Montgomery Township Prepares for COVID-19
Updated: Apr 4
Montgomery Township Schools will be closed as of Friday, March 13. Classes will be offered online in an attempt to proactively address the coronavirus pandemic, according to an email the school sent to parents and guardians on March 12.
Panic buying continues at Shoprite, as toilet paper, flour, potatoes, bananas, disinfectant wipes, and other items are sold out. And, locals are increasingly concerned about whether they will have access to test kits if needed.
So far, no Montgomery resident has tested positive for the virus. However, at the Montgomery Township Board of Health meeting on March 11, a board member said multiple members of the Montgomery community were exposed to COVID-19 at a party in Princeton held on February 29. Those residents are in self-quarantine for 14 days. (Of the 47 people at the private gathering, five non-Montgomery residents have tested positive so far.)
The Montgomery Health Department is aware of individual residents who may have been exposed to COVID-19 at the Princeton party, according to a March 11 announcement. "Montgomery Health Department disease detectives, and neighboring agencies, are investigating the contacts of these attendees and will reach out to anyone determined to be at elevated risk of exposure," the announcement states, noting that the risk to the general public remains low at this time.
"One of the things we are doing now is to try to teach people to think differently about the way they work, the way they go to school, and the way they get together with people," Montgomery Township Health Officer Stephanie Carey told the Board of Health of on Wednesday, March 11.
"Coronavirus has had a massive impact on our operations so far, and there are going to be impacts to the community," she said. "I say this not to create panic, but to create attention to action. The opposite of fear is not silence, the opposite of fear is making an action plan and putting it into place."
Closing the schools is just one of many actions taking place in Montgomery Township. The health department is asking residents to curtail community activities and group gatherings, and is asking local businesses to come up with different ways of working — such as virtual meetings and working from home.
Just east of Montgomery, the South Brunswick school district has become one of the first New Jersey public schools to close in response to the pandemic, and to have moved to online learning.
Belle Mead resident Stephen Dentler, a teacher at South Brunswick High School, has set up a workspace in his home. He began offering his classes online on March 12 using Google Classroom.
In a notice on the district's website, South Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Scott Feder said the district learned late Tuesday night (March 10) of the potential exposure of two township residents. One is a South Brunswick High School student. Both are being evaluated for the coronavirus.
South Brunswick middle and high school students are able to access learning directly through Google Classroom. Their teachers are providing instruction and assignments. In addition, the school has a limited number of Chromebooks available. Distribution will be one per household for identified families, according to the district website.
Montgomery resident Dentler is at the forefront as public schools in the area, including Princeton, Hopewell Regional, and Hillsborough schools prepare to move to online learning as a measure to proactively mitigate the spread of the virus.
In his 28 years as a teacher, Dentler says, "nothing like this has ever happened! We are figuring this out on the fly. I imagine a bunch of other schools will follow suit."
Education technology companies, such as Kahoot! are offering free subscriptions to educators who need to quickly access and use distance learning tools in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, Dentler said in a telephone interview. Kahoot! enables teachers to engage with their students via videoconferencing, self-paced learning, games, and online quizzes. Dentler has 60 students in his statistics class and 110 in his computer science class.
Meanwhile, a Montgomery parent named Cindy Dai has started an online petition demanding that school officials move faster in providing distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak. It had 1,650 signatures as of 6:30 pm on March 12.
"Dear Montgomery School Officials," the petition reads. "As parents of Montgomery students we are deeply concerned about the recent development of COVID-19 in the country and in our immediate neighborhood.
"Due to lack of sufficient testing, people could be walking around unknowingly carrying the virus and spreading it. We urge you to open online classes asap, and to grant concerned parents the option to keep kids home."
Montgomery school administrators listened and closed the schools on the evening of March 12. Montgomery Acting Superintendent of Schools Mary E. McLoughlin said, "Our district's number one priority continues to be the health and well-being of our students, teachers, and staff."
The NJ Department of Education has indicated it will count distance learning toward the 180-day attendance requirement.
Montgomery Board of Health member Jeremy S. Grayson, MD, said he anticipates all schools in New Jersey will be closed within the next two weeks, and will shift to an on-line learning system. Grayson is an anesthesiologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
"Who gets tested, and who decides who gets tested?" asked board of health member Greg Kaganowicz, who said he had 15 phone calls in a couple of days from members of the public who wanted to know.
People also want to know how long, and on what surfaces, does the virus live, he said.
"There are places in the world that offer drive-through testing," Kaganowicz says. Someone with symptoms wants to be tested, drives up to the clinic in his car and partially opens the window. A healthcare worker in full protective gear swabs the patient, then the patient drives away.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced late Thursday afternoon that the state would open its first drive-through coronavirus testing facility in New Rochelle — the epicenter of the outbreak in the state.
The facility will open Friday and is by appointment only, Cuomo said, adding that New Rochelle residents who are already quarantined will be tested first, CNN reports.
In South Korea, health officials have been testing hundreds of people for the novel coronavirus every day at fast-food-style drive-thrus. This method is coming to the US, with clinics in Colorado, Connecticut, and Washington state setting up similar testing outposts.
"Seattle is starting to do drive-thru testing," Montgomery Health Director Cary says. The University of Washington Medical Center in North Seattle can currently test 40 to 50 people per day using the drive-thru method."If there is a way New Jersey could get that model going, that would be awesome."
Testing Protocol in Montgomery Township / Princeton Area
Testing protocol this week in the Montgomery area is different than last week. "Last week," Carey says, "You basically had to be hospitalized to get authorized for testing. As of Monday, both Lab Corp and Quest are able to do the test, but they are being very specific that they are not collecting the specimen. So, they will evaluate the specimen, but will not collect it."
"That means, the ordering provider needs to be collecting the specimen," Carey says. "However, most primary care practitioners don't have the proper protective gear on hand to be able to take the specimen."
"The number of test kits are growing, but as to the actual number available, the estimates have varied so wildly that I could not tell you how many test kits are actually available," Carey says.
So, the test is not available in a primary care setting for those who do not have acute cases.
Princeton Nassau Pediatrics, which has an office in Skillman, is advising parents to call if they suspect their child has coronavirus symptoms.
"We currently do not have the capability to test for the virus in our office," according to a statement on the website. Testing has to be done in a facility where staff and physicians can properly isolate the patient and have the correct personal protective equipment, which is not available to our staff and physicians. Seeing these patients in our office without this equipment would result in our doctors and staff requiring to be quarantined themselves for fourteen days, leaving them unable to care for any other patients. We are working with the local and state DOH as well as the local hospitals to ensure that we can direct our patients to the correct facility for care, if testing is required. As a result, people suspected of coronavirus are NOT being seen in our office at this time.
Montgomery residents who have symptoms and who suspect they may have the virus should do this:
Phone their physician and ask what to do.
Or, call their local Urgent Care facility.
Or, call the local hospital emergency room.
Or, call the Montgomery Health Department at 908.359.8211.
Currently, the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick has tents outside of the the emergency room to assist with COVID-19 patients. The Princeton hospital on Route 1 is also prepared to assist.
Community members can get reliable information about the coronavirus on Montgomery Township Health Department COVID-19 landing page.
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