Hoboken Addresses Questions About COVID-19 Statistics
As a reminder that the crisis is not over, the City of Hoboken has been reporting an increase in COVD-19 cases after a relatively quiet period. According to City officials, the new cases—16 this week, per latest report—stem from travel or residents returning home from areas beyond New Jersey.
“We have seen a slight uptick in cases related to travel outside of New Jersey to regions with a substantial rise in new cases,” said Mayor Ravi Bhalla on Tuesday. “If you have traveled out of state to any of these areas, I strongly encourage you to get tested at least five days after returning at Riverside Medical, and to self-quarantine for a full 14 days.” On Wednesday, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for certain travelers coming into the Tri-State region.
Regarding the demonstrations on June 5 in which 10,000 attendees took to the streets of Hoboken, Bhalla specifically said via Twitter, “No new Hoboken cases came from 1000+ demonstrators tested at Riverside.” That means of the 10,000 overall attendees, the Mayor maintains that 1,000 Hoboken residents who attended have been tested and came back negative. Bhalla asserts, “Slight uptick in new cases: residents who traveled to states w/ rising COVID rates. If you traveled to hot spots such as FL, AZ & NC please get tested & quarantine. If possible, avoid travel to these areas.”
Bhalla’s tweet garnered a significant amount of skepticism on social media. Thursday night, Hoboken Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher responded with her own tweet, calling into question the methodology behind Hoboken’s COVID case conclusions.
“This just isn’t true & is prob made up by #hoboken ‘s comm dir/mayor’s campaign mgr @VijayChaudhuri who is #comfortablydishonest. This implies drs do contact tracing (they don’t) & our health dept gave info on recent cases (they didn’t). Hoboken residents shouldn’t be lied to.”
This just isn’t true & is prob made up by #hoboken ‘s comm dir/mayor’s campaign mgr @VijayChaudhuri who is #comfortablydishonest. This implies drs do contact tracing (they don’t) & our health dept gave info on recent cases (they didn’t). Hoboken residents shouldn’t be lied to. https://t.co/AiGabmbkpi
— Tiffanie Fisher, Councilwoman (@Tiffanie_Fisher) June 26, 2020
Fisher’s comments reportedly stem from a briefing given by other City officials Wednesday morning, in which they in seemed unaware of any specific data that would support the Mayor’s comments.
In an interview which aired on PIX11 Thursday morning, Dr. Guarang Brahmbhatt of Riverside Medical Group spoke about his own methodology.
From Thursday morning: pic.twitter.com/2QTrCNDYYR
— Vijay Chaudhuri (@VijayChaudhuri) June 26, 2020
“It’s a slight uptick, we’re not talking about a large number of positive cases. However, compared to the last couple of weeks, where there were five, six days in a row where there were zero cases, all of a sudden we were getting five one day and six another day, which made me sit up and wonder what was going on,” said Brahmbhatt. “So we asked more questions.”
The Doctor, who has been heading up the City of Hoboken’s testing initiatives since late March, told PIX11, “Obviously the Department of Health will do their contact tracing and make sure these patients are quarantined and isolated. But we’re asking the right questions—where were you, what have you been doing, have you traveled anywhere. And we noticed the majority of people had traveled recently outside New Jersey and were returning—which most people do in the summer.”
hMAG reached out to the Hoboken Health Department for further comment on their contact tracing program and quarantine directives.
“From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the very first confirmed case, the Hoboken Health Department has conducted thousands of contract tracing phone calls, helping to prevent additional infections. If it were not for this proactive and early action, there could very well have been many more cases of COVID-19 in Hoboken. Any claim that Hoboken does not do robust contract tracing is false and is disrespectful to the staff in the Health Department that has been working 24/7 to keep Hoboken residents safe,” said Director Leo Pellegrini.
“As the Director of Health, I can confirm that thanks to the substantial contract tracing in June, several of those who tested positive traveled outside of New Jersey, including to hotspots, came back to Hoboken and tested positive for COVID-19. The Hoboken Health Department continues to urge anyone who traveled to these hot spots to quarantine for a full 14 days.”
Fisher responded, “I think our health department under Leo’s direction has done a great job contact tracing and is well equipped to do so. That has never been at issue. At issue is the source of the data behind the mayor’s recent assertions.” According to the Councilwoman, “This response, probably crafted by the mayor’s communication director, still doesn’t address this other than with vague references. And of note, this statement is different than what members of the Council discussed with the administration on Wednesday.”
As for the recent uptick in testing, Brahmbhatt said, “The types of individuals who are getting tests are those who are returning to work—because their work requires it, or they want to make sure they are extra safe; anyone who attended the peaceful protests in Hoboken two weeks ago; kids returning to daycare; or people now returning from out of state.”
City officials have once again expressly verified that there have been no known positive cases stemming from the June 5 Hoboken protests.
Regarding the new cases, Brahmbhatt feels confident that those infect will take the necessary precautions.
“The Health Department has confirmed that during contact tracing for those recent positive tests, no one reported going to Hoboken’s peaceful demonstration for racial justice,” said Director Pellegrini.
“When you tell people they have tested positive, they become more cautious, it becomes a reality,” he said. “I would like to think that after what we’ve been through over the past three months they would do that.”