As the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations rises and the rate of new cases reaches record levels in a few Long Island communities, medical experts say the state should consider restrictions that go beyond the limits that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday.
The percentage of coronavirus tests on Long Island that came back positive rose to 3.47% on Monday, before slightly falling, to 3.3%, on Tuesday. That was after positivity rates below 1% in most of August and the first half of September.
In Kings Point and Harbor Hills, on the Great Neck peninsula, the rate of new infections per capita is now higher than it was during the region’s COVID-19 peak in late March and April.
The increased caseloads and hospitalizations are ominous signs, said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.
"It will get worse in my opinion as it gets colder and colder" and people spend more time indoors, where the virus spreads more easily than outside, and gather for Thanksgiving and other holidays, he said.
"I don’t know if it’s irreversible, but I’m not optimistic that the next few months are going to be good in this country, or that it’s going to be as good in New York as it was," Farber said.
Cuomo on Wednesday ordered that gatherings in private residences not exceed 10 people, unless more than 10 people live in a household, and that restaurants with liquor licenses, bars and gyms close by 10 p.m.
The previous limit on home gatherings was 50. Get-togethers of 50 or fewer people have been a key source of coronavirus transmission, Cuomo said. Restaurants, bars and gyms also have been a primary reason the virus is spreading in New York, he said.
Experts say the restrictions are likely to have little effect.
The limit on gatherings does not apply to banquet halls and other businesses that host parties, even though "we’ve seen they can contribute to superspreading events," said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, an associate research scientist at the New York University School of Global Public Health in Manhattan and a preparedness fellow at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
And Piltch-Loeb said she’s unaware of any studies that show that a 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants, bars and gyms reduces transmission. A better approach is to more strictly enforce existing regulations, which limit capacity of restaurants and bars to 25% in New York City and 50% elsewhere, she said.
Farber said limiting house parties to 10 people is better than allowing 50, but, he said, the virus still can spread when 10 people get together, and with the difficulty in enforcing those restrictions in private homes, "it’s basically guidance" rather than a mandate.
"More likely than not, additional steps are going to need to be taken," such as extending the gathering limits to catering and banquet halls and considering a reimposition of the ban on indoor dining, he said.
Jack Sterne, a spokesman for Cuomo, said the restriction on gatherings doesn’t include catering and banquet halls because they must operate under a number of state COVID-19 regulations, and if they violate them, they are subject to enforcement from the State Liquor Authority, which can suspend their liquor licenses or fine them.
Those rules include requiring masks when a patron isn’t seated, and prohibiting dancing and gathering together while standing.
Cuomo said during a press briefing Wednesday that the new restrictions "are appropriate at this point in time." But he added, "If these measures are not sufficient to slow the spread, we will turn the valve more and part of that will be reducing the number of people in indoor dining."
COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide increased to 1,628 on Tuesday, up from 1,548 on Monday, and the number of coronavirus patients at the 19 Northwell Health hospitals rose to 219 on Wednesday, a 53% increase from just a week before — although that’s a fraction of the peak of more than 3,000 COVID-19 Northwell patients on April 14.
The statewide positivity rate Tuesday was 2.93%, including "hot spot" areas that have more testing and higher rates.
More than 4,800 New Yorkers tested positive Tuesday, more than 10 times the number who were testing positive on some days over the summer, although fewer people were being tested then.
Great Neck Peninsula’s COVID-19 Spike
The Great Neck Peninsula, including communities as far south as University Gardens, Russel Gardens and Thomaston, is one area of Long Island that has seen a particularly large rise in its COVID-19 per-capita infection rate. The peninsula’s rate reached 0.56 cases per 1,000 residents per day on average for the seven days ending Monday. This far exceeds the rate for Long Island as a whole, which was 0.16 cases per 1,000 residents per day.
Source: New York State, Nassau County and U.S. Census Bureau
Harbor Hills and Kings Point have the highest rates of new cases on Long Island.
Harbor Hills, with a population of 475, reached 2.11 cases per 1,000 residents per day on average for the seven days ending Monday, a record for that community and nearly twice that community’s pre-November peak of 1.20 cases in April.
Kings Point, with 5,187 residents, had the Island's second-highest rate, with 1.36 cases per 1,000 residents on average for the seven days ending Monday. That compares with the community’s pre-November peak of 1.05 cases per day on March 26.
Kings Point Village Trustee Kouros Torkan said, "I don’t honestly know why there’s this sudden surge" of cases in his community, which is at the tip of the Great Neck peninsula.
The Harbor Hills and Kings Point rates exceed those posted by the Five Towns community of Lawrence in late September, when there were 0.96 cases per 1,000 residents per day. Parts of Lawrence were deemed by the state as orange and yellow zones, which led to some restrictions on businesses, schools and houses of worship. The rate in Lawrence for the seven days ending Monday was 0.26 cases per 1,000.
No part of the Great Neck peninsula is yet in a red, orange or yellow zone. Sterne said the state analyzes data daily.
The overall rate of new cases on the Great Neck peninsula was 0.56 per 1,000 residents as of Monday — far higher than Long Island’s overall rate of 0.16 cases per 1,000.
Long Island's predominantly minority communities, which were hit particularly hard during the pandemic’s peak in the first two weeks of April, had an infection rate of 0.15 cases per 1,000 residents per day as of Monday, which is less than the 0.18 rate seen in other areas of the island.
With David Reich-Hale