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Officials urge preventative measures during peak flu season

Each morning, the staff at Shore Medical Center huddles together to talk about measures it can take to prevent themselves, patients and visitors from contracting the flu.

“We remind them of the importance of masking and handwashing — what you have to do to protect yourself,” said Melissa Szarzynski, the hospital’s infection control manager. “We care about our patients. We care about our staff. We want to make sure everybody stays safe during the flu season.”

The flu season is peaking across the United States, and South Jersey hospitals are taking steps to stem the virus from spreading. The measures include barring visitors showing any flu symptoms, as well those under 14 years old. Educating as many people as possible is also high on the agenda.

While these precautions are generally taken each year during the surges in flu cases, health care providers are urging the public to remain vigilant and proactive by getting the flu shot and using proper respiratory etiquette since this season has had such a large number of flu cases compared to past years.

So far this flu season, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate there have been at least 22 million cases of the flu, with 12,000 deaths and 210,000 hospitalizations across the country.

Locally, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center staff from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5 treated 195 patients who tested positive for flu at its City Campus in Atlantic City and its Mainland Campus in Galloway Township, officials said.

Szarzynski said that over the past weekend, 16 confirmed flu cases came through Shore’s emergency room in Somers Point.

“It’s not surprising because it’s the peak of the season,” said Dr. Manish Trivedi of AtlantiCare. “We really wanted to spread the word on this so that way we can quell the peak and get the season into remission.”

The numbers, which are reviewed weekly, show an almost 97% increase in the number of patients treated over the same period last year, said Trivedi, who works in the Division of Infectious Diseases.

Both hospitals have put the age restriction on visitors, a move that isn’t out of the ordinary and helps protect both visitors and patients during the flu season, officials said. Both hospitals plan to keep reviewing data on the number of positive cases and said they would lift the visitor restrictions when appropriate.

“It’s just precautionary to keep (children) safe,” Szarzynski said, as their immune systems can be weaker than adults. “If we’re seeing a lot of flu cases in the hospital, we don’t want to get them sick, and we don’t want the patients to get sick. We’re trying to be conscious of both sides.”

Both officials urged residents to get a flu shot, as well as frequent hand-washing.

“It’s really all about respiratory hygiene,” Trivedi said, explaining that washing with soap and water can disinfect and kill the virus. “Also, when and if you do start experiencing respiratory symptoms, to stay home, keep yourself well-hydrated and be mindful or your family and your coworkers and the people around you.”

Szarzynski said that wiping down grocery carts, handrails and gym equipment before using it is helpful, too, and can set a good example for others.

“If somebody sees you, maybe they’ll do it as well,” she said. “You can catch it anywhere. The virus is shedding before you show symptoms.”

But, overall, the flu shot if the first step in being proactive, both officials said.

“The biggest thing I cannot stress enough is getting the flu shot,” Trivedi said. “It’s still available, and it’s never too late.”

top story
Maple tree tapping comes to South Jersey

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Stockton University Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Aaron Stoler was drilling holes 2 inches deep into red maple trees on campus Monday, installing taps and running tubing into simple plastic buckets.

Each tap took about five minutes to install, and should begin producing sap soon. The sap will be cooked down into syrup, he said, using specialized equipment.

“It’s so simple. People have done this since the Native American times,” said Math Professor Judith Vogel, who has been making her own syrup on her property in the Wading River section of Bass River Township for a few years.

Stoler, Vogel and a group of other professors have been awarded a $410,000 federal grant to increase maple syrup production in New Jersey and the larger Mid-Atlantic region by using “novel technology, landowner engagement, and sustainable best management practices,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The professors are seeking property owners who want to produce their own syrup using the native red maple trees, starting now.

For the sap to run, the weather must cooperate. The temperature must fall below freezing during the nighttime, followed by days above freezing (preferably in the 40s).

That weather pattern freezes the sap in the outside tissues of the tree, then releases it and lets gravity do the rest.

“It’s been a weird winter,” Stoler said of the generally warm winter as he worked. “Even New England has been having trouble with consistency.”

The maples here are not the sugar maples, Stoler said, which have a 2% to 4% sugar content in their sap.

Instead, South Jersey has a lot of red maples, which have 1% to 2% sugar content.

The syrup they produce is less sweet, but still delicious, as a sample provided by Vogel proved.

“Stockton has an amazing resource,” Vogel said. “It has thousands of acres with a lot of red maples.”

She’d love to see the university produce its own syrup to promote the campus, she said.

“We are not trying to compete with Canada,” said Stoler, who is the lead investigator on the grant. “We have two primary goals — outreach and education. We want to show (South Jersey residents) can produce syrup with the trees they have access to, for next to nothing.”

Research will examine sap volume, syrup quality, ecological forest management and return-on-investment, he said.

Maple sugaring is a family friendly activity that sustains the forest. It could also help with family finances. If a property owner has five or more acres, and meets with a state forester to make a plan and follows it, the landowner can get a rebate on property taxes, Stoler said.

But those with smaller properties are welcome to the study.

“It’s an incentive not to chop down the forest,” Stoler said.

Instructor of Economics Mariam Majd will study what it will take for a syrup industry to be profitable in South Jersey, she said.

“We are approaching it from a variety of directions,” Vogel said.

Stoler will also study the impact of tapping trees on the ecosystem.

Three years of data will be collected and the faculty will use the data to investigate the science and economic potential of a maple syrup industry in nontraditional syrup production regions, such as southern New Jersey.

Other members of the Stockton team are Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Jessica Favorito, and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Matthew Olson.

Anyone interested in participating in the pilot program can contact Vogel at Judith.vogel@stockton.edu.

Materials and training will be provided. Participants keep the syrup and are asked to record yields and allow a Stockton research assistant to collect soil and vegetation samples from the property.

breaking featured
Hard Rock launches world's first live internet slots

Hard Rock Hotels & Casino Atlantic City unveiling live online slots, the first of its kind anywhere Monday Feb 10, 2020. Joe Lupo HR president of Hard Rock Hotels & Casino hold a press conference in partnership with Softweave L.td. announced that they are the first in the world to introduce the ground-breaking innovative technology of Live Slots slot machines private room at Hard Rock Atlantic City available for players to enjoy from the comfort of their home. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is now home to what the company says is the world’s first live online slots.

HardRockCasino.com has partnered with Softweave Ltd., an Israeli-based internet gaming company, to launch a new technology that allows patrons to play live slots from a connected device. Hard Rock’s live online slots were introduced during a news conference Monday morning. The games went live immediately afterward.

“We are thrilled to present ground-breaking and innovative technology as real-money, online gaming continues to evolve in New Jersey,” said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. “Similarly to live table games dealers, live slots enables our players to have one seamless experience to earn Wild Card rewards, including hotel rooms, entertainment and dining at Hard Rock Atlantic City. Bridging the gap to provide a live experience to our online consumers is something we are not only excited for, but very proud to be the first in the world.”

Hard Rock has set up the live online slot room directly across from Fresh Harvest Buffet on the second floor where a wall with key-shaped windows allows guests to peek in on the action.

The room features 12 machines with five popular games: Leprocoins; Buffalo; SpitFire Multipliers; Hotter than Blaze; and 3x4x4x Double Times Pay. The play experience is similar to slots in a casino, where only one player can use a machine at a time.

“The partnership with Hard Rock creates optimal settings for the delivery of the Live Slots product,” said Roy Greenbaum, CEO of Softweave Ltd. “Our cutting-edge technology will enable HardRockCasino.com to extend the real gaming experience from the casino floor directly to the player’s fingertips.”

Kresimir Spajic, senior vice president of online gaming and sports betting for Hard Rock International, said that since the advent of live dealer online games, the “industry has been lacking innovation.”

In 2016, Golden Nugget Atlantic City was the first in the United States to introduce live dealer online gaming where gamblers can play casino table games, such as blackjack, baccarat and roulette.

“We really believe this is the next big thing after live dealer,” Spajic said. “We are excited to introduce an entirely new way to play floor favorites without being there.”

Online gaming has been legal in New Jersey since 2013. The online gambling market in New Jersey has not experienced a year-to-year decline in any month since it was introduced nearly seven years ago, and its continued, steady growth has caught even the most ardent supporters off guard.

In 2019, online gaming generated nearly $493 million in revenue for Atlantic City casinos and their internet partners.

GALLERY: Hard Rock Hotels & Casino Atlantic City introduces live slot

How crucial is New Hampshire win? It depends on whom you ask

RINDGE, N.H. — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are taking strikingly different approaches in the final hours before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, underscoring the uncertainty around Democrats’ search for a challenger to take on President Donald Trump in November.

Sanders, a Vermont senator, embraced high expectations Monday in his neighboring state. “If we win here tomorrow, I think we’ve got a path to victory for the Democratic nomination,” Sanders declared in Rindge.

Biden, alternately, lowered expectations as he faces the prospect of finishing well off the pace for the second time after opening the 2020 election season with a fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. The former vice president, once the clear national front-runner, warned in a morning CBS interview that “this is just getting started,” reminding voters he has shown strong support among African Americans and Latinos who will hold sway in the states that follow New Hampshire in voting.

Biden’s challenge and Sanders’ optimism about the opening states highlight a larger concern for Democrats as they look for a standard-bearer: No would-be nominee has proved an ability to build a strong coalition across the party’s various racial, ethnic and ideological factions. That situation is muddled further by the vote-tabulation melee in last week’s Iowa caucuses that left both Sanders and Pete Buttigieg claiming victory. Neither reached 30% of the vote in a fractured field.

Trump, meanwhile, is eager to cast a shadow over the entire Democratic slate as he heads to Manchester for a Monday evening rally to continue his victory-and-vengeance tour following Senate votes that acquitted him on two impeachment charges. Trump lost New Hampshire in 2016 by fewer than 3,000 votes out of more than 743,000 cast, and the state is among several his reelection campaign believes it can flip in November.

Trump’s supporters began lining up in New Hampshire on Sunday, and the crowd only grew despite freezing, wet weather. The president managed a similar scene in Iowa days ahead of the caucuses, drawing thousands of boisterous supporters who contrasted with a lower-than-expected caucus turnout for Democrats.

Against that backdrop, Biden insisted Monday that he remains well-positioned for the nomination and to defeat Trump in November. He pointed to endorsements from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Michigan’s legislative black caucus that he’s gotten since the Iowa caucuses.

“I’m still leading nationally,” Biden told CBS, referring to months of national polls, though it’s far from certain that Biden will remain in such a position in the coming weeks.

Biden also sought not to abandon hope in New Hampshire, offering voters in Gilford a spirited takedown of the Republican president. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by and watch us lose this country to Donald Trump a second time,” Biden said in a speech largely ignoring his Democratic competitors.

It could depend on voters like Pat Barrick, a 70-year-old independent who said she was once solidly with Biden but now is also considering Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who finished just behind Biden in Iowa and has since seen a bounce in New Hampshire.

“He matches my values,” Barrick said of Biden. “I just don’t know if he can win.”

Indeed, no Democrats have managed to separate themselves from the pack.

Sanders and Buttigieg are vying for momentum that could dent Biden’s claims to national support. But Sanders, a democratic socialist, has virtually no support from the party’s center-left core, and some establishment figures openly fret about Sanders leading the ticket in November.

Buttigieg draws large crowds with his calls for generational change, but the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, hasn’t demonstrated significant support from African American or Latino voters, who will become significant parts of the Democratic electorate in the states that follow New Hampshire. And several of Buttigieg’s rivals, Biden included, have started hammering his comparatively thin resume.

In Plymouth on Monday, a top Buttigieg backer met that criticism directly to open a Buttigieg event. “He has an executive’s temperament. It’s not a legislative job,” said Gary Hirshberg, an influential New Hampshire Democrat who was a key early supporter of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Pete Buttigieg has more executive experience than Barack Obama did before he was president.”

Racial diversity is also a question for Klobuchar. She could deliver Biden a new blow if she leapfrogs him in New Hampshire, but it’s unclear whether her campaign has the national reach to capitalize on any newfound momentum heading toward the March 3 Super Tuesday slate, when more than a third of Democrats’ approximately 4,000 pledged delegates will be up for grabs.

In Nashua on Monday, Klobuchar declared 2020 “a decency test” for the nation. Loosely quoting the 19th-century author Alexis de Tocqueville, she said, “America … may not be the most enlightened nation, but America is always a country that finds a way to repair its faults.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, has shown flashes of a broad coalition, as she tries to compete with Sanders on the party’s left flank and with Buttigieg for more moderate white college graduates. She’s added a relatively new argument in New Hampshire, pitching herself as the candidate who can best unify the party. But she and Biden face a potential money crunch if donors are spooked by Tuesday’s results in New Hampshire’s primary.

Beyond New Hampshire, billionaire Michael Bloomberg continues his unusual strategy of skipping the four states that vote in February and plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into Super Tuesday states. Bloomberg’s centrist candidacy hinges largely on Biden underperforming and the proposition that neither Buttigieg nor Klobuchar can fill the gap. His campaign on Monday announced new staff investments in Utah and Colorado, bringing his national footprint to 2,100 staffers, with 18 states boasting at least 40 employees.

Despite the questions facing the Democratic field, New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley said he remains optimistic about their chances of toppling Trump, even going so far as to welcome the president’s Monday visit.

“His ego can’t stand the idea of something going on and he’s not in the middle of it,” Buckley told reporters. “It has backfired on him before, and I believe it’s going to backfire on him this time.”