The number of new daily COVID-19 cases in New York State skyrocketed in test results from Wednesday, while Long Island shattered its one-day record. LIers faced continued long lines for testing, with the existing apparatus strained by the high demand spurred by the omicron variant. Newsday's Steve Langford reports. Credit: James Carbone, Howard Schnapp; Governor Kathy Hochul's Office; Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's Office

The number of new daily COVID-19 cases in New York State skyrocketed in test results from Wednesday, jumping in a single day from about 29,000 to a record of nearly 39,000, as Long Islanders grew impatient with hourslong waits to get tested for the virus.

With nearly 7,000 new cases, Long Island shattered its single-day record as well. As the omicron variant gripped the region, Nassau County reported 3,682 cases, while Suffolk had 3,268, for a total of 6,950. That was a 50% increase from the previous day, which had been the record high.

The statewide total was 38,835. A little more than a week ago, on Dec. 14, the state total was 12,944.

What to know

There were nearly 39,000 daily COVID-19 cases in test results reported throughout New York State on Wednesday, including nearly 7,000 on Long Island. Both of these numbers are single-day records.

As the case numbers soar, thousands of Long Islanders are waiting in lines for hours to finally get COVID-19 tests, and some say they are fed up.

Two new British studies provided some early hints that the omicron variant may be milder than the delta version.

"What's clear is the virus is spreading rapidly," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday.

While some early studies suggest the omicron variant may not be as lethal as the delta, or cause the same severity of illness, "That does not mean people will not be going to the hospital," Bellone added. "We're seeing the hospitalizations going up."

The seven-day average for positivity in testing also continued to rise sharply on Long Island, jumping from 10.97% to 12.13% in a single day, according to state data.

The daily level was even higher: 15.2% in Suffolk and 15.5% in Nassau.

The number of people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 increased by 82 on Wednesday, to 4,534. A total of 63 people died on Wednesday from causes linked to the virus, including two in Nassau and three in Suffolk.

As the case numbers soar, thousands of Long Islanders are waiting in lines for hours to finally get COVID-19 tests, and some say they are fed up. Gov. Kathy Hochul has promised two new state-run mass testing sites on Long Island to ease the crunch, but the locations have not been announced.

"It’s impossible" to get a test, Garden City resident Jim McQuade said Thursday as he made the rounds to try to find a center that would offer him one.

"If you can even get a test, it’s a couple hundred people [on the] waiting list everywhere you go," said McQuade, who decided to get tested after developing cold-like symptoms. "It’s been pretty frustrating and it adds to the anxiety."

"Being somebody who was vaccinated and thought that I was out of the woods, doing this all over again is really disappointing, to say the least," he added.

Veronica Rowland, of Bethpage, said Thursday that "it’s been a little ridiculous" trying to find a test. "All of them either have long lines early in the morning or they stop taking people after they’ve seen 120 people," she said.

Rowland said she was trying to be "proactive" and find out if she was infected since she may have been exposed to someone with the virus.

"We’re trying to make sure we’re being safe," she said.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said in one sense, the long lines may be a good sign.

"A lot of people who in the past had not thought about testing are aggressively looking to test before they get together with relatives on the Christmas break," she said. "And that’s really exciting news because it means that everyone is thinking about how to protect their families."

"The downside is we don’t have enough capacity to get everyone tested in a rapid format," she added. "And we are looking to the governor to supply more testing kits and more locations to actually get people tested."

System has become overwhelmed

The system has become overwhelmed because former mass testing centers at locations such as Jones Beach and Stony Brook University have long been closed, while others are closing because staff members themselves are getting infected, Nachman said. Additionally, the volume of people seeking tests was unanticipated as the omicron variant arrived.

On Thursday, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who is running against Hochul in the Democratic primary for governor, tweeted: "Long Island now has the highest COVID rates in the state. There are long lines for tests and at home kits are impossible to find. The holidays are here. Why has @GovKathyHochul not reopened the mass testing site at Jones Beach?"

Hochul said she is working on multiple plans to address the surging numbers and improve testing. This week, she said the state will open 12 mass testing sites, including the two on Long Island, though no further details have been provided.

She said on Wednesday that the first site would be opened in New York City before Christmas, which is Saturday. It was not open as of Thursday.

Asked for details about the mass test sites on Long Island and other moves, the Nassau County Department of Health, through a spokesperson, said Thursday that "we will have an official statement regarding this topic in the near future."

Meanwhile, two new British studies provided some early hints that the omicron variant may be milder than the delta version.

An analysis from the Imperial College London COVID-19 response team found that people infected with the variant are around 20% less likely to go to the hospital at all than those infected with the delta variant, and 40% less likely to be hospitalized for a night or more.

A separate study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and other experts suggested the risk of hospitalization was two-thirds less with omicron than delta. But that study pointed out that the nearly 24,000 omicron cases in Scotland were predominantly among younger adults ages 20-39.

Nachman said she found the studies hopeful.

"I do not think we are" headed for another major, deadly outbreak like in 2020, she said. "I think the vaccine is working. I think that while we are seeing more patients in the hospital, they are a very small snapshot of how many patients are actually infected."

She added: "We have admissions, but we are not seeing hundreds of admissions. That’s great."

In Suffolk County on Wednesday, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said he has postponed his inauguration ceremony because of the surge in COVID-19 cases.

The inauguration ceremony was scheduled for Dec. 29 at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. Toulon said he will push the event back to February or March.

"That decision is … to protect the health of the guests," Toulon said. "With the unfortunate rise of cases in Suffolk County, we are better off to do it another day, when the number of COVID cases has decreased."

Toulon defeated Republican William Amato in his reelection race last month.

While COVID-19 cases have soared across Long Island and New York State in recent weeks, Toulon said there have been no new infections reported among inmates at the county jails in Yaphank and Riverhead since Dec. 8.

Nassau County inmates also have largely avoided infections despite the latest wave of the virus. Four inmates at the Nassau County jail in East Meadow have tested positive for COVID-19 during the past two weeks, Sheriff James Dzurenda said.

With Michael O'Keeffe, James Carbone, Steve Langford

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