Record Number of New COVID Cases Reported
By Donald Gilpin
The Princeton Health Department on Monday announced the highest number of new COVID-19 infections in Princeton since the start of the pandemic almost two years ago.
There were 42 new cases in the previous seven days and 75 new cases in the previous 75 days, surpassing the highest previous totals of 39 for seven days and 66 for 14 days, registered a year ago in December 2020.
Princeton University reported a continuing “campus risk status: moderate to high” for the week of December 11-17, with 98 positive COVID cases out of 16,942 tests for a positivity rate of 0.58 percent.
Due to rising case numbers, the University on December 15 canceled or postponed all indoor gatherings with food and those where face coverings can’t be worn, then on December 16 announced that all undergraduate exams would be shifted to a remote format so that students could leave campus as soon as possible.
The University has also required all students, faculty, and staff who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster by January 31.
“The most recent increase in cases is likely a combination of Delta and Omicron,” said Jeff Grosser, Princeton deputy administrator for health and community services. “There is really no other way to explain why we would be experiencing such a quick take-off in cases.”
Little more than a month ago, in late November, Princeton had relatively few COVID cases, but as the colder weather, the holidays, and the Omicron variant all arrived the numbers rose rapidly.
“With Omicron accounting for 73 percent of new infections in the United States last week and an estimated 90 percent of new infections in the New York area, we have to assume it’s already here,” Grosser said. “The first wave of Delta impacted Princeton starting around mid-July, which peaked in early September and then began to retreat, but just momentarily, in early November.”
Grosser went on to speculate about possible causes for the rapidly rising infection rates. “Princeton has a very high vaccination rate, when compared to other similar towns, with the exception of our
19- to 29-year-old population, who we are continuing to work with. We understand there is vaccine breakthrough, particularly with those having waning immunity, which does explain the increase in COVID cases driven by Delta in late summer, early fall.”
He declined to offer any predictions on the future trajectory of the spread. “The most recent surge is not similar to that early fall increase and is likely caused by co-occurring variant infections,” he said. “We need to find out more information about whether or not this is due to the more contagious nature of Omicron, and where that will land us in the coming weeks.”
In the December 20 municipal newsletter the Princeton Health Department pointed out, “We have the right tools to fight Omicron,” emphasizing, “vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging.”
The newsletter added that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death and that scientists are currently investigating Omicron, including its effects on fully vaccinated people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinations for everyone 5 years and older, and boosters six months after vaccinations for everyone 16 and older.
The Princeton Health Department will be hosting COVID-19 vaccine clinics at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon on Thursdays, January 6 and 20, and February 3 and 17, and at La Mexicana, 150 Witherspoon Street, 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, January 27.
Mercer County COVID clinics, in partnership with Capital Health and Penn Medicine Princeton Health, will take place at the CURE Insurance Arena, Gate A, South Broad Street Entrance, in Trenton on Monday, December 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Tuesday, December 28, 12 noon to 6 p.m., as well as a pediatric-focused clinic on Thursday, December 30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mercer County will also host clinics in a heated tent next to the Trenton Farmers Market on Wednesday, December 29, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at the Mercer County Park Skating Center, Old Trenton Road, West Windsor on Thursday, January 6, 4 to 6 p.m.
Princeton University will continue to host Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccination clinics in Jadwin Gym through January. Pfizer clinics will be held on Wednesdays, January 5, noon to 6 p.m. and January 12 and 19, noon to 4 p.m. Moderna clinics will take place on Thursdays, January 13 and 20, noon to 4 p.m.
Appointments for all clinics are recommended but not required and can be scheduled through the NJ Vaccine Scheduling System, at covid19.nj.gov or call (855) 568-0545.
Grosser commented on the widespread disappointment people are feeling in the face of yet another virus surge and the looming prospects of another COVID winter.
“I keep hearing people say they didn’t think a year could get any worse after 2020,” he said. “Many residents have expressed concern that they expected this holiday season would be brighter, since they were vaccinated and able to be around loved ones with a better feeling of health security. Many of these residents skipped holiday gatherings last year and are contemplating doing that again.”
He continued, “We should continue to do our best to think about how much more we know now than we did last year. We are also a year into vaccinations that have undoubtedly decreased hospitalizations and deaths from COVID. The challenges our community has faced through the pandemic have been extremely difficult. My hope is that these difficult times continue to strengthen the relationships between our community groups and residents.”