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Long Island's COVID-19 surge sends daily positivity rate near 10%

Cars line up at a drive-through COVID-19 testing

Cars line up at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site for Suffolk County employees and their families at Smith Point Park in Shirley on Dec. 18. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The number of new COVID-19 cases on Long Island continued to grow by 3,624 with a daily positivity rate of 9.7%, while local officials made a final plea for residents to ramp down New Year's celebrations in an effort to slow the spread.

"We are seeing a surge in cases," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference Thursday in Hauppauge. "The fears that we expressed at the beginning of the holiday season have come to pass. This second wave is hitting us hard."

New figures released Thursday by the state show 1,608 new cases in Nassau County, with a daily positivity rate of 8.9%, and 2,016 new cases in Suffolk County for a daily positivity rate of 10.5%.

Those numbers are a dip from Wednesday's 10.5% rate in Nassau County and 12.8% in Suffolk County, with the percent of daily positives hitting 11.7%. All figures represent totals for the previous day of testing.

Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran reiterated the importance of social distancing, wearing face coverings and keeping gatherings small.

"New Year’s Eve is the most social holiday on our calendar, and I am expecting, unfortunately, that we are going to see more of an uptick," Curran said in an interview with Newsday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said there were 16,802 new COVID-19 cases across the state from 216,587 tests. The state recorded an additional 136 COVID-19 related deaths, including 13 in Suffolk and nine in Nassau. The number of people hospitalized in the state increased to 7,935.

"Yes, the vaccine is here and yes, we are laser-focused on ensuring hospitals do not become overwhelmed, but we cannot lose sight of our collective responsibility to slow the spread," Cuomo said in a statement.

Bellone said the spike is largely tracked to small indoor gatherings where residents "put their guard down" when celebrating with friends, family and neighbors.

"Our contact tracers continue to tell us it's social gatherings," Curran said of the new cases.

Meanwhile, school officials in some Long Island districts are switching to remote learning when classes resume from the holidays.

Long Beach Superintendent Jennifer Gallagher, in a note to residents, said all schools will go fully remote from Monday through Wednesday after more than 40 positive COVID-19 cases in the district since Christmas. The three days of remote classes would give more time to identify any holiday-related cases.

In Huntington, Superintendent James Polansky said the district will switch to full remote learning for the week when schools reopen Monday, citing a spike in positive cases in the county.

Educators said they will keep a close eye on rates across Long Island.

Seaford Superintendent Adele V. Pecora said in a note posted Wednesday that the district has had 14 positive cases over the past several days. It will resume in-person instruction on Monday. However, "We have been tracking the most recent COVID cases and remain concerned with the rate of increase," she said.

South Huntington will become the first district in the region to offer free voluntary testing of any student or staff member on weekends, starting Saturday, Superintendent David Bennardo said in a video message dated Wednesday.

He said nurses and doctors will be on site to administer a rapid test, and those tested will be notified of their results. The district enrolls about 5,900 students.

"Testing an entire district is a considerably challenging undertaking, and our plan is to remain calm and flexible as we work to garner a districtwide data set, which will inform our decision-making going forward," Bennardo said in a note on the school website.

With Cecilia Dowd and Joie Tyrrell

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