Bayonne health officer encourages vaccinations as COVID-19 cases rise

First, second, third, and booster doses are available at the Korpi Ice Rink

COVID-19 is again surging in Bayonne.

The city has seen a week by week increase over the past month, according to data released by the Bayonne Office of Emergency Management. As of Dec. 16, there were 132 active cases, up from 129 as of Dec. 9. The last time case numbers were this high was back around March of this year.

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Meanwhile, hospitalizations are also increasing, but overall actually remain low in number. There were only 4 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Bayonne Medical Center as of Dec. 16, down from 5 as of Dec. 9.

Holiday uptick

In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Health Officer Michele O’Reilly described the current situation in Bayonne. According to O’Reilly, the city is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases amid the holiday season.

“We are seeing an increase in cases not only in Bayonne, but also across the state,” O’Reilly said. “We definitely have seen a rise in cases due to the holidays, with increased travel and indoor gatherings.”

O’Reilly said the uptick was somewhat expected, as many people travel or gather in larger numbers in closer proximity during the festive season. What is occurring now is a result from Thanksgiving and indoor gatherings in late November.

“It definitely was expected,” she said. “Increased indoor gatherings due to Thanksgiving and or traveling for the holidays to visit family, perhaps in other states, are reasons why we still have increasing cases.”

Recently, Bayonne’s COVID-19 Activity Level Index, or CALI score, increased from moderate to high, something mirrored across the state. However, that number status is constantly in flux, O’Reilly said.

“The entire state is high right now, but that changes weekly,” she said. “It’s like a wax and wane. As the holidays come, we’ll see an increase in cases. As the holidays go, we’ll see it decrease. So that weekly CALI score will change based on the number of cases we see due to the holidays and the increased gatherings and increased travel. I do expect to see it taper off once the holidays are over. That’s the goal.”

Omicron not in Bayonne yet

Despite the uptick, O’Reilly said the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is not prevalent in the city. There are only a handful of cases in New Jersey so far, and O’Reilly was not aware of any Bayonne resident sick with the variant as of press time.

“The one variant we are still seeing is the Delta variant, as opposed to the widely publicized Omicron variant,” O’Reilly said. “There has been an increase in cases, so in an effort to protect yourself and your loved ones, use common sense. We’ve been in this public health fight for almost twenty months now. Everybody knows when to wear a mask, when to wash your hands, when to stay home when you’re sick, and to avoid large gatherings, especially when the vaccination status of the other people in attendance are unknown. That’s a good rule of thumb. That and to get vaccinated and most importantly to get boosted.”

O’Reilly said that the vaccine has helped keep hospitalizations from the virus lower this year.

“Increased vaccination rates across Bayonne has definitely lowered hospitalizations,” she said. “It’s offering that other layer of protection… We never want to go back to the days where we were seeing one hundred plus cases a day. I think due to increased vaccinations and boosters, we are not seeing that.”

But the uptick in virus cases in the city is not only among the unvaccinated, but also those who have gotten the vaccine. Even those who are fully vaccinated can still contract the virus in rarer circumstances, known as breakthrough cases.

“Because we are seeing breakthrough cases, it’s important for us to be mindful,” O’Reilly said. “Stay home when you’re sick. The primary mode of transmission is through respiratory droplets. So if you’re sick, and you’re coughing, it doesn’t make for a good indoor gathering.”

Get vaccinated and boosted

However, according to O’Reilly, the vaccine is still the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and even death from COVID-19.

The Moderna vaccines, including first, second, third, and booster doses are available at the Korpi Ice Rink behind Bayonne High School at 669 Avenue A on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pfizer vaccines, including first, second, third, and booster doses are available at the ice rink on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In Bayonne, approximately 77 percent of adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to O’Reilly. Approximately 89 percent of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

The city does not yet have numbers for 5- to 11-year-olds or 12- to 17-year-olds. At the county level, Hudson County ranks first in the state with that age group at 89 percent having at least one dose. However, O’Reilly said members of those age groups have been getting vaccinated.

“We definitely did see an uptick in our Pfizer days at the ice rink,” she said. “They’re starting to come around for second doses now, so those numbers should be interesting to see. Hopefully it shows an increase in vaccination rates among that age group.”

O’Reilly said the city has been working well in conjunction with the school district and Board of Education to get eligible students vaccinated. The city already had the site at the ice rink at the high school before youth started to become eligible, so it was easier to get vaccinated after the eligibility expanded.

Youth vaccination outreach

“We’ve had a very good relationship with the Board of Education,” O’Reilly said. “They’ve been fantastic with their communication with us at the local level. They are open to us opening vaccination sites at any of the schools when a need presents itself. But for now, it seems people are comfortable either receiving the vaccine at the ice rink, in a federally qualified health center, or in their own physician’s or pediatrician’s office.”

She continued: “We are trying to make a push to reach out to pediatric providers to encourage them to receive vaccine, but some of them aren’t really as keen because they don’t have the staff or the proper storage. It’s been a little bit of a challenge reaching them, but we’re open and available to any needs that the schools would have present. Because we’ve had a static school-based site since May, we’re in a good position to reach those kids. The Board of Education has been great with getting the messaging out.”

According to O’Reilly the city also recently participated in Boost New Jersey Day on Dec. 15, commemorating the one year anniversary of administering the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. The day aimed to increase vaccine awareness and encourage eligible residents to get booster doses. Overall, O’Reilly said the city is fairing well, all things considered.

“The vaccination rates speak for themselves,” she said. “The vaccine program here in the city is going very well. We saw a large increase in demand for boosters so we changed our hours slightly at the site to accommodate more individuals who may work a little later. I think we are fairing well. In true Bayonne fashion, we hold each other responsible to do the right thing. We are doing a great job and we can always do better. Be nice. With all that’s going on, we don’t know the struggles that people have been through the past 20 months. People could have lost their jobs, family members, friends, who knows. It’s an important reminder to be kind throughout this holiday season. We’re doing good. Let’s continue to do good and go in the right direction. But let’s not forget to be kind also.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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