“It scares me.” Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles says, he feels scared because Ocean and Monmouth counties logged more than 730 new COVID-19 cases between them last week. It was a big enough disease spike that state health officials sounded another alarm Monday and have sent extra contact tracers as the virus continues to spread.
“We are remaining very vigilant because Lakewood has been a hotspot in the past and want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichelli.
“People, I think some of them felt they were past it. Whether they had it already, or they were immune to it. But I’m seeing far too many people who aren’t wearing their masks. And it really worries me,” said Coles.
“You’re seeing a lot of people just closing out the summer at Jersey Shore. I think you have some gatherings, you have events here and there, that are spiking some cases. You also have a lot of testing going on,” County health officer Dan Regeyne says; testing at colleges adds to the total.
But the upward trend comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted at the weekend that the virus spreads even more easily than originally thought: “airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes). In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk.” But the CDC removed that update Monday, saying it was a draft posted “in error.” Public health officials fumed.
“The pulling it down is completely political, I think. You know what worries me here? What’s worried me since March. The more misinformation you have out there, the worse things are gonna get. It’s true, people. It’s in the air! And this is as important to know right now, as ever because as we all know, it’s gotten cold outside. And we’re all gonna be gathering inside. So that air is gonna be full of contagion and we have to make sure we keep groups to a very small number that prevents transmission of the disease,” said Dean Perry Halkitis from Rutgers School of Public Health.
But Professor David Milton notes, science gives us strong defensive tools against the cloud of virus.
“We can remove it with ventilation, we can remove it with filtration, we can remove it with air sanitation using upper-room ultraviolet germicidal lights,” said Milton.
Lakewood teachers have concerns
Lakewood teachers voiced concern. Schools there reopened for five-day, in-person classes, but two district staffers have already tested positive. And an entire class is now doing remote-learning only after a student also tested positive. But their school still unidentified remains open unlike a dozen or so other districts statewide that shut down schools after getting positive test results.
“Most of the information we get about confirmed cases is coming from the media. Lakewood has had the the highest infection rate throughout Ocean County. So we have serious concerns. We’ve been saying this since the beginning. Especially since we still don’t have all the data on the HVAC systems,” said Dawn Hiltner, a spokesperson for Lakewood.
“I think they’ve put a lot of protective measures in place. We’ve not seen any increase in any cases related to the work they’ve been doing there, bringing the children and the teachers into the school,” said Regeyne.
The good news? Cases in Ocean County are less severe than during the spring surge with fewer hospitalizations and a lower mortality rate. But county and state officials are now urging residents to get the vaccine that is available — the one against flu — to avoid getting slammed by both flu and COVID-19 this fall.