As Suffolk County hits an over 5 percent positivity rate in coronavirus cases – a figure that hasn’t been seen since May – officials are urging residents to stay vigilant about following safety protocols.
During a press conference Tuesday, Dec. 1, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone called the numbers “alarming,” and said the actions taken in the next 30 or so days will be critical in the continued recovery of the area.
“With some of the most challenging days ahead as we try to navigate the holiday season, now is the time to double down on the common-sense measures that work,” Bellone said.
Data from Dec. 1 showed there were 62,647 total coronavirus cases in Suffolk County. A total 16,614 people were tested that day, and approximately 5.8 percent of them tested positive for the virus.
“With 966 new cases, we are beginning to see the first signs of the post-Thanksgiving holiday surge we had warned about,” Bellone said.
Luckily, he said, the county has taken a proactive approach in addressing the second wave of COVID-19.
“We have been here before, we know how and where this virus spreads, and we have the blueprints needed to once again flatten the curve,” Bellone said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, Nov. 30, that New York State plans to implement new emergency actions to address the uptick of COVID-19 cases. Hospitalization, death and case rates, as well as the number of hospital beds, will be used to determine microcluster zones and lockdown designations.
In Suffolk County, 28 percent of hospital beds and 32 percent of ICU beds are currently available, Bellone said. Gov. Cuomo plans to request that hospitals throughout the state increase the number of beds by 50 percent.
Bellone made reference to a Brookhaven party on Hawkins Lane Monday, Nov. 30, where an estimated 300 to 400 people gathered for what had the potential to be a COVID-19 superspreader event.
However, Bellone said “egregious” violations like these are rare. The biggest spreading instances are small gatherings — among friends and families.
“There’s a comfort level, and they’re less likely to take necessary precautions, to wear masks, to socially distance,” Bellone said. Approximately 65 percent of new cases come from small gatherings.
As for county schools, Bellone said keeping public schools open is a “top priority.”
“As long as students and faculty are kept safe, the schools should be kept open,” he said, and noted that there has not been any significant viral spread in county schools thus far.
Ron Masera, Suffolk County School Superintendent's Association president and the superintendent of Center Moriches Union Free School District, attended the county press conference to discuss coronavirus and schools.
Masera thanked the county’s commitment to keeping schools open. He said that students, faculty and staff in all Suffolk districts are following hygiene and social-distancing policies.
“Everyone has really come together and recognized what needs to be done,” Masera said. “I think the schools can be a model for what we really need to be doing out in society in terms of adhering to these protocols.”
Last week, Cuomo also announced new virus testing protocols for schools in microcluster zones with higher cases. These schools will be required to conduct weekly testing, with percentages of required tests based on the severity of cases in that zone.
Meanwhile, Suffolk County has launched free school-based virus testing in two East End school districts: Riverhead and Hampton Bays.