By Donald Gilpin
Philadelphia has just announced the reinstating of its indoor mask mandate, the first major city in the country to do so, and as new COVID-19 case numbers rise locally and throughout the northeast many wonder if this is the start of a larger surge in infections.
Princeton Deputy Administrator for Health and Community Services Jeff Grosser wrote in an email, “As witnessed in other countries (UK and around Europe), the increase in cases sometimes demonstrates a ‘What’s to come?’ scenario, and I believe that’s where we are right now.” He cited the “extremely contagious BA.2 variant” as the primary cause of the uptick during the past month, “along with the relaxation of public health precautions and restrictions in places like schools and other indoor settings.”
Grosser continued, “We also have waning immunity among those who have received their booster more than four to six months ago,” but he went on to emphasize that despite the increase in cases there was no increase in severity of the outbreak or hospitalizations. “This does not discount the need for disease surveillance, but we need to keep this in mind when we talk about return of restrictions or closures due to increasing cases,” he said.
The Princeton Health Department on April 4 reported 45 new COVID-19 cases in the previous seven days, a total of 2,518 cases in Princeton since the start of the pandemic.
Princeton Public Schools (PPS) reported 31 new cases for the week ended April 8, 14 of those cases at Princeton High School. PPS had only 12 cases in the week ended April 1 and only seven the week before that. Princeton University reported a 4.02 percent positivity rate for the week ended April 2, with case severity remaining “mild.”
The transmission rate in New Jersey climbed to 1.29 on Tuesday, April 12, denoting a growing outbreak, with any number over 1 indicating that each new case is creating more than one additional new case.
The state’s seven-day average for new cases was up 37 percent from a week ago and up 64 percent from a month ago.
Grosser noted several top priorities for the Princeton Health Department among
current pressing issues. “Clearly the current outbreak is of top level priority, along with distribution of the recently approved second booster doses to those over 50 years of age or those with pre-existing medical conditions,” he said.
Other health department priorities include large-scale food distribution events involving department environmental health specialists and mitigation of Lyme disease, Princeton’s number one reported illness before the COVID pandemic. Health department investigations of Lyme illnesses have increased due to the increased outdoor activities of many residents during the pandemic.
“Public health is typically multitasking and adapting to the changing environment around us,” Grosser added.
As far as the upcoming holiday weekend is concerned, Grosser advised residents who will be traveling to do some research to determine the COVID activity level in the area they are traveling to. He recalled Easter 2020, at the start of the pandemic when family gatherings or travel of any sort was frightening and potentially dangerous.
“There were so many uncertainties back then, no vaccine, no therapeutics,” he said. “It’s hard to think about going back to that time and having to go through that again.”
He went on, “We need to continue to support one another and look out for those who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19. That includes informing those eligible for the second booster. I would argue that we are in an exponentially better place than we were that spring of 2020, which should continue to motivate us as we are working towards brighter days.”
The Princeton Health Department will be hosting free COVID-19 vaccine clinics on Wednesday, April 13, at Monument Hall from 3 to 5 p.m. and on Thursday, April 28, at La Mexicana on 150 Witherspoon Street from 5 to 8 p.m. Princeton University is hosting a vaccine clinic, free and open to the public, on Wednesday, April 20, at the Frist Campus Center in Multipurpose Room B from 1 to 4 p.m.