“Slingshot” Spike in Princeton COVID Cases
By Donald Gilpin
COVID-19 cases in Princeton, reported on November 29 by the Princeton Health Department, approached the December 2020 highest weekly and biweekly totals of the pandemic.
The Princeton Health Department on Monday reported 35 new cases in the previous seven days and 56 cases in the previous 14 days. The highest seven-day total of the pandemic was 39 in the second week of December last year, with 66 as the highest 14-day total registered during the second and third weeks of that month.
In announcing this “significant increase in cases” the health department pointed out that although cases are occurring in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, “there is a substantial difference in the severity of symptoms in those who are unvaccinated.”
For the week ended November 26, Princeton University reported 39 new COVID-19 cases and on November 26 announced an increase in required testing frequency, a 20-person limit on social gatherings, and a tightening of the mask mandate to require students to wear masks in all academic contexts for the rest of the semester. On Saturday, November 27, the campus risk status was raised from “moderate” to “moderate to high.”
“The past two weeks in Princeton we have seen a very abrupt trend change from where it appeared the Delta surge was bottoming out and now we are seeing a slingshot trend back up again,” said Princeton Deputy Administrator for Health and Community Services Jeff Grosser. “As a town we were averaging just about a case a day at our low point of the Delta surge (middle/end of October). Now we are seeing daily, weekly, and biweekly totals that compete with Princeton’s winter 2020 surge.”
Grosser went on to reflect on the uncertainties still involved in confronting the virus. “Although we have learned a tremendous amount during this pandemic about COVID-19 and how to best combat the virus individually and as a community, the nature and justification for COVID surges are still quite a mystery to epidemiologists,” he said, not the least of which mysteries, he later added, is the new Omicron variant that recently emerged in South Africa and is rapidly spreading across the globe.
Grosser emphasized the importance of the continuing drive for vaccinations, including boosters. “We are beginning to understand waning immunity from the COVID-19 vaccines after six to nine months of your initial series, which is why there is a big push for eligible individuals to receive their booster doses in order to restore their initial protection,” he said.
Grosser pointed out that COVID-related hospitalizations for Princeton residents are low and that the vaccine has succeeded in sharply reducing serious complications from the COVID-19 virus.
The vaccination rate for Princeton residents age 12 and over, as of November 16, is 82 percent, with booster rates now over 33 percent for those eligible (over age 18) and “increasing at a relatively high rate,” according to Grosser. The Princeton Health Department has not received statistics from the state on vaccination rates for the 5- to 11-year-old population, but Grosser noted that local pediatricians, the Princeton University vaccine clinics, and the health department clinics report as much or more interest from the 5- to 11-year-old group as there was for the 12- to 17-year-old age group, in which, according to the health department, 97 percent have received at least one dose.
The Princeton Health Department, Princeton University, and Mercer County are all hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics in the coming weeks. Registering for an appointment through the state scheduling system at covid19.nj.gov or by calling (855) 568-0545 is recommended, but in most cases not required.
Princeton Health Department clinics will take place on Wednesday, December 1, at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, from 4 to 6 p.m. and on Friday, December 3 at Griggs Farm, 205 Griggs Drive, from 2 to 4 p.m.
Princeton University will host Pfizer clinics open to the general public as well as University students, faculty, and staff on Wednesdays, December 1, 8, and 15 and January 5, from noon to 6 p.m., and Moderna clinics on Thursdays, December 2, 9, and 16, 12 noon to 3 p.m.
Mercer County, in partnership with Capital Health, will hold COVID-19 vaccination clinics at the CURE Insurance Arena, Gate A /South Broad Street entrance on Thursday, December 2, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Monday, December 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, December 7, noon to 6 p.m.; Monday, December 13, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, December 14, noon to 6 p.m.; Thursday, December 15, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and also pediatric-focused clinics on Thursday, December 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Tuesday, December 21, noon to 6 p.m.
Mercer County clinics will also take place in a heated tent next to the Trenton Farmers Market, 930 Spruce Street in Lawrence, on Friday, December 3, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday December 17, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a pediatric-focused clinic scheduled for Friday, December 10, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On the subject of the Omicron variant, Grosser noted that in the next week or two, as more people throughout the world are exposed to the variant, more evidence will be available as to whether the current vaccines will combat the Omicron variant effectively. “Currently there are no confirmed cases of the Omicron in New Jersey,” he said, “however, as we have learned throughout the pandemic, we have to be prepared for it to be here.”
He continued, “The good news behind these new variants of concern is that physical distancing, face masks, hand washing, and improved ventilation will continue to work. We are anxiously awaiting news from the CDC and N.J. Department of Health on how (if at all) this new variant changes our existing public health strategies.”
Grosser concluded his November 30 email on a philosophical note. “Throughout the pandemic there have been so many adjustments to our daily lives, and our outlook on the pandemic,” he wrote. “We are once more working through new infections of the pandemic, breakthrough infections, booster vaccinations, pediatric vaccinations, surges of cases, etc. We need to continue to look out for one another as we navigate the pandemic.
“Help your neighbors, help your school staff, help your local businesses, help your community. We have all observed many negative byproducts of this pandemic like increased stress, fatigue, depression and more. But there are positives as well, and we need to remind one another of that from time to time.”