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Covid Numbers Continue Upward Climb

chart covid cases

By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – Cape May County’s Dec. 17 report on the status of Covid infections detailed a significant growth in new cases. The report showed 449 new cases in the last seven days, which brings the past three weeks total of new cases to 1,100, which is over 50 new cases a day over three weeks. 

The county also reported 707 active cases in the community, not including 18 active cases at the Coast Guard Base in Cape May. There are no reported cases in long-term care facilities. There were also two new Covid related fatalities. 

Over two out of three of the active cases are in mainland municipalities. One would expect the higher population centers to account for higher numbers of cases. Yet, the five mainland towns account for 69% of the active cases and only 63% of the permanent population.  

Lower Township, for example, is 23% of the county’s population, but 27% of the active cases, with 191 cases. The higher vaccination rate among the older populations in the island communities may contribute to a lower proportion of cases in the resorts. 

Variants  

The upturn in cases in the county, and the nation, since mid-November is almost entirely attributable to the delta variant, which remains the dominant variant.  

The new omicron variant is making headway and is expected to become the dominant variant by mid-January. The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveillance data for the New Jersey and New York region place omicron at 13% of the sequenced tests. 

Omicron, first sighted in South Africa, has so many mutations that researchers are scrambling to understand what drugs might work on it and how frequently it can lead to serious illness. 

What is known is that scientists and health officials say the omicron variant is potentially 70 times more transmissible than delta. Emerging research suggests that several anti-viral drugs may not be useful in treating disease caused by the new variant. Breakthrough cases are also seen as more likely with omicron since the variant does a better job than delta of evading both vaccine and disease immunity. 

Scientists working on the new variant have urged the public not to dismiss the omicron threat just because early indications showed it less likely to lead to serious complications. They explain that if the prospect of serious illness is significantly lower, but the number of cases is exponentially higher, then the prospect of high numbers of seriously ill individuals is still possible. 

Hospitalizations across the state have begun to reflect the recent uptick in delta cases. In the seven-county southern region Dec. 1, there were 296 hospitalized Covid patients. By Dec. 17, that number had risen to 479.  

At Cape Regional Medical Center Dec. 6, there were five Covid patients. As of Dec. 17, the hospital reported 15 Covid patients. Of the 15 patients, nine had not received the vaccine and six were vaccinated. 

Risk Level Raised 

Statistics from the Covid Act Now tracking site bolster the argument that the public should take the recent upturn in cases seriously and use precautions like maintaining social distances and masking when at indoor public places. 

Covid Act Now has for several weeks listed Cape May County as a location of very high risk for contracting Covid. With the upturn in cases over the last three weeks, the designation has been increased to severe risk, Covid Act Now’s highest classification of risk. 

Officials say the high number of individuals who have been vaccinated has helped keep the current upturn in cases from overwhelming medical facilities. The CDC reports just under 70% of Cape May County’s population is fully vaccinated and 22,460 individuals have received the booster shot. 

Precautions Urged 

One week before families and friends gather for the Christmas holidays, this latest county report may give pause. Almost two years since the first Covid cases were identified in New Jersey, the public is again being asked to observe precautions.  

The advice coming from the public health community is to get the vaccine and booster as the best protection against serious complications. The number of infections is predicted to get worse in the coming weeks as omicron increases its presence. 

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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