LAKEWOOD, NJ – New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Thursday touted the reduction of COVID-19 cases in Lakewood Township as a model of success to be used to combat future virus flareups across the state. Lakewood, Murphy said was an example of his new “scalpel” approach to managing outbreaks as opposed to blunt force closures, restrictions and shutdowns he implemented from March through now. He was called out by Star Ledger reporter Brent Johnson.
“Across the board, we have been aggressive in building our capabilities to fight the second wave that is now starting to crash on our shores,” Murphy said. “All of us collectively on the screen are pledged that we would not be caught unprepared when the second wave arrived. Well, it is here and we are ready. [We] refer to the so-called Lakewood model. When we say scalpel, a big piece of that is testing, tracing, enforcement, public pronouncements, working with our community leaders, with faith leaders, and that combination feels like it is one that is working in the context of what is undeniably a surge.”
Lakewood saw a surge in COVID-19 cases during the September holy holidays celebrated by the Orthodox Jewish community, but those numbers have dropped significantly since.
New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichili said the ‘Lakewood Model’ implemented in Ocean County involved the dispatching of hot spot teams to support the community. Those teams were focused on increasing testing, contact tracing capacity, education and awareness, and ensuring places are available to isolate and quarantine.
“Working together with the Ocean County Health Department and the community and religious leaders in Lakewood, we have developed a plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in that area,” Persichili said. “We found sites to stand up testing quickly that are convenient to the community.”
Since the end of September, the state deployed 33 pop-up testing sites in Lakewood. Thoe sites included Blueclaw Stadium, Monmouth Medical Center’s parking lot, a municipal lot, a public school, various yeshiva schools, and two federally qualified health centers, Comed and Ocean Health Initiatives. The department also deployed a nursing team to both the FQHCs to assist and train them on the Binax Now rapid testing process. Comed in Lakewood has performed 33,634 total tests.
The department also sent 21 contact tracers to Ocean County and worked to expand their hours into the evenings and weekends.
“With this support, and the cooperation of the Lakewood residents, we have seen a dramatic decline in the spread of the virus,” Persichili said. “In Lakewood, percent positivity went from a high of 36% in late September to 5.64% as of last Friday. When we all work together, wearing masks, social distancing, washing your hands frequently, staying home when you are sick, getting tested. answering the call, we can do better. We can beat this virus.”
“I wanted to underscore what I’m calling the Lakewood model. I don’t want to pat ourselves – I know you’re not intending to either — on the back that we’ve got all this figured out,” Murphy said. “But it’s pretty clear a combination of working with community leaders, as we are with Mayor Ras Baraka and his team right now in Newark; in Lakewood’s case especially, working with faith leaders, although faith leaders are important not just there, but around the state.”
Like in most cases with the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy kept the raw data from the public and shed little color on the figures behind the claims.
“You hold up Lakewood as a success story, but what data are you using to support that, since there’s no public reporting on rapid test data that has flooded the area as part of the plussing up strategy?” Johnson asked the governor. “How many tests were conducted in Lakewood, PCR, rapid in the weeks after the spike, and how many were positive for both?”
“On Lakewood, I think the evidence, I don’t know the amount of tests, Judy might know that but the evidence is in the spot positivity. Judy, I can’t recall whether — I know you have said this to me privately but we know what the spot positivity is now in Lakewood and what it was at the end of September and it’s dramatically different and better, period. Judy can address that,” Murphy said.
“On Lakewood, you know, the positivity is just one indicator,” Persichili responded. “We obviously look at hospitalizations from the Lakewood area. So it’s new cases, hospitalization, positivity, we keep a close eye on syndromic surveillance in our hospitals, COVID-like illness in our emergency rooms, and track back to Lakewood and Ocean County to determine how effective all of our actions are in Lakewood and Ocean County. So, too soon to tell. Positivity is one thing that we look at and I think with the cooperation that we saw, we’re very hopeful that the virus has slowed down a bit.”