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State: Hospital deaths, new COVID patients, too high for LI to go back to work

With the New York Pause order set to expire, some parts of New York State are expected to begin reopening Friday — but not Long Island. Meanwhile, frontline health care workers got an unexpected thank you. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd has the full story. Credit: Newsday / Shelby Knowles; Howard Schnapp; Facebook / Governor Andrew Cuomo, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone; YouTube / Northwell Health

After nearly two months of shutdown, Long Island has yet to meet the state's seven guidelines needed for a wide-scale reopening, with hospital deaths and new hospitalizations too high.

While several upstate regions have met these guidelines and are ready to reopen, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo won’t predict when Long Island can start to revive businesses and other activities, which have been closed since March 22 because of the deadly pandemic.

“I’m not going to guess, and all it would be is a guess, and I’m not going to do that,” Cuomo said Thursday at a news conference in Syracuse.

Under the state’s monitoring system, Nassau and Suffolk counties have been combined into one region. For example, the state is using a three-day, rolling average of new hospitalizations across the Island as one of its metrics.

Of the seven goals needed for reopening, Long Island still lacks  three indicators that involve available hospital beds, hospital deaths and new hospitalizations. In a fourth measure, Long Island has yet to establish a sufficient number of contact tracers to respond to existing infection rates locally but is "expected" to, according to state records.

Despite the long wait, the idea of Long Island working as one region — at least for the purposes of fighting the coronavirus — is being greeted with approval by both health and government experts.

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“There is no fine line between the Nassau-Suffolk border,” says John Cameron, chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Commission. Viewing Long Island as a single region “makes a lot of sense.”

With this regional approach, says Jaymie Meliker, an epidemiologist who is a professor at Stony Brook University’s Program in Public Health, “the bigger issue is how best to balance a return to normalcy while continuing to reduce spread so as to not overwhelm the hospitals.”

The seven metrics for Long Island and other regions around the state are displayed by Cuomo’s “Regional Monitoring Dashboard” website, with green checks for compliance and red X-marks for those who have yet to meet the guidelines.

To meet one metric, Long Island must have either a 14-day decline in hospital deaths or fewer than five hospital deaths over three days on average. According to the state's dashboard, Long Island has had only one day of decline in hospital deaths.  

According to state tallies, Long Island has also seen up to 39 total deaths a day in the three days ending Wednesday, or up to eight times the five deaths a day on average needed to meet the metric's other measure.

The other metric the Island is not close to meeting, according to the state dashboard, requires less than two new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents each day on average over three days. According to the state dashboard, Long Island exceeded that metric by 44% as of Wednesday, posting 2.88 new hospitalizations per day on average over three days.

One area Long Island is close to meeting — and was meeting as of Tuesday — is the percentage of hospital beds available. It must have 30% available to meet that metric, and while it was slightly under that threshold Tuesday it had surpassed it by Wednesday, according to the state's regional dashboard.

After many weeks of social distancing, Long Island has made significant progress in meeting some of the state’s guidelines. On Cuomo’s regional dashboard, Long Island gets green approval marks for its declining hospitalizations, improvements in total ICU beds available and overall testing for the virus.

But there is also the still open issue of contact tracing for Long Island. On Cuomo’s monitoring dashboard, regions like Central New York and the Finger Lakes have a clear green check mark, showing they’ve met the state’s goal of having 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents or based on the infection rate.  However, Long Island, like other more densely populated regions, is only marked with “Expected” on the dashboard, with no clear date for achieving that goal.

Although the regional approach might work for reopening after the pandemic, it won’t serve as a template for the future, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies.

There would be too much pushback from individual community leaders and residents would be unlikely to want to give up local control, Levy added. Besides, the state and federal agencies already view Long Island as a single region for things like economic development and the state court system, he said. 

“The chances of the two counties being merged — or that it is on the agenda of any serious player, including the governor — is about as likely as seeing a COVID-19 vaccine by next week. It won’t happen,” he said.

With Matt Clark, Sandra Peddie and Michael Gormley

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As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing.  Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.


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