May 6, 2020

Lockdown Continues,  But Town and State Start to Open Up

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Health Department (PHD) reported Tuesday a total of 133 COVID-19 cases in Princeton, with 61 active positive cases in isolation and 62 cases that have recovered. There have been 10 COVID-19-related deaths in Princeton, five of them at the Princeton Care Center (PCC) and two at Acorn Glen assisted living facility.

“We are continuing to see decreases where we want, hospitalizations and a decreasing percentage of new daily cases,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser. “This said, we need to continue to urge residents to stay vigilant. For the past seven weeks we have employed social distancing measures never seen before. After nearly six weeks of dedicated effort, just in the past several days we are seeing decreases in epidemiological metrics that demonstrate outbreak slow down.”

Princeton’s long-term care facilities, however, remain a major concern, with 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported at PCC and 14 positive tests at Acorn Glen, according to the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH).

“Unfortunately, we are continuing to see older adults succumb to COVID-19, particularly in long-term care centers,” Grosser wrote in an email. “COVID-19 is tragically severe in older populations.”

Grosser emphasized the complexity of the problem. “COVID-19 tends to have a high level of communicability with a relatively long onset of disease,” he noted. “One can be exposed and not become symptomatic for seven to 14 days after. This presents an issue in long-term care centers where there is constant interchange amongst staff and patients.”

PCC and Acorn Glen have, in following PHD instructions, separated individuals, both staff and patients, based on symptoms and potential exposures to confirmed COVID-19 cases. “The strategy has helped, but it isn’t the only answer,” Grosser said. “The facilities have to be vigilant about personal protective equipment, ensuring staff stay home if ill, and testing staff and patients for COVID-19.”

The PHD is following NJDOH long-term care facility guidance and communicating with each facility several times each day to help work through the outbreak.

Following Gov. Phil Murphy’s first steps to lift the lockdown last weekend in allowing parks and golf courses to reopen with restrictions, Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter reported that Princeton locals have been successful in handling social distancing and other restrictions.

“Princeton is doing great,” Sutter wrote in an email Tuesday. “Residents are taking the precautions very seriously and paying attention to all state and local mandates for their own protection. I am very glad that our residents are now able to responsibly enjoy our beautiful recreation areas as the weather becomes nicer.”

Sutter said there had been a few complaints about social distancing, but no enforcement issues so far.

In looking ahead to the gradual opening of businesses and other facilities, Sutter noted areas of possible concern. “As our town ‘opens up’ and more people use our roadways and once again visit our stores, restaurants, and attractions, challenges for our first responders will become more complex,” he said. “We are always planning four weeks ahead, so we are ready for these challenges.”

He continued, “One major priority is containing any outbreaks in our department to as few people as possible. With more contacts by our officers I have to assume the possibility of transmission increases to some extent. This becomes more difficult as call volume increases and we slowly come out of our continuity plan.”

The PPD had 14 officers quarantined at one point, but all have been released from quarantine without illness. “Safety of our officers and the public is the highest priority for us,” Sutter said.

Citing the help and guidance of the Princeton health officer and Board of Health, Sutter expressed confidence that “we will come out of this crisis in good shape and more prepared for challenges we will face in the future.”

The NJDOH on Tuesday reported 4,743 Mercer County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 and a total of 280 deaths from COVID-19 complications.

In his daily press briefing on Tuesday, Murphy announced that total COVID-19-related deaths had increased to 8,244 with 130,593 total cases, including 334 new COVID-19-related deaths and 2,494 new positive tests in New Jersey in the previous 24 hours.

He noted, however, that there is still a delay in reporting cases from the weekend, and the actual numbers of infections probably far surpass confirmed case numbers because of testing back-ups and the fact that the state is testing only symptomatic residents.

Murphy emphasized that the numbers of hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases has been steadily declining, a 36 percent drop from its April 14 peak, and that that number is a key indicator of progress. Of the 5,328 COVID-19 patients reported hospitalized Monday night, 1,534 were in critical or intensive care and 1,169 were on ventilators.

Murphy has ordered all New Jersey public and private schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber announced on Monday, May 4, that the University, which started its remote learning on March 23, would proceed with the fall 2020 semester as scheduled, but would wait until July to decide whether to proceed with classes virtually or with students back on the campus again.

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