April 22, 2020

Officials, Residents: All In This Together

By Donald Gilpin

As health officials continue to work closely with the Princeton long-term care facilities in their battle with COVID-19, the Princeton Health Department (PHD) reported on Tuesday, April 21, a total of five deaths in Princeton, with 88 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 41 active positive cases.

Four of the five Princeton deaths have taken place at the Princeton Care Center, where there were 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 20. There have been seven confirmed cases at the Acorn Glen assisted living facility, according to the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) April 20 report.

“PHD staff have been working with these facilities on cohorting patients and staff in order to reduce disease transmission as much as possible,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser. Princeton health officials have also been working with the NJDOH in delivering updated guidance for PCC and Acorn Glen. “We will continue to work with these facilities in order to suppress the outbreak as much as possible under current conditions with limited testing available,” Grosser said.

Residents of those facilities testing positive are being isolated and PHD is working with the facilities to have all staff tested for COVID-19 and continuing to reinforce the facilities’ universal masking policy. Staff members with existing exposure to confirmed COVID-19 patients are being placed on quarantine.

The NJDOH reported on Tuesday, April 21 a total of 133 COVID-19-related deaths in Mercer County, 11 additional over the previous 24 hours, and at least 2,753 cases, an increase from 2,591 the previous day.

In his Tuesday, April 21 press briefing, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy reported 92,387 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, 3,643 new positive tests in the previous 24 hours, with 379 new deaths reported for a total of 4,753 COVID-19 related deaths in the state.

Out of 7,594 patients reported hospitalized with COVID-19 or suspected cases in the state as of 10 p.m. April 20, 1,930 were in critical or intensive care and 1,501 were on ventilators.

With hospitalizations beginning to decline, the curve flattening, and new cases occurring at lower levels, government and health officials are beginning to look to the post-surge future. “Locally our office of emergency management is beginning to discuss these options as well,” Grosser said.

He noted that the first phase of post-surge would involve a gradual movement away from reliance on physical distancing as the primary tool for controlling future spread. He emphasized, “To do this we need better data to identify areas of spread and the rate of exposure and immunity in the population; improvements in state and local health care system capabilities, public health infrastructure for early outbreak identification, case containment, and adequate medical supplies; and therapeutic, prophylactic, and preventive treatments and better-informed medical interventions that give us the tools to protect the most vulnerable people and help rescue those who may become very sick.”

Grosser cited a Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security study that called for thousands of additional paid or volunteer contact tracers as well as $3.6 billion in funding to state and territorial health departments in order to conduct contact tracing effectively, safely isolate those who are sick, and quarantine exposed contacts.

“More resources provided to public health will reduce the time it takes to bring the United States out of this pandemic,” Grosser wrote in an email. He emphasized the extraordinary resources available to the PHD with a Board of Health led by Dr. George DiFerdinando providing guidance, policy evaluation, and best practices.

“Participating in daily morning briefing calls and weekly updates to the Board of Health, Dr. DiFerdinando is the community’s doctor leading the town through this unprecedented time,” Grosser added. He also noted the importance of Princeton University’s shared resources and expertise in the community.

Due to COVID-19 testing that is backed up for several days and the fact that the state is testing only symptomatic residents, the total numbers of reported cases may not be entirely reliable. Grosser noted, “We are aware that the actual number of COVID-19 infections far surpasses those confirmed case numbers, locally, in New Jersey, and across the nation. As a result, antibody testing is going to prove extremely useful in demonstrating who has some type of antibodies or potential protection from COVID-19.”

For more information visit princetoncovid.org or covid19.nj.gov.