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Numbers Moderate but Warnings Intensify

Herald 9.16.20 pg3.jpg

By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
COURT HOUSE – Despite the loss of 90 county residents, Cape May County has had a relatively light blow from the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 90 fatalities in the county, 75% were before the peak tourist months of July and August. 
Two-thirds of those fatalities were residents of long-term care facilities during the early months of the pandemic before those facilities could control the outbreaks.
No one can treat the pandemic’s impact on the county lightly, in terms of the health crisis and economic harm, yet state sources place the county at the lowest number of cases among the 21 counties.
Those numbers, along with low mortgage rates, spiked a high-end housing boom in parts of the county, as many of those who have the resources decided that waiting out the pandemic at the shore makes more sense than staying in their urban or near-urban primary homes. Rentals are also up significantly, and many are for longer periods than would have been the norm pre-COVID-19.
New Jersey is in a better place than many other states. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Sept. 14 the state’s positivity rating was at 1.82%, down from over 2% a week ago. The metric represents a relationship between the number of positive test results and the total number of test results for a given day.
The state’s transmission rate is slightly above the desired level of 1.0, at 1.06, but is trending down. Hospitalizations continue to be low, as do COVID-19 related ICU (intensive care unit) admissions and ventilator use.
Schools opened this week, with six districts in the state moving from partial in-person instruction to all remote education due to positive tests among staff and students, yet health officials point to the fact there is no evidence of in-school transmission.
In Cape May County, the numbers this week are significantly better than a week ago. Last week, the county reported 70 new resident cases in one week, the highest total since mid-July. This week, the seven-day total is down and stands at 53 new cases, a reduction of 25%. There was one new fatality this week. The number of active cases also declined from the prior week, as more individuals were moved off quarantine.
The landscape looks reasonably good in the county, at least for being amid an active pandemic, yet health officials are worried. Persichilli said the state is preparing for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 this fall, coupled with the start of the annual flu season, what she calls a “twindemic.”
Despite the state’s good scores on critical health metrics, some subpopulations are worrisome. The positivity rate among New Jerseyans 18 to 24 is 6%, way over the average of 1.82%. Individuals in this age group are often unwilling to cooperate with contact tracers trying to isolate those who might be infected.
The statistics on successful contact tracing are worsening. Statewide, 18% of those called refuse to take the call. Of the remaining ones who do, 59% are refusing to provide contact information aboutthose they interacted with. At best, less than one in three infected individuals are providing the information needed to trace other potentially infected individuals.
Persichilli’s worries about the flu are also growing. She said for the flu vaccine to work best it needs about 70% of the population vaccinated. New Jersey traditionally has less than 50% of individuals getting flu shots.
The symptoms of flu mimic those of COVID-19, meaning a widespread contagion of flu will bring people streaming to the health care system because they will not know if it is flu or COVID-19. If that occurs when the coronavirus is resurging, the health systems have the recipe for a perfect storm.
At her Sept. 14 briefing, Persichilli urged people to get their flu shots before the end of October, a threshold date set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She urged individuals to cooperate with contact tracers who she said are not involved in trying to expose violations of the law like underage drinking.
The message from health professionals is clear. The coronavirus has not disappeared, and the annual flu season is about to start. Although the health metrics are trending in the right direction, this may be the worst time to let guards down.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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