A rise in COVID-19 cases has parts of Nassau and Suffolk potentially facing new restrictions on gatherings and dining this week as well as mandatory testing of some students and staff, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday.
Some areas in both counties are poised to go into a "yellow zone," as part of the state's color-coded microcluster strategy aimed at reducing the spread of the virus in areas where cases are increasing.
"Unless they dramatically change the trajectory of the infection rate, this week they will go into those zones," Cuomo said at a news briefing in Manhattan, referring to parts of Nassau, Suffolk and Staten Island, as well as other communities statewide.
Cuomo said the overall percentage of positive COVID-19 cases across the state on Saturday was 2.74% and 4.39% in focus zones — areas where cases are surging.
The state reported 5,391 new positive cases of COVID-19, including 437 in Nassau County and 532 in Suffolk County. There were 30 additional deaths attributed to COVID-19. One was in Nassau.
The overall seven-day average positivity rate on Long Island was 3.23%. But it varied widely, including 6.06% in Brentwood and 3.35% in Huntington Station, according to the state statistics.
A geographic area could be placed into a yellow zone if it has a seven-day rolling average positivity rate above 2.5% for 10 days and has 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day average.
Other factors taken into consideration include whether the spread is in a congregate setting and the number of hospitalizations.
Houses of worship in a yellow zone can operate at 50% capacity, as they can under statewide restrictions for areas outside the microclusters. Mass gatherings, both indoor and outdoor, are limited to a maximum of 25. Outdoor and indoor dining is limited to four people per table.
Gatherings in private residences remain capped at 10 statewide. Schools are required to test 20% of students and teachers/staff for in-person settings, as well.
If the seven-day rolling average increases to 3% and 4% over that same time frame, areas are pushed into orange and red zones where more restrictions are added, such as closing nonessential businesses, eliminating indoor dining at restaurants and prohibiting mass gatherings.
Cuomo said the most challenging time to keep the COVID-19 infection in check will happen over the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
"After Thanksgiving, you go into the period of hyper social activity," he said. "More people will die, the more rates go up. Unless you are extraordinarily casual about human life — it matters."
Earlier this month, Cuomo announced statewide restrictions in response to rising COVID-19 cases — restaurants with liquor licenses, bars and gyms were ordered closed at 10 each night and gatherings in private residences were placed under the 10-person limitation. Restaurants can still offer takeout meals for curbside pick up after 10 p.m.
Currently, restaurants can serve indoor diners at up to 50% of capacity. Nonessential mass gatherings in catering halls and elsewhere — other than in private residences and houses of worship — are limited to 50 people per event.
The Nassau County fire marshal’s office issued public health law violation fines on Saturday night to a Franklin Square bar and the Long Island Sports Complex in Freeport for COVID-19 restrictions.
Fire marshals received a call at 7:45 p.m. for overcrowding at Lucky 13 Sports Bar & Grill on Hempstead Turnpike, said Michael Uttaro, assistant chief fire marshal of the Nassau County fire marshal.
"It was elbow to elbow in the place," said Uttaro, adding that their public assembly license, which expired from the Town of Hempstead, was to have 63 people pre-COVID-19. There were more than 100 people there.
Uttaro said the owner was cooperative.
"He admitted it was his grand opening party and it got out of hand," Uttaro said.
The owner received a fine for willful violation of the public health law for the state executive orders, as well as fire code violations, Uttaro said.
Fire marshals also received a call from the Freeport Police Department at 8:45 p.m. for a call of overcrowding at the Long Island Sports Complex on Mill Road. Uttaro said there were more than 100 people were waiting outside the complex and another 100 people inside for a soccer tournament.
"Social distancing and mask wearing was not exactly the priority of the crowd," he said. " It was as if this pandemic didn’t exist the way things were rolling in there."
The owner of the business received six code violation tickets and the person running the tournament received one violation, Uttaro said.
The owner of the sports complex could not be reached for comment.
It was unclear on Sunday afternoon which Long Island regions were at the highest risk of going into the yellow zone by the end of the week. During his news conference, Cuomo showed one slide of the state highlighting some areas and their positivity rates. Along with Brentwood and Huntington Station, the map showed Freeport at 4.54% and Bay Shore at 4.55%. There were two flags for Massapequa, which officials later identified as Massapequa at 3.67% and Massapequa Park at 3.90%.
Cuomo's office said the areas on the slide were among the highest but not necessarily the highest positivity rates in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran called on residents to "exercise common sense" during this holiday week.
"We will continue to respond proactively by working collaboratively to expand testing where needed and by working with communities to ensure health and safety guidance is being followed," Curran said in a statement. "I’ve also put in a request to the state for funding to increase access to rapid testing in more communities, including Massapequa and Freeport."
"Wearing our masks, practicing social distancing, avoiding large gatherings — even on holidays — will do more than save lives — it can keep kids in school and ensure businesses can stay open," she said.
Suffolk County Legis. Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) said the high positivity rate in the community is "troublesome" and he sees it firsthand.
"I’m looking at parks and people are playing soccer with no mask," he said. "I’m looking at many restaurants in the area that are achieving 50% capacity. It’s troubling."
Gonzalez attributed part of the high positivity rate to the fact that residents in the community are in "dire need."
"If you don’t go to work, you don’t get paid," he said. "It’s individuals that then come home [and live in] multi-dwellings."
Gonzalez said he will be at La Placita, a deli on Wicks Road in Brentwood, on Wednesday between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to hand out masks and hand sanitizer and to remind people to stay vigilant.
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said he’s "definitely concerned" with high positivity rates hitting the village, but said the community has a "huge density" issue with about 43,000 residents. Kennedy said he plans to meet on Monday with heads of different departments on ways to tackle reducing the spread of COVID-19.
"We’ll be discussing enforcement of [masks], and voluntary methods such as reducing social gatherings," he said.
Keith Wilson, president of the Massapequa Chamber of Commerce, said business owners know what they need to do to keep their workers and patrons safe during the pandemic.
"I understand he [Gov. Cuomo] wants to keep people safe, but when will it end with the executive orders?" Wilson said. "Let’s give power back to the local owners."
Students of at least three Long Island schools were to switch to remote learning on Monday after school staffers and students tested positive for the new coronavirus.
In an email late Sunday afternoon, the Patchogue-Medford School District announced a staff member at Patchogue-Medford High School in Medford had contracted the virus and the school would be closed on Monday.
In Plainview, Howard B. Mattlin Middle School was also to be closed Monday because a staffer tested positive, Plainview-Old Bethpage Superintendent Mary O’Meara wrote in a letter Saturday.
East Meadow High School will close Monday and Tuesday after a student tested positive for COVID-19 and two siblings tested positive at Barnum Woods Elementary School, also in the district, said Superintendent Kenneth Card Jr. Students at the high school will attend classes virtually.
With Jesse Coburn and Robert Brodsky