December 15, 2021

Health Dept. Leads Battle Against COVID

By Donald Gilpin

Wednesday, December 15 has been proclaimed “Boost NJ Day,” celebrating the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccinations in New Jersey, but the news on the current state of the pandemic is mixed and the outlook going forward remains uncertain.

The Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly across the globe, but it’s still the Delta variant that assaults New Jersey, as cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise over the past three weeks. State health officials continue to urge unvaccinated residents to get the vaccine, and the vaccinated to get booster shots if they haven’t already. Only about 36 percent of New Jersey’s eligible residents have received a booster according to the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), but 44 percent of Princeton’s residents age 18 and over have booster coverage.

The Princeton Health Department on Monday, December 13 reported 33 new COVID-19 cases in the previous seven days, 57 new cases in the previous 14 days — close to the highest weekly and bi-weekly totals of the pandemic.

Princeton University reported 34 new cases out of 18,934 tests in the week of December 4-10, for a positivity rate of .18 percent and a continuing “moderate to high” campus risk.

The Princeton Public Schools (PPS) reported 11 new COVID-19 cases for the week ending December 10, including eight students and three staff members. That was the highest weekly total recorded in the PPS this school year.

Princeton Deputy Administrator for Health and Community Services Jeff Grosser expressed a mix of frustration and optimism in the battle that he and his department have been waging against COVID-19 over the past almost two years. He described frustration in assessing the current surge “after everything we have been through, the ups and downs of the pandemic,” but optimism in considering the high vaccination rates and the increasing numbers of booster doses.

“We all need to keep in perspective how drastic this recent surge would be without widespread access to vaccines and boosters,” he said. “As we continue to learn more about COVID-19, more predictable vaccine schedules will likely create more ‘normalcy’ in our society. Right now, there is an unsettled feeling of ‘what’s next?’ I think many of us believed that at this point we would have a clearer picture of the future.”

Grosser reflected on the hard work and achievements of the Princeton Health Department and its “incredible public health officials whose sole purpose each day is to protect and improve the health of the entire community.” He noted that in “the call to action of public health during the time of the pandemic,” the health department, thanks to grants from the NJDOH and the support of the mayor, Council, and municipal administrator, was able to hire two new public health staff to help in the fight against COVID-19.

Case investigators, contact tracers, and COVID-19 vaccine clinic support staff have included Bob English, Kathy Korwin, Lauralyn Bowen, Barbara Reeder, Nancy Ugalde, James Ferry, Julie Venema, Gwen Krol, Lynda Lee, Chip Sugg, Nancy Cukar, Ron DiLapo, Ethan Moss, and Nuria Diaz-Tena.

“Their selfless acts contribute to a continued success in the town’s battle against COVID-19, and I can’t express my gratitude enough,” said Grosser. “They continue to work tirelessly through a lingering pandemic and continue to step up to the challenges that are presented to us. This is an opportunity for them to get the credit they deserve for continuing to lead Princeton through this pandemic.”

Princeton University continues to host Pfizer and Moderna vaccination clinics in Jadwin Gym, open to the general public as well as University students, faculty, and staff.

Pfizer clinics will take place on December 15 and January 5, noon to 6 p.m.  There will be a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine clinic on December 16, from 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 December 15, 16, 20, and 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and on December 28, noon to 6 p.m. There will also be pediatric-focused clinics at the CURE arena on December 21, noon to 6 p.m., and December 30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mercer County COVID-19 clinics will also take place at the Mercer County Park Skating Center on December 16 and January 6 from 4 to 6 p.m.; on December 17 and 29 in a heated tent next to the Trenton Farmers Market, 930 Spruce Street in Lawrence, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and at the Ewing Senior Center, 999 Lower Ferry Road in Ewing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on December 20.