NJDOH Goes Over Protocols for COVID-19 School Outbreaks

As the doors begin to open at schools in North Jersey, state officials went through the events that would cause a school to close due to the coronavirus.

New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the guidance and regional risk levels are tools that the local health departments and schools can use when assessing COVID-19 risks. 

“Local health departments have additional knowledge of COVID-19 in their jurisdictions that can inform local planning and response actions,” stated Persichilli. “School closures is a local decision that should be made by school administrators in consultation with local public health officials.”

School Protocols

NJDOH issued COVID-19 recommendations for schools that cover steps to take to respond to cases and outbreaks in schools. If there’s one confirmed case in school, the school can remain open. Any students or staff in close contact with that case should be quarantined from the school for 14 days. 

If there are two or more cases in the same classroom—what NJDOH defines as an outbreak—linked to one cohort, the school can remain open. Any students or staff or close contacts of that case are excluded from the school for 14 days. The local health officials would make recommendations, based on their investigation, whether the entire classroom should be considered exposed.

In the event of two or more cases within 14 days linked to an exposure outside of the school setting, the school can remain open. Any close contacts of the case are excluded from the school for 14 days. 

Multiple Cases

With two or more cases within that two-week period, linked together by a school activity but in different classrooms, that would be considered an outbreak including multiple cohorts. Local health officials will make recommendations on whether to close the school based on that investigation.

A significant community outbreak that impacts multiple staff, students and families served by the school would result in a closure of the school for 14 days. Additionally if there are two or more cases within a two-week period that occur across multiple classrooms, and a clear connection between those cases cannot be easily identified, it’s recommended to close the school for two weeks. 

Additionally, if a school falls in one of the six regions that is determined to be a very high risk, according to the department’s activity level report, the school should be closed until the transmission decreases.

Contact Tracing

Persichilli noted with schools, gyms, restaurants and other reopenings occurring, having a strong network of contact tracers is more important than ever to contain the spread of COVID-19. But the public’s cooperation is key.

“The success of all of our efforts to break the chain of transmission depends on everyone’s participation,” said Persichilli. “If a contact tracer calls, do the right thing. Answer the call, help them with the information they need to help to protect you, your family and your community.”

NJDOH revealed that 71% of individuals contacted have talked with a contact tracer, up 10% in the last month. However, the number of people who have refused to provide contacts of potential cases to follow up has risen to 53%.

Take the Call

“Sharing information on who you might have been around helps protect not only those people, but also their families,” said the health commissioner. “Once those individuals are notified, they can take steps to get tested and quarantine themselves from household members who may be elderly or have underlying medical conditions. You owe it to them to help to keep them safe as well.” 

Persichilli reaffirmed that all information given to the contact tracer remains confidential and tracers are not allowed to ask for financial information, social security number or immigration status. 

“Enjoying a good meal inside a restaurant, being able to go back to the movies or having your child attend school in person, or just enjoying everyday life depends on all of us working together to stay safe,” she said. “It starts with answering the call from a contact tracer and doing your part.”

Daily Data

As of Sept. 6, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 194,058 with 360 new cases and four new deaths, bringing that total to 14,206. The state probable death count remained at 1,783, bringing the overall total to 15,989.

State officials noted 10 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,891, followed by Bergen at 1,796, Hudson with 1,351, Passaic at 1,105, Morris at 685, Sussex at 161 and Warren with 158.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 242, Essex has 229, Hudson has 160, Morris at 144, Passaic at 143, Sussex has 36 and Warren has 13.

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Aug. 31 was 1.8%. The state is no longer using serology tests as health officials explained those results show a past presence of the disease as well as a current one. 

As for the rate of transmission, it increased to 1.06 from 1.03 two days before. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.

Officials reported 403 patients with the northern tier having 191 patients hospitalized, the central 81 and the south 131.

Of those hospitalized, 74 are in intensive care units and 35 on ventilators, while 51 patients were discharged. 

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most cumulative cases in the state with 21,788, followed by Essex at 20,505, Hudson at 20,261, Middlesex at 18,586, Passaic at 18,499, Union at 17,212, Ocean at 11,462, Monmouth at 10,926, Camden at 9,311, Mercer at 8,406, Morris at 7,569, Burlington at 6,559, Somerset at 5,462, Atlantic at 3,798, Gloucester at 3,809, Cumberland at 3,619, Warren at 1,409, Sussex at 1,412, Hunterdon at 1,229, Salem at 995 and Cape May at 933.

Another 308 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 158 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 8,976 of the cases, broken down between 5,627 residents and 3,349 staff. 

Cumulatively, 670 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 24,914 residents and 13,383 staff, for a total of 38,297 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,115 on Sept. 6. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,745 residents deaths and 121 staff deaths. 

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