December 23, 2020

COVID-19 Vaccinations Proceed, New Cases Remain High in Princeton

By Donald Gilpin

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have arrived in the state, along with some signs that the second wave of COVID-19 is starting to level off, but new cases in Princeton remain high, and local authorities are issuing stern cautionary advice for the coming days and weeks.

The Princeton Health Department on Monday, December 21, reported a record total of 64 new cases in the previous 14 days, with 35 new cases in the previous seven days, short of the highest seven-day total of 39 reported last week. According to Monday’s report, there was a total of 50 active positive cases in Princeton and 30 total hospitalizations.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that the state’s transmission rate had dropped below 1, to 0.99, the lowest rate since September 3 and the eighth consecutive daily decline.  Since any number over 1 means that each infected person is spreading the virus to more than one other person, getting the rate below 1 is crucial to stopping the spread.

The Princeton Council and mayor, in their Princeton COVID-19 Update, have written that “happy, healthy holidays call for new traditions,” with indoor gatherings presenting a high risk for transmission at a time when the health department and hospitals are under the pressure of handling the increase in cases and coordinating the vaccine distribution.

“The holidays, cold weather, and COVID fatigue may make it tempting to get together, but you are putting yourself, your loved ones, and our health care system at risk,” the newsletter stated. “The end is in sight. Please act responsibly now so we can all benefit from the vaccine. This is the year to get creative with virtual get-togethers and time spent with the people in your immediate household.”

The Princeton Health Department, as part of the Mercer County Health Officers Association, is in the process of obtaining and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Hospitals have been vaccinating their staff and patients, and long-term care facilities plan to administer vaccines the week of December 28. The first series of local clinics, also scheduled for next week, will focus on local emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, other community health care workers, and public health professionals.

“The Princeton Health Department is doing its best to maintain quality contact tracing to stomp out new clusters in town as we prepare for the rollout of the Moderna vaccine next week,” Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser wrote in an email on Tuesday, December 22. Grosser suggested that this first distribution would last into mid- or late-January before health officials move into the next phase of distribution.

The next priority group (1B) will be seniors ages 75 and older and frontline essential workers, probably including other first responders, teachers, public transit employees, and grocery store staff. The third phase (1C) will probably include seniors ages 65 to 74, people 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, and other essential workers. Eventually pharmacies, urgent care centers, and doctors’ offices will serve as additional vaccine sites. 

“Local health departments are one piece of the puzzle to vaccinate the state’s goal of 70 percent of the adult population in six months,” the Princeton Health Department wrote in a December 18 press release. “This collective effort will ensure that our residents are provided with the opportunity to receive their vaccination in a timely manner and in a safe medical setting.”

Murphy also announced on Monday, December 21, that about 500,000 New Jersey residents would receive the vaccine in the coming month. As of Friday, December 18, 2,149 New Jersey health workers had received the Pfizer vaccine. The first doses of the newly approved Moderna vaccine arrived in the state Monday.

The Princeton Health Department needs medical and non-medical personnel —including registered vaccinators and translators, as well as greeters and people to assist with data entry and flow control — to help with upcoming vaccine clinics. For more information, email Ethan Moss of the Princeton Health Department at