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County discusses boosters and Omicron at COVID town hall

Panelists encourage more vaccinations in light of holiday spike

Commissioner Melinda Kane was joined by Dr. Mark Condoluci, infectious disease specialist at Jefferson Hospital, and Gabrielle Sweeney, a COVID-19 data manager and epidemiologist, for a Dec. 2 Camden County town hall on COVID.

Since the town hall panel last convened on Nov. 13:

  • The average number of cases a day in the county went from 69 to 115.
  • The average infection rate rose from 0.96 to 1.12. Condoluci explained that  rate refers to the number of people a person might transmit the virus to.
  •  The test positivity rate increased from 4.7 to 5.1 percent.
  • The number of residents hospitalized with COVID increased from 220 to 262, though it remains lower than October’s numbers.
  • In November, 8,075 county children ages 5 to 11 received their first dose of a vaccine, with 1,229 receiving their second.
  • The total rate of vaccination in the county has increased from 62 to 62.9 percent, with 445,000 residents who received at least one dose, 319,000 fully vaccinated and 80,000 who got the booster shot. Kane reminded the community that all adults are now eligible for boosters.
  • Kane reported nine COVID deaths in the county.

The COVID panel noted the increase in numbers was anticipated with the holiday season.

“We know that COVID transmissions within that closed family unit is one of the main reasons why COVID is spreading, and that happens at holidays,’’ Condoluci explained. “We have to be careful and vigilant going into this holiday season. We really have to use common sense practices.

“If you are sick, you should consider not going to a family event (and) having frank discussions with family members about what the expectations are going into this holiday season.

The doctor raised the idea of even vaccinated people getting tested, since there is a small chance of passing the virus to someone else.

Kane reflected on the impact COVID has had on families in the past year and a half.

“I read that if we think about gathering at Thanksgiving, one out of every 500 children in this country have lost a parent to COVID,” she shared. “Their holiday season is very different, and it’s very different for millions in this country. But if it could be prevented, if you can avoid it, tragedy can be avoided.”

The panel also discussed the Omicron variant now traced to South Africa. Condoluci advised withholding judgment since there are still many unknowns about it.

“Whether it originated or (only) initially identified [in South Africa], we’re not sure,” he said, noting that the point of concern for the new variant is if it has a high transmissibility rate and more people could be affected.

Condoluci encouraged mitigation strategies like washing hands, social distancing from people who are ill and maskings.

The panel reiterated that while breakthrough cases are occurring, 95 percent of the severe COVID cases are among the unvaccinated.

During the town hall’s Q and A portion, a resident asked what combination of boosters works best. Condoluci responded that it was up to the individual, and he or she should consult with a personal provider.

With brief mentions, the infectious disease specialist also encouraged flu shots and reminded people that it takes two weeks to create the antibodies in a person. Kane also reminded people that booster shots are available for all adults.

“You can get free vaccines at local pharmacies and other local providers throughout the community,” Kane emphasized. “They are safe, they are effective, they are free and they are available.”

The full town hall is available online at www.camdencounty.com/live.


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