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LI's COVID-19 positivity rate, at 6.04% and rising, sparks calls for new approach

Newsday's Steve Langford speaks with Long Islanders about

Newsday's Steve Langford speaks with Long Islanders about the rising rate of COVID-19 cases and the upcoming holidays. Credit: Newsday / Reece T. Williams

Long Island has surpassed 6% positivity rate in testing for COVID-19 — its highest level in nearly a year — and amassed nearly 1,800 new cases, officials said Wednesday.

The 6.04% seven-day average for positivity in testing came as virus numbers continue to soar in Nassau and Suffolk counties and much of the state. Long Island has not reached that level of positivity since Feb. 1, according to state data.

What to know

Long Island marked its worst COVID-19 positivity level in nearly a year, surpassing 6%, and logged nearly 1,800 new cases on Tuesday.

Medical experts are calling for a change in policies in Nassau and Suffolk as case numbers and positivity levels soar nearly two years into the pandemic.

Eight more cases of omicron were detected in the state, with six in New York City and one in Westchester.

One leading medical expert called that a "horrible" showing nearly two years into the pandemic, and said it is time for Nassau and Suffolk to change their approach to dealing with the virus, noting that New York City is doing far better.

"They’re horrible numbers" and "dramatically higher than" New York City’s rates, said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital. "The numbers are very bad going into the holiday season."

Long Island's positive rate is nearly triple the current figure in New York City, which logged in at 2.35% in test results from Tuesday. Long Island’s level was below 1% in May and June, and as low as 2.08% as recently as Oct. 28.

The positivity level is the number of people who test positive — or are confirmed to be infected — out of the total number tested.

The new cases are being fueled by the delta variant and a holiday season surge, medical experts said, though the omicron variant is expected to catch up to delta within weeks and possibly surpass it.

Omicron, first confirmed a week ago in Suffolk and New York City, has extended its reach in the state, officials said. The number of new cases grew from 12 two days ago to 20. Six of the new cases were in New York City, bringing the total there to 13, Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

New cases were confirmed for the first time in Westchester County and Broome County, where Binghamton is located. Each county had one omicron case detected.

Three cases have been confirmed in Suffolk within the last week.

Overall, Long Island is producing nearly as many new daily cases of COVID-19 as New York City, even though the city has about triple the population. Suffolk tallied 1,017 new cases in test results from Tuesday, while Nassau had 769, for a total of 1,786. New York City registered 2,590.

The levels on Long Island are "much higher than Manhattan" and other parts of the city, Farber said. "The differences are really very impressive."

He said Long Island needs to adopt similar COVID-19 policies as New York City to bring the pandemic under control and hopefully to something of an end.

New York City requires people to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, movie theaters, fast food chains, sports and concert venues, including Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, Broadway plays, bowling alleys, museums and other public places.

Long Island does not follow that policy, as people are free to enter the locations unvaccinated and unmasked.

Masking in public places 'make a lot of sense'

People in New York City also are required to wear masks in many public locations, such as Radio City Music Hall, and are often seen wearing them on the streets as well.

New York City has "vaccine mandates for restaurants, public places, and we don’t," Farber said. "They’re pressuring their workers to get vaccinated. We have really not done that to the same degree."

"I think vaccine mandates and mask mandates in public places make a lot of sense," he added. Long Island’s policies "certainly are not doing well. It’s very sad to see."

Suffolk officials have said the county is experiencing the same jump in cases as many parts of the country. Nassau officials have not responded to requests for comment. County Executive-elect Bruce Blakeman said he is monitoring the situation.

Hochul said she is leaving it up to local governments for now to decide how to handle the pandemic.

Some other experts have also called on Hochul and local governments to adopt New York City’s policies.

The New York City approach "is a smart move, it’s an important move, and it’s the best way to avoid returning to shutdowns of businesses and public events that we are seeing in other countries," said Dr. Jean Marie Osborne, associate professor of health policy at Molloy College in Rockville Centre.

"I think more counties and more areas of New York should follow suit in what the city is doing right now," she said.

Some people have criticized the mandates implemented by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. On Monday, he announced he is ordering all private sector employees to get vaccinated. He had already instituted the same mandate for city employees including police, firefighters and teachers.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican, blasted the mayor as "a far-left, lame-duck politician, who is anti-business, one-dimensional, unaccountable … ."

Some countries are going further than New York City. Austria, for instance, has issued a blanket order for all residents to be vaccinated by Feb. 1.

Some regions upstate have worse indicators than Long Island. Western New York on Tuesday registered a 10.66% positivity level.

Across the state, 40 people died on Tuesday of causes linked to the virus, including one in Suffolk.

Experts said they expect the numbers to get worse within the next few weeks, as the omicron variant spreads, the flu kicks in, Christmas and New Year’s arrive, and many people have their guard down more than last year.

What to know

Long Island marked its worst COVID-19 positivity level in nearly a year, surpassing 6%, and logged nearly 1,800 new cases on Tuesday.

Medical experts are calling for a change in policies in Nassau and Suffolk as case numbers and positivity levels soar nearly two years into the pandemic.

Eight more cases of omicron were detected in the state, with six in New York City and one in Westchester.

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