October 20, 2021

COVID Cases Down, As Princeton Prepares For Colder Weather, Upcoming Holiday Season

By Donald Gilpin

As the cold weather arrived last fall, activities moved indoors, holiday social gatherings proliferated, and the COVID-19 pandemic saw its greatest surge in cases. From December 12-18, 2020 Princeton registered its highest seven-day total of 39 new cases and, from December 8-20, 2020, its highest 14-day total of 66 new cases.

This year’s weather, movement indoors, and holiday social gatherings are likely to resemble last year’s activity, but the pandemic may see only a slight rise in case numbers rather than a surge in the closing months of 2021, according to health authorities.

“From the national and local perspective, it appears cases of Delta have peaked,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser. “Holiday travel and more indoor socializing as the weather gets colder will likely contribute to scattered localized outbreaks throughout the winter. That’s the general sense of what public health experts predict at least.”

Expressing a mix of optimism and uncertainty, Grosser continued, “There is some concern that the rapid rise followed by a quick decline could rebound to a plateau at a considerable level, which could be problematic. This is what we are keeping an eye on of course as we continue to navigate not only the upcoming holidays, but continue to work through the 2021-22 school year.”

In an email Tuesday, he wrote, “Fortunately, Princeton has seen this considerable decline to levels we were observing back in early July (before the Delta surge). We are learning every day about how surges act from various variants and how we can continue to protect our residents through these changes.”

The Princeton Health Department reported on Monday, October 18, a total of seven new COVID-19 cases in the previous seven days, 24 in the previous 14 days. Among Princeton residents, 81 percent of those 12 and over are vaccinated — 80 percent of those 18 and over, 98 percent of those 65 and over, and 100 percent of those age 80 and over, according to the health department.  Grosser also pointed out the “exemplary vaccination rate” of 95 percent for Princeton residents from 12 to 17 years of age and the lowest vaccination rate (of those currently eligible) of 65 percent among Princeton’s 18- to 29-year-olds.

“We have discussed the topic of protecting our most vulnerable throughout this pandemic,” Grosser wrote. “Of course it’s important to protect everyone, but it is extremely vital for those at greatest risk of severe COVID complications to get vaccinated. New statistics on the efficacy of COVID vaccines continue to emerge, but the overwhelming benefit is the ability of the vaccine to drastically reduce hospitalizations and deaths linked to COVID infections.”

Grosser noted that he expected 5- to 11-year-olds to be approved for COVID vaccination soon. “Once that occurs, our office will be coordinating with local pediatric offices and Princeton schools to provide convenient clinic hours for families,” he said.

Monday’s report from the New Jersey Department of Health noted the seven-day average for positive COVID-19 tests in the state at 1,307, down 7 percent from a week ago and down 31 percent from a month ago. The transmission rate for the state declined to 0.92 from 0.93 the day before, with any transmission rate below 1 indicating that the outbreak is not expanding, as each infected person is passing the virus to fewer than one other person.

Booster doses of Moderna or Johnson & Johnson have not yet been approved for the general population, but health authorities expect approval for specific population groups within the next week. Pfizer boosters are currently available, at least six months after completion of the primary series, to help increase protection for: people 65 years and older and long-term care residents; people 50-64 with underlying medical conditions; people 18-49 with underlying medical conditions, depending on individual benefits and risks; and people age 18-64 who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional settings. 

Examples of workers eligible for Pfizer booster shots include first responders, education staff, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, corrections workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit workers, and grocery store workers.

For the week ended October 15, Princeton University — with vaccination rates of 99 percent for undergraduates, 98 percent for graduate students, and 96 percent for faculty and staff (with a limited number of medical and religious vaccination exemptions granted) —reported a “low” campus risk status. The campus positivity rate was 0.07 percent with nine positive cases out of 13,634 tests.

The Princeton Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard for the week ended October 15 reported five student cases — four at Princeton High School and one at Princeton Middle School — and no staff cases, and a cumulative total of 23 cases for the school year so far.  As of Monday, all New Jersey school employees and state workers must show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or be tested at least once or twice a week.

The Princeton Health Department is offering clinics for COVID-19 and influenza vaccines on Friday, October 22 at La Mexicana, 150 Witherspoon Street, 5-9 p.m.; on Tuesday, October 26, at Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, 5-7 p.m.; on Thursday, November 4, at Stone Hill Church, 1025 Bunn Drive, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.; and on Tuesday, November 9, at Witherspoon Hall, 400 Witherspoon Street, 12-2 p.m.

The COVID-19 vaccine is free to everyone, with or without health insurance. The influenza vaccine is free only to uninsured Princeton residents. If you have health insurance you need to bring your insurance card/information to receive the vaccine, and your insurance company will be charged.

Mercer County COVID-19 vaccination clinics will take place on Thursday, October 21, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.at the CURE Insurance Arena (outside Gate C) in Trenton; on Friday, October 22, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Trenton Farmers Market, 960 Spruce Street; on Monday, October 25, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Millyard Park, 635 South Clinton Avenue (next to Roebling Market) in Trenton; on Tuesday, October 26, 10 a.m. -2 p.m., and on Thursday, October 28, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m., at the CURE Insurance Arena; and on Friday, October 29, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Trenton Farmers Market.

Princeton University will continue to host COVID vaccination clinics at Jadwin Gym until mid-December. Pfizer clinics will take place on Wednesdays from 12-3 p.m. on October 20; November 3, 10,  and 17; and December 1, 8, and 15. Moderna clinics will continue on Thursdays, from 12-3 p.m. on October 21; November 4, 11, and 18; and on December 2, 9, and 16. Members of the public, as well as the University community, are welcome to be vaccinated at the clinics.