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COVID-19 Update: New Case Growth Soars

Herald 11.18.20 pg3.jpg

By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
COURT HOUSE – Since the county recorded its first case of COVID-19 infection March 18, 2,186 residents had confirmed cases of the disease. 
In 16 days of November, 24% of the total number of cases since March were reported. Each day is bringing new case numbers that exceed any the county saw from the pandemic’s start.
State health officials said that this fall second wave, combined with fatigue with social distancing protocols, is likely to result in continued growth in the virus’s spread, placing rising pressure on medical facilities following a two-week lag from the height of the infections.
Gov. Phil Murphy responded with new restrictions. Maximum participation in indoor gatherings was lowered from 25 to 10. Bars and restaurants are required to close indoor service at 10 p.m. Interstate youth sports games were banned. Municipalities and counties are empowered to institute curfews if they feel such a move would slow the spread. 
The problem with the measures is that they require public support if they are to have any chance at impacting spread. With holidays approaching and a population weary of isolation and distance, the support for months more of this public health regimen is waning. 
Contact tracing data shows that the virus spread is being facilitated by unprotected small house gatherings, not crowded teen parties, or large gatherings at social venues. Enforcement of health measures in this environment is largely voluntary.
In Cape May County, the rising number of infections is not random. 
Ocean City Nov. 16 had more active cases than any other county municipality. 
Ocean City Oct. 15 had seven active cases of COVID-19 infection. One month later, it has 83, with 20 of those among the vulnerable long-term care population. 
In that same period, the four communities that collectively comprise the Wildwoods went from six cases Oct. 15 to 76 a month later.
The mainland population centers of the county one month ago accounted for over 75% of all active cases. 
They now represent a fraction over 50%. While all areas have seen rising case numbers, some of the county’s island towns have seen more rapid increases than any other county communities. 
So far, COVID-19 deaths have not grown with the new case numbers, but it may be too early to know the full impact of the new case surge on mortality. The past week added three new fatalities, bringing the county’s total to 99.
Non-resident case growth tapered off with eight non-resident cases reported in the last week. Since the county began reporting cases among non-residents in mid-June, there have been 415. These are listed, but not part of the daily total of resident cases the county Health Department provides.
The county does not supply health metrics other than new case counts. State metrics, some of which are specific to the group of seven southern counties, offer little reason to expect a change in the virus’s spread soon. 
The state positivity rate, which measures positive test results against all test results, stood at 9.43% Nov. 16.  In the seven southern counties, the rate was 10.67%. This is more than twice the level the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sets as a threshold to safely reopen a community. 
The number is also a sign that spread is occurring faster than test capacity is increasing. Moves to increase the opportunities for county residents to be tested were announced.
Vaccine news this week was favorable. Two sets of trials, for Moderna and Pfizer, are reporting high levels of protection. The problem is distributing a vaccine to the larger population is, according to experts, months away, something to look for this spring.
For now, officials warn that health protocols many people have grown tired of remain as the only defense against an increasingly aggressive virus.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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