TOMS RIVER – As the liaison to the Ocean County Health Department, Commissioner Gerry P. Little has delivered his share of bad news since officials began reporting COVID-19 updates last March.
For a long while, the focus was on documenting numbers – both positive cases and coronavirus-related deaths. Then, fast forward and Little’s report included acknowledging the difficulty in securing sufficient COVID-19 vaccine allocations.
During the height of the virus, health department officials gave daily reports of positive test results in excess of three digits. It also was not uncommon for individual municipalities to document more than 100 cases in one day.
Hospitals in Ocean County went on divert several times. Nursing homes became overrun with COVID-19 outbreaks. And – thousands ultimately lost their lives to the novel coronavirus.
In a county with more than a third of residents over 65, the struggle hit close to home. The next battle was locating enough vaccines for those considering it as an option.
When Little delivered his COVID-19 report at the most recent Ocean County Commissioner’s meeting, the first thing he did was remark on the smiling faces he saw from the dais. County directors concerned about crowding meetings returned to the meeting room for the first time in ages. Most assembled felt comfortable with removing their masks.
“We have to thank our health department for this massive response,” said Little. “Overnight, we only had 19 new confirmed cases, which brings the total to 65,804.”
Only eight municipalities throughout the county reported at least one case on the day of Little’s report. Lakewood led the list, followed by Toms River and Jackson, which each documented three confirmed cases each.
“Long-term care facilities had six of the cases,” Little added. “For comparison purposes, there was a time that fifty nursing homes in the county that had an outbreak.”
Testing sites are seeing less traffic in comparison to the number previously swabbed at the direction of Ocean County health officials. Only four people showed up for COVID-19 tests last Tuesday.
According to Little, over 247,926 Ocean County residents are fully vaccinated. This accounts for 49 percent of county residents over the age of 18.
Ocean County authorities arranged for additional vaccination sites throughout the county, including sessions at the Ocean County Fire Training Academy on June 28. In addition, many libraries have taken on vaccine schedules.
The numbers have already increased in the week since Little’s report. Of the 510,000 Ocean County residents considered eligible for the vaccine, nearly 284,000 received at least one dose of the vaccine. Over 252,000 are now fully vaccinated.
Mortality statistics offer a dark picture of COVID-19 devastating impact in Ocean County. Lost lives currently total 2001, with Lakewood, Manchester, and Toms River all reporting more than 300 who succumbed to the virus.
Little said that vaccines are available in several locations throughout the county, including the RWJ Barnabas Healthcare Arena, Southern Regional High School, and a drive-thru clinic at Ocean County College.