Editor’s note, January 7: this article has been updated with clarifying information from Maplewood Health Officer Candice Davenport regarding vaccination rates for children ages 5-11 and with updated booster information for ages 12-15.
“Currently, our numbers are not looking good,” began Maplewood Health Officer Candice Davenport at the start of her Board of Health presentation at the Township Committee meeting on January 4. “About a third of our total entire cases were in the month of December 2021.”
Davenport reported that the total number of COVID-19 cases in Maplewood since the start of the pandemic is 3,289. 1,316 of those cases were from December alone. Comparatively, in November, there were 90 cases.
“This is the Omicron surge,” Davenport said. “This is what high community transmission looks like. And this is also the result of increased testing.”
Davenport also explained the new CDC guidance, which shortens quarantines for vaccinated individuals to 5 days, “because we’re dealing with a faster variant of COVID-19, the Omicron variant.”
The new guidance decreases the isolation time from 10 days to five days if infected people have no symptoms and continue to have no symptoms after the five days of isolation. She notes that after coming out of isolation, people should continue to wear a mask around others as a protection.
For unvaccinated individuals that have a close contact with a person who is positive with COVID-19, the CDC guidance is to quarantine for five days, monitor symptoms, test on day five, and continue to wear a mask around others. The Township Committee will resume discussions about adopting this guidance for township employees at the next TC meeting scheduled for January 18.
Deputy Mayor Victor De Luca asked to clarify the definition of “fully vaccinated” under the new guidance. Davenport explained that the CDC’s definition of fully vaccinated is the full course: two Pfizer or Moderna shots or one J&J shot, plus a booster shot. Davenport explained that after six months without the booster shot, the vaccine is only 35% effective against infection, whereas with the booster, an individual’s protection is 75% effective.
The vaccine is meant to “reduce hospitalization and death, and then cause mild infection if you get reinfected….So if you get exposed to Omicron, you get COVID, and you hopefully will experience no or mild illness.”
Maplewood’s vaccination rates for those ages 5+ that are eligible is at 89%. Davenport emphasized that the 11% of eligible individuals ages 12-17 who are not vaccinated continue to be a target area for outreach.
Newly elected Board of Health President Frank McGehee asked about vaccination rates for children ages 5-11, and Davenport noted that only 8% of eligible children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated.
In a follow up call with Davenport on January 6, she said even though 8% sounds low, it’s not – “We’re right where we need to be.”
Davenport explained that the 8% statistic given to her from the State Health Department reflects the amount of eligible children ages 0-11 who were fully vaccinated as of December 27. She is not certain if the “denominator” – the number of total children eligible to receive a vaccination – includes only those 5-11 years old or if it also includes children ages 0-4.
“Even if we are only at 8%, it’s okay. It means nearly 10% of [eligible children ages 5-11] have gotten vaccinated and it’s only been 7 weeks,” said Davenport. “It takes time.”
Davenport also noted that this data covers the time frame before the winter holidays, when parents may have had off of work and more time to get their children vaccinated. She expects to see a higher number in the next batch of data from the state, but does not know when those numbers will arrive.
“As we go into schools, we want to reduce community transmission entering into our schools as much as possible,” Davenport said. “I want to strongly emphasize that people should get their children vaccinated who are eligible.”
Vaccinations for all eligible people ages 5 and up are available through the county sites as well as at local pharmacies. Davenport notes that the CDC recently approved a third dose for those 5-11 years olds that are immune-compromised. Booster shots for ages 12-15 (as well as 16+) are also now available at the county sites.
Additional testing dates have been added to the MediMobile’s schedule in partnership with the South Orange Maplewood School District. Testing will be available at the BOE building at 525 Academy Street from Wednesday, Jan. 5 – Friday, Jan. 7 from 3-6pm, and on Saturday, Jan. 8 from 9am – 3pm. County sites continue to be an option for free saliva testing as well.