Long Island reported a level of new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day not seen since April, surpassing 1,000 cases on Tuesday amid a fall surge and before an expected added spike brought on by the holiday season, officials said Wednesday.
Nassau reported 496 county residents were confirmed positive for the virus in results from Tuesday, the most recent day available, after weeks of a gradual climb in newly diagnosed cases.
The last time Nassau had a higher number was April 25, when it hit 724. By April 28, the figure was down to 420, and continued to drop through the summer.
But the fall weather, with people spending more time indoors, along with “coronavirus fatigue,” as people tire of obeying social distancing and mask mandates, are said to be contributing to sending the numbers back up, officials say.
Suffolk reported 543 new cases from tests Tuesday. That is also Suffolk’s highest level since April 25, when it hit 691. By April 28, the number was down to 541 and, like in Nassau, continued a downward trend through the summer months to at times less than 50 new cases a day.
Long Island’s combined total of new cases from testing Tuesday was 1,039.
Suffolk’s positivity level in the daily testing results was the highest since May, Suffolk health commissioner Gregson Pigott said.
Countywide, 161 people were hospitalized on Wednesday for COVID-19. That was nearly triple the number three weeks ago, when 55 people were hospitalized, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said
Despite the increasing numbers, Bellone asserted that county officials “have stepped up in every area where we need to get these numbers under control because so much is at stake here.” He also announced new testing sites the county is opening in a so-far unsuccessful effort to stop the spike.
The new rise on Long Island comes as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo voices concerns about travel and family gatherings for Thanksgiving acting as “an added accelerant” to the spikes.
County Executive Laura Curran said Nassau’s positivity level in COVID-19 test results from Tuesday was one of the highest the county has seen in months.
“Today 496 Nassau residents tested positive of 13,033 tests given in the past 24 hours — bringing our positivity rate up to 3.8% — one of the highest rates we’ve seen since reopening,” she said.
Nassau’s hospital systems had 190 patients with COVID-19, including 35 in ICU and 18 on ventilators, she said.
“I strongly encourage residents of all ages to exercise common sense this holiday weekend — especially college students eager to reunite with friends from their hometown,” she said. “The last thing we want is for our businesses and schools to have to close. We all must continue to do our part.”
Bellone called the figures in Suffolk “concerning” while noting they “may not seem as alarming as many other parts of the country.”
“We know that with Thanksgiving tomorrow and with the upcoming holidays, that another surge in cases, beyond what we’ve already seen now, is virtually guaranteed,” Bellone said.
Watching hospitalization trends
States around the country including New York are setting up emergency field hospitals again like scenes from a “World War II movie” as COVID-19 cases surge, Cuomo said Wednesday, as New York braces for even more cases triggered by Thanksgiving gatherings.
The field hospitals, including one the state recently erected on Staten Island in case hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, “is reminiscent of the bad old days” at the height of the pandemic “when you had these emergency field hospitals that looked like something that you would see in a World War II movie,” Cuomo said at a livestreamed news briefing in Rochester.
He added that “we have tremendous increases statewide” in COVID-19 cases, and that the upcoming holiday “is going to take a bad situation and make it worse.”
The state has designated a growing number of communities as “microclusters” or “hot spots” in recent days, including four on Long Island named “yellow zones” this week: Great Neck, Massapequa Park, Hampton Bays and Riverhead.
Cuomo aides said Tuesday more Long Island communities are on the “brink” of becoming yellow zones as well, with limitations placed on schools, businesses and gatherings.
State officials previously built emergency field hospitals at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury, but they were not used since regular hospitals were able to handle all COVID-19 patients, even though it strained their resources intensely.
The governor on Wednesday repeated his pleas for New Yorkers to stay home and socialize only with members of their households on Thanksgiving Day, with a limit of 10 people.
He called the start of the holiday period a dangerous time that has health officials concerned about exponential spread of the virus, with the arrival of cold weather, students returning home from colleges from around the country, and the increased tendency for people to gather and spend time inside.
“Thanksgiving will be an added accelerant. Why? People travel,” Cuomo said. “The airports are reporting travel that is way up and we are going to see an increase post-Thanksgiving” in the spread of the virus. “We expect that.”
He said the state expects to see higher rates of coronavirus about 10 days after the holiday, accounting for a virus incubation period of seven to 10 days.
The state reported an overall positivity rate of 3.62% from test results Tuesday, including oversampling in the microcluster zones that are hot spots for more spread. The number of coronavirus patients in hospitals across New York grew by 126 from the previous day, up to 2,982. Forty-one people died Tuesday of virus-related causes.
In urging New Yorkers to heed warnings to keep Thanksgiving gatherings within immediate household members, Cuomo said figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicate that 24% of people who spread COVID-19 never develop symptoms and 35% give the virus to others before they experience illness.
“You don’t have to have symptoms” to spread COVID-19, he said. “It’s not like they have to be malicious or reckless … They don’t have to know, they don’t have a symptom. That’s why this disease is so insidious.”
Cuomo noted that the call to celebrate Thanksgiving only with immediate household members is a bipartisan plea — both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Donald Trump’s administration and President-elect Joe Biden’s team have made the same recommendation.
Suffolk officials said most of the virus’ transmission in the county has been traced to small gatherings that abided by state capacity guidelines, officials said. Bellone still urged residents to keep their gatherings small and practice social distancing.
Suffolk County Police will also be out in “full force” to enforce gathering guidelines Wednesday night, which is typically one of the biggest partying nights of the year for young people, Bellone said. Police “will not be going door-to-door” but will respond to violations that are reported. Violators could face fines.
During a visit to Long Island on Tuesday, Cuomo discussed a rising level of daily patients at hospitals, shooting up by 149% over three weeks in Nassau and Suffolk counties. He said hospitals in the region were expected to be able to handle the influx of patients under assumptions of a 20% increase in cases, but would need to seek more emergency beds if that level was exceeded.
Cuomo echoed those concerns Wednesday. He said the state is going to take “a serious look at that hospitalization rate increase” to determine further steps.
Free testing sites in Huntington, Patchogue
Bellone announced new free testing sites. The county is partnering with Northwell Health and the Dolan Family Health Center to launch community testing in Huntington on Monday. Sun River Health will open a testing site in Patchogue on Tuesday.
Community testing sites have already opened in Riverhead and Hampton Bays, Bellone said. The Sun River Health site in Riverhead has administered 100 tests since opening Monday, and the Hampton Bays Site, run by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, tested 60 people in its first day open last Friday.
The county initiated a free school testing program in those same school districts, Bellone said. Four of 417 tests in Hampton Bays were positive, and 12 of 524 in Riverhead were positive, he said.
“The only way to beat this virus is by acting proactively, and that’s exactly what we’re doing on all fronts, including when it comes to testing,” he said.
The Suffolk Board of Elections had eight positive cases and 37 people are in quarantine after an employee recently tested positive, Bellone said.
People who visited Tellers Restaurant in Islip on Nov. 16 or 17 may have been exposed to COVID-19 after “more than one person connected with this venue” contracted the virus, the Suffolk health department said Wednesday. Officials urged people who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 to monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and to get tested.
Several Long Island school districts reported coronavirus-related temporary closings.
In the Floral Park-Bellerose school district, the John Lewis Childs School began remote instruction Monday that will continue through Dec. 4 after a staff member tested positive, according to a letter from schools Superintendent Kathleen Sottile on the district website.
In the Hicksville school district, Fork Lane School will follow a fully remote platform through Dec. 4 after someone tested positive for COVID-19, according to a letter on that district’s website.
Also, the Willet Avenue School in Hicksville is switching to remote instruction through Dec. 8 after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, according to a notice on the Nassau BOCES website.
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