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Cuomo: Recent rise in Long Island COVID-19 cases a blip tied to college outbreak

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo continues to emphasize the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo continues to emphasize the need for local enforcement measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Credit: TNS/Jeenah Moon

This story was reported by Bart Jones, Carl MacGowan and Craig Schneider. It was written by Jones.

A recent rise in new coronavirus cases on Long Island may be just a blip and partly caused by an outbreak among SUNY Oneonta students, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday, as state officials announced they will boost COVID-19 testing at SUNY campuses.

SUNY announced it had secured five additional COVID-19 testing machines that will allow the university system to process 15,000 additional tests per week, bringing SUNY’s overall weekly testing capacity to more than 120,000.

The governor also announced that indoor dining will again be allowed in New York City, starting Sept. 30, though capacity will be limited to 25%.

New York marked the 33rd straight day of new COVID-19 cases tracking below 1% of all people tested statewide, Cuomo said. The level of new infections was measured at 0.91% even as New York claims it is testing more people per capita than any other state.

Long Island had a higher level of new cases, at 1.8%, making it the fourth of the last five days in which that measurement fell at or above 1%.

Cuomo said he wasn't too worried — yet.

"You can have blips in the numbers," he said. "I’d say take them with a grain of salt … You do get little blips. My gauge … 1% is very low, OK? It’s almost artificially low … You start to increase activity, could you go to 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6? Yeah. Could you go to 1.7, 1.8? Yeah. Two percent, I start to get nervous. Three percent, I start to have heart palpitations."

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He said those increases would have to be sustained over days before "the alarm goes off."

Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said some of the recent spike in new cases on Long Island were tied to SUNY Oneonta students "who were actually reporting their home address" on forms. She said that information had been rectified.

The state announced this week that it would ask colleges to report their number of cases to the state when they surpass 100 and that it may suspend in-person classes in campuses with outbreaks. It has sent home all SUNY Oneonta students to study online.

The additional testing machines for the stepped-up SUNY testing, purchased for $100,000, will help process pooled surveillance testing for groups of students at a time and saliva diagnostic testing at Upstate Medical University, officials said.

“As the largest public system of higher education in the country, we have a tremendous responsibility to keep students, faculty, and staff safe across 64 campuses, and ongoing, aggressive testing is one of our strategies for doing so,” SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said in a statement.

Pooled testing allows for between 10 and 25 people to be screened in one test, officials said. The testing can be done using saliva samples rather than by swabs inserted in a person's nose. Individuals administer the tests themselves, swabbing their mouths for 10 or 15 seconds each, and provide the samples to staff to be sent to Upstate Medical University, officials said.

Their samples are combined into one, which is tested for SARS-CoV-2 virus. A negative test means that all 10-25 people are presumed at the time to be coronavirus-free.

When a pool test returns a positive, the same saliva samples submitted for a pool can then be tested individually. People within that pool do not need to submit a second sample.

Meanwhile, Cuomo said state inspectors visited 969 establishments on Tuesday, and issued summonses to five of them for violating laws aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. 

Of 63,230 coronavirus tests completed Tuesday, 576 were confirmed positive for the virus, according to state data. They included 78 new cases in Nassau County, 55 in Suffolk County, and 213 in New York City.

Three people died of coronavirus-related causes in the state on Tuesday.

Wednesday was the first day since the state's coronavirus shutdown in March that casinos were allowed to reopen on a limited basis. The reopening "went well" at Jake’s 58 in Islandia, said general manager Chuck Kilroy, though, uncharacteristically for the video-lottery casino, there were some empty spaces in the parking lot.

Capacity inside the betting parlor was limited to 25% — or about 835 people in the casino, which normally is allowed to have up to 3,338 customers, Kilroy said.

Dozens of chairs were removed and some video terminals were closed to reinforce social distancing requirements, he said, adding that a “clean team” continually washed machines and tables while customers played the virtual slots.

Bettors were greeted by staff who checked their temperatures and asked them about recent social activities. Customers could not enter unless they affirmed they had not attended recent large gatherings. Masks were required for all customers.

The casino added a new air filtration system and installed touchless sinks, soap dispensers and toilets in bathrooms to comply with state coronavirus regulations. Food and beverages were not allowed on the casino floor, he said.

Kilroy said he could not estimate the hotel-casino’s losses caused by the pandemic.

“I think it’s probably going to take awhile” to recover, he said. “Not everybody feels safe coming back. We have to show them that it’s safe.”

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