County COVID panel discusses outbreaks, hospitalizations

Funding still available for small businesses, nonprofits and renters.

The Camden County COVID panel convened on Sept. 20 to discuss school outbreaks, flu season and funding. 

Camden County Commissioner Jonathan Young was joined by Congressman Donald Norcross, Virtua Chief Clinical Officer Reginald Blaber, and Assistant Public Health Coordinator Caryelle Lasher. 

Young began the panel by reporting that the county is averaging about 124 cases a day. While test positivity (6.8 percent) and infection rate (1.08 percent) decreased, the hospitalization rate has increased to 7 percent. 

Young also explained that the Pfizer booster shot had been approved, and the county is  working with the Department of Health and Cooper University Healthcare to create a distribution plan for the shots as soon as Oct. 11 at the Camden County College Campus.

Norcross added that the vaccine is not about the individual, but everyone the individual touches.

“You have a choice,” he said. “If you stay home, and (are) not around anybody and you choose not to get it, you might not hear it from doctors or health care. That’s fine. The moment you interact with other people, it’s about all of us, and that takes a vaccine.”

Blaber shared that hospitalization has risen significantly since this time last year.

“Our health-care workers are exhausted,” he noted. “We’ve seen a lot of workers leave health care. Those who are behind are spread thin.

“If you decide not to get vaccinated, you’re just putting them at risk, and also, you might be pushing someone else out of the hospital who might have cancer and be getting chemotherapy or have pneumonia,” Blaber added.

He said hospitals are at a volume Virtua has never seen before due to people who put off regular health care for the past 18 months now seeking it. Blaber also touched on flu season and said there were a total of two flu cases in the entire past year because of safety precautions that include masks and social distancing.

“Our fear is that as the weather gets colder and people are pushed inside, if we’re not wearing masks, not social distancing and especially if we’re not vaccinated, we will see a very significant rise [in COVID cases.]” Blaber warned.

Lasher said prior to school starting, a quarter of COVID cases were in children under 18. Since school began, there have been more than 260 cases in the school systems  and three outbreaks linked to sports teams. Despite those numbers, there have been no outbreaks linked to classrooms, she added, defining an outbreak as “three or more cases linked to a school setting.”

“We’re not counting an outbreak for a school unless it’s related to transmission that’s occurring in the school,” Lasher said. 

For example, if there were three cases of COVID at a school, but all three were siblings who contracted the virus at home, or there were 50 cases linked to a sleepover party, it would not count as a school outbreak because the transmission did not happen there.

Lasher clarified that the cases being reported were mainly from household members, children of health-care workers and unaffiliated sports teams. 

In other news:

  • Young reiterated that COVID relief funds are available to small businesses, nonprofits and renters at camdencountyrecovers.com.  
  • Norcross announced that Congress would vote on a number of issues, including infrastructure bills, raising the debt limit, increasing PELL grants and improving the New Jersey addictions hotline.  
  • To see the full panel, visit Camden County’s Facebook page.