Princeton University officials announced on Tuesday morning that two staff members were at an off-campus party that was attended by two people from the Boston area who later tested positive for COVID-19.
The two Boston area people who were at the party and tested positive after they returned to New England had attended the Biogen Conference Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 in Boston. At least 70 people who attended the conference have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Princeton University officials asked the two staff members who attended the local party to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Dr. George DiFerdinando, Jr., chairman of the Princeton Board of Health, told Planet Princeton the test results for the two Princeton staff members are expected to be back as early as today.
The party in question took place in a private home in Princeton on Feb. 29, DiFerdinando told Planet Princeton. The number of people who attended that party is closer to 40 than the original estimate of 30 people, DiFerdinando said.
Local health officials learned about the party late Monday night, March 9, nine days after the party, and obtained more information about the gathering on Tuesday morning, March 10, DiFerdinando said.
Public health officials began interviewing people who were at the party on Tuesday, and when they asked them the names of other people who attended the party, the list grew to around 40 people. The total number of party attendees has not been confirmed yet.
Public health officials call the people who attended the party “first-degree contacts,” meaning they were in direct contact with people who tested positive. People who have interacted with the other people at the party, for example, the other staff members at the university who did not attend the party but work with someone who did, are considered second-degree contacts. The child of a staff member who did not attend the party but works with someone who did attend would be considered a third-degree contact. A teacher who teaches that child would be considered a fourth-degree contact.
University officials have reached out to the school contacts of the two staff members who were not at the party and have asked them to voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution. For example, one lecturer in the school’s gender and sexuality studies program told the student newspaper the Daily Princetonian via email that all staff members in the department were told to self-isolate as a precaution, even though they had not attended the party. Some classes at the university have already been moved to an online platform because of the situation.
The University announced on March 10 that two staff members were possibly exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) at an off-campus gathering. These two staff members have been tested and are self-quarantined while awaiting the results,” Princeton University Deputy Spokesman Michael Hotchkiss said. “Individuals who were in close contact with the two staff members have been contacted and asked to self-quarantine as a precaution and in line with public health best practices. This contact tracing is standard practice in this type of public health situation.”
DiFerdinando said town officials have not been recommending that second-degree contacts self-isolate. “Typically we have not been recommending second-degree contacts to be isolated. Obviously it is a choice though, and I’m not criticizing that choice,” he said. DiFerdinando said a first-degree contact who was at the party should be isolated whether the person has symptoms or not.
Local health officials have been focusing on the most vulnerable people in the community such as the elderly and people with certain health conditions and recommending that they don’t fly or take cruises and that they stay out of crowds and decrease public contact, DiFerdinando said.
The Princeton Public Schools remain open. South Brunswick Public Schools, the Princeton Charter School, and Stuart Country Day School decided to close because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. The Trenton school district is closed for a few days while staff members sanitize the school. Some districts like Princeton and Montgomery have scheduled early dismissal days where teachers and staff will plan for potential closures and distance learning.
Editor’s Notes: This post will be updated later today as we learn more information.
There have been conflicting reports regarding the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 from the Biogen conference. At least 70 people have tested positive, according to the Boston Globe and other news outlets. The state health commissioner for New Jersey said at a press briefing on Monday that 170 people at that conference had tested presumed positive.
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