South Orange Board of Health Provides Latest Info on COVID-19 and Norway Rat

by Kelvin Jimenez Michaca
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South Orange Health Officer John M. Festa announced COVID-19 updates, on cases and vaccines, and calls on sightings of the Norway rat at the Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Jan. 25.

“On the COVID side, presently, we have 554 cases, total of 8,661 negative cases,” Festa said.

According to Festa, COVID-19 cases in South Orange consisted of 304 males with an average age of 38 and 250 females with an average age of 41. 

South Orange Village Board of Trustees meeting as the Board of Health, January 25, 2021.

As of Jan. 30, the total number of cases is 561, 310 males and 251 females, according to the Village of South Orange COIVD-19 info portal.

Festa confirmed the populations eligible for the vaccine.

“So, presently, it’s for the health care frontline first responders, police, fire, [emergency medical technicians], persons over 65 and older,” Festa said. 

Festa referred to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement on Jan. 13 that expands the age eligibility of New Jersey residents to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

A press release from the governor’s office states, “Beginning Thursday, January 14, all New Jersey residents ages 65 and older, and individuals ages 16-64 with certain medical conditions, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that increase the risk of severe illness from the virus, are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination. Those conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down Syndrome, heart conditions, obesity and severe obesity, sickle cell disease, smoking, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Individuals who are pregnant and those in an immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant are also eligible but should follow CDC guidance and first discuss vaccination with their medical provider before receiving the vaccine.”

“However, keep in mind that Essex County is using the Moderna vaccine,” Festa said. “Moderna is licensed for 18 and up. So then at the Essex County site it would be from 18 and up, not 16.”

Festa also said, after discussing a meeting with Essex County Health Officer Maya Lordo, that Essex County did not have enough vaccines. He gave an estimate of about 300 doses being administered per day per site. 

“Until they can get a lot more vaccines to this county, where I’m talking like 50,000 doses per week or so — and they can probably start, our site is very popular, which is in Livingston Mall, the old Sears – they could probably do 2,000 people there, per day.” Festa said. “They need enough vaccines to do that and at the moment they don’t have that amount of supply.”

Trustee and Board of Health President Donna Coallier said, “I would just like to add to that we’re making an update to the COVID piece of our website that will show the number and percentage of residents that are vaccinated.”

Aside from COVID-19, Trustee Summer Jones inquired about whether there was a decrease in the number of residents calling and reporting sightings of the Norway rat in South Orange.

Festa confirmed that he had received three calls in January. A number which he said was not alarming due to the warm winters New Jersey has experienced since 2016. 

“Our winters have been spring days. We’re not getting the kill factor that we used to prior to 2016,” Festa said. “The gestation period for the Norway rat is 18 to 22 days, when we had winters of zero degrees for three months then we don’t see the numbers of rodents that we are seeing in March and April, springtime.”

“So, this isn’t a South Orange problem, this isn’t an Essex County problem. This is an eastern seaboard problem,” Festa said.

“This rodent is very, very, very sensitive to vibrations,” Festa said. “We now have construction on South Orange Avenue, West South Orange Avenue, Church Street, Valley Street. And all the calls I’ve been getting are all around that area. So, they’re going to move from all that vibration that they’re getting throughout the ground”

To find the latest information on COVID-19 cases, vaccine updates and testing sites visit the Village of South Orange COIVD-19 info portal.


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