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Officials: Long Island ramping up more COVID-19 testing sites

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone talked about the importance of COVID-19 testing as the rate of coronavirus infections continues to rise on Long Island. Northwell Health, in conjunction with Suffolk County and the Town of Huntington, opened a COVID-19 testing site at its Dolan Family Health Center in Huntington. And in Oceanside, Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin and the Hempstead Town Board implemented a new drive-thru rapid testing initiative with Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital. Credit: Barry Sloan; Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Long Island government and medical officials have announced the opening of two more sites in Nassau and Suffolk for free COVID-19 testing, a crucial weapon, they said, to slow the virus' surge across the region and nationally.

Northwell Health, in collaboration with Suffolk County and the Town of Huntington, opened a site Monday at its Dolan Family Health Center in Greenlawn.

In Nassau, Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital plans to unveil a new drive-thru COVID-19 rapid testing site Dec. 7 under a permanent "all weather tent" at its Oceanside campus. Until the new site opens, the hospital has begun rapid COVID-19 testing at its original test site, officials said, where about 10,000 tests have been conducted so far.

These new sites join other testing facilities throughout the Island, officials noted.

While Suffolk had "bucked the trend" for months, the coronavirus surge was now here, said County Executive Steve Bellone Tuesday during a news conference outside Northwell Health's Dolan Family Health Center. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The county had "enjoyed this period for a long time where we kept the numbers down," Bellone said, citing a COVID-19 positivity rate that had been below 1%.

He said the positivity rate in the county was now "on the cusp" of 5%.

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"It is clear now we are in that second wave," Bellone said. "The task at hand … is to do everything we can to get these numbers back under control to save lives. We know from our experience, a critical component of that is testing. Being able to get people tested so that we can isolate them" to reduce the spread of the virus.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, in a phone interview, said, "Until we have the vaccine, testing is the key to getting the virus under control."

Curran said that on the weekend following Thanksgiving, tens of thousands of residents were tested per day for COVID-19 — 18,620 on Friday, 17,980 on Saturday and 14,896 Sunday — across all sites, public and private.

"We definitely want people to get tested because it does help us contain this."

She said the state's drive-thru testing site at Jones Beach was still open, and suggested residents could also call there for an appointment at 888-364-3065.

Dr. William Gehrhardt, the Dolan Health Center's medical director, said it does not provide rapid testing, but results are available within one to three days. Bellone said the county, which gets tests from New York State, hoped to be able to provide the rapid test to the health center soon.

Wesley Boucher, 58, of Lake Ronkonkoma, who works at the health center's parking facility, got tested Tuesday "out of respect for myself, family members and friends and the colleagues that I work with." He said his 84-year-old mother lives with him.

Dr. Nick Fitterman, executive director of Huntington Hospital, said at the news conference that testing was being supported by "education efforts and communication efforts, even bringing food for families that need to shelter in place." Noting the "devastation" seen in the area from COVID-19 in March and April, he added, "these efforts will help prevent that from happening again."

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said outreach was being conducted through robocalls to residents in English and Spanish.

Northwell officials said its testing site would provide up to 150 diagnostic tests a day through Dec. 18. To make an appointment, call Northwell Health's COVID-19 hotline at 833-422-7369.

In Nassau, a collaboration between Hemptead Town, Nassau County and Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital led to the new drive-thru COVID-19 testing area at its Oceanside campus. Hempstead Town provided a $445,000-plus grant for it, while the county provided the testing equipment received from New York State.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said with the virus surging, the need for more testing was clear.

"We see the numbers expanding," he said, adding that the town has also partnered with Northwell Health on testing facilities for town parks.

"Everybody recognizes testing is one of the critical features of controlling COVID-19 spread," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of the department of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital. "If people don’t realize they're positive … they don’t take the necessary precautions," such as wearing face masks and being socially distant.

Glatt said the hospital, which has been conducting about 75 tests daily, hopes to increase that number. Anyone seeking a test, which is free, must make an appointment by calling 516-390-2888.

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