This story was reported by John Asbury, Matthew Chayes, Matt Clark, Lisa L. Colangelo and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Colangelo.
As school districts around Long Island wait for at-home COVID-19 test kits to arrive from the state, new in-person testing sites opened in Suffolk and Nassau counties on Tuesday in an effort to meet the growing demand.
Long Island has been hit hard by the winter surge of coronavirus cases, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. The Island consistently has been recording the state's highest seven-day average of new positive cases.
That trend continued Monday, according to figures released by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, as the seven-day average for positive cases on Long Island was 16.26%, up from 15.42% on Sunday and 14.79% on Saturday.
Long Island school leaders, concerned about schoolchildren returning to the classrooms from the holiday break next week, said Tuesday they were awaiting more guidance on testing. Hochul on Monday said about 3 million at-home COVID-19 kits would be distributed statewide.
"I'm hoping the governors' office, the Nassau County Department of Health and Nassau BOCES can assist school districts with the daunting task of rolling this out with a plan in place so everyone can do this efficiently and successfully," said Michael Hynes, superintendent of Port Washington schools.
The at-home rapid test kits will be distributed on a rolling basis, either directly to school districts, through BOCES or through the counties, over the next few weeks as shipments come in, Jordan Guerrein, director of communications for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said Tuesday afternoon.
Each student should receive one kit, which contains two tests, Guerrein said.
"Kits will be distributed directly to BOCES across the state, and BOCES is expected to distribute these kits to the districts they serve," Guerrein said in a statement. "Other schools and districts not served by BOCES will receive kits directly or through county health departments."
State officials said Long Island should get more than 420,000 tests later this week, according to Robert Dillon, district superintendent for Nassau BOCES.
Last week, the Suffolk County Health Department received more than 60,000 boxes of iHealth rapid test kits, which include two tests per box, from the state to distribute to schools. Officials said Tuesday they reached out to schools last week.
"At this time, the Suffolk County Department of Health is planning to begin distribution of the 60,249 kits received to schools next week based on school populations," spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern said. "Regarding any further at-home testing beyond what has already been received for schools, we are awaiting information and supply from the state."
New testing sites on Long Island
New testing sites opened on Long Island on Tuesday, with more to open in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday morning, a long line of cars queued up on for the first day of drive-thru testing at Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn, operated by Northwell Health, the state's largest health care provider.
Meghan Clarke, a teacher in Manhasset, said she drove by the site Tuesday morning and was able to get a test within five minutes, after seeing urgent care centers were full. She said she wanted to get a test after some family members tested positive after Christmas.
"It took all of three minutes to get tested. I wanted to make sure everything was well before the new year," she said. "We kept the gathering to immediate family at Christmas, and someone still tested positive. There’s no rhyme or reason. It’s the scary world we’re living in. It’s scary because I work in the classroom and I want to keep kids safe and keep schools open."
Northwell officials said both the Christopher Morley Park and another location it opened Tuesday, across from Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, can accommodate up to 500 people per day.
The rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are self-administered by people in their cars and returned to health officials, who can usually process a result the next day using Northwell’s Lab Gold testing software.
More testing sites are expected to open within the week.
Suffolk County officials said tests will be available on a first-come, first-served basis on Wednesday at Heckscher State Park's Field 8 in East Islip. When fully operational, the site will be open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and be able to handle 1,000 tests per day, the county said.
Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays will provide school-required and community testing on Mondays only, starting next week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and with a capacity of 500 tests per day.
In addition, a location at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island will offer tests on Tuesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. That site opens on Jan. 4 and can administer up to 500 tests a day.
Two previously announced state-operated sites open on Wednesday, at IBEW Local 25 in Hauppauge and Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead.
COVID-19 cases remain high
The state recorded 40,780 new positive COVID-19 results on Monday from 210,996 tests. More than 6,000 of those cases were on Long Island, with 3,523 in Nassau and 2,811 in Suffolk.
There were 77 new deaths from the virus reported on Monday, including four in Nassau and seven in Suffolk.
Figures from the state also show the omicron variant comprised 73.3% of uploaded sequences from COVID-19 samples in New York between Dec. 14 and 27.
Meanwhile, Northwell Health said it has 831 COVID-19 patients in its 19 hospitals statewide, accounting for about 24% of its capacity of 3,400 beds, said Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of the Northwell Health vaccine program and a pediatric emergency doctor at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
A year ago, Northwell had about 1,000 patients hospitalized, Harris said. Eleven of Northwell's hospitals are located on Long Island.
State health officials have warned of a growing number of children being hospitalized with COVID-19, especially in the city and surrounding areas. The statewide figure has grown from 70 pediatric hospital admissions between Dec. 5 and 11 to at least 184 for the week starting Dec. 19. Complete statistics for that week are not yet tallied, officials said.
New York City accounted for 109 of the cases.
As of Sunday, Long Island hospitals had 15 COVID-19 patients up to the age of 4 and seven up to the age of 19, according to state data.
Harris said the number of children hospitalized has quadrupled in Northwell hospitals on Long Island and New York City.
"The majority of patients are under 5 and do not qualify for the vaccine, and we have many sick children in the ICU, and many have underlying illnesses," Harris said. "The sheer number of children seen in ER and urgent care centers diagnosed with COVID-19 has gone up exponentially in the last few days."
The sickest patients are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, Harris said. He said those fully vaccinated and boosted have the most protection against omicron.
Harris encouraged anyone feeling sick to get tested to identify COVID-19 compared to strep throat or the flu.
"Many infectious diseases don’t spread like wildfire like omicron," Harris said. "I think we have seen an explosion of omicron in the past couple weeks … We’re still on the upward slope, and testing helps minimize the number of people needlessly getting sick."
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What to know
COVID-19 testing sites on Long Island:
- Heckscher State Park, Field 8, East Islip. When fully operational, it will be open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and be able to handle 1,000 tests per day.
- IBEW Local 25, Hauppauge. When fully operational, will be open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Kennedy Memorial Park, Hempstead. Will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Red Creek Park, Hampton Bays. For school-required and community testing. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, and be able to handle 500 tests per day.
- Cathedral Pines County Park, Middle Island. Open on Mondays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The site will be able to handle up to 500 tests per day.