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Suffolk elections worker tests positive for COVID-19, officials say

The Suffolk County Board of Elections headquarters in

The Suffolk County Board of Elections headquarters in Yaphank. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Counting of absentee ballots in several close races was cut short on Saturday after a worker in the Suffolk County Board of Elections tested positive for COVID-19, which will suspend counting until Tuesday, county officials said.

Because of the positive test after the employee showed symptoms of the virus, the county Health Department ordered seven other employees into quarantine, according to county election commissioners Nick LaLota, a Republican; and Anita Katz, a Democrat. The seven other employees have shown no symptoms and will be tested again on Monday.

The worker is a part-time employee brought in to help in sorting of thousands of absentee ballots. A test of the worker came back positive on Saturday.

Still to be counted are mailed votes in the 1st Congressional District, the 1st and 3rd State Senate districts; and the 4th Assembly District.

Katz called the bipartisan team counting ballots "the backbone of our democratic process. They have stepped up to every challenge 2020 has thrown at them and I am confident we will get through this together, too."

Meanwhile, the infection rates in the state remain troublesome, with worry growing as the colder weather and holidays approach, officials said. The overall state infection rate stands at 2.87%, which is lower than the seven-day rolling average of 2.91%, according to state figures. The rate in the microclusters was 4.34%, slightly lower than the seven-day rolling average of 4.55%.

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The statewide positivity rate, not including the focus areas, was 2.49%, higher than the seven-day average of 2.46%, the state figures said.

New York suffered 34 deaths related to COVID-19 on Friday, including one in Nassau County.

"While we continue to see COVID-19 cases surge around the globe, our data-driven micro-cluster strategy — centered on a robust testing program — has helped New York maintain one of the nation's lowest infection rates. However, we are in no way immune to the problems we are seeing elsewhere and we are entering a very dangerous period with the cold weather and holidays approaching," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

The infection rate on Long Island was 2.9% Friday, around where the number has hovered for days, according to state figures.

Nassau had 403 new cases for a total of 56,278, and Suffolk had 479 new cases for a total of 55,808.

New York City officials said Saturday that the number of diagnosed coronavirus infections had risen in the city for yet another day.

There are 1,345 new cases and the seven-day average infection rate is 3.11%, according to a tweet from Mayor Bill de Blasio. These figures have climbed nearly every day for weeks.

And major police departments on Long Island will respond to complaints about private gatherings exceeding the 10-person limit for Thanksgiving, but they are hoping that the public will respect the limitation put in place by the governor, officials say.

Nassau County police will respond to any violations of Cuomo’s order, said department spokesman Det. Richard LeBrun.

"For their health and safety, we will continue to educate residents and visitors on the COVID-19 restrictions," LeBrun said.

The Suffolk County Police Department also said officers would respond to reports of violations of the order by individuals and businesses. In addition, police will be enforcing drunken driving laws, spokeswoman Dawn Schob said.

Police will step up patrols Wednesday evening to respond to reports of gatherings at private homes that exceed the state limit of 10, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has said.

Health experts predict large indoor celebrations such as on Thanksgiving will lead to another coronavirus outbreak, although they also said Long Island likely wouldn't return to March and April levels, when hospitals were packed with patients and more than 100 people died daily in Nassau and Suffolk.

With Matthew Chayes and Anthony M. DeStefano

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