Maplewood COVID Cases Nearly Triple in October; Surge Linked to Indoor Gatherings

by Colleen Falconer
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[Editor’s note, Dec. 2, 2020: Village Green originally reported that there were 55 new COVID cases in October; however, that was the number of new cases from 10/1-11/2. There were a total of 44 reported cases in October. We have corrected the article.]

Maplewood’s new COVID-19 cases in the month of October nearly tripled those in September and August, confirming that a second wave of the pandemic is making its way through NJ. At the Board of Health meeting at Wednesday’s Township Committee meeting, public health nurse Anna Markarova reported that out of Maplewood’s total 428 cases, 44 new occurrences were in October alone. September saw 16 new cases, while August had 17, “so it’s a very big change.”

Markarova also stated that Essex County now has the second highest infection rate in the state, right after Union County. The county infection rate, or average number of new people infected by each positive case, is now 1.21; the county has seen just over 26,000 cases total.

Since the last BOH meeting, Maplewood has had a 3% increase in infections among those ages 10-19. Markarova stated that the percentage rates of the rest of the age groups “have stayed relatively the same,” with the highest distribution of cases among those ages 50-59 and 40-49.

TC members expressed that the increase was concerning. “What do you think is contributing to this uptick?” Dean Dafis asked Markarova. “What are you and other professionals attributing this to?”

“A lot of it has become a community setting, so a lot of the cases are linked to either a family gathering, indoor gathering,” Markarova replied. She also stated that cases have risen as more people have gone back to work. “But now it is very much in the community setting.”

Dafis also asked about gathering for the holidays. “Are professionals offering any guidance to families as they start thinking about the holidays coming up and gatherings?” Markarova responded that professionals are asking people to keep their gatherings small, “less than 10.” Some are also asking folks to gather outside, “as the virus has less of a risk of transmission outdoors.” Markarova emphasized that “the safest way to try to go through the holidays this year is to try to keep the limit small.”

The BOH also discussed testing in Essex County. The county now has free COVID testing for all residents on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Information can be found here. Besides the regular locations at county parks, there will be different mobile testing sites, like the Maplewood Community Pool on Nov. 9 from 4-6pm.

Residents can also get tested at Walgreens on Springfield Ave, CVS on Valley Street, or any Urgent Care center. Essex County drive-through testing sites can test kids ages 8 and over.

Markarova also spoke about potential new funding for COVID protections. The Maplewood Health Department is currently applying for an Office of Local Public Health Strengthen Global Public Health Capacity 2021 grant. “We would be hiring a Vulnerable Services Population Coordinator to assist us with families and individuals affected by COVID-19 and other illness[es],” for quarantine access, access to care, and places to isolate, according to Markarova. The grant is intended to increase the town’s public health capacity to respond to COVID. 

Vic De Luca stated that the grant is for $142,236.Dafis spoke to the value of the funding and the program, which would implement a social worker as the Vulnerable Services Population Coordinator. “It’s a good chunk of money, and although it’s only for about 7 months of an assignment…this social worker essentially will do outreach…into vulnerable populations in our community.” 

He connected it to a potential shift to social work in place of some policing. “That’s something that we’re looking to do with social work efforts in town as we figure out how that works with policing in crisis intervention,” said De Luca. “And although this particular person would be pretty restricted in what they could do…they will be producing data about vulnerable populations in our community, which could be really really helpful to us as we do this other work.”

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