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LI's COVID-19 infection rate rises, and college students may be a factor

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, pictured last month, said

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, pictured last month, said Saturday that the state's relatively few new cases and overall infection rate continue to be "good news." Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo / Darren McGee

Long Island is seeing an increase in cases and its infection rate for COVID-19 as residents head into a holiday weekend and the impending reopening of schools, according to state figures.

While health officials say the increases need to be monitored, they say the infection rate, considered a key figure, remains good, and that some of the rise might be attributed to an increase in students testing positive at colleges.

David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease doctor at Northwell Health, said Long Islanders need to focus on the infection rate, which has largely stayed around 1%. However, the Island's infection rate continued to inch upward over the past few days, to 1.5%, from 1.4% on Thursday and 1.1% on Wednesday, the state figures showed.

Nassau County had 107 new cases for a total of 45,115, and Suffolk had 98 new cases, bringing its total to 45,200, the figures said. Long Island's total new cases — 205 — represents an increase from a recent low of 60 on Aug. 23, according to state and local figures. That day, Nassau had 39 new cases and Suffolk had 21 cases.

The number of new cases may well rise as the amount of testing increases, Hirschwerk said.

"In the last two days there's been an increase in both Nassau and Suffolk, not only in cases but also an increase in the positivity rate. There's always going to be fluctuations day-to-day," Hirschwerk said. "We have to be careful not to overinterpret a short amount of data. We need to continue to monitor this for the next three to five days."

Two weeks ago, Nassau’s positivity rate was 0.6%, and Suffolk’s rate was 0.8%.

Figures released Saturday show Nassau's positivity rate at 1.6%. In Suffolk, the rate was 1.5% for the last reported 24-hour period. 

Hirschwerk emphasized that the holiday weekend and the reopening of schools make it even more important to keep tabs on the positivity rate. Also, the weather will be getting cooler in the weeks to come, which could lead people to congregate less outdoors. 

"All those things could increase transmission," he said.

The increase in the Island’s infection rate remains well below the standard set by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in July. He had said schools in New York State could reopen in September if the coronavirus infection level was 5% or lower in their region by the first week in August.

College students' effect on stats

State officials attribute part of the Island increase to the hundreds of SUNY students who've recently tested positive for the virus. Even if the student is away at college, their case is attributed to Long Island if they list it as their home address on the medical testing form.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said of statistics showing 107 residents testing positive out of 6,642: "This is a slight uptick from our record low. About a third of our new infections have been college-age people."

Over the last seven days, 111 Nassau residents who are students at universities outside the county have tested positive for COVID-19, which counts toward Nassau’s total. 

Curran said that officials remain on "high alert" with regard to infections from campus outbreaks. The county Health Department is working closely with the state, families and students to make sure testing, tracing, and safety protocols are completely followed, she said.

"We are in a remarkable position considering where we were just a few months ago," Curran said. "Holding on to this progress requires us to stay strong — especially this Labor Day weekend. COVID outbreaks have consistently been linked to large parties, especially indoors, where no precautions were taken. If you’re out with friends this weekend, be smart and look out for each other."

Weeks ahead 'will be telling'

Kevin Law, the president and CEO of business group the Long Island Association, said the organization was monitoring local COVID-19 statistics.

He called the overall stats “good,” but added that “We can’t let our guard down.”

“The mid-September stats will be telling after a few weeks of school and local college operations.”

Dr. Sheryl Pearl, a family medicine doctor in Woodmere, said any increase is a concern and that COVID-19 has “the potential to explode once schools reopen.”

Pearl said she fears students won’t pay attention to rules set up to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“It’s like asking college students not to binge drink,” she said. “They’ll do it anyway, and you’re seeing [the ramifications] already at universities.”

New York State registered 801 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, marking the 29th straight day of keeping the infection rate below 1%, Cuomo said Saturday.

The state reported two deaths, bringing the total number in New York to 25,350, according to state figures. Suffolk recorded one of those deaths; Nassau did not have any.

The 801 new cases statewide emerged from 99,761 tests — with an infection rate of 0.8%. A total of 425 patients were hospitalized statewide, a decline of three from the previous day.

"Overall, our numbers continue to be good news — our progress proves that this virus responds to science, not politics," Cuomo said.

With David Reich-Hale

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