The first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations is underway.

Cape May County’s multipronged approach to the coronavirus pandemic has shown positive results. The overall COVID-19 numbers have been very low in recent weeks, the county announced in a press release Tuesday.

Over the past seven days, there have only been 19 new reported cases of COVID-19 among Cape May County residents.

To put that in perspective, on May 8 the county reported 24 new cases in a single day alone, when there were multiple outbreaks at long-term care facilities, the press release said.

The last death in Cape May County was reported on July 31.

The last community death, meaning an individual who did not reside in a long-term care facility, took place on July 21.

“We are very encouraged by the numbers lately,” Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald M. Thornton said. “We will not stop working until we get to zero new cases per day. But all the hard work being done by everyone involved is saving lives. It is significant when we can say its been over a week since the pandemic has taken a life in our county.”

The Cape May County Health Department began preparations at the beginning of the year before the virus began to spread to the United States.

They established a Social Distancing Ambassador program that gained national media attention, including ABC’s Nightline and the Wall Street Journal.

Between the community outreach and public awareness from the media coverage, case numbers came down after the program was launched.

They also created a social media campaign in the wake of increasing cases in early July that were tied to younger individuals who were visiting Cape May County and did not properly wear masks or socially distance.

Soon after the launch of that campaign and increased awareness through ads, press releases, and interviews, those daily new cases numbers were reduced, according to the release.

The Health Department brought back drive-thru COVID testing by appointment only in a continued partnership with CompleteCare to help provide the additional capacity of tests needed during the busy tourism season.

The Health Department was also responsible for a weekly teleconference with local municipalities and community partners to ensure everyone was on the same page as everyone continued to learn more about the virus.

“I have been very lucky to work so closely with these amazing individuals at the Health Department,” said Freeholder Jeff Pierson, liaison to the Health Department. “These past six months have given me a new appreciation for the work being done.”

Pierson continued, “When Director Thornton, Kevin Thomas, our (county) health officer, and I talked about creating the Social Distancing Ambassadors, they took the idea and ran with the program. It helped save lives and our county was being compared with a handful of major cities across the country for our effective, out of the box thinking.”

Protecting the health of individuals has always been the number one goal. But ultimately, Cape May County’s tourism economy provides a short window for businesses and workers to make most of their income for the year, the release said.

Recognizing this, Freeholders Will Morey and Len Desiderio, who co-chair the county’s Business Recovery Task Force, which became the Cape May County-Wide Recovery Initiative, worked with others representing the most prominent sectors of the area’s economy. In addition they worked with representatives from each of the county’s municipalities. The group organized guidelines for reopening and created the “Safely Together” public information campaign.

The campaign can be seen in billboards, on television and radio through an advertising campaign in partnership with the Cape May County Department of Tourism and the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce. The group recently shifted into Phase Two, which focuses on staying open.

This includes people and businesses “Making the Pledge” to diligently follow best practices and health protocols with respect to limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Dozens of businesses have taken the pledge to further give the visitors confidence that Cape May County is following best practices to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“The Safely Together campaign is contributing to building confidence in our visitors as they see proactive steps being taken by our businesses working in concert with the government,” Morey said.

Morey added, “Our focus now migrates from getting open to staying opening. Seeing spikes in other states emphasizes that we must continue to work hard to ensure a responsible and safe environment that enables our businesses to stay open.”

The improvement of in-county numbers extends to out of county cases as well. Those individuals are defined as people who test positive for COVID-19 in Cape May County but are not permanent residents in this county.

Over the past 14 days, there have been 37 out of county cases, or roughly 2.5 per day. These positive trends are taking place when on an average weekend in Cape May County, there are typically over 700,000 people in the county. This means the rate of transmission in Cape May County remains very low, according to the release.

County officials urge that this does not mean that COVID-19 is gone. In fact, it shows that the proper protocols that have been put in place must continue to be followed.

Wearing a face covering and keeping proper social distance is the only known ways to slow the spread of the virus.

If residents, visitors, and businesses continue to follow the best practices, then Cape May County will remain open.

“The hard work our residents and visitors have been doing is working,” said Thornton. “Now isn’t the time to give up. If we keep following these protocols, we can keep people safe and ensure our economy can move forward.”