On Friday, Nov. 13, the Municipality of Princeton’s Health Department (PHD) reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 in the past week, adding to a two-week total of 30 new positive cases. These weekly and biweekly counts are the highest the PHD has seen since early May, when case numbers previously peaked.
This increase, according to Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser, confirms that “Princeton is officially in our next peak of cases or second surge.”
These cases stem from workplace exposures, club and travel sports, private Halloween parties, and other social gatherings, which then spread the virus into households, per a Nov. 13 email newsletter from Mayor Liz Lempert and the Princeton Council.
“The current spike in cases is likely to be exacerbated by the confluence of traditional holiday gatherings and cold weather keeping us indoors,” wrote Princeton Press and Media Communications Director Frederick Williams in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
“While people are tired of the COVID safety messaging,” he added, “being tired of it doesn’t mean it’s unnecessary and COVID-19 is not a problem.”
The town of Princeton’s Board of Health (BOH) published the COVID-Safe Community Pledge on Oct. 30 to encourage continued “community awareness and actions to protect each other.” On Nov. 9, the BOH offered strategies to minimize travel risks for students thinking of returning home for the holidays. The recommendations, however, stress that the “safest way to avoid family transmission associated with returning students” would be to avoid travel altogether, instead opting for a virtual family Thanksgiving or a socially distanced Friendsgiving.
When it comes to concerns about contracting COVID-19, Kelvin Yu ’22, a junior in the computer science department who is living on-campus, feels that on-campus students “shouldn’t be too worried.”
“Princeton has done a really good job implementing safety measures,” Yu said. “I think in some cases they’re even a little overboard, but in general, they’ve been very very careful about limiting student interaction with risky situations and getting students tested twice a week.”
The University had zero positive cases among undergraduates, two among graduate students, and 13 within staff, faculty, and others during the week ending on Nov. 6.
In an email to the ‘Prince’, Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote that the University panel on COVID-19, comprising physicians, faculty, and administrators who review trends and adjust University responses as needed, had observed the municipality’s case uptick but “did not recommend any changes to the current measures of the University this week.”
Asked how rising local COVID-19 cases factored into the University’s decision on whether to bring more undergraduates on-campus this spring, Hotchkiss reiterated sentiments expressed by President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 in his mid-October update to the University community discussing 2021 plans.
“We will continue to monitor the pandemic’s progress across the country and on college campuses as we develop plans for spring semester,” Hotchkiss explained.
The past week’s increase in reported cases mirrors local and state trends. On Nov. 6, the PHD reported 16 new weekly cases and 23 bi-weekly ones, which, until Nov. 13, had been the highest caseload Princeton had seen since May. In New Jersey, average daily cases in the past week increased 110 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order on Nov. 10 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which restricted hours and modified seating for businesses that serve food and drinks, along with temporarily prohibiting interstate K-12 sports competitions. The order went into effect on Nov. 12 at 5 a.m.
Williams wrote that the municipality felt that “the governor’s actions are steps in the right direction.”
“[Princeton’s] goal is to gain and maintain compliance with Covid-19 mitigation measures and not be forced to shut things down,” he concluded.
Zi Liu ’24, who is living on-campus this semester, noted that like her peers, she had been previously unaware that cases had risen in the town of Princeton. After reviewing the report, Liu stated she felt “a bit shocked, but low level shocked.”
“It’s expected,” she added. “COVID’s everywhere; I can’t be so surprised that COVID’s coming.”