WESTFIELD, NJ — Don’t assume the recent downward trend in coronavirus cases will continue.
The Westfield Regional Health Department is preparing for a potential fall spike in COVID-19 cases and the department’s health officer wants the public to act in kind.
“We’re anticipating a second wave in the fall,” said Megan Avallone, director of the Westfield Regional Health Department, which serves eight towns in Union and Morris counties. “Although to be clear, it’s impossible to say what’s going to happen.”
During Monday’s virtual meeting with the Westfield Board of Health, Avallone did not directly address the potential for COVID-19 to spread during demonstrations occurring in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. She did, however, discuss a need to continue social distancing — even amid warmer weather.
“As the weather gets warmer, as things begin to open up, we’re social beings we miss our friends and families,” Avallone said, and then added: “The young adult population in particular we’re really trying to message to.”
In May, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch in an American Medical Association journal article cited his research finding that warmer weather would only reduce COVID-19 transmission rates by 20%.
“We will have a harder time controlling coronavirus in the fall ... and we will all be very tired of social distancing and other tactics,” Lipsitch told the journal. “The hard thing will be to keep enough of it to protect our ICUs and keep the number of cases from flaring up.”
As of this week, however, COVID-19 cases are declining across the Westfield Regional Health Department’s territory, Avallone said. She told the Westfield Board of Health that during the height of the pandemic her department was tracking 4,500 positive cases daily and now is looking at around 1,000 cases per day.
But as people go back to work and more of the region opens up, it has been tougher to reach close contacts of people who have tested positive for the virus, Avallone said.
“We find ourselves having to call day after day, and we’re looking at sending text messages,” she said.
People who have tested positive, she said, must self-quarantine for 10 days after experiencing the last symptom of COVID-19.
If COVID-19 spikes in the fall, Avallone said, she hopes to get help from the state Health Department in the form of contract tracers that New Jersey is recruiting. In addition to serving Westfield, the health department services Summit, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park and Chatham Borough.
“We cover a population of about 110,000,” Avallone said.