HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - Hunterdon County has seen a slight increase in the total number of COVID-19 cases reported countywide in the first weeks of September and following Labor Day, as youth sports and activities have been held and some area schools opened for in-person instruction.

During the freeholders meeting Sept. 15, Hunterdon County Health Officer Karen DeMarco explained the scenario and protocols of communicating about any reported COVID-19 cases stemming from in-school operations.

The rate of COVID-19 transmission has increased to 1.16 percent and has remained above 1 percent consistently in the last weeks of summer. The State of New Jersey’s rate of transmission is 1.06 percent as of Sept. 15.

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The rate of transmission being above 1 percent means that current cases are transmitting the virus to more than one person.

DeMarco said stricter controls may need to be put into place to reduce the uptick in the spread of the illness, “if this trend continues or if the number (percentage) continues to increase.”

The number of new cases reported in a day recently peaked at 10 cases. As of Sept. 15, in the past six months, Hunterdon County has had a confirmed 1,262 cases of COVID-19 among county residents.

DeMarco said that, since March 2020, the county health department has advised nearly 7,500 county residents if they’ve had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, instructing them to quarantine for 14 days.

“With the reopening of schools, youth sports and limited-capacity indoor dining this month, our department is monitoring critical benchmarks daily to determine the presence of the virus here in Hunterdon,” she said. “Although the number of reported cases throughout the county was stable over many weeks, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases reported each day. In Hunterdon and across New Jersey, health officials are investigating the outbreaks of COVID-19 related to college going-away parties or Labor Day weekend events. We urge residents to take precautions and continue distancing.”

The county continues to partner with Flemington-based Hunterdon Medical Center and Hunterdon Healthcare to provide COVID-19 testing to residents. DeMarco said on Tuesday that, thankfully, many confirmed with cases have experienced only mild illnesses.

“Our area medical care providers do not report an increase in hospital admissions or ventilator use related to COVID-19, as we watch these critical benchmarks closely,” she said.

The Hunterdon County Health Department continues to work closely with schools and districts to interpret guidance from the State of New Jersey, including executive orders by the governor. The assistance includes for implementing physical distancing; excluding ill students whether they tested positive for COVID-19 or not; and protocols if there is a positive COVID-19 case within a school setting.

DeMarco said that if a case is reported at a school, the health department nurses work with school officials and case officials to conduct contact tracing and recommend quarantines for anyone who had close contact with the case.

“There are many different variables and activities in the school environment, and school plans to focus on reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the school settings, whether that’s for an all-virtual, hybrid or in-person school environment,” she said. “To support our schools, the Hunterdon County Health Department created a dedicated schools’ hotline and email address to respond to inquiries and provide guidance as needed.”

DeMarco added that county health department personnel are available after hours for any issues that need immediate action.

While the health department regularly meets with school administrators and personnel to provide updates on procedures and data, another resource districts are able to consider are weekly reports with local information, delivered by the state health department.

“In addition to our Hunterdon County-based daily COVID-19 surveillance (with data posted on the Health Department “Novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 Updates and Resources” webpage), the state health department releases a weekly COVID activity level reports and they characterize our region as having moderate activity, a step above the low levels for neighboring Sussex and Warren counties,” she said. “This report includes the number of positive cases reported per day and the percentage of positive test results and the number of patients with COVID-like illness visiting the hospital’s emergency department. As schools have reopene,d these metrics have provided important information to school administrators and personnel, and our county health department provides this data to schools weekly.”