Camden County held its virtual COVID panel on Oct. 21 with Commissioner Deputy Director Edward McDonnell; Dr. Mark Condoluci, a Jefferson Health Infectious Diseases Specialist; and Caryelle Lasher, assistant Public Health Coordinator.
Since the panel last convened on Oct. 5, COVID’s prevalence has gone down in several areas. The daily case average has dropped from 134 per day to 102. The county infection rate has also dropped from 1.0 to 0.9 percent, and test positivity has decreased from 5.8 to 5.3 percent.
McDonnell noted that 355 South Jersey residents are currently hospitalized with COVID, and that it’s “still extremely high compared to where we were in July.”
He also reported that in the last week, there have been nine more deaths from COVID, and shared that since vaccines have been given, more than 95 percent of all COVID deaths have been among the unvaccinated. While McDonnell acknowledged that vaccination is not 100 percent effective, the breakthrough hospitalizations are rare and have primarily affected people who are immunocompromised.
McDonnell also said the new Health Hub at the Blackwood Camden County College campus is administering all vaccines, including third doses for the immunocompromised and Pfizer booster shots. It is awaiting guidance on administering the newly approved Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters.
“We believe we’ll get the guidance soon,” McDonnell added.
Condoluci noted that there are many questions surrounding the boosters, such as whom they will serve best or whether or not different boosters can be mixed with the original series.
“I think it’s exciting in the sense that there’s good data behind this, that the boosters will protect us, and we know that by protecting ourselves, there’s an extraordinarily low chance that you’ll end up in the hospital and dying from the virus,” Condoluci explained.
The Health Hub is open on Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Appointments can be made at camdencountyvaccine.com.
Regarding COVID and schools, Lasher reported that there have been more than 2,000 cases associated with students and staff since the beginning of the school year, but that fewer than 60 of these cases have been linked to school transmissions. She reiterated that the transmission is happening in homes and in the community, and urged people to get vaccinated.
While COVID cases are on a downward trend, Lasher noted that more than a quarter of the cases seen are youth under 18.
“Unfortunately we’ve had some really tragic outcomes for some of those cases,” she reported. “… As Halloween is coming around and other fall festivities, it’s certainly important to enjoy this part of the year. But if you’re not feeling well, don’t participate.”
She advised that people celebrate outdoors when they can and remember to wash their hands.
During a question-and-answer portion, the panel discussed Camden City reaching a 70 percent vaccination rate. Lasher noted that there isn’t that much of an increase in the vaccination rates, though there were slight increases in certain neighborhoods.
“Seventy percent is a wonderful accomplishment, but it’s still not as high as it could be,” she remarked.
In discussions surrounding potential vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, the panel discussed vaccine hesitancy and how to combat it.
“The importance here is access and education,” Condoluci said. “ … We’re here to educate, not to delegate anything that might be harmful. We’ll do this together.”
The full panel is available for viewing at https://www.camdencounty.com/live/.