Montgomery Township saw 35 outbreaks mostly involving COVID-19 and RSV

Montgomery Township Health Department had a busy 2022 as the department investigated 8,602 disease cases for the year.

Within the total cases, 96% were specific to COVID-19. However, the department’s work over the course of the year did not stop there.

They administered 2,001 COVID-19 vaccines, 414 flu vaccinations, and investigated 35 outbreaks and 66 environmental health issues.

Health Officer Devangi Patel reported to the Township Committee and public on the department’s efforts in 2022 at the governing body’s meeting on May 4.

Focusing more on the non-COVID diseases, she said the health department investigated 188 cases of communicable diseases not including COVID-19 or influenza.

“There were vector-borne [125] and food-borne diseases [24], vector-borne was mostly tickborne, so we want to continue to focus on Lyme Disease prevention,” Patel said. “We have also seen foodborne diseases in town. That is why it is important for us to make sure our retail establishments are regularly inspected; and we are sharing education information with our food handlers.”

There were 35 outbreaks that occurred, which were investigated by the department, most of them involving COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus [RSV].

“We work very closely with the schools, long-term care facilities, and behavior care facilities to make sure all outbreaks are mitigated and preventing spread,” Patel added.

Because outbreaks are time consuming to investigate, one of the ways the department looked to ease that effort was by focusing more on COVID-19 vaccinations. This led to fewer outbreaks to manage and investigate.

With RSV, Patel said all schools and daycares have reporting requirements from state.

“So, when they see more than three cases in a setting or a cohort of similar kinds of symptoms or disease, they are required to notify the Health Department and that is when we get involved,” she said, adding that there is a lot of communication throughout the day, every day until the RSV outbreak is resolved.

“It entails communicating with the site or school and getting the information from them that is required,” Patel said. We compile that information and present it to our state epidemiologists, and we look further in determining what the cause is [whether there is further spread, and if it is being mitigated and contained].”

From there, based on communication with state health department epidemiologists, the Montgomery Health Department will come up with action items for the schools and also mitigation measures they should implement such as heightened cleaning.

Based on how big the RSV outbreak is and the need for additional resources, the department would determine whether the outbreak required closure of classrooms or the school in general.

“The goal is not to let it get to that point and address it once we have found out,” she said.

The health department had close to $572,300 in expenditures for the year. The department consists of 10 employees, nine of them full-time, 24 contract staff, 18 volunteers and four contract organizations.

“We were heavily grant funded in 2022. The biggest grants were our COVID grants,” Patel said.

For 2022, the health department’s service area also included Hopewell Borough and Pennington.