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Long Island and New York City saw daily COVID-19 cases rise to May levels

The two Long Island counties and New York

The two Long Island counties and New York City had new cases of the coronavirus rise to daily counts not seen since May. In the photo, many walking on a July day in Patchogue's Main Street wore protective masks. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

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

Long Island's two counties and New York City saw new cases of the coronavirus rise to daily counts not registered since May, when the number of confirmed positives reported each day had generally started to decline, the latest state figures show.

Even with the increase in confirmed cases, the positivity rate that the state has tracked to determine infection levels was still at 1.5% on Long Island and in New York City — a sign that people should not be overly alarmed, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office said.

The state broke its record for the number of tests completed on Wednesday, meaning the total number of positives was likely to also go up, Cuomo aides said.

But some medical experts said the increased positive count also could be a sign that people are suffering from "pandemic fatigue" and starting to let up on safety precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing — just as the region enters fall and winter, when people will be inside even more and the potential for exposure grows.

Cuomo himself warned this week that the state is seeing a growing number of cases emerge from events such as birthday parties and weddings, including on Long Island, where this week officials fined organizers of a wedding and a house party.

State figures issued Thursday show that for the first time since May, Suffolk County hit 200 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. Nassau County registered 178 new cases, while New York City had 1,060.

The last time Suffolk surpassed 200 new cases was on May 15, when the county registered 223. The following day, the figure was 175, and it continued mostly down from there, according to the state's online dashboard of COVID-19 cases.

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At the height of the pandemic, Suffolk hit 1,569 daily cases on April 8.

Nassau registered 216 on May 8, 189 the following day, and 120 on May 10. Then the number mainly continued down. New York City hit 1,243 on May 15, and 993 the next day, and continued mostly down.

The level of testing Wednesday was the highest registered yet on Long Island, with 13,426 people tested in Suffolk, compared with a previous high of 12,149 on Oct. 16. A total of 11,971 were tested in Nassau, compared with a previous high of 11,919 on Oct. 7.

The higher level of testing here and statewide since those May metrics were gathered means that the positivity rate, obtained from dividing positives by the number of people tested on a given day, is generally much lower now.

The increase in COVID-19 cases on Long Island could, in part, be tied to people letting up on being diligent against the spread of the virus, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of the department of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside.

"It could be that people are becoming pandemic-tired, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because why would you get tired of taking care of yourself?" Glatt said. "We need to keep messaging that we need to look out for each other, whether it’s the grandparent or the person next door with cancer."

County Executive Laura Curran said, "Nassau residents have demonstrated a collective resolve that's allowed us to hold down infections since Phase 1 began, but pandemic fatigue poses a new challenge. Though we may be tired of dealing with COVID-19, it’s not yet tired of us. The dark days of March and April are still fresh in our memories, and we must never go back."

Suffolk County did not offer comment on the case figures.

Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at Northwell Health, said "People are getting sick at mass gatherings, like community events and weddings. They’re not getting sick at small gatherings where people are wearing masks."

Still, Long Island and New York State's positivity levels remain low compared with the rest of the country. Cuomo this week said New York has the second-lowest levels in the country.

In NYC, 'a very worrisome number'

The new numbers came as Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that New York City, which initially bore the worst of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States but went on to achieve one of the country’s lowest infection rates, is now at risk of a second wave.

The level of new COVID-19 positives has risen to 2.7% in the city based on samples taken Tuesday, de Blasio said, leading him to express concerns about a resurgence. The city's seven-day rolling average was 1.92%, he said.

"Now, we have a threat from everywhere around us — and a growing threat," de Blasio said Thursday morning on MSNBC. He added: "We’re going to do everything in our power to stop a second wave."

"Here’s where I am increasingly concerned, which is the percentage of people testing positive citywide for COVID-19," he said. "It, to be fair, every day varies according to what test results come back, and then what quantity. The daily report is not a perfect measure, but that's a very worrisome number. It's literally twice yesterday, but that also points out it is somewhat aberrant as a number."

De Blasio cautioned people against Halloween gatherings, traveling out of state for Thanksgiving, and indoor gatherings in general.

More than 168,000 tested

The level of positivity in the state's "hot spots," or cluster areas facing more preventive restrictions, was 3.24% in testing completed Wednesday. The statewide positivity rate was 1.25% excluding the hot spots, and 1.48% including those "micro-clusters," which are oversampled.

The state completed a record 168,353 COVID-19 tests on Wednesday, Cuomo said.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus statewide remained flat at 1,085. Nineteen people died Wednesday of causes related to COVID-19.

Commack High School closed for in-person instruction Thursday after a student tested positive for COVID-19, school officials said, adding the school might reopen Friday.

Long Island public and private schools had, as of Thursday, reported a total of 921 coronavirus positives since Sept. 8, an increase of 35 cases from the previous day, according to the state’s COVID-19 Report Card. Of those, 683 were students and 238 were teachers and staff members. The statewide tally was 2,885 students and 1,502 teachers and staff members, for a total of 4,387 who tested positive in that period.

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