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Sunday, April 21, 2024

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Out-of-County Individuals Focus of New COVID-19 Cases

Active Cases In-County vs. Outside - July 9.png

By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
COURT HOUSE – During the worst period for Cape May County’s COVID-19 outbreak, in April, the focus was on long-term care facilities. Sudden outbreaks in the facilities were difficult to bring under control. Health compromised residents disproportionately contributed to the county death toll in the struggle with the virus.
Nothing can undo the horrors of those April days, when long-term care resident deaths were all too frequent, but the facilities stabilized. The 11 locations listed on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard account for 28 active cases, as of July 7. The largest segment, 145 cases, of COVID-19 infected residents of these facilities recovered and were removed from quarantine by the Health Department.
Now, the focus of worry is shifting to out-of-county individuals who are quickly driving up the number of active cases in the county. The county began reporting non-resident positive tests June 22. Since that date, there are 161 confirmed cases in the county associated with out-of-county visitors; 29 of those cases were taken off quarantine, and 132 remain active, as of July 9.
When long-term care facilities were the hotspots for the county outbreak, the focus was on the mainland, where the facilities are. The numbers were spiking, in April, when the island communities were sparsely populated.
Now, the center of COVID-19 transmission, in the county, is on the islands. In a three-week period,  Avalon’s visitors accounted for 43 positive tests. Across the bridge, in Sea Isle City, there were 47 non-resident positive tests. Stone Harbor, which managed to ride out the period from the arrival of the virus, in March to late June, with one confirmed case, now sports 16 new non-resident cases.
None of the 132 non-resident active COVID-19 cases are associated with the mainland. The beaches opened, the island communities began their summer, and the virus came along for the ride. According to county Health Department releases, the rising case count is largely driven by young people who may have arrived positive for COVID-19 or may have become infected when they failed to observe social distancing, facial coverings, and other protective protocols.
It is no surprise that case counts have grown. The county’s economy opened from a three-month lockdown, bringing people back out of their homes. The summer has begun in earnest, with the arrival of Independence Day, which means the population swelled dramatically.
The trick is to prevent these new cases from becoming vectors of a new outbreak that, once again, could impact the most vulnerable in a county that has the oldest mean age of permanent residents in the state.
With the growth of non-resident cases, the county also witnessed a quickening of the community-based cases among county residents. That, too, is not surprising, but it is still troubling.
Just before the July 4 weekend, the county saw, on average, four to four and a half new cases per day in community resident spread of the virus. The seven days leading to the July 9 county report averaged over eight cases per day among community-based county residents.
This, then, combines with double-digit daily increases in positive tests of non-resident visitors.
The fact that the county knows these numbers is good news. Most of the testing of non-resident visitors is a product of successful contact tracing efforts that led to testing at the county’s three urgent care locations.
The very nature of Cape May County’s tourist-based economy produces added risk because of the influx of visitors and the rapid turnover among large segments of those visitors.
Stone Harbor Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour held a Zoom conference with the owners of local establishments, with liquor licenses, to urge greater attention to compliance with health guidelines.
Avalon Business Administrator Scott Wahl said, “A good number of these out-of-county cases are in a demographic of teens to young adults.” He added that “the education and desire to comply begins at home.”
Reacting to the rising numbers in the borough, Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi issued an executive order (https://bit.ly/38IOa6t) closing the beaches and boardwalk during late evening and overnight hours, effective July 11. The aim of the order is to disperse large groups of teens and young adults who are defiant of required health protocols.
No action is going to prevent the rise in case numbers, as the economy opens further and visitors flock to the shore. The emphasis is on controlled growth kept at levels that do not ignite an outbreak.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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