September 15, 2021

COVID Numbers Rise to January 2021 Levels

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Health Department on Monday reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous seven days, 42 new cases in the previous 14 days in Princeton, as infection levels continue to increase.

All 21 New Jersey counties are now listed as having high rates of COVID transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The statewide transmission rate is currently 1.01, with any number over 1 indicating that each new case is causing more than one additional case and that the outbreak is expanding. The CDC is recommending that people in all counties in the state wear masks in indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status.

“COVID-19 cases have been rising in the Princeton community to a level we observed in January 2021, approximately 3.25 new cases per day,” said Princeton Public Health Officer Jeff Grosser.

Attributing much of the problem to the Delta variant, Grosser noted that the United States is averaging 152,000 cases each day, close to four times the levels reported at this time last year. “Delta continues to circulate throughout the community, and public health has shared the devastating impact it has had in communities with lower vaccination rates across all demographics, particularly those 65 years and older.”

Grosser noted that the current surge is different from the surge of last fall and winter with transmission occurring more readily now. He added, “The vaccine has absolutely helped, and those who still get COVID-19 are likely to have milder, shorter illnesses and appear to be less likely to spread the virus to others.”

Six Princeton residents, with an average age of 85, have been hospitalized recently in vaccine breakthrough cases, Grosser reported. He urged people to “be aware of what the current guidance is; how to prevent transmission; how to protect ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors.”

As schools get underway in person for the fall term, with mask mandates for all and vaccine or frequent testing requirements for faculty and staff, Grosser acknowledged the challenges ahead in seeking to keep children and adults safe and in school.

“Schools have been really tested throughout this pandemic,” he said. “There is no question about that.” He referred to the new guidance from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) and the CDC, along with the governor’s Executive Order 251 requiring masks.

“What’s different this school year versus last is the presence of the highly transmissible Delta variant combined with mandatory in-person learning, which puts additional students and staff into enclosed spaces,” he said, noting health officials’ recommendation of outdoor activities (lunch, classes, snacks).

The Princeton Health Department is strongly supported by school nurses in continuing to closely monitor K-12 schools and all pediatric cases in town. “Princeton is fortunate to have an unbelievable school nursing team throughout the K-12 schools,” Grosser said. “The school nurses are the ones we as a department rely on so heavily in times of contact tracing, case investigations, and communication with teachers and administration.”

Grosser emphasized the importance of in-person learning to children’s academic and social development. “I think we have all learned a lot since last year between hybrid and remote learning,” he said. “There was a significant cost to our community, and particularly our children. Our goal is to make the return to in-person learning as safe as possible in the pandemic.”

The health department will be continuing vaccine clinics throughout the fall. Booster third doses have become a subject of controversy among health officials at the national level, but Grosser noted that the Princeton Health Department plans to have third doses, recommended six to eight months after full vaccination, available for the general public, beginning September 20. COVID-19 vaccinations for the 5-11 age group are expected to be approved by the end of the year, Grosser added.

Princeton University free walk-in vaccine clinics will continue to be offered to the general public in Jadwin Gym on Wednesday afternoons, September 15, 22, and 29, from 1 to 4 p.m. 

The Princeton Health Department is sponsoring free walk-in COVID-19 and influenza vaccine clinics on September 30 at the Princeton Farmers Market at 46-80 Franklin Avenue from 10 a.m. to  noon; on October 4 at Witherspoon Hall, 400 Witherspoon Street, from 3-6 p.m.; on October 19 at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, from 12-6 p.m.; on October 22 at La Mexicana, 150 Witherspoon Street, from 5-9 p.m.; on October 26 at the Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, from 5-7 p.m.; and on November 9 at Witherspoon Hall from 12 to 2 p.m.