Governor Murphy this week announced a loosening of indoor restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. The 10 percent boost in indoor capacity for restaurants, gyms and certain other establishments and activities – along with the lifting of the statewide 10 p.m. restaurant indoor service limit – is less relief than struggling businesses would like. But it means we’re moving in the right direction.

The governor said those steps forward were possible because key metrics such as hospitalizations and the virus transmission rate are trending in the right direction. The way to continue driving those numbers down is to continue following public health protocols. Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when you’re around people outside your immediate household. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid large gatherings and stay home if you are sick.

Those precautions, which help protect you and those around you, will continue to be necessary throughout the vaccination process, which we know will take a number of months. Public health experts say that even those who have been vaccinated should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing for the time being. Vaccine is still in short supply, making appointments difficult to get. We receive our vaccine doses from the state, which receives its supply from the federal government. As supply increases, more appointments will become available. The new administration in Washington has had to play catch-up but is making progress. Please continue to be patient.

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Mercer County’s vaccination site at CURE Insurance Arena, which is being managed by Capital Health, is using the New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System (NJVSS). That system now allows us to prioritize Mercer County residents for appointments, which previously was not the case. To get a vaccination at the arena, you must register through NJVSS at https://covidvaccine.nj.gov. You will be notified when it’s time for you to schedule an appointment. If you need help with the vaccine scheduling system, please contact the New Jersey COVID-19 Vaccine Call Center at 855-568-0545.

While the focus has turned to vaccinating, testing is still an important part of the pandemic response. Mercer County offers a free at-home saliva test for COVID-19 through a partnership with Vault Health Services. The saliva test, which has the same effectiveness as the nasal swab test, is available to County residents 14 years or older and anyone employed as a first responder or health care worker in the County. Details can be found on the COVID-19 Testing page on the County website.

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Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the yeoman’s work done by the Mercer County Highway Division during this week’s snowstorm. The heavy snow and wind, along with sleet that created icy conditions, made this long, three-day event a difficult one to manage. The Highway Division, under the direction of Deputy Administrator Aaron T. Watson, was able to stay on top of the storm, clearing the 425 lane miles of county roadway. I appreciate the effort the Highway team puts in during weather like that and I know the people who live and work in Mercer County do as well.