between the lines (2)

Dear Mercer County Community:

It’s been a full year since a novel coronavirus began altering our lives. March 4 marked exactly 12 months since the first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, was reported in New Jersey, although the number of confirmed cases globally was already approaching 100,000. Nine days later, the first case in Mercer County was announced. Last March, as my administration heeded the guidance provided by public health experts and took steps to keep people safe — such as securing personal protective equipment and establishing a COVID-19 testing operation — it wasn’t clear how severe the crisis would be or how long it would last. But it was hard to imagine we’d still be engaged in this battle a year later.

Sadly, confirmed COVID-19-related deaths in Mercer County now total 844, and nationwide it’s more than half a million. The staggering number of lives that have been lost to this pandemic — and the grieving families left behind — should be all the motivation anyone needs to keep their guard up as we move forward with the vaccination process and toward a return to more-normal routines.

Throughout this ordeal, health care workers and others on the front lines in Mercer County have heroically led the battle against COVID-19, and the rest of our community has stepped up by following public health protocols and supporting each other. I thank all of you for that and for the many sacrifices you’ve made. We’ve come a long way together since March of 2020 but we need to go farther. I’m confident that the COVID-19 vaccination process will continue to improve as the federal government ramps up vaccine supply and the New Jersey Department of Health fine-tunes its online Vaccine Scheduling System and call center.

This week, the state Health Department received its first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved vaccine, which joins vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna as weapons for fighting the pandemic. The single-dose J&J vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage, making it transportable. That will help us reach homebound individuals and others who cannot easily get to a vaccination site. For example, Mercer County provided 200 doses of the J&J vaccine to the Hamilton Township Health Department to hold a vaccination clinic today at the Alvin E. Gershen Apartments, which offers affordable housing for older adults and young people with disabilities.

State officials caution that the supply/demand imbalance we have experienced with COVID-19 vaccines is likely to continue through March, especially as many more New Jerseyans become eligible for vaccinations in the coming weeks. But the situation will change for the better in April, Governor Murphy said this week, when vaccine supply is expected to increase dramatically. Please continue to be patient. If you haven’t done so already, register online to receive a vaccine or call 1-855-568-0545 for assistance. In the coming months, everyone who wants a vaccination will be able to get one. The bottom line is that we’ll head into spring with what health experts agree are three vaccines that are extremely effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death, which is what matters most. Health experts are urging people to take whichever shot is available to them when they are eligible.

With the virus still active in our community, the basic preventative measures that we’ve followed for the past year — mask wearing, social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when sick — remain necessary. We need to continue to fight COVID-19 with every available tool we have. Thank you again for your ongoing commitment to this effort. Let’s continue to support each other and work together.

Brian M. Hughes

Mercer County Executive

Editor’s Note: In additional signs of progress in the fight against COVID-19, several Trenton-focused nonprofits have announced new efforts to help ensure vulnerable residents have access to testing and vaccinations.

With funding from the Department of Health’s ELC grant program, Trenton Health Team, Catholic Charities, and LALDEF (the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund) are partnering to focus on community outreach and access.

Catholic Charities will offer COVID-19 testing and vaccines and provide telehealth services at its El Centro program at 327 South Broad Street. It will also assist residents with vaccine registration and scheduling and offer resources for transportation or childcare.

Additionally Catholic Charities will create wellness groups, work with vulnerable and hard-to-reach individuals through in-home engagement, and provide safe spaces for immigrants to ask questions and receive information.

LALDEF plans to develop written materials in English and Spanish available on site and disseminated to churches, local supermarkets, the Princeton Public Library lobby, and around the community. Flyers will be posted on social media and distributed via text messaging.

LALDEF will also assist with vaccine pre-registration — specifically those immigrants who are not digitally literate — through telephone or in-person assistance in Spanish and/or English. It will also work with Catholic Charities to develop LALDEF’s headquarters as a vaccination site. And it will broadcast informational webinars in Spanish.