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Thursday, July 18, 2024

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COVID-19 Update: CMCo Nears High-risk Category for Transmission

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By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
COURT HOUSE – The Cape May County Department of Health Nov. 20 informed county school superintendents that the southeast region may be moving into a high-risk level for COVID-19 community transmission. The region is made up of Cape May, Atlantic, and Cumberland counties.
A high-risk designation is one in which schools are advised to consider going to all-remote education. If they elect to maintain a level of in-person instruction, additional requirements related to cleaning and disinfecting, as well as restrictions on activities that promote close interactions, must be observed.
The risk of community spread of the virus has been climbing for several weeks. In the first three weeks of November, the surge in new cases among county residents equaled 35% of the total of all such cases in the county since the first March 18. For the past week, new cases reported among residents averaged 50 per day.
A reported case on a given day does not mean the infection occurred in the previous 24-hour period. The daily reported numbers of positive cases include testing specimens collected on several dates. The result is a rapidly rising new case count.
The state COVID-19 Activity Level Report for the week ending Nov. 14 shows a positivity percentage for the three southeast counties of 8.33%, a level that is approaching the double-digit percentages in the northern counties. 
The COVID Act Now tracking system places Cape May County’s infection rate at 1.26, meaning that active cases are rising rapidly. The statewide rate of transmission stands at 1.32.
These metrics are much higher than their desired threshold levels. 
This week, just over 200 county individuals were removed from quarantine, but the active case total continued to rise, as new infections rose faster than the progress in removing patients from quarantine. 
Active cases of COVID-19 infection in the county Nov. 23 stood at 545. One month ago (Oct. 23), the active case total was 109. 
With two vaccines likely to earn emergency approval and others getting close to requesting approval, attention is turning to the logistics and priorities involved in distribution. 
State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli projects that New Jersey may receive around 460,000 doses of two different vaccines between the third week in December and mid-January. 
Given an already stated priority to vaccinate the state’s 600,000 health care workers, the availability of the vaccine for the public is not likely before late spring. 
The vaccine news has little or no bearing on what will happen with the virus in the next few months.
The state’s new restrictions on gatherings came as families normally join for Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas. Long lines at airports are one indicator that many individuals are going to opt for close contact with family and loved ones. How safely that can be done may determine the case numbers that are likely to be seen in early December.
This week saw one additional county fatality, a 64-year-old Middle Township woman. The official count of COVID-19 fatalities in the county stands at 100.
The death rate from COVID-19 infection has been improving. According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the death rate from the disease moved from 0.9% to 0.6%. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the death rate from seasonal influenza is 0.1%.
The improvement in the death rate from COVID-19 is generally thought to be due to two main factors: a broadening of the infected population to include many more young adults, who are less likely to develop serious complications from the disease and significant improvements in treatment, as the medical community learns better patient management for what was an unknown disease in the spring.
State and local health officials are concerned that rapidly rising case counts could lead to overburdened medical facilities, straining the quality of care. 
The IHME states there is an observed 17 to 21-day lag between infection and death for those who will succumb to the virus. 
A particular concern is a rise in cases among those most likely to experience severe complications. As recently as 10 days ago, the active case count among patients at county long-term care facilities stood at five. The number grew to 40, as of Nov. 23. 
Measures limiting social gatherings, encouraging mask-wearing and social distancing, and restricting nonessential business hours and capacities are promoted by health officials as the only viable path for reducing the virus’s spread.  
These measures encountered pockets of strong resistance from some members of the public who are concerned about the accumulating impact of the measures on the local economy. Others resist government intrusion into what they see as an area of personal accountability.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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