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Deaths from COVID-19 rise in Suffolk as state's numbers drop

Doug Byrne, of Hauppauge, prepares to lower his

Doug Byrne, of Hauppauge, prepares to lower his mask so nurse Kristal Vazquez can administer a COVID-19 swab test at a drive-thru testing site set up for Suffolk County employees and their families at Smith Point Park in Shirley on Dec. 18. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The number of COVID-19 deaths statewide dropped on Friday to 128, after reaching its post-spring peak of 166 on New Year's Eve, while Suffolk County continued to have far more coronavirus deaths than Nassau County, the state reported on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York surpassed 1 million, data released by the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

Suffolk on Friday had 17 COVID-19 deaths, the most of any county in the state. Nassau had eight.

In December, Suffolk had 83% more COVID-19 deaths than Nassau, a Newsday analysis of state data shows: 256, compared with 140 in Nassau.

Experts say it is unclear why the gap in fatalities is so large.

"It just may be the fact that there are not as many people social distancing and wearing masks, and that there are more parties or behavioral issues," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

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Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, said the root could in part be the coronavirus spreading during Thanksgiving gatherings, which led to infected people later infecting others.

"The way these infections grow is quickly," he said. "And they do build on each other."

Deaths and hospitalizations lag new infections, so the effect of many December holiday get-togethers won’t be seen yet, he said.

With COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths far higher than several weeks ago, and concern about a mutated version of the coronavirus that is believed to be more contagious, "Things are not looking good in the near term," Farber said.

Statewide, the death toll has been above 100 since Dec. 14, except for one day, after typically staying in the single digits over the summer.

The more than 15,000 new positive test results statewide Friday pushed the number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 1,005,785. That's the fourth-highest in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center.

"There’s no question the number of cases far exceeds the number being reported," because many people — especially those with mild or no symptoms — don't get tested, and tests were very difficult to obtain during much of the spring, Farber said.

The new death and caseload numbers come as coronavirus vaccinations continue throughout the state. By early Saturday afternoon, New York had vaccinated about 274,000 people, said Jack Sterne, a spokesman for Cuomo.

New York was tied for fourth with Pennsylvania for the most vaccinations per capita of the nation's 15 most populous states, according to the latest publicly available Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, as of 9 a.m. Saturday, when the number of New York vaccinations was listed at about 237,000.

New York's vaccination rate was 1,218 per 100,000 people, lower than the 1,342 for Illinois, which was top among big states, but significantly above the large state with the lowest rate, Georgia, at 708, according to the CDC. Eight smaller states, including neighboring Connecticut and Vermont, had rates above 2,000.

Positivity rates on Long Island declined slightly on Friday, and were down a few percentage points from Tuesday, when they were in the double digits.

Another 1,409 Nassau County residents tested positive for the coronavirus Friday, for a positivity rate of 7.9%, down from 8% on Thursday and 10.5% on Tuesday.

"After a spike four days ago, we’ve had three days of a slight decline in positivity, a pattern that I hope continues," Nassau Executive Laura Curran said in a statement.

In Suffolk, 1,786 tests came back positive, or 9.6%, down from 9.7% Thursday and 12.8% on Tuesday.

"Start 2021 off right," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Saturday. "Practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings, wear a mask and get tested."

With Matthew Chayes

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