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Officials: Population density, large gatherings affected LI virus clusters

Streets were quiet Saturday morning in Woodmere.

Streets were quiet Saturday morning in Woodmere.   Credit: Danielle Silverman

State and local elected officials said Monday that large numbers of coronavirus cases in Huntington Station and Woodmere may be due to factors including population density and ceremonies and gatherings that took place before such events were banned.

The officials made their comments in discussing a Newsday story, published Sunday, showing those communities as the hardest hit in Nassau and Suffolk counties:

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said the number of cases in Woodmere — 189 as of last Thursday, according to the Newsday analysis — despite more populous areas that have fewer cases — shows the danger of failing to maintain social distancing.

Kaminsky said some houses of worship held services, and some celebrations and gatherings continued despite orders and advisories to limit the density of attendees.

“I think it shows the chain is only as strong as its weakest link and if everyone doesn’t follow social distancing guidelines, it can have disastrous results,” Kaminsky said of the Newsday analysis.

The Newsday story quoted Rabbi Hershel Billet, who heads Young Israel of Woodmere, as saying some local synagogues held services the weekend of March 13 and 14 that "may have inadvertently" led to the spread of the virus among congregants.

Kaminsky also recalled seeing the Long Beach boardwalk “teeming with people” before it was closed.

“The sooner we all follow the guidelines, the sooner we will be out of this,” he said. “The people on the front lines are begging me to tell people to do the right thing.”

Nassau County Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence), who represents the Woodmere area, noted “a high rate of infections in close knit communities that experienced considerable person-to-person contact prior to the time stringent distancing requirements were put in place."

Kopel said he was, "hopeful and confident that, at the urging of our political, medical and religious leaders to avoid gatherings of any size, this rate will soon subside."

Kopel said, "with the approach of Passover and Easter, it’s hard and strange to celebrate without our friends and loved ones. However, for the sake of those loved ones, we must continue to stay home alone, to wash our hands often and finally rid ourselves of this scourge.”

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) expressed concern about the large numbers of confirmed cases in Huntington Station — 178 as of last Friday, according to the Newsday analysis. 

“I know Huntington Station very well and there are an awful lot of people who live in the station who are nurses, first responders and police officers,” Gaughran said.

“We have a lot of heroes in the station who I know are going out every day to protect us," he said. "That’s a concern.”

Gaughran said he's been trying to piece together information as a layman, and found the Newsday map illuminating.

“I think this is why we have to listen to the medical professionals because I don’t think you can just figure it out,” Gaughran said Monday.

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci attributed the number of cases in Huntington Station and Huntington to population density and people congregating in, “one of the largest and best downtowns” with a high concentration of bars and restaurants.

“When people congregate and are close together, that’s a contributing factor,” said Lupinacci, a Republican.

Suffolk County Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), a physician, said the case numbers in Huntington and Huntington Station likely are due to factors such as population density and the availability of testing for the coronavirus.

Spencer raised the possibility of language barriers in getting messages about the virus out to a large Spanish-speaking community, even though the county has “made a great effort to try to reach out.”

Also, Huntington held its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 8, shortly before all such events were canceled, he noted.

“When you take density, testing, a language barrier and the parade, that could explain why we’re seeing some higher numbers in Huntington,” he said.