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Montgomery health officer reports increase in COVID-19 cases; stresses importance of vaccinations

Kayla Culbreath, left, awaits her COVID-19 vaccine to be administered by Katherine Dombrowski, BSN, RN, of Princeton Health Community Wellness and Engagement.

As Pennington and Hopewell Borough residents enter the fall months of 2021, Montgomery Township Health Officer Stephanie Carey warned that her department has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases.

In Mercer County, the county has 81 new confirmed cases as of Sept. 17 and Hopewell Township’s Health Department is reporting 16 new COVID-19 cases per week.

Through shared service agreements the Montgomery Township Health Department provides health services to both Pennington and Hopewell Borough.

“In June we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and then the case count started going up,” Carey said. “We are nowhere near what these horror stories you hear about in other states, but with that said the number of cases went up to spring levels, not the high peaks of the last winter.”

Carey stressed that the increase in cases are a concern for children who are too young to be vaccinated and for families who have not yet been vaccinated.

“We are getting some breakthrough cases. Vaccination is the key protective measure against getting infected,” she said.

According to the state COVID-19 dashboard, Pennington has 81% of the borough population fully vaccinated. The data states that 94% of Pennington residents are fully vaccinated 18 years of age and over, 91% for those 30 years of age and over, and 100% for people 65 years old and over.

Additionally, 89% of the borough’s population has had at least one dose of a vaccine.

There are a few statistics that have emerged nationwide consistent with what the department has been seeing hyper-locally, Carey said. According to the department, an unvaccinated person is about five times more likely to get sick and 30 times more likely to be hospitalized.

“There has been so much focus on the emergence of breakthrough cases that there is a really enlarged sense of concern for the breakthrough cases,” Carey said. “When we have drilled down to the data for breakthrough cases we are seeing rates that we are seeing to the rest of New Jersey, which is why I’m relying on the New Jersey data.”

At Gov. Phil Murphy’s coronavirus briefing on Sept. 13, recent preliminary data of breakthrough cases from Aug. 23-29 showed that 2,602 positive cases occurred and the total statewide number is 12,051. There were 35 COVID-related hospitalizations (statewide total sits at 945) and no COVID-19 related deaths (80 deaths total have occurred statewide) from Aug. 23-29.

The state’s rate of transmission is 1.01 as of Sept. 13. The rate of transmission is the average number of people that one individual would infect with COVID-19 and if a rise in the transmission rate occurs it reveals that each new case is leading to more than one additional case of infection.

“The more vaccination rates go up the higher the effectiveness of everybody’s vaccine that is the herd immunity protecting each other, which is as vaccination numbers rise it drives the level of virus in the community down,” Carey added. “So if you are a vaccinated person in Texas or Florida you are in more danger than a vaccinated person in New Jersey.”

Carey and the Montgomery Township Health Department are concerned about an increase in new COVID-19 cases this fall.

“It is absolutely a concern. We have got ways to protect everybody in middle school and up with vaccinations, but I continue to be concerned about people who cannot or will not get vaccinated,” she said. “The schools are doing everything they can to protect the kids and you will hear about cases in schools but those have been in our experience acquired out in the community.”

Carey added that the department is not seeing the transmission in the masked classrooms, because the safety measures taken by the schools and district are effective.

“But people should not expect zero cases in the school and some kids will be quarantined and that is why we need to help each other and get vaccinated,” she said. “You bet as soon as the vaccines are approved for elementary school kids we will start holding clinics.”

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