WESTFIELD, NJ — Health officials in Westfield this week reported challenges in containing the spread of COVID-19 among young adults.
Speaking to the Westfield Board of Health on Monday Westfield Regional Health Department Director Megan Avallone said that in July Westfield saw an increase by about 250% of COVID-19 incidence in adults in their late teens and early 20s.
“While all of my towns have seen an increase in cases, none of them have seen an increase in cases that dramatic,” said Avallone, whose department serves Chatham Borough, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park, Summit and Westfield. “I can say with some certainty it’s definitely localized or localized socialization.”
Of the cases in July, she said, about 36% were contracted as a result of primary or secondary contact made during social activities that young adults have taken, “whether that be a graduation party, a Fourth of July party or small gatherings.”
The state Health Department Commissioner had reported that a graduation party in Westfield led to 17 COVID-19 cases. A spokeswoman for the state Health Department said this party happened early in July.
Many of the social gatherings at which people have spread the virus, Avallone said, have been held outdoors.
“Outdoor events are certainly safer than indoor events, that’s true, but you still need to take precautions with outdoor events. You still need to be 6 feet apart,” she said.
With the increase in cases, local health officials said, have also come challenges in both reaching people who test positive and getting them to provide information about those people they may have had close contact with.
“We’re here as a resource,” Avallone said. “We’re not the quarantine police. We’re not scary. We can only do our jobs if we can get the information that we need to get ahead of this.”
In 22% of cases in July, she said, the department has been unable to reach people who have tested positive for COVID-19, as those patients have not called the department back. And in other cases, particularly among young people, patients declined to provide their contacts, Avallone said.
“What we’ve been doing is saying ‘OK, we have written information you can share [with contacts]. Please share it.’ It’s not ideal, but it’s better than not having the information go out at all,” she said.
Contributing to the challenge of containing COVID-19 among young people, Avallone said, is that they recover more quickly from the virus than adults and so are less likely to carry out the full self-quarantine.
“Asking somebody who's 19 to stay home for 10 days when they’re only sick for two days, that’s a hard sell,” she said.
Key for the public, Avallone said, is that if someone experienced symptoms, and they get tested for COVID-19 (as they should) then they should also quarantine while they are waiting for those test results.
Test providers not providing that information, she said, causes a great deal of work for the health department because patients who ultimately test positive will have come in contact with more people while they have been potentially infectious.
On Tuesday, Mayor Shelley Brindle reported two new COVID-19 cases since Friday, bringing the total number of cases in Westfield to 349.
Avallone said that the department remains just as busy as it was earlier in the pandemic as it handles both the reopening of schools, daycares and businesses along with a new COVID-19 reporting system that lengthens the contact tracing process.
“We’re still very much in crisis mode,” she said.
Email Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @MattKadosh
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