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Bellone: COVID-19 numbers 'are spiking'; Long Island above 2,000 cases

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone joins with Birthday

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone joins with Birthday Wishes of Long Island and local advocates Tuesday to highlight the ongoing human services crisis caused by COVID-19, which has been especially taxing on homeless families and youth in foster care. He raised the alarm about growing cases in the county. Credit: Howard Schnapp

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Jesse Coburn, Lisa L. Colangelo, Cecilia Dowd, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Suffolk is skyrocketing, rising from 66 a day at the start of November to a figure that is routinely surpassing 1,000 a day, County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Suffolk passed that mark for the fifth time since last week in results announced Tuesday, with 1,164 cases from the previous day, state data showed.

"The cases are spiking, and we are in that second wave that we’ve talked about from the very beginning," Bellone said at a news conference.

Just two weeks ago, the county highs were about 500 new confirmed cases each day, less than half the current level. On Nov. 1, the county had 66 confirmed cases, he said.

Long Island as a whole surpassed 2,000 cases in results released Tuesday, marking the second time in a week it has passed that bench mark. The region is producing case numbers that on many days are on par with the levels near the height of the pandemic in April.

The number of new confirmed cases in results from Monday that were released Tuesday was 1,164 in Suffolk, and 863 in Nassau, for a total of 2,027. In New York City, the number of new cases was 3,461. The daily positivity rate was 6.2% on Long Island, 4.7% in New York City and 5.74% statewide, according to the state's dashboard.

Seventy-four people died in the state on Monday of COVID-19-related causes. The number of people hospitalized with the virus increased by 233 statewide, for a total of 4,835.

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Bellone attributed the rapid rise in new cases to holiday gatherings that started with Thanksgiving, colder weather pushing people indoors, and people becoming lax with virus mitigation measures.

The positivity level in testing in Suffolk has risen from 1.2% at the start of November to 4% two weeks ago to a seven-day average of 6.2%, he said.

Underscoring the dangers posed by the virus, Suffolk officials on Tuesday confirmed a recent pediatric COVID-19 death at a local hospital. The patient had underlying health conditions and died within the last two weeks, officials said. They would not provide the name or age of the child, or where he or she lived or attended school.

They said the patient was under the age of 19.

There have been 17 deaths due to COVID-19 in people 19 or younger since the pandemic started, according to the New York State Department of Health's website.

As case numbers rise, Bellone urged people to double down on mask wearing, social distancing and avoiding gatherings, even at home, to curtail the rise in cases.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that "as we continue to see the number of COVID cases rise in New York and across the nation, it's critical that we not only remain tough and practice safe behaviors to limit viral spread, but that we also do everything in our power to ensure hospitals are prepared to handle a growing number of patients."

This week, he ordered hospitals to expand capacity by 25%.

Expanding testing in schools

Suffolk is expanding testing in schools, kicking off two new programs in the East Hampton and Copiague school districts on Monday, Bellone said. More than 200 people were tested in each district, with only two tests coming back positive in Copiague and none in East Hampton, he said.

"Those are very good results," Bellone said. "We are happy to see that. It confirms once again that the schools are really doing an outstanding job. We are not seeing spread in the schools."

Meanwhile, the state announced Tuesday it has suspended the liquor licenses of 36 additional bars and restaurants for egregious violations of coronavirus mitigation laws. Four were in Suffolk and one in Nassau.

Bellone noted that leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared at Cuomo’s news briefing on Monday, and laid out how he envisions New York hopefully getting the virus under control by sometime in the summer or September through mass vaccinations.

The FDA is expected to approve use of Pfizer's vaccine this week, and Moderna's not long afterward.

"There is hope on the horizon now," Bellone said. "But we have a long road ahead until we get there."

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement, "Today’s news about impending FDA approvals for COVID-19 vaccines is monumental, but we must not allow it to lull us into a false sense of complacency. This war isn’t over — in fact there are still a few battles ahead. Our data is beginning to show a more even distribution of disease activity among all age groups across the county. We have now reached a clear point of community spread, which calls for increased vigilance from all of us."

De Blasio: Keep NYC schools open

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday suggested the state’s closure standard for schools during the pandemic — set months ago by Cuomo at 9% citywide positivity — might be too strict.

"That state standard is in place now, but I think we’re gonna have a real conversation with the state and with the public going forward, based on the actual facts we’ve learned from 850 schools being open over these coming weeks," he said.

In September, in a deal with the United Federation of Teachers labor union, de Blasio agreed to close schools if the positivity rate hit at least 3%, which happened in late November.

The city since has reconsidered that standard, saying schools haven't been found to be vectors for transmission.

On Long Island, Brentwood High School was closed for in-person learning Monday and Tuesday after more than 20 staff members had to isolate or quarantine. The school’s 4,500 students are expected to resume hybrid instruction on Wednesday.

New York helping Michigan

Northwell Health said Tuesday it has sent 12 nurses to Michigan-based Henry Ford Health System to help the Midwest health system care for a rising number of COVID-19 patients.

The nurses will work at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Clinton Township.

Northwell and Henry Ford were both helped by other organizations with staff sharing in the spring. During the summer, as caseloads threatened to rise in Utah, Northwell provided critical care nurses to a hospital there.

Northwell said it has sufficient staff to handle a COVID-19 outbreak in New York.

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