COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end in NJ

Westfield Regional Health Department Director Megan Avallone addressed many questions and concerns regarding COVID-19, now that the federal government is declaring an end to the pandemic.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Westfield Regional Health Department Director Megan Avallone discussed COVID-19 vaccinations at the Summit Press Office on Monday, May 8. Avallone answered several prepared questions and then took questions from viewers.

When asked for her assessment of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, Avallone said she expected, as we enter spring, to see low levels of the coronavirus statewide. “This time of year, as we enter the warmer months, respiratory illness does tend to decline,” she said. “I do not anticipate any spikes until the fall, although COVID-19 has surprised us before. I think that it is safe to say that these summer months are going to be great ones.”

Avallone then reassured everyone that what we were seeing now was actually the end of the pandemic, and not just an end of a phase of it or a particular emergency.

“As everybody knows, May 11 is the federal end to the pandemic,” she said. “That is not a magic date. It does not mean that illness will go away, but what it does signal is a shift. Now, what we consider COVID-19 to be is an ongoing health issue, just like the flu or other respiratory illnesses that will see upticks in the fall and winter and lower levels in the warmer weather. This will be a seasonal illness moving forward.”

The next topic she broached was federal funding, especially with regard to free COVID-19 testing.

“The real change is going to be that there is not going to be funding anymore for free COVID-19 testing,” Avallone said. “The privatization of vaccinations is different (but), right now, vaccinations will still be free. If individuals are looking to get tested after May 11, they will either have to purchase an over-the-counter test kit or go to their doctor to get tested. But for Summit and the Westfield Regional Health Department, we have lots of test kits for free, so if individuals are interested, all they have to do is contact our office or City Hall and we will let you know where you can get one for free.”

Several questions concerned the COVID-19 vaccination plan for New Jersey and many states along the region, and Avallone said, for now, they will continue to vaccinate those who are high-risk.

“Anybody that still needs a bivalent booster and any children that are now eligible … if any resident is interested in getting a COVID-19 vaccination, they can call our office or contact the press office and we will set them up with a free vaccination appointment,” she said. “We are also doing home visits for individuals who would like that as well. This will continue as long as the federal reserve of vaccines is available – for today we have plenty for those who are interested.”

She then addressed concerns some individuals had regarding potential side-effects from booster shots or for those experiencing “pandemic fatigue.”

“I can understand and empathize with that; some individuals may have some mild side effects after a vaccination, feeling a little tired or having a sore arm and cold-like symptoms for a day after vaccination,” Avallone said. “We recommend that you may want to take the vaccination on a day where you can rest the next day. We find our Friday to Saturday clinics to be well attended, because individuals can typically take it easier the next day.”

Avallone emphasized that getting vaccinated or taking a booster shot was a personal choice that every individual should make, considering their age and risk for potential infection in mind, particularly for those who are 65 and older and are immuno-compromised. With regard to the COVID-19 booster being treated in a similar manner as an influenza shot, she admitted it was a little too early to say, although it seemed headed in that direction.

According to Avallone, 97% of the variants detected in New Jersey have been the omicron variant, so the current boosters available are effective against the current strain of COVID-19 being detected in the state.

“What we are seeing now is that a lot of the COVID-19 activity mirrors flu activity, where there are higher rates in the winter,” Avallone said. “I would not be surprised if, in the fall, there was a new formulation of booster that mirrors the type of strains that we are seeing currently.”

Photo by Javon Ross