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North Fork Country Club's liquor license suspended after 'super-spreader' wedding

Long Island's COVID-19 positivity rate jumped to 3.4%

Long Island’s COVID-19 positivity rate jumped to 3.4% while the U.S. surpassed 10 million cases. President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced an advisory board to combat the virus. Here is Newsday's Cecilia Dowd. Credit: Howard Schnapp; AP, Facebook / Joe Biden, File footage, www.nassaucountyny.gov, www.suffolkcountyny.gov; Photo Credit: AFP via Getty Images / TASOS KATOPODIS; AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

This story was reported and written by Robert Brodsky, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale.

State officials have suspended the liquor license of a Cutchogue country club for hosting a wedding that turned into a COVID-19 "super-spreader" event, while Long Island's positivity rate jumped to 3.4%, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

The North Fork Country Club hosted the wedding on Oct. 17 with 113 guests, more than double the legal limit, Cuomo said, while Suffolk County officials added that the number of infected had risen to 41 on Monday.

About 159 people were quarantined and several schools were temporarily closed to in-person learning due to the event, Cuomo said.

Owners of the club did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

"As we have seen in weddings and similar events across the country during this pandemic, large gatherings can easily be super-spreader events, too often with dire consequences," Cuomo said in a statement. "Hosting one of these events after all New York has been through is obnoxious and irresponsible — not to mention illegal."

The jump in the positivity level on Long Island in test results from Sunday followed a level of 2.5% from Friday test results and 2.6% from Saturday test results. The Island's rate had hovered around 1% for weeks.

The number of new confirmed cases in Suffolk jumped to 324 in Sunday's test results, for an infection rate of 3.8%, and dropped slightly to 213 in Nassau County, an infection rate of over 2.8%.

Nassau County reported 264 new confirmed cases on Saturday, and Suffolk had 259.

The numbers of new confirmed cases had been well below 100 for weeks.

"COVID-19 cases are rising and it is a real concern," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. "We are drilling into these numbers now but it is incumbent on all of us to take the necessary precautions or we will jeopardize our continued economic recovery."

Faced with surging infection rates on Nassau’s North Shore, county officials Monday announced the opening of a free drive-through rapid testing site in the parking lot of the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck.

COVID infection rates, which have crept up across the county in recent weeks, have doubled during the past week in Great Neck and nearby Port Washington, causing alarm among local leaders.

"These numbers are a sober reminder that the pandemic is not over, and while it could get worse, it is in our control to prevent it from getting worse," said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

Cuomo said those infected at the Cutchogue event included 30 guests, three members of the country club's staff, and one wedding vendor. The state's limit on nonessential gatherings is 50 people.

Officials had initially said after the event that there were 91 guests and 30 people infected.

"This type of blatant disregard for the wellbeing of others is not only extremely disappointing, it will not be tolerated," Bellone said in a statement Monday.

Suffolk County fined the club $15,000 for violating Cuomo's executive order limiting gatherings to 50 people or less, and another $2,000 for violating Suffolk's sanitary code, Bellone said in late October.

In Nassau, the drive-through center is operated by Northwell Health with state funding and will be open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The rapid test, where results are often available within 15 minutes, will then be verified by a laboratory test in which results would be available within 24 hours.

Health Department Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said contact tracers are still trying to discern the cause of spikes on Nassau’s North Shore, although he said local clusters are most often linked to large social gatherings, including events that occurred on Halloween such as parties and trick-or-treating.

Last month, Nassau opened its first drive-through testing site in the Five Towns amid escalating infections. Since that point, infections in the Five Towns have decreased about 75%, Eisenstein said.

A total of 95 people are hospitalized in Nassau, Curran said, while 22 patients are in intensive care and 6 are on ventilators — the highest levels in Nassau since mid-June.

"If we ignore micro-spikes in communities where we see them, we know what will happen," Curran said. "They will turn into a cluster, which turns into an outbreak. I don’t even want to talk about what will happen with an outbreak."

Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s "hot spot" was downgraded from red to orange, though new "micro-clusters" were declared in three upstate counties as the level of COVID-19 infections rises across the state, Cuomo said Monday.

Hospital officials on Monday outlined the growth in Long Island's numbers.

The number of COVID-19 patients in the Northwell Health system has jumped from 117 to 191 in the past two weeks, according to officials. A week ago, Northwell had 135 COVID-19 patients in the 19 hospitals it owns and operates.

Catholic Health Services said Monday it is also seeing an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients at the six hospitals it operates. Rockville Centre-based CHS said it was caring for 37 COVID-19 patients as of Monday morning, up from 28 the same period a week ago.

Northwell said Staten Island University Hospital had the most patients, at 36, followed by North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, which had 33.

At the pandemic's height in early April, Northwell had nearly 3,500 COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer at Northwell Health, said of the new hospitalization numbers: "It's not a time to panic. But we could have a lot less control of this if we are not careful."

After hovering around 1% for weeks, the statewide COVID positivity level for test results hit 2.8% on Sunday, according to data released by Cuomo on Monday. The rate had been more than 2.3% and nearly 2.2%, respectively, on Saturday and Friday, according to the governor's office. These numbers include the micro-clusters, which are oversampled, Cuomo said.

The statewide level of infection in test results from Sunday was 4.3% in the hot spots and 2.6% excluding the micro-clusters.

Northwell's Jarrett said the increase in the percentage of positive tests is a concern.

"In the summer, we had a lot more freedom, but now is the time to redouble our efforts in social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing," Jarrett said.

As he downgraded Brooklyn's status to a less restrictive orange because of declining infection levels, Cuomo also said he was placing Erie, Monroe and Onondaga counties in the yellow category — the least restrictive of the three zones — because of rising infection levels.

Under the yellow zone, those counties will be under requirements such as testing 20% of each school's population weekly for COVID-19 and limiting gatherings to 25% of capacity, Cuomo said.

Infection levels and COVID-19 cases are breaking records in many states across the country. The United States broke its single-day record with 130,000 new confirmed cases on Friday. The U.S. now has more than 10 million confirmed cases, more than any country in the world.

Pfizer said Monday that an early peek at the data on its coronavirus vaccine suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, putting the company on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

With The Associated Press

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