State of Emergency as COVID Cases Surge
By Donald Gilpin
With 287 new COVID-19 cases in Princeton in the previous seven days and 568 in the previous 14 days, Princeton Mayor Mark Freda and the Office of Emergency Management declared a state of emergency in Princeton on Monday evening, with face coverings required in public indoor spaces starting on Thursday, January 13.
“Since December 21, case counts have exploded at an exponential rate,” Princeton Deputy Administrator for Health and Community Services Jeff Grosser told Princeton Council members at a January 10 meeting. “The health department continues to see cases increase at a rate we haven’t seen in this pandemic before.”
To provide perspective, Grosser noted that the first case in Princeton was confirmed on March 10, 2020 and it took a year and a half after that, until July 15, 2021, to see as many cases as Princeton has seen in just the past three weeks.
“It’s a super-fast working variant that has exploded,” he said, “and a tremendous struggle for the health department locally. Expect January to be a pretty difficult month.”
Freda and the Office of Emergency Management stated that its Declaration of State of Emergency was made ”in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Princeton,” in the face of “the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.”
Under the new mandate masks will be required in restaurants, bars, gymnasiums, dance studios, recreation facilities, retail stores, cafes, supermarkets, convenience stores, places of worship, commercial establishments, salons, barbershops, banks, health care facilities, hotels, and government buildings and facilities. The order will remain in effect until January 31 unless modified or extended by further order.
The Princeton Health Department has recently been focusing its efforts on the most vulnerable population, those over 65 and individuals in congregate living situations. They have also been working with the area schools to assist with protocols, testing, and contact tracing.
“The emergency mask mandate will assist in community prevention,” said Grosser,
noting that area hospitals are feeling the effects of these case numbers at the rate of 20,000 to 30,000 new cases every day in New Jersey.
“As a community we need to understand that the next few weeks are going to be tough,” he added. “To help us get through it everyone needs to wear masks in public, and if you haven’t gotten your booster, please do that.”
Grosser pointed out that the severity of illness with the Omicron variant averages about 50 percent lower than with Delta, but that Omicron is up to three times more contagious.
All six Princeton Public Schools (PPS), following strict health protocols and mandatory quarantine periods, are continuing with in-person schooling though case numbers have risen sharply, with 96 infections among PPS staff and students reported in the week ending January 7.
Princeton University’s Campus Risk Status has risen to “High” with 446 positive cases and a positivity rate of 5.65 percent in the week from January 1 to 7. Students are scheduled to return to campus from winter break on January 14, with second semester classes starting later in the month. All students must have booster shots by January 31, in addition to COVID-19 vaccinations, and the University has requested that staff who can work remotely do so until January 31 to relieve pressure on campus testing and contact tracing programs.
As of December 27, the Princeton Health Department reported that 86 percent of Princeton residents ages 5 and older were fully vaccinated, and 57 percent of those 18 and over had received vaccinations and boosters.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that his statewide mask mandate in schools and day care facilities would continue for the foreseeable future, but his emergency pandemic powers and orders were set to expire at midnight Tuesday, January 11 with the state legislature refusing to allow a requested 90-day extension of those powers. It was anticipated that Murphy would declare a public health emergency in order to extend his pandemic powers.
Murphy pointed out that the unvaccinated account for more than 92 percent of total hospitalizations in New Jersey and that unvaccinated individuals are testing positive at a rate of more than 2 to 1 compared to the vaccinated.
The statewide transmission rate was 1.55 on Sunday and Monday, down from 1.61 on Saturday and a recent high of 1.92 on January 1, with the declining numbers a cause for optimism that the current surge might be starting to slow. Any rate over 1 indicates that infections are increasing.
Mercer County has teamed with the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) to offer free COVID-19 testing at CURE Insurance Arena, 81 Hamilton Avenue, Trenton from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on every week day except Thursday, January 13 and Thursday, January 20 through the month of January. To find other testing locations in the area, visit covid19.nj.gov.
The Princeton Health Department is offering COVID-19 vaccination clinics on Thursdays, January 20 and February 3 and 17, at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.; and on Thursday, January 27, at La Mexicana, 150 Witherspoon Street, 5 to 8 p.m.
Princeton University will continue to host Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Jadwin Gym on Wednesdays January 12 and 19, 12 to 4 p.m., and Moderna clinics on Thursdays, January 13 and 20, 12 to 4 p.m.