October 6, 2021

Health Dept. Sees COVID Cases “Plateauing”

By Donald Gilpin

With 12 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the previous seven days and 29 cases in the previous 14 days, Monday’s report from the Princeton Health Department looked promising to Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser, but he was not making any predictions.

After surges in case numbers in Princeton in July and August, September’s final totals were down 21 percent from the previous month. “Our weekly and biweekly case counts are a little under 50 percent of our peak witnessed in the second week in September,” said Grosser, “but I’m more and more skeptical of predictions of what the virus will do next within communities.”

He continued, “So much has been learned with the recent surge of cases, including how quickly things can change with this virus.” He emphasized the importance of trying to increase vaccination rates worldwide, along with keeping a close watch on new variants and their trajectories.

Grosser went on to discuss the three main surges of cases — spring 2020, winter 2020-21, and late summer 2021 — noting that Princeton generally followed the regional/state pattern, but lagged two or three weeks behind with its surges and declines.

“We know that the vaccinations have drastically reduced severe illness, hospitalizations, and death,” he said. “What we are still determining is the ebb and flow of the virus and how we as a community can prevent or slow down surges. Yes, masks, physical distancing, and capacity restrictions work, but ultimately the virus will impact anyone vulnerable so long as there are still cases circulating. The key is decreasing that vulnerable number by getting vaccines into arms.”

Grosser pointed out that a local vaccination rate of 98 percent in those 65 and over has helped to keep the hospitalization rate low and that high vaccination rates among middle school and high school children have “dramatically assisted our schools in identifying exposure points.”

He added, “I want to give a shout out to our Princeton schools for completing their first month in person during the pandemic with full classes. School administrators, teachers, parents, and especially our school nurses have been working extremely hard to keep kids in school safely.”

The Princeton Health Department has seen “an overwhelming interest” in booster shots for those eligible for Pfizer, and the health department expects the same when J&J and Moderna are approved for

booster doses. “I don’t believe it will be long before we see booster recommendations for Moderna and J&J,“ Grosser said, “and we stand ready to add these vaccine types to our COVID-19 vaccine clinics.”

His advice for the Princeton community is: “Get a flu shot! The coming months of fall and winter are going to be a full court press for flu shots and COVID boosters.”

On Tuesday, the New Jersey state seven-day average for newly-confirmed cases was at 1,520, down 15 percent from a week ago, and the statewide transmission rate fell to 0.88 after three days at 0.91, with a transmission rate below 1 indicating that the outbreak is contracting rather than expanding.

The Princeton Health Department has announced free walk-in COVID-19 and influenza vaccine clinics in October and November at Mr. Rogers’ Free Store, 46-80 Franklin Avenue, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on October 13 (only COVID-19 vaccines available); at the Princeton Senior Resource Center on Stockton Street, 12-6 p.m. on October 19; at La Mexicana, 150 Witherspoon Street, 5-9 p.m. on October 22; at the Princeton Public Library on Witherspoon Street, 5-7 p.m. on October 26; at Stone Hill Church, 1025 Bunn Drive, 10 a.m. to  noon on November 4; and at Witherspoon Hall, 400 Witherspoon Street, noon-2 p.m. on November 9.

Princeton University will continue to host COVID vaccination clinics in Jadwin Gym on Wednesdays, October 6, 13, and 20 from noon-3 p.m. for the Pfizer vaccine, and on Thursdays, October 7, 14, and 21 from noon-3 p.m. for the Moderna vaccine. Members of the public as well as the University community are welcome. Appointments are not required.

People are eligible for third doses, starting 28 days after their second dose, if they received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and are moderately to severely immunocompromised. 

People are eligible for boosters, starting six months after their second dose, if they received two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and are 65 or older or a long-term care resident or 18 years old or more with high risk of severe COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions or workplace exposure. 

Booster doses of Moderna or Johnson & Johnson have not yet been approved for the expanded general population, only third doses, which are being administered to immunocompromised individuals.

Johnson & Johnson announced Monday that it will be seeking FDA authorization  for a booster shot, and the FDA has scheduled an October 15 meeting of its expert advisory committee to discuss whether to grant emergency use authorization of a booster shot of the vaccine.