Health Dept. Juggles COVID, Other Priorities
By Donald Gilpin
With COVID-19 numbers apparently leveling off, the school year winding down, and summer arriving, the Princeton Health Department is juggling a full schedule of obligations to the community along with the need for ongoing COVID-19 monitoring.
Jeff Grosser, Princeton deputy administrator for health and community services, recently discussed the current challenges for the health department in adjusting to a new phase in the pandemic and a new workflow.
“For over two years everything has gone into the COVID-19 response,” he said. “Now, many of our annual obligations of regular food, youth camp, and pool inspections, along with investigating communicable disease outbreaks, are being worked into our existing COVID-19 workload.”
Grosser noted that many routine, cyclical responsibilities, like strategic planning, quality improvement, and workforce development, were back on the priority list. Public health professionals are now “working out how to budget pre-COVID responsibilities with the continued expectations of COVID-19 case investigations, outbreak cluster review, and guidance consultations to community stakeholders,” he said. “This, of course, is coupled with continued COVID-19 vaccination clinics.”
According to the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), the state’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday was down 16 percent from a week ago and up 54 percent from a month ago. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the daily average of new cases in New Jersey was down five percent over the previous 14 days, and in Mercer County the daily average was down nine percent over the previous 14 days.
The transmission rate for the state was most recently reported at 1.09 on Saturday, with any number over the benchmark of 1 indicating that the virus is spreading, with each new case leading to more than one additional case.
At Princeton Public Schools 71 new cases, including 43 at Princeton High School, were reported for the week
ending May 27, down from 92 in the previous week and 95 and 88 in the weeks before that.
Grosser recently reflected on the experience of the pandemic and its effects from the perspective of the health department. “When the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, we never imagined its effect and that we could still be facing it more than two years later,” he said.
He noted that the health department staff has communicated regularly about their workload “but also to make sure everyone is taking care of their own wellness.” Grosser discussed efforts to relate lessons learned from the pandemic to the department’s core values and its strategic plan.
He emphasized the importance for the health department to keep up to date on current guidance concerning vaccine approvals, mandates, and other COVID-19 information in order to communicate effectively with the public.
“The pandemic has shown the department the necessity of consistent and accurate information-sharing with the public,” he added. “As many Princeton residents have turned to the Princeton Health Department for support and guidance during the pandemic, this communication and reliability have been more important than ever.”
Along with effective communication, compassion has been reinforced as a top priority for the department. “While this has always been important to the staff, the pandemic has reminded Princeton Health Department of the importance of meeting people with compassion,” he said. “We’ve seen how the complexity of this pandemic has been intimidating for many, ourselves included.” The need for compassion has been reemphasized through the pandemic and will “remain at the forefront” for the health department staff, he added.
In addition to core values and lessons learned concerning the principles of knowledge, communication, compassion, as well as integrity and dedication, Grosser also mentioned the importance of collaboration and partnership, noting that the health department has worked closely with, and relied on, many different community stakeholders during the pandemic.
“These partnerships have helped the department to reach many of the target populations who may have struggled otherwise to get vaccinated,” said Grosser. “These partnerships have included many of the businesses and organizations in Princeton, the school systems, and community leaders in town. These partnerships are essential to maintain and improve as we continue to respond and recover from the pandemic.”