UNION — Monroe County has had two more COVID-19 related deaths.
The Monroe County Health Department announced Thursday evening a 72-year-old male and a 78-year-old male have died, bringing the county’s total number of COVID deaths to 10 since the pandemic began.
Numbers of positive cases in the county have also been rising, with 296 confirmed and 26 probable as of Thursday. Of those cases, 39 remain active and four are hospitalized.
Mercer County’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases also keeps rising, and health officials are concerned about the impact of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Brenda Donithan, administrator of the Mercer County Health Department, said 32 new cases were confirmed Thursday, bringing the cumulative total to 1,243.
Of those, 493 are still active and 750 recovered. The county saw it’s 38th COVID-related death last weekend.
Princeton Community Hospital on Thursday had 20 COVID-positive patients with six more awaiting test results, said Richard Hypes, PCH’s director of marketing.
Seven of those patients are in CCU (Cardiac Care Unit) and one is in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) with nine ventilators in use, he said.
Donithan said she does not yet see any significant signs of the spread abating, and the cases are keeping staff busy trying to catch up on contact tracing.
“We are trying to get to them as fast as we can,” she said. “It takes forever.”
Donithan also said the department must also handle its routine services along with the testing and contact tracing. “Nobody gets to sit around.”
Nursing students from the Mercer County Vocational Technical Center have been a huge help with testing, she added. “They have helped us tremendously. We are lucky to have them.”
The health department has been offering free drive-through testing and will again today from 8 a.m. to noon.
Donithan said the response has been good, seeing 196 tests in three hours on Tuesday and 191 in three hours on Wednesday.
Results have seen about a 5 percent positive rate, she said, a sharp increase from earlier testing events.
“When we first started offering them we really didn’t have many positives,’ she said. “Sometimes none at all. But now we have positives every time we have tested.”
Donithan said she doesn’t know if it’s a matter of people being more concerned now so more are being tested or because of the impact of recent spread.
“We also wondered about Halloween and its impact on the spread,” she said, as more positives have been seen since then.
“After Thanksgiving, we will be watching closely for the next two weeks to see if there is any big jump,” she said. “We are advising people to try not to travel and only have small gatherings. I hope people will listen.”
Mercer County has almost tripled the number of positive cases in just the last six week.
Along with all of these responsibilities, the department has also had to get ready for a vaccine when it is available, and that has been accomplished.
Different vaccines are on the horizon, with some requiring freezer storage at a temperature 86 degrees below zero, she said, with others not as cold.
Donithan said the department has not been able to find a freezer capable of the super cold temperatures because they are in such demand, but they can use dry ice instead.
She is hopeful other vaccines will come that can be handled easier.
“Either way, we will be ready,” she said, adding that much of the vaccine may be shipped directly to area providers, like hospitals and clinics, if they apply and be ready to receive it.
Health experts are now saying a vaccine may be available by the end of the year or in January with the first wave for health care workers, first-responders and residents of long-term care facilities. More widespread availability should follow by spring and summer.
Right now, though, it’s a matter of everyone doing the best they can to test and contact trace, she said, and hope people follow protocol and take advice from experts.
Mercer County is part of a statewide and national surge in cases, as the state is seeing record numbers of active cases (11,643 as of Thursday). with the death count growing to 623.
Mercer County schools also continue to see positive cases, with the school system announcing Thursday the seventh grade students at Bluefield Middle School began remote learning-only today because of a positive case and subsequent quarantining. Sixth and eighth-graders are not impacted.
Glenwood School is listed on the state Department of Education’s website as having an outbreak, which means at least two linked cases have been confirmed at the school.
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org.