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Suffolk fines Cutchogue country club $17G in 'superspreader' event

Newsday's Steve Langford on Wednesday looked at some of the recent events in Suffolk County where COVID-19 protocols were allegedly violated, resulting in a rise in coronavirus cases and fines for the establishments. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

Nearly a third of the 91 guests attending a wedding at the North Fork Country Club, which had almost double the capacity allowed by state guidelines, have tested positive for COVID-19, making it one of Suffolk's largest "superspreader" events, officials said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a Farmingville homeowner who hosted an Oct. 24 party attended by nearly 300 high school and underage college students — some allegedly were drinking and not wearing masks — will be fined $2,500, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference in Yaphank. There have not been any positive cases yet linked to the party.

The country club in Cutchogue, which did not respond to requests for comment, has been fined $15,000 for violating Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's executive order, which limits gatherings to 50 people or less, and another $2,000 for violating Suffolk's sanitary code, Bellone said.

"This type of blatant disregard for the well-being of others is not only extremely disappointing, but it will not be tolerated," Bellone said. "If you violate the rules, you will be caught and held responsible."

A total of 30 people have tested positive since attending the Oct. 17 wedding, including 22 adult guests, five students and three staffers, one of whom also works for East Quogue Elementary School, county officials said. In total, 159 people, including guests, country club staff and other contacts, are quarantining, officials said.

"You can really see the tentacles of this celebration," said East Quogue school district Superintendent Robert Long Jr., who canceled one day of in-person learning for two fifth-grade classes after the positive case, while four administrative staffers are now quarantining.

The five students attend classes in the Three Village, Mattituck-Cutchogue, Hampton Bays, Northport-East Northport and Eastport-South Manor school districts.

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One wedding guest who tested positive attended an Oct. 20 Orient Fire Department meeting, county officials said. Eleven fire district members or associates are now quarantining while all COVID-19 tests have thus far come back negative, district officials said.

The State Liquor Authority, which has the authority to suspend the country club's license, said it opened an investigation "of this allegedly illegal and dangerous event," spokesman William Crowley said.

Carolyn Iannone, owner of the Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck, said she temporarily closed her restaurant after learning that two employees attended the wedding and were now quarantining. She was not aware if anyone tested positive.

"We’re just hoping that everyone is OK," said Iannone, who has asked all of her staff to get tested.

In Farmingville, Suffolk police received multiple 911 calls Saturday night about a backyard party on Somers Court, Bellone said. Officers from the Sixth Precinct arrived at the home and found 200 to 300 people, predominantly minors, gathered inside and outside. Guests were seen leaving and arriving with cases of beer, authorities said.

"I understand the difficulties of having teens cooped up, but this is not the environment for large gatherings," Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. "An event like this one in Farmingville not only has the potential for horrendous consequences when underage individuals drink alcohol, but has the probability of causing a chain reaction of COVID-19."

A 62-year-old man who lives on the street was punched in the face by a man as the party dispersed, authorities said. The homeowner was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital with minor injuries, Hart said. The investigation into the alleged assault is ongoing, she said.

The homeowner, Kim Catalanotto, 47, was given an appearance ticket for second-degree criminal nuisance and a violation of the social host law for allowing minors to be served alcohol, officials said. The county plans to fine Catalanotto $2,500 for violating Cuomo's executive order — becoming the first Suffolk homeowner to be hit with that distinction. Efforts to reach Catalanotto were not successful.

"These kind of superspreader events are a threat to our public health and to our continued economic recovery," Bellone said.

The county also is monitoring an Oct. 17 adult birthday party at a Bellport home attended by 50 people, within the state's guidelines. A total of 26 guests — or 52% — tested positive for the virus, while 132 individuals are quarantining. The event, Bellone said, involved limited social distancing and mask wearing. County officials declined to identify the host or location of the party.

Earlier this month, the Miller Place Inn was hit with $12,000 in fines after 37 people connected to a Sept. 25 Sweet 16 party attended by 81 guests tested positive for COVID-19. And Giorgio's Catering in Baiting Hollow was stripped of its liquor license after hosting a wedding attended by 95 guests.

In early August, a Bay Shore woman and a Port Jefferson Station man were each charged with second-degree criminal nuisance for hosting large gatherings at their homes, Hart said.

Bellone said Suffolk, which was among the hardest-hit counties by COVID-19, has come too far to allow superspreader events to halt its progress.

"We don't want to be issuing fines to businesses or homeowners," he said. "But we have come too far to go back."

With Craig Schneider

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