Robert Baird, of Centereach, is given a booster shot on...

Robert Baird, of Centereach, is given a booster shot on Nov. 17 at the Research and Development Park at Stony Brook University. Medical experts are urging Long Islanders to get a booster to protect against the delta and omicron variants. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The COVID-19 positivity level on Long Island is near 5%, more than double the percentage from a month ago, according to state data released Tuesday.

The seven-day average for positivity in COVID-19 testing hit 4.95%, with more than 1,000 new cases reported in the region. Those numbers came with the world now on alert about a new variant, omicron, possibly the most contagious one yet. The Island's positivity level was as low as 2.08% as recently as Oct. 28.

What to know

The percentage of positive new cases of COVID-19 on Long Island is just below 5%, more than double what it was one month ago.

Medical experts said COVID-19 indicators have been rising for weeks on Long Island and throughout New York State, possibly due to the holiday season.

Long Island hospitals said they are well prepared for any possible surge in patients due to the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, which has not yet been detected in the U.S.

"This in an indicator of ongoing and increasing spread in our community," said Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious-disease expert at New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health. "This has nothing to do with the omicron strain. This is driven exclusively by the delta strain. This suggests we will continue to see increased hospitalization over the next few weeks as well."

Suffolk County reported 567 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, while Nassau had 501, for a total of 1,068. New York City reported 1,423 new cases.

There were six COVID-19-related deaths in Suffolk reported on Monday and two in Nassau out of 43 across the state.

"The hospitalization rates for COVID have been slowly increasing, and it is still mostly being seen in nonvaccinated patients," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside.

"Delta is a more contagious variant than the previous strains, and is certainly playing a critical role in the spread of illness. This emphasizes the need to get vaccinated and to get boosted … this is the only way out of the pandemic," he added.

The positivity average is based on the number of tests administered, and of those, the number that show the person has COVID-19, meaning they test positive.

A total of 130,366 test results from throughout New York on Monday were reported to the state. Of those, 6,593 were positive. The daily positivity level — or percent of those positive out of the total tested — was 5.06%. The seven-day statewide positivity level was 4.19%.

COVID-19 indicators have been rising for weeks on Long Island and throughout New York State in what medical experts call a holiday season surge as the pandemic nears its two-year mark.

Now that scenario may become even more complicated by the emergence of the omicron variant, which scientists said was reported by South Africa to the World Health Organization last week and already has been found in other countries, including Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands, and in several nations in Africa, according to government officials. Omicron has not yet been detected in testing in the United States, though some medical experts suspect it may already be here.

Infectious-diseases experts are still trying to determine if omicron is more contagious than the delta variant, how severely it can infect people, and how the vaccines protect against it. They hope to get answers within the next few weeks.

Prepared for any possible surge

Hospitals on Long Island said Tuesday they are ready for the arrival of the new variant, if it comes as many medical experts expect.

After working through at least three different COVID-19 surges, Dr. Bruce Polsky, an infectious-disease specialist and chairman of medicine at NYU Langone – Long Island, said that hospital has refined its plan to handle any future influx of patients.

"We know what to do in terms of creating additional spaces within the hospital," Polsky said. "And we have many more tools available to us now. We have vaccines, and we have therapeutics such as the monoclonal antibodies for individuals with mild to moderate disease. We know how to take care of these patients better than we did a year and a half ago."

Gov. Kathy Hochul echoed the theme that, while the potential arrival of a new variant is not good, the state has more resources to deal with the virus than it did at the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

"While we're entering a vulnerable time this winter when the chance of spreading COVID-19 is higher, the good news is that we are not defenseless," Hochul said in a statement Tuesday. "Vaccinations are safe, free, and readily available for all New Yorkers."

Medical experts also are urging vaccinated Long Islanders to get a booster shot to help protect against omicron. If people are not vaccinated at all, they should get the initial shots immediately, the experts say.

"We’re at a place where we're all very well-prepared — given our experience — to handle any patient surges and provide the care that’s been developed for acute infection," said Dr. Alan M. Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn.

Bulbin said the health care system has the surge capacity to administer intravenous monoclonal antibodies through the various emergency departments — even for some patients in the early stages of COVID-19.

"If you can intervene and stop the replication of the virus before that's happened, then that patient is more than likely going to do very well, not progress, and potentially not even come back to the hospital," he said.

Doctor: Hospitals better equipped

Catholic Health also has developed plans to transform recovery rooms and post-anesthesia care units into spaces to care for more COVID-19 patients, if needed. Tents can be erected outside of emergency departments to serve patient overflow.

"Based on past experience, we know what works and what doesn’t," Bulbin said.

Dr. Adhi Sharma, president of Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, said that hospital is gearing up, too.

"We're always monitoring it, and that’s been ongoing since March of 2020," he said.

Sharma said the hospital, like others in the region, is better equipped to treat COVID due to treatments.

"Patients typically get in and out faster, plus our vaccinated patients, even when they get admitted, they do well," he said. "Even if people do need inpatient hospital care, we'll be able to get them back home a lot more quickly than we did last year."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday issued its strongest recommendation to date on boosters, saying all fully vaccinated people over the age of 18 should get the shots when they become eligible.

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