An advertisement for the COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a...

An advertisement for the COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a bus stop in East Islip last week. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Long Island’s seven-day positivity level for COVID-19 has surged past 7%, while Nassau and Suffolk counties reported nearly 2,400 new cases as part of what medical experts fear could be a major escalation of the virus in the coming weeks.

The level on Long Island just a week ago was 6%. The 7.12% seven-day average registered on Tuesday was the highest for the area in nearly a year, since January.

Medical experts warned Wednesday that the region and the country could be headed into a massive wave of COVID-19 cases as the delta and omicron variants collide with the flu season and holiday season gatherings.

Nassau County registered 1,080 new cases in test results from Tuesday, while Suffolk had 1,312, for a total of 2,392. New York City registered 5,084 new cases of the virus — its highest number since January.

What to know

  • Long Island’s seven-day positivity level for COVID-19 surged past 7% on Tuesday, while Nassau and Suffolk counties reported nearly 2,400 new cases.
  • Medical experts warned Wednesday that the region and the country could be headed into a massive wave of COVID-19 cases as the variants collide with the flu season and holiday season gatherings.
  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, projected the omicron variant could now represent 13% of all COVID-19 cases in New York and New Jersey.

Dr. Alan M. Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn, said he is worried about the trends.

"I am concerned about all those factors coming together," he said. "And I don’t see it getting better. I only see it getting worse over the next two months."

He added: "It’s a massive wave, it’s a massive surge. Will it reach the heights of last winter … or maybe a little less so?"

Long Island's positivity level was as low as 2.08% as recently as Oct. 28.

The warnings came as Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, projected the highly contagious omicron variant could now represent 13% of all COVID-19 cases in New York and New Jersey.

Most top county officials on Long Island this week said that they will not enforce a new state mandate requiring masks or vaccines in indoor public areas — leaving the region by January lacking a strong plan of attack against the virus, medical experts said.

They warned that the new omicron variant speeding around the world may bring another wave of chaos, threatening to further stretch hospital workers already struggling with a surge of delta cases and upend holiday plans for the second year in a row.

"Our delta surge is ongoing and, in fact, accelerating. And on top of that, we're going to add an omicron surge," said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.

Walensky said Wednesday that early data suggests omicron is more transmissible than delta, with a doubling time of about two days.

Currently, omicron makes up about 3% of total cases across the country, she said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.

"We expect to see the proportion of omicron cases here in the United States continue to grow in the coming weeks," she added.

Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of infectious diseases at Huntington Hospital, said the combination of the variants, the flu and the holiday indoor gatherings — on top of already high case numbers — could send numbers soaring even more on Long Island.

"I don’t know if I can call it a perfect storm, but it is quite a bit of a concern," he said.

A week ago, omicron accounted for just 0.5% of COVID-19 cases in the United States, he said.

Popp and Bulbin said flu cases, while low last year, are on the rise this year. And as the weather turns colder and the holidays arrive, people are increasingly moving indoors for gatherings.

If COVID-19 cases rise much more, that could mean fewer hospital beds for people suffering other health problems like heart attacks or strokes, Popp said.

On the positive side, Popp said, initial evidence indicates omicron may produce less severe symptoms. About 70% of New Yorkers are vaccinated.

Also on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, pointed to several studies that showed booster shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were effective at protecting people from the variant.

"Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron," he said during the White House response team briefing. "At this point there is no need for a variant-specific booster."

Long Island now has 13 confirmed cases of omicron — eight in Suffolk and five in Nassau, according to state data. New York State now has 50 confirmed cases.

Infectious disease experts say that is likely a significant undercount, since only a small number of COVID-19 tests are sent to a special state laboratory at Wadsworth for more sophisticated testing to determine if a variant is present.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday implemented a statewide mandate requiring people entering indoor public places including restaurants, theaters, gyms, sports, concert arenas and offices to either wear a mask or show proof of vaccination. Each location must choose one of the policies.

County health departments are supposed to enforce the mandate.

But Hochul also said the state will not compel counties to enforce it. Violators could face civil or criminal penalties and up to $1,000 in fines for each violation.

Incoming Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who takes over Jan. 1, said he will instruct the health department not to enforce the mandate, meaning no inspections or fines.

"Health care professionals have indicated that the statistics we have to watch carefully are hospital admissions and ICU population," Blakeman said Wednesday. "Right now we are in good shape. Our resources are better utilized making vaccinations and testing available to all who want and need it and not having the health department tied up with fining businesses and individuals."

The administration of current Nassau Executive Laura Curran said the county will "not be actively enforcing" the mandate in her final weeks, but would respond to complaints about violations.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday said the county will not do "hard enforcement" of the mandate with fines or punitive action, but instead will seek to "educate" and "inform" the public on the mandate.

Bulbin of St. Francis said he was discouraged the mandate won't be enforced.

"It’s a little disappointing that there’s really no teeth to this, so to speak," he said. "I do believe a lot of the mandated approaches do get the numbers up in terms of compliance."

Popp, of Huntington Hospital, said he thinks the mandate should be enforced.

"I understand people in general are getting a little bit tired about all these prevention measures," he said.

"But in some ways, one has to balance personal liberties with the community public health issues and the health of the community we live in," he added, noting that masks and vaccination reduce transmission of the virus and serious health impacts.

With Robert Brodsky

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