Something is going right in Union County.
With a population of 556,000 residents, Union has achieved one of the lowest COVID-19 community transmission rates in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC examines data from thousands of counties across the country, determines their level of community spread and classifies them based on transmission risk: high, substantial, moderate or low.
Union County was among just 52 counties in the U.S. in the “low” category. It’s the only county in the state to achieve the “lowest tier for community transmission” for COVID-19, the county said in a statement on Thursday. And it’s the only one in the Northeast to “achieve the low transmission designation.”
“I think we took COVID-19 serious from day one,” said Union County Commissioner Board Chairman Alexander Mirabella.
More than 72% of the county’s eligible population has been vaccinated. And roughly 80% of county employees have been immunized, according to a spokeswoman. Union’s seven-day positivity rate through Monday was 2.04%.
To put it in perspective, the CDC labeled 2,656 counties in the U.S. as having a “high” community transmission risk. More than 360 others were deemed as having “substantial” risk and 148 as “moderate.”
Union County has been hit hard by the pandemic. Nearly 80,000 residents have been infected so far, with more than 1,800 deaths — the sixth highest number in the state, according to the New Jersey COVID-19 dashboard. Union borders Essex County, which has suffered the most coronavirus fatalities in the state, and Middlesex County, which has suffered the third-highest deaths.
“We’re a very congested, very diverse county … We’re one of the smallest counties, but one of the largest populations,” Mirabella said. “So people are really kind of on top of each other. So I think people did realize that, ‘Hey, we better take this seriously.’ I congratulate the public for listening to the county message, to listening to the governor’s message.”
Looking at the CDC’s map, it’s curious to see an entire state covered in red and orange — counties labeled as having “high” and “substantial” rates of community transmission — and then seeing a single, tiny blue square signifying low risk. Although many communities were proactive in combating the virus, Union County was among those taking early measures that Mirabella believes made a significant impact.
Union was quick to offer free mass testing to residents in the crisis. It was among the first to require county employees to be immunized or undergo weekly testing. It rolled out mobile testing units, seeking out the homeless and other vulnerable residents, seniors and people unable to leave their homes, according to the county’s statement.
“I think it all kind of came together,” said Mirabella, who encouraged residents to also get their flu shots with influenza season upon us.
The level of COVID-19 community transmission is a critical measurement. It helps the CDC understand the amount of spread occurring in a given county and the likelihood of exposure in that county. The CDC calculates community transmission by looking at total new cases for every 100,000 residents over the past seven days, and the percentage of positive tests over the past seven days.
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Spencer Kent may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.