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Covid Update: Progress, Frustration Go Hand in Hand

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By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.

COURT HOUSE – The daily Covid report Jan. 25 from the county may be a sign that the post-holiday surge is beginning to ebb. For the first day in weeks, the number of active cases no longer hovered near 600. It stood at 550, as of Jan. 25, a level the county has not seen in three weeks. That number is high in terms of 10 months of reports, but it is down over 8% from the previous week. 

The county reported 340 new cases this past week (Jan. 19-25) and removed 379 residents from quarantine. January, with just under a week to go, accounted for almost 25% of all cases reported in the county since the start of the pandemic. 

This week, the county also experienced 10 new Covid fatalities, with the total virus-related death toll at 162. 

All of this says the virus is ongoing, and health precautions remain the best available course of action. The vaccine is here, but limited doses distributed to the county means the pace of vaccination is not optimal. 

As of Jan. 25, the state dashboard reports that 8,526 doses were administered in Cape May County. This is an aggregate number of vaccinations that include first and sometimes second doses for the early priority groups of frontline health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, and first responders. It also includes some of the over-65 population included in the state’s recent eligibility expansion. 

The state expanded the eligibility pool well beyond the level of available vaccine, giving rise to confusion and frustration, as many seniors expected appointments and found, instead, that the cupboard was bare. The state’s online scheduling system is routinely telling users that appointments are required, but none are available. 

A rolling tally at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the distribution of vaccine doses to the states slowed. Gov. Phil Murphy defends the state rollout efforts by pointing to limitations on doses from the federal government, as well as the slow pace of the federal Pharmacy Partnership charged with vaccinations at long-term care facilities.  

The fact remains that the pace of vaccinations needs to sharply increase, and the state’s goal of reaching 70% of the adult population in six months cannot be achieved unless it does. 

In Cape May County, the timing may be even more urgent.  

The Board of County Commissioners said they understand the need to vaccinate as many county residents as possible before Memorial Day starts the economically critical summer season. Again, the pace of vaccinations is simply too slow to allow for the goal to be achieved. 

The county maintains it is efficiently administering the doses it received at its site inside Avalon Community Hall. In a webinar sponsored by the county Chamber of Commerce, officials said the county is ready to open an additional site as soon as the state allocation of vaccine doses warrant it (http://bit.ly/39jejKO). 

On the vaccine development front, there was promising news about the imminent review of a one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could have its data before an independent review board in a matter of weeks. Success at that level would be followed by an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency approval. 

Not all vaccine development efforts proved equally successful. This week, Merck dropped out of the vaccine race, citing “inferior” immune responses. 

All evidence suggests that the county will see an increase in the vaccine doses available in coming weeks. County officials have no immediate option but to urge continued patience from an increasingly frustrated public. 

Those officials say the county is ready when the available doses increase. Until then, residents continue to seek appointments that are in short supply. 

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

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