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COURT HOUSE - “We are anticipating a second wave,” state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Oct. 8, a day in which the state reported 1,301 new cases, the highest single-day total in four months.  Persichilli said that this second wave has “the potential to become a surge.”

As of Oct. 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted between 2,800 and 6,800 new deaths nationally due to COVID-19, during the week ending Oct. 31. Other projections are calling for 20,000 new COVID-19 fatalities by Election Day Nov. 3.

What a difference a week makes in the impact of a resurgent virus, yet Cape May County is calm. The worst of what is projected remains outside the county's seemingly protected peninsula. 

The COVID Act Now tracking model shows New Jersey “at risk for an outbreak.” The model also takes its analysis to the county level, where it labels the virus’spread, in Cape May County, as happening in “a slow and controlled fashion.”

One way to explain the experience in other parts of the state and reconcile it with the county’s moderate growth in cases is that, thus far, the county has avoided a super spreader event.

On the day that the state reported its highest single-day total since May, Ocean County contributed 285 new cases, with 206 of those from one community, Lakewood, soon after the celebration of religious holidays, according to Persichilli. 

Monmouth University reported 39 COVID-19 cases Sept. 25. That exploded to 291 cases days later. According to the university, contact tracing tracked 125 of those cases to a single gathering at a private residence two weeks ago. 

The state has seen over 3,500 new cases in the past week. The county contributed 42 cases to that total. In the county, the total number of new cases is lower this past week than it was the week before, the exact opposite trend from the state. 

The county is maintaining an active caseload below 100. At the end of this week, it stands at 87, as of Oct. 12. The last COVID-19 associated death, in the county, was reported Sept. 28. 

The state’s rate of transmission is 1.22, above the desired 1.0 threshold. A transmission rate above 1.0 means that each newly infected individual is likely to transmit the disease to more than one other person, allowing case numbers to grow. According to COVID Act Now’s statistics, Cape May County’s transmission rate is below 1.0. 

The state’s positivity rate, which measures the ratio of positive tests to total tests, stood at 3.69% Oct. 4, with the highest rate being in the central counties, at 4.34%. In the southern counties, the average rate was 4.04%. County-specific rates were not provided.

The state started posting information on certain in-school transmissions on its COVID-19 dashboard. The number of schools that meet the strict definition of an outbreak grew from 11 to 16. 

The number of students and staff involved has grown from 43 to 58. The state Health Department's definition of an outbreak boils down to two or more cases involving students or staff and is linked to in-school transmission.

Cape May County has three of the schools among the 16. They are in Upper and Dennis townships, along with private Cape Christian Academy. Of the 58 individuals, in the state, who were likely victims of in-school transmission, 10 are in Cape May County.  

State education officials point to many students and staff holding some form of in-person education across the state’s 3,000 schools and declare the 16 outbreaks as surprisingly low. 

At the end of this past week, the county’s health metrics were trending in the right direction, even as state officials worry about a second wave. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the county’s seniors are heeding the Health Department's advice and getting a flu shot.

At one pharmacy, the pharmacist in charge said they had run out of flu vaccines twice and had two remaining doses. She said more would be available within a couple of days. 

At a press briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy pleaded with state residents to continue using the only effective weapons available – masks, social distancing, and continuous hand hygiene. 

“When we got 1,301 cases in one day, we know we are still in the fight,” Murphy said. The state’s new case numbers moderated a bit after that four-month high, but they are in dangerous territory. 

Cape May County has, so far, managed to stay separate from the spikes and the super spreader events elsewhere, in New Jersey.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.