 17, 2021

New Jersey Vaccinations Pass 3M; “Pivotal Weeks” Ahead, Says Grosser

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Health Department announced on Monday, March 16, just six new positive COVID cases in the previous seven days, and 11 in the previous 14 days. With New Jersey vaccination numbers rising rapidly, Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser acknowledged grounds for optimism.

“I think we are getting there based on case counts and the increasing distribution of vaccine,” he wrote in a March 16 email. “The next 2-3 weeks are going to be pivotal, as much more vaccine is expected to be delivered to New Jersey and Mercer County.”

He emphasized the need for both haste and caution, as the COVID spread remains unpredictable. “The variants that have become increasingly more impactful in Europe will be a larger concern here in the United States if a larger percentage of the population isn’t vaccinated in a short period of time,” he warned. “Therefore, as more vaccine is delivered, more clinic locations will be necessary to increase total throughput.”

Grosser looked towards the summer and beyond and emphasizing the importance of other vaccinations in addition to the COVID-19 doses that have been in the spotlight.  “Everyone is looking forward to a more normal summer and fall, but as we have learned throughout the pandemic, uncertainties will always exist. We know the vaccine is helping this reduction in new cases. As long as vaccine distribution stays at the forefront of our priorities, restrictions will be slowly drawn back.”

Aside from the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Grosser cites “a drastic decline in other vaccinations provided to children nationwide over the last 12 months.” The health department is urging parents to ensure that their children are up to date with all of their other necessary vaccinations.

“Our office is restarting our immunization audits of both private and public schools,” Grosser said. “Our vaccine program, in partnership with Capital Health, provides free health services to under- and uninsured children in Princeton.”

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) reported on Tuesday, March 16, that the state has administered more than 3 million vaccine doses, with a total of 3,058,178, including more than two million first doses and more than one million second doses. “In just two weeks, we’ve delivered another one million shots into arms,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wrote Monday on Twitter. “We’re vaccinating New Jersey as quickly and equitably as possible.”

On Monday, New Jersey also formally expanded COVID vaccine eligibility to transportation workers, public safety personnel, members of tribal communities, migrant farmworkers, and homeless individuals, and added 11 pre-existing conditions to the eligibility list. Other essential workers, including restaurant employees, will become eligible on March 29.

New Jersey is preparing to allow restaurants, bars, casinos, gyms, personal care services, and amusement venues to increase their capacity to 50 percent beginning this Friday, March 19.

The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) has announced funding to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and information for Trenton communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

Teaming up with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, and Trenton Health Team, with support from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) ELC grant program, LALDEF will be using the grant and partnership support to help ensure that immigrant communities in Mercer County have reliable information about COVID-19 in Spanish and English and access to testing and vaccines.

“We recognize that communities of color and other vulnerable groups have suffered more serious illness and death from COVID-19, yet often have fewer opportunities for testing and vaccines,“ said Robyn D’Oria, chief executive officer of Central Jersey Family Health Consortium, which is partnering with the NJDOH. “We believe these grants will help bring critical resources to people needing them most.”

LALDEF Interim Director Lorraine Goodman added, “LALDEF is thrilled to participate in this collaboration, which will save the lives of our immigrant neighbors — many of whom have provided the essential services we have all relied on over the past year. Health equity raises all of us; it is not a zero-sum game.”

LALDEF’s initiatives will include developing written materials in English and Spanish to be disseminated around the community and flyers posted on social media sites and distributed via text messaging; assisting residents with vaccine pre-registration; working with Catholic Charities to develop LALDEF’s headquarters as an out-post for its Virtual Exam Room and as a vaccination site; and hosting information webinars in Spanish and broadcasting through Zoom and Facebook. 

HomeFront announced last week that in the past pandemic year it had doubled its distribution of food and basic essentials to the local community, providing more than $1 million in back rent and more than one million diapers.

“Distributing over a million dollars towards back rent, and a million diapers, wipes, and meals were milestones that amazed even us,” said HomeFront CEO Connie Mercer. “But I’m most proud that our continued focus was on ‘one family at a time.’ With each new family we meet, our priority is to assess all of the obstacles standing in the way of that family becoming self-sufficient and create a customized plan that wraps them in needed services.”

HomeFront’s “one family at a time” philosophy guided the nonprofit organization, which is based in Ewing and Lawrenceville, as it created new programs this past year to meet the greatly increased level of community need during the pandemic. 

HomeFront offered children’s programming, along with delivering meals several times a week to families living at local area motels. “Our staff also spent the time to develop relationships with the families so families would understand they still have a connection to the broader community, they would still feel heard,” said HomeFront Chief Operating Officer Sarah Steward.

Mercer emphasized the help HomeFront had received during the past year from members of the community, sister-agency partnerships, and government grants, and she looked to challenges ahead.  “A year ago, we were calling local restaurants during the first week, because we were terrified we would lose our existing food supply,” she said.  “We’ve come a long way. With the eviction crisis looming, we know the hardest part is still in front of us, but we will approach it the same way, one family at a time.”