COVID Concerns Loom as Fall Approaches
By Donald Gilpin
Talk of “coming out of the woods,” “flattening the curve,” and “achieving herd immunity” seems to have subsided, replaced by fears that with the Delta variant accelerating its spread, the fall might bring yet another wave of COVID-19 and that the world might be living with this pandemic for a long time.
New Jersey, with almost 60 percent of its population fully vaccinated, and Princeton with 77 percent of residents age 12 and over vaccinated, are not facing the same threatening surges in case numbers that are plaguing Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, but the outlook for the coming months and beyond is troubling. On Monday Princeton reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous seven days, 29 new cases in the previous 14 days.
“COVID is something that we all need to understand will be part of our lives forever, either through discovering and grappling with new variants or through memories of what has occurred throughout the past 17 months,” Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser wrote in an email Tuesday.
He continued, “Restrictions such as mask wearing and social distancing will likely be mobilized when needed. Communities need to swiftly adapt to changing community transmission. I believe COVID discussions will eventually become more commonplace, a bit more understood, which should lead us to a time somewhere down the road that COVID is not taking up everyone’s thoughts and efforts. It is going to take a tremendous amount of public health resources to get to that point.”
Grosser went on to reflect on the challenges that must be faced as the country adapts to the changing demands of the ongoing pandemic. “My comment on COVID is not meant to sound pessimistic about the outlook we face, particularly in a bleak period of rising COVID-19 infections,” he said. “It’s more of a statement of preparations for the community. We all need to stand ready to adapt to new infections, increased community transmission, and higher reinstated or newfound precautions we can take to thwart increases in severity of cases.”
He also suggested the possible need to refocus some goals and objectives with less focus on case numbers and more focus on prevention of hospitalizations and deaths. He emphasized the “ultimate goal” of more vaccinations, which are “proven to vastly reduce the severity of COVID-19.” Grosser noted that new case numbers have been increasing in Princeton this month, but “fortunately hospitalizations and deaths have not followed that same trajectory.”
Grosser commented on how the situation has changed rapidly this summer. “Just six weeks ago, the state and our region saw dramatically different conditions with regards to COVID-19 transmission,” he said. “Much of the state was in low/moderate activity, and locally Princeton was seeing one of the lowest transmission rates during the entirety of the pandemic. With increased transmission, return-to-school guidance continues to be revamped to ensure a safe return in September. Much of the guidance is dependent on community transmission.”
Grosser emphasized that there are many variables in how transmission can occur more rapidly or more slowly in different communities, but “what is certainly true is that social distancing and vaccinations will help save lives.”
School officials are facing some of the same frustrating situations and no-win decision-making that plagued them throughout the past school year. In spite of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s mandate for the coming year that all K-12 schools offer full-time, in-person instruction with no remote option, the New Jersey Department of Education last week stated that districts “are strongly encouraged to immediately provide virtual or remote instruction” to students who are quarantined.
The Princeton Health Department has advised Princeton residents to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated mask guidance. Due to the increase in cases and the Delta variant, the CDC recently advised that vaccinated individuals wear masks in public indoor settings and areas with high transmission rates, including crowded indoor settings, indoor settings in close contact with the unvaccinated or unknown vaccine status, and settings where immune-compromised or at-risk individuals are present.
The Princeton Health Department emphasizes that “the vaccines work,” and that “vaccination is our best path to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.” The department will be holding a vaccine clinic on Friday, August 27 at Hinds Plaza from 5 to 9 p.m. Princeton University will be offering vaccination clinics in Jadwin Gym on Wednesdays in September from 1 to 4 p.m., beginning September 1.
Mercer County Pop-Up Clinics will be taking place on Thursday, August 19 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mercer County Park Skating Center in West Windsor; on Friday, August 20 from10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Trenton Farmers Market; on Monday, August 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Millyard Park on Clinton Avenue in Trenton next to Roebling Market; on Thursday, August 26 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Mercer County Park Skating Center; and on Friday, August 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Trenton Farmers Market. Visit princetonnj.gov for more information.