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State figures: Long Island hits new post-holiday peak of COVID-19 cases

On Thursday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said

On Thursday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county is bringing back the viral pandemic triage protocol, which requires EMS workers to conduct a COVID-19 screening and transport only patients that meet the criteria for COVID-19 hospitalization. Credit: Howard Schnapp

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Matthew Chayes, Jesse Coburn, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and David Olson. It was written by Jones and Olson.

Long Island and New York State broke their records for daily confirmed new cases of COVID-19, with Nassau and Suffolk counties registering more than 3,800 positives to surpass levels of infections in the spring, the latest state figures show.

While the numbers of cases exceeded previous peaks, health and government officials noted that the state didn't complete nearly as many tests at the height of the pandemic in April as it is doing now — and cases went undetected.

Nassau logged 1,634 new confirmed cases in test results from Wednesday, while Suffolk registered 2,194, for a total of 3,828 for both counties, state figures showed. New York State registered 17,636 new cases, also a high.

Long Island's daily peak in the spring was 3,265 on April 7, with a 44.6% positivity level. The positivity level on Wednesday was 9.6%. Long Island's daily peak in the spring was 3,265 on April 7, with a 44.6% positivity level. The positivity level on Wednesday was 9.6%.

The rate was higher in the spring because fewer tests were available and the percentage was calculated from a smaller pool of people who took them.

The state's daily high in the spring was 11,571 cases, with a positivity level of 43.1%. The level on Wednesday was 7.4%.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday the record levels on Long Island are the result of steadily increasing cases throughout the holiday season. He said it might not be so immediately noticeable since the numbers keep growing day by day.

Cuomo told reporters that multiple factors caused the spikes. And he said he is worried about a potentially more contagious variant from the United Kingdom arriving in the state.

"The numbers have been going up every day," Cuomo said. "New fact: U.K. strain, all bets are off, all equations are altered."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also raised alarm about the record numbers: "We are at a critical point in our fight against this virus, and we have the power to stop this troubling trend."

He added: "With the vaccination effort underway, we are in the homestretch of this battle. But until we have reached our goal of vaccinating more than 850,000 county residents, face coverings and social distancing are a must."

Still, the case count is higher because "back then we didn't have the ability to test" at the same scale, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside.

Mount Sinai South Nassau was caring for about 90 COVID-19 patients, compared to around 400 during the pandemic's height in April, he said.

"But don't take solace in this," Glatt said. "This is extremely dangerous in terms of the potential for trouble. We remain terrified that this could take over our hospital."

New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health, the largest health system in the state, has about 1,200 COVID-19 patients at its hospitals, said Dr. David Battinelli, Northwell's chief medical officer. On April 7, Northwell had than 3,400 COVID-19 patients.

"We've been at around 1,200 for the last three or four days," Battinelli said, adding that one reason for the higher number of confirmed cases is "people are getting tested like crazy."

Battinelli added that the new strain could also be adding to the COVID-19 spread.

The 197 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday were the highest number since May 9, according to state data. That includes 22 Suffolk residents — the most of any county in the state — and seven Nassau residents.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped by 117, to 8,548.

NY issues vaccine eligibility lists

Dentists, psychologists and others deemed as health care workers with direct contact with patients immediately qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine, according to updated guidance issued by New York State. Staff of those offices also can receive the vaccines.

Cuomo announced last week that employees at outpatient health facilities and public-health workers who have close contact with patients could receive the vaccine starting Jan. 4. The new guidance gives more detail on who is eligible.

Employees at outpatient offices who don’t have contact with patients, including those who work from home, would not qualify, said Dr. Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer at Northwell.

Those eligible this week for vaccinations include orthodontists, psychiatrists, physical therapists, optometrists, pharmacists and pharmacy aides, home care workers and hospice employees, the state said.

All of these health care workers are in the first phase of vaccinations, known as 1A. Those given highest priority, starting on Dec. 14, were the highest-risk health care workers — such as those working in hospital emergency departments and intensive-care units — and, beginning Dec. 21, nursing home residents and staff. Those vaccinations are continuing.

The state website also detailed which types of essential workers would be given priority in the next phase, 1B, although the date those vaccinations will begin has not been announced. The state listed teachers and education workers, first responders, public-safety employees and public-transit workers, as well as New Yorkers ages 75 and older.

The state has been following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, Cuomo says. But the new state guidelines for 1B have a significantly narrower list of essential workers than the CDC.

The recommendations from an independent CDC advisory committee of experts, which were adopted on Dec. 20, include all of those in the state’s 1B list. But they also include others whom the committee said are at highest risk of workplace exposure to the coronavirus: grocery store employees, food and agricultural workers, child care workers, U.S. Postal Service employees and manufacturing workers.

Assisted living facilities are in 1A, but state officials have not said when vaccines can be administered to their residents and staff.

The Bristal Assisted Living, which has 15 Long Island centers, is scheduled to begin vaccinations on Tuesday, Maryellen McKeon, senior vice president for operations for the Bristal, said in emails.

"The Bristal will be receiving the vaccine through clinics run by contracted pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens," she said. "The schedule for these clinics is set directly by the pharmacies. We have confirmed dates from them for most of The Bristal communities — some starting next week."

There will be three clinics for each Bristal location, each one three weeks apart, and they’re currently scheduled to run over several months, she said. McKeon said the dates are subject to change.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for the city to be allowed to vaccinate cops who deal with the public, people over 75 and others at heightened risk.

The state’s rule barring vaccinating those groups — before others like front-line health care workers, even as about a third of them are refusing the vaccine — "makes no sense," the mayor said.

"Just think about that. An 80-year-old at Bellevue right now says, ‘could I please have the COVID vaccine?’ And the state’s answer is ‘no.’ It makes no sense. Whatever that person is in the hospital for, give them the vaccine right now. We have a chance to protect them right now. That’s what we're trying to achieve," de Blasio said.

Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa countered that the state needs to follow its priorities to give all people in the group most at-risk a chance to be vaccinated first. "The question is are you inadvertently punishing people who are in 1A, not because they don’t want to get it, but because of an incompetent or ineffective system of delivery," DeRosa said.

Nassau saving hospitals for severe cases

EMS operators who do COVID-19 screenings will transport to hospitals only people with severe symptoms who require closer medical care, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Thursday.

The county "will be reinstating the state viral pandemic triage protocol," she said. Emergency responders "are already experiencing elevated call volumes."

She added: "If there are mild symptoms, and someone can convalesce at home, that makes a lot more sense than to take them to the hospital."

Curran said 629 people have been vaccinated at the Nassau Community College pod over the last two days, with 472 of those shots given on Wednesday. The county has set a goal of 400 vaccinations a day there.

The county also vaccinated 135 school nurses yesterday, she said, adding that about 50,000 Long Islanders had been vaccinated so far.

Cuomo: Test international travelers

Cuomo on Wednesday again pushed the federal government to require international air travelers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering the country, including the tens of thousands of people who fly into JFK Airport from abroad each week.

In a letter to Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cuomo noted more than 100 other countries require a negative test from international airline passengers. The United States only requires that from passengers arriving from the United Kingdom.

Representatives of the federal agency did not immediately say Thursday whether they will grant Cuomo’s request.

On Long Island, in the Farmingdale school district, Woodward Parkway Elementary School was closed to in-person instruction Thursday because of the late notice of a positive case, Superintendent Paul Defendini said in a statement posted Wednesday night on the district website.

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VIRUS CASES FOR PEAK DAYS

The following are days in which the number of new positives for COVID-19 exceeded 3,000 cases on Long Island, compared to the April peak, or exceeded 15,000 cases in the state, compared to the April peak, according to state data.

Long Island

  • Jan. 6 — 3,828 new cases, 9.6% positivity
  • Jan. 5 — 3,775 new, 10.5%
  • Jan. 1 — 3,195 new, 8.7%
  • Dec. 31 — 3,430 new, 8.8%
  • Dec. 30 — 3,624 new, 9.7%
  • April 8 — 3,161 new, 42.2%
  • April 7 — 3,265 new, 44.6% (spring peak)

New York State

  • Jan. 6 — 17,636 new cases, 7.4% positivity
  • Jan. 5 — 16,648 new, 8.4%
  • Jan. 1 — 15,074 new, 7.4%
  • Dec. 31 — 16,497 new, 7.5%
  • Dec. 30 — 16,802 new, 7.8%
  • April 14 — 11,571 new, 43.1% (spring peak)

SOURCE: New York State.

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