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COVID-19 infections continue to rise dramatically. Cooler weather, the greater number of indoor activities, international outbreaks, pandemic fatigue, and increased levels of testing will continue to contribute to the increasing numbers of cases.
In New Jersey, the numbers of new COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths are rising, but the hospitalizations and deaths are in much lower proportion to infections, than what was experienced earlier this year. This also seems to be true, nationally.
The rate of transmission in NJ is fluctuating in recent weeks between 1.16 and 1.60. Anything above 1.0 is considered concerning. The higher the number, the greater the risk of viral spread throughout the community. This rate has consistently averaged above 1.0 over the last several weeks.
In October, the entire State, region by region, gradually moved from low COVID activity (green) to moderate COVID activity (yellow). COVID activity is now increasing at a much higher rate, including in Morris County. It should be noted that out of New Jersey’s twenty-one counties, Morris County is ranked tenth in COVID activity, this week. This ranking will fluctuate. Within all of the Pequannock Health Department’s jurisdictions, the number of new COVID cases has been sharply increasing.
Please see the links below for the NJ Regional COVID Activity Report through November 7th and the links to the Morris Health Department COVID Websites. The County links include daily updates of cumulative numbers of cases by municipality and COVID Testing availability. (Please note, the daily cumulative numbers of infected individuals displayed by municipality in the link are subject to fluctuate. At times, a percentage of cases are assigned to the wrong municipalities. Also, labs sometimes mistakenly enter the healthcare provider’s address rather than the patients’ addresses, which may skew the numbers. This recently occurred during the week of November 9, 2020 and caused an artificial spike in the number of cases attributed to the Township of Pequannock. The state of NJ and Township staff are working to have the corrections made and addresses these issues, as these inaccuracies are discovered.):
NJ Regional COVID Activity Report
Morris County Health Department COVID Website
Government Funded COVID-19 Testing:
The County of Morris has finally received funding to conduct COVID-19 testing. This will include at-home testing and possibly, mobile test sites. At-Home testing can be done through a website where kits can be requested. The kits are sent to the requestor’s address with instructions. All tests offered will be lab confirmed PCR tests rather than the viable, but less accurate, rapid antigen tests that have become very popular over the last few of months. The cost for these tests will be paid through medical insurance. However, patients will not be responsible for the cost of the test if they are uninsured, or if they are insured, will not be responsible to pay any uncovered portion. Passaic County was previously funded to offer COVID testing in this same manner since last May. Morris and ten other counties were not eligible for this federal funding at that time, however funding is now available. The testing program is expected to be initiated in Morris County before the end of this month. More details to follow.
Contact Tracing and Disease Investigation
The NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) has provided additional contact tracers to our local Health Department from the State work force. They support the operation while under the direction of the Pequannock Health Department’s nurse supervisors. The Department has recently requested additional contact tracers be assigned to our jurisdiction.
Revised Definition of Close Contact to a COVID Positive Individual
Effective as of October 22, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) updated their criteria for what is now considered a “Close Contact” in regards to someone’s exposure to a COVID-19 positive individual. As you were made aware in past communications, the previous definition of a “Close Contact” by the NJDOH was any individual 6 feet or closer to a COVID-19 positive individual for 10 consecutive minutes. This definition has now been changed by the NJDOH to read - “a total of 15 minutes or more of close contact exposure (6 feet or closer) to an infected person during a 24-hour period. Those determined to be a close contact to a COVID -19 positive individual must quarantine or a period of not less than 14 days. This remains unchanged.
School Operations and COVID while addressing outbreaks
Now that schools and universities are in operation, the Pequannock Health Department is working closely with these institutions to contact trace, isolate and quarantine individuals to quickly contain any spread of the COVID-19 virus that may be identified within these institutions. In many cases, as COVID cases have increased, classes or certain schools have suspended in-person instruction for 14 day quarantine periods when spread within the school population exceeds CDC guidelines.
Most school districts have implemented and are maintaining a hybrid model, which is mix of in-person and remote learning. The Pequannock Health Department continues to provide extensive and ongoing COVID-19 guidance, along with COVID planning, surveillance, and contact tracing efforts in all five public school districts, private schools and universities within our jurisdictions. Though there has been an increase in cases among school aged children, much of the increases in new COVID infections are unrelated to the organized school, sports and classroom activities. Rather, they are more related to social interactions, especially indoors, or at sporting events where relaxed attitudes about practicing safety precautions have been identified as a primary driver of the increases. This is also true among young and middle aged adults where travel and /or social interactions, especially indoors, while not practicing safety precautions, have also been identified as a driver of the increases.
Attendance at Crowded Gatherings Can Increase Risk of COVID Transmission
As we begin to move indoor as weather changes and as cold and flu season approaches, it cannot be stressed enough that large, crowded gatherings, especially indoor or in closed tents, where social distancing isn't being practiced and where face masks aren't being worn when necessary, are in part contributing to the spread of COVID-19. This is especially true at parties or large events where eating and drinking precludes the use of masks and music may be playing loudly, which causes people to get close and project themselves so they can be heard in conversation. Indoor spaces may not be as well ventilated and these spaces may make it difficult to socially distance properly.
The public must continue to be diligent about the following, while enjoying activities:
Anti-Viral Treatment and Vaccine Update
On October 22, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the antiviral drug Veklury (remdesivir) for use in adult and pediatric patients 12 years of age and older and weighing at least 40 kilograms (about 88 pounds) for the treatment of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization. The FDA states that Veklury should only be administered in a hospital or in a healthcare setting capable of providing acute care comparable to inpatient hospital care. Veklury is the first treatment for COVID-19 to receive FDA approval.
The NJDOH has been asked by the CDC to begin planning strategies for SARS-CoV-2 vaccination to begin as early as November 30, 2020, but it will likely begin after that time. Upon the completion of Phase Three Clinical Trials and approval from the FDA to proceed, NJ will begin receiving shipments of the vaccine and it will begin to be disseminated to the population by priority group .
At this time, priority groups are being established to receive vaccines based on those who secure the health, safety and critical needs of communities and next, by those who are in the highest risk populations. The groups are broken into categories of priority. Categories 1-A and 1-B consist of healthcare workers in hospitals, long term care facilities, medi-centers, physicians, first responders, etc. and critical infrastructure workers who are responsible to provide essential services to the public. Some examples of these critical infrastructure workers would be those in utilities, water treatment, transportation, food related industries, critical supply chain workers, etc. These first two priority groups will also likely include residents at long term care facilities.
Upon completing vaccination to the first two priority groups (1-A and 1-B as described above ), vaccine will be disseminated to those in Category 2, which consists of those who are in vulnerable populations because of age or certain medical conditions. Last, the vaccine will be disseminated to those in Category 3, which consists of the general population, 18 years of age and older. Early planning indicates that the vaccines will initially be allocated incrementally to the States from late November through the end of January in order to initiate vaccinations to Categories 1-A and 1-B. In the months that follow, more vaccine will be delivered to States as dissemination expands to the general public. The vaccines will likely require a two shot regimen, either twenty-one or twenty-eight days apart, depending on which vaccine is given.
There are many other logistical obstacles that must be considered in regards to mass vaccination, not the least of which is storing the vaccine at the required -70 to -100 degrees Fahrenheit. This and many other considerations are still in the early stages of planning at the Federal, State, County and local levels and involves both public health, homeland security and emergency management agencies.
Pfizer has released an announcement that their vaccine has an efficacy rate of 90%, which is incredibly good news. However, it should be noted that this finding is based only on the limited data that is now available.
For additional information about COVID vaccines please see the CDC links below:
CDC Vaccine FAQs
Executive Orders- As the number of COVID cases increase during this second wave, the latest Executive Orders are beginning to place restrictions on business and social activities. As numbers increase, more restrictions will likely be forthcoming.
Executive Order No. 192 To Protect New Jersey’s Workforce During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Effective at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 5, 2020, every business, non-profit, and governmental or educational entity that requires or permits its workforce, whether in part or as a whole, to be physically present at a worksite to perform work is required, at a minimum, to abide by the requirements set forth in the Order, to protect employees, customers, and all others who come into physical contact with its operations. The Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“DOLWD”), in consultation with the Commissioner of the Department of Health, is hereby authorized to provide support for efforts to enforce the requirements set forth in the Executive Order at the local level.
Executive Order No. 194 Additional COVID Mitigation Efforts Bars, Restaurants, Indoor Interstate Sports and Personal Care Services
All restaurants, cafeterias, dining establishments, and food courts, with or without a liquor license; bars; and all other holders of a liquor license with retail consumption privileges, collectively referred to as “food or beverage establishments,” that are open to the public:
Indoor interstate youth sports competitions, including those operated by school-based, club, and recreational programs, are hereby suspended within the State. School-based, club, and recreational programs are also prohibited from hosting indoor interstate youth sports competitions outside of New Jersey, or indoor youth sports competitions outside of New Jersey that would require New Jersey teams to travel to another state.
Personal care services authorized to reopen their indoor facilities to the public pursuant to Paragraph 2 of Executive Order No. 157 (2020) shall limit occupancy of any indoor premises to 25 percent of the stated maximum capacity, if applicable, at one time, excluding the facility’s employees.
Executive Order No. 195 County and Municipal Government may enact further restriction on Bars, Restaurants, Personal Care Services and Non- Essential Businesses
Municipalities and counties are permitted under this Order to impose additional restrictions, in response to COVID-19, on the hours of operation of non-essential retail businesses, food and beverage establishments, personal care service businesses, recreation and entertainment businesses, as defined by previous Executive Orders Such limitations may apply across the entire county or municipality or in targeted locations therein. Provided, however, that the limitations authorized by this paragraph cannot restrict the hours of operation of such businesses between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. While municipalities and counties can restrict hours of operation for the aforementioned businesses between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., they cannot prevent dining establishments from arranging for the pickup or delivery of goods or otherwise limit their scope of operations.
*NOTE- Other restrictions and requirements may be applicable for the activities and/or the authorities specified in the above mentioned Executive Orders. For additional information, please refer to the entire content of the Executive Orders and Executive Directives at the links below.
Governor Murphy's Executive Orders
NJ Executive Directives