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Holiday season's impact on COVID-19 surge will be seen in coming weeks, experts say

There were 17,000 COVID-19 test kits distributed to

17,000 COVID-19 test kits were distributed at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday, as residents drove up and lined up down Hempstead Turnpike, as part of new Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman's initiative to give out 40,000 test kits this weekend. Credit: Newsday / Cecilia Dowd; Debbie Egan-Chin

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Robert Brodsky, Lisa L. Colangelo and Laura Figueroa Hernandez. It was written by Colangelo.

The holiday season may have ended, but its impact on the winter COVID-19 surge could just be starting, health experts warned Sunday.

The statewide daily COVID-19 positivity rate continued its climb in results from Saturday. Even with the lower volume of testing statewide on New Year's Day, New York recorded 62,526 new positive results from 275,563 COVID-19 tests for a single-day positivity rate of 22.69%.

Nassau County accounted for 6,040 of those Saturday cases out of 23,047 tests administered, for a daily positivity rate of 26.2%, while Suffolk County's 5,918 cases out of 21,075 tests amounted to a daily positivity rate of 28.1%.

Long Island continued to have the highest seven-day average of new positive cases of all regions in the state with 24.16% on Saturday.

What to know

  • The number of COVID-19 cases on Long Island remained high even during the holiday weekend.
  • Health experts expect a post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases over the next two weeks.
  • Thousands of people showed up at Nassau Coliseum for the second day on Sunday, hoping to get their share of 17,000 free at-home test kits being distributed by Nassau County.

Increase in emergency room visits, hospitalizations expected

As Long Islanders return to work and school on Monday, the impact of holiday gatherings on COVID-19 rates could become apparent in the coming weeks.

"I think that the next two weeks will be critical," said Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of infectious diseases at Huntington Hospital. "I expect to see a surge in hospitalizations probably 10 days post January 1st. So the first half of January will be the one that's more stressful for the health care system."

Hospitals in both Nassau and Suffolk counties have also been feeling the impact, with both an increase in admissions and staffers unable to work because they are ill with COVID-19.

The vast number of new cases will lead to more emergency room visits and hospitalizations, Popp said.

"Most people who are vaccinated, especially if they got the booster, most likely they will be asymptomatic and they should have a mild disease," he said. "However, people who did not complete their vaccination series, and specifically the unvaccinated ones, are at risk for developing more severe illness. And those are at risk to actually get hospitalized with moderate-to-severe COVID and they can stress our health care system."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief White House medical adviser, said Sunday the U.S. is "definitely in the middle of a very severe surge and uptick" during an appearance on ABC's "This Week."

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said public health officials, looking at data from South Africa where omicron was first detected, are hoping "this thing will peak after a period of a few weeks and turn around."

He urged people to get vaccinated, get a booster shot and wear masks in indoor settings to blunt the surge.

State figures released Sunday show 8,773 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across New York, up from 5,526 one week earlier, on Dec. 26.

There were 83 deaths from COVID-19 complications across the state on Saturday, including 13 people in Suffolk County and 5 in Nassau County.

High demand for home tests

Meanwhile, the demand for at-home COVID-19 testing kids remains high on Long Island, with another distribution effort snarling traffic for hours on Sunday. Thousands of people in their cars converged on Nassau Coliseum on Sunday morning hoping to snap up some of the 17,000 free testing kits being made available by county officials in conjunction with Nassau University Medical Center for the second day in a row. But all were gone by 11 a.m.

While the Saturday distribution of 23,000 kits hit few snags, Sunday saw traffic backed up for miles on Hempstead Turnpike and Glenn Curtiss Boulevard. Readers told Newsday that they waited upward of two hours lining up only to be turned away before 10 a.m.

Nick Zottoli of Seaford was on line on the Meadowbrook Parkway before 8 a.m., hoping to get kits for his 71-year-old mother.

But Zottoli said the process was "completely disorganized," with little direction provided to motorists on the parkway. He was eventually informed that all of the kits had been distributed.

"There was no signs. No cones. No police. No officials. No arrows. No direction," he said of his experience. "It was disorganized from the start. It was really terrible."

Stephanie Barchi of Port Washington took the morning in stride. She was among those who were turned away from a Meadowbrook Parkway exit ramp before 10 a.m. Sunday without obtaining the kits.

"It was very clear that it was not an unlimited supply," she said. "First come first serve. But I felt it was handled as well as possible."

Nassau County spokesman Chris Boyle said the county began distributing 17,000 kits obtained from NUMC in East Meadow at 8 a.m. Sunday, with the same amount of staff as Saturday.

The final kit was handed out shortly after 11 a.m., Boyle said, although he conceded that cars may have been turned away from the Meadowbrook Parkway and from side streets earlier.

Boyle said demand was higher Sunday, in part because Saturday was a holiday. The county also had 6,000 fewer kits to distribute than one day earlier.

In a statement, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman touted the effort, noting that his administration, working with NUMC, distributed 40,000 tests in 48 hours.

"I want to thank all of the volunteers and first responders who helped to coordinate this large-scale event," he said. " … I am confident that my administration will be able to secure and distribute tens of thousands of additional tests to residents by the end of this week."

Also on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) urged federal officials to put New York at "the top of the list" for distribution of newly approved treatments for COVID-19: Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s Molnupiravir pills.

He cited New York as "number one" for COVID-19 cases, currently having "the greatest need," during a news conference at his Manhattan office.

The federal government has purchased 10 million courses of Paxlovid and 3 million of Merck’s drug, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

But supply is limited: only 65,000 Paxlovid courses and 300,000 Molnupiravir were expected to arrive at distribution sites by the end of December, according to HHS.

Another 200,000 Paxlovoid courses are expected in January, with shipments to states and territories expected every two weeks as production ramps up.

Health experts have said the drugs, which require a prescription, will be given to people at the highest risk of developing severe illness to COVID-19 because of existing medical conditions and other considerations.

"It's very important that the antiviral pills are coming, but I don't think they are going to be helpful in the next week or two or three," said Popp. "They are not yet available on a large scale and right now they are for people with underlying, immunosuppressed conditions. Ideally they should also go to the elderly. There are also supply issues."

Many doctors have also said the current COVID-19 vaccines are still the most effective way to avoid becoming severely ill from the disease.

HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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