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Testing expansion produces jump in cases of coronavirus on Long Island

Medical personnel preparing to test for COVID-19 at

Medical personnel preparing to test for COVID-19 at Huntington High School in Huntington on Friday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases on Long Island has jumped dramatically, fueled by the expansion of testing sites and greater availability of testing kits, according to newly released health data and government officials.

The spike has raised concern that COVID-19 hospitalizations could rise. State health department data shows 12% of those testing positive for the virus were hospitalized in New York. The hospitalization rate in New York City is more than 20%, the data shows.

In a matter of two days, new COVID-19 positive cases identified on Long Island climbed from 2,024 on April 6 to 3,161 on April 8. That 56% jump paralleled a 69% increase in the number of tests that produced both positive and negative findings on the two days. Overall, the testing figure rose from 4,420 to 7,487.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the increased number of testing sites “has had a real impact … we’re seeing the numbers go up as a result.”

In addition to testing done at hospitals around the county, Bellone said, many people are getting checked for the virus at about dozen sites, including mobile “hot spot” testing places and urgent care facilities.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said testing has become more widely available at urgent care practices, doctor offices and other medical offices.

She said that only two urgent care practices in Nassau have received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to use a new rapid test for COVID-19.

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In Nassau, the number of new cases identified per day went up 60% between April 6 and April 8, compared to a new test-results-per-day increase of 72%. In Suffolk over the same period, new cases-per-day rose 52% compared to a 67% increase in new test-results-per day.

Health experts caution that the new jump in Long Island numbers doesn’t mean that the virus is spreading as much as government officials are gaining a better grasp of the size of the existing problem.

“A spike in numbers is not necessarily a bad-thing — when you look for something, you’re going to find it,” explained Anthony J. Santella, associate professor of public health at Hofstra University, who has studied COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

He said the jump was to be expected with the expansion of testing sites and the introduction of easier to use testing kits “where now you don’t have to be a specialist to do the testing.” And despite the increase in case numbers, Santella said many people who test positive may have little or no symptoms and won’t require hospitalization.

Jaymie Meliker, an epidemiologist who is a professor at Stony Brook University’s Program in Public Health, said the recent spike “doesn’t look like that much of an increase in cases.” He said cases on Long Island are now doubling every seven to 10 days, while the previous rate was a doubling every three to five days.

“We’re definitely slowing it down,” Meliker said. New confirmed cases are based on tests conducted a week ago, he said.

“There are still doctors who say they can’t test patients,” he said. “We’re not testing everyone. We’re only testing people who are really sick.”

During an online news conference Thursday, Bellone agreed that “testing is available but still not widespread testing” that would provide a comprehensive picture of the spread of the virus.         

Nevertheless, Bellone added, “These are large numbers, no doubt about it.” Among these new positive cases, Bellone said he “expects that some will be sick enough to be hospitalized.”

With Sandra Peddie

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