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Statistics show virus spreading in Long Island's densest communities

Newsday's Steve Langford takes a deep dive into why some of Long Island's towns, such as Brentwood, Huntington Station and Woodmere have been so affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Newsday staff

Confirmed coronavirus cases have increased across Long Island, producing concentrations in some of the Island’s densest communities, according to Newsday's analysis of newly released data from Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Brentwood had the highest number of cases (368), followed by Huntington Station (283), Woodmere (233) and Hempstead (232).

Newsday is tracking the prevalence of the virus at the community level based on data provided by the two counties. This is the second tally. The first was published on Sunday.

Since then, the total number of cases on the Island has climbed. Data released Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo showed that the count has risen past 17,000. While scores of communities contributed to that increase, local comparisons from Sunday to the more recent data — provided Tuesday by Suffolk County and Wednesday by Nassau County — are not always possible because Suffolk changed how it provided data to Newsday, providing a more precise count of cases across a broader range of communities. Nassau did not make a similar alteration.

Nassau's community-level data were current as of Monday. Suffolk’s were current as of Tuesday. Together, they show Brentwood and Huntington Station as surpassing Woodmere, which had previously been listed as having the most cases on the Island. Its count rose by 44 cases over the number reported by Newsday on Sunday.

Other communities at the top of the caseload counts include: Bay Shore (174), Central Islip (167), Hicksville (166), East Meadow (156) and West Babylon (152).

On average, Long Island’s communities have experienced 33 confirmed cases. The median number is 19, meaning that half of the communities have counted more than 19 and half fewer than 19.

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Population density, compliance with social distancing, and the level at which residents have been tested for the virus all influence rates, according to health experts.

The numbers, of course, do not include infections in people who have not been tested and are expected to change as the virus continues its march.

Even in areas with comparatively low infection counts, health experts warned residents to strictly limit social contacts and obey state requirements to stay at home as much as possible.

Cuomo’s case count for Long Island pushed the per capita rate to 603 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents. That rate is 18% higher than New York City's confirmed cases rate.

At the same time, the share of Long Islanders tested for the disease is 39% higher than the city's share, a factor that can influence the number of confirmed cases.

Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) said Tuesday he believed the denser population in Brentwood and confused messaging from the federal government early on about the severity of COVID-19 helped spread the virus.

He called for governments to work with local community groups to communicate the importance of staying home and social distancing. 

Ramos also said some residents are reluctant to get medical care because they’re worried about their immigration status and lack health insurance.

The “public should know those issues don’t enter into it,” he said. “People can get treatment, whether they have insurance or not, no matter their immigration status.”

Eileen Felix, a Brentwood community leader, said many residents in the lower-income community don’t have the option of working from home. 

“The option of not going to work, or working from home, isn’t viable for a lot of families,” she said. “Some families are willing to risk it, for the sake of putting food on the table for their families.”

Daniel Altschuler, director of civic engagement for Make the Road New York, a Brentwood-based immigrant advocacy group, said: “There is a toxic brew here, both people who are working on the front lines of a very dangerous crisis, as well as households who are losing vital income, and with it access to food, in a moment of real crisis.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone acknowledged Wednesday that immigrant communities including Brentwood, Central Islip and Huntington Station have been hit hard.

"We recognize the challenge," he said.

The county is working with religious leaders in the community and has recorded Spanish language public service announcements for broadcast, he said. Suffolk police vehicles will also start driving through communities using public address systems to get out the message about social distancing, staying home and that only essential businesses should be open, Bellone said.

With more than 40,000 residents, Hicksville is the Town of Oyster Bay’s most populous hamlet, and the home to one of the busiest Long Island Rail Road hubs. It now has the third most cases in Nassau County.

“Every day we turn on the television and learn that higher density communities across the nation are experiencing greater transmission rates,” said Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino.

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