February 17, 2021

Officials See Hopeful Signs, COVID Cases Down

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser has reported downward trends in COVID case numbers, with indications that the frustratingly slow vaccination rollout will be picking up speed.

From the peak of the second wave in late November and early December to last week, Princeton has seen a 71.2 percent decrease in the number of new cases, Grosser wrote in a February 16 email. “In general, cases have been consistently dropping since December 30, 2020,” he added, but he noted that the Latino population has been disproportionately affected by the virus.

“Unfortunately, we are still seeing the burden of COVID-19 being heavier on the Hispanic/Latino population than all other ethnic/racial groups,” he said. “Fortunately, through a two-year grant from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), the Princeton Health Department hired a vulnerable population outreach coordinator (VPOC). The VPOC will focus on making inroads on Princeton’s populations most impacted from the pandemic, and work towards improving their social and health outcomes as we progress away from what was hopefully the worst of the pandemic.“

Last Thursday, February 11, the Princeton Health Department reported only seven new cases in the seven previous days, down from the highest seven-day total of 39 new cases in December. As of last week, there had been 14 new cases in the previous 14 days, well below the highest 14-day total of 66, also recorded in December. The Health Department reported a total of 40 active positive cases. Hispanic residents have accounted for 27 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Princeton, according to the Health Department.

Princeton Press and Media Communications Director Fred Williams urged caution, warning that the current drop in case numbers is occurring from the highest levels of the pandemic. “So, while this is a welcome trend, we must continue with our COVID safety mindset.”

Williams predicted that increased vaccinations, improving weather and continuing masking, social distancing, and other prescribed measures would bring further improvements. “But make no mistake,” he added. “A vaccination alone doesn’t mean we are 100 percent in the clear just yet. We must continue our safety measures until we see solid evidence of a virus that has come under control.”

Williams acknowledged that the slow pace of vaccinations “has not been what any of us imagined,” and he pointed out that this has been a nationwide problem, not a local distribution network problem. “Efforts at the federal level of government and stepped-up manufacturing, along with other vaccines becoming available soon, are expected to address the supply chain issues that we are currently experiencing,” he said. “Please continue to be patient and continue to share information. Everyone who wants a vaccine will receive one.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, back to holding public events after quarantining for five days because of a family member who tested positive for COVID, reported on Tuesday, February 16, that COVID numbers in the state continue to trend downwards. 

The number of COVID patients in New Jersey hospitals, 2,411 as of Monday night, the lowest number since November 16, was down 38 percent from its peak on December 22. The seven-day average for new cases, 2,797, is down 8 percent from a week ago and down 48 percent from a month ago. The statewide transmission rate Tuesday was at 0.90, with a number below 1 indicating the outbreak is slowing. 

As of Tuesday morning, NJDOH reported 1,411,270 COVID vaccine doses administered in the state, 1,024,769 being first doses and 386,490 second doses. The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70 percent or more of its adult population, about 4.7 million residents, by the end of May. 

The Mercer County Division of Health announced last week that it had made changes to its vaccine distribution plan in accordance with a directive from the NJDOH. Local, town-based clinics have been relocated to one of Mercer County’s two vaccination sites, the CURE Arena, in partnership with Capital Health System, or Mercer County Community College’s West Windsor campus.

“Mercer County receives vaccine doses from the State Department of Health, and there are an extremely limited number of doses made available to Mercer County,” the announcement stated. “This is no fault of the county or the state, as the supply comes directly from the federal government.”

The announcement went on to note that to receive a vaccination from Mercer County, residents must first register into the state system at the New Jersey Vaccination Scheduling System (NJVSS) covidvaccine.nj.gov. Anyone on their town’s waiting list will be scheduled at the county-run vaccine clinics as appointments become available.

For those who received their first dose from a local health department clinic, second doses will be given at the same location as the first dose, and Princeton Health Department notes that if you have a second dose scheduled with them, you will receive that dose on the scheduled date.

Penn Medicine Princeton Health reported on Monday, February 15, that requests for vaccinations have “greatly exceeded our expectations and our available supply of vaccine.” Princeton Health has closed down its Request an Appointment web form until they can reasonably accommodate the requests coming in. “It may be a few weeks before this happens — unless we begin to receive larger quantities of the vaccine doses each week,” their press release stated.

The press release explained that the NJDOH receives an allotment of about 100,000 to 120,000 vaccine doses each week and distributes them to nearly 300 vaccination sites across New Jersey, including Princeton Health.

“Each Friday we find out how many doses we will receive on Monday,” the Princeton Health update continued. “Sometimes we receive between 500 and 1,000 doses, and sometimes we do not receive any. The state has instructed us to only schedule appointments according to the number of doses we will have on hand each week —not more than that. Since we know that we have enough to cover both doses for each person, when individuals arrive for their first dose, their appointment for a second dose is scheduled at that time.”

Princeton Health will post updates on its website at www.princetonhcs.org.