This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients are rising at an alarming rate on Long Island, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday, while warning that the region may see more communities designated as "microcluster yellow zones" because of high infection levels.
The number of people hospitalized on Long Island due to COVID-19 rose from 141 per day to 351 per day in the last three weeks — a 149% increase, Cuomo said at a news briefing held at the Wyandanch-Wheatley Heights Ambulance Corps.
"That, my friends, is a real problem," he said.
Long Island's increase is worse than the statewide average, he said.
With Thanksgiving kicking off the holiday season, Cuomo said health officials are worried a recent virus spike will grow worse on Long Island and throughout the state.
Cuomo on Monday designated Great Neck, Massapequa Park, Hampton Bays and Riverhead as yellow zones, with restrictions placed on schools, businesses and gatherings. The state follows specific criteria to determine which geographic areas are microclusters.
Asked by Newsday if other communities on Long Island with high infection levels — including Freeport, Uniondale and Brentwood — will be named yellow zones, Cuomo deferred to a top aide, Gareth Rhodes, who indicated it is likely.
"There are a number that are on the brink," Rhodes said, adding that state officials are discussing the situation with the county executives in Nassau and Suffolk.
"As those [communities] meet the metrics of the 10-day period … you can expect to see additional zone designations, with the hope that, of course, the numbers come down," Rhodes said.
Cuomo said that calculating conservatively a 20% increase in spread during the holidays, on top of the current level, the number of people hospitalized on Long Island with COVID-19 could jump to 1,456.
The overall infection level would increase from about 3% on Long Island to 18.13%, he said.
'Not a normal Thanksgiving'
Using those numbers as a backdrop, Cuomo pleaded with the public to celebrate Thanksgiving only with the family members with whom they live.
"This is not a normal Thanksgiving," he said, suggesting people use the holiday to give thanks to those who sacrificed to help people with COVID-19 — doctors, nurses, EMT workers, National Guardsmen and police.
Cuomo said that under the current projections of a 20% increase, the region's hospitals should be able to handle the influx of coronavirus patients. He said the state would move to reopen field hospitals if that level was exceeded.
Dr. Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer at Northwell Health, said the rising cases and hospitalizations are troubling.
"While we don't want people to panic, we are showing great concern that things are getting worse," Jarrett said. "Add to that, people getting together for Thanksgiving and kids returning from college, and we could be on the edge of a major surge if we aren't careful."
Northwell Health on Tuesday said it had 455 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, up from 414 on Monday and 279 a week ago.
The largest health system in the state added that it admitted 74 COVID-19 patients in the last 24 hours at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates, a noticeable jump from 45 admissions the prior 24 hours.
Of the 74 new admissions, 38 were at Long Island facilities.
The glaring hot spot at Northwell continues to be in Staten Island, where it had 120 hospitalized patients, up from 67 a week ago.
Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park had 56 COVID-19 patients, and North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset had 55 COVID-19 patients.
Mount Sinai South Nassau, based in Oceanside, reported 27 COVID-19 patients as of Monday afternoon, up from 21 last week. Mount Sinai earlier this week said it was suspending emergency department visits due to the rise in coronavirus patients.
A spat over enforcement
The infection level from test results Monday was 3.4% on Long Island and 2.5% in New York City. The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 was 362 in Nassau, 501 in Suffolk and 1,728 in New York City. Forty-seven people died in the state of COVID-19-related causes on Monday.
The statewide infection level Monday was 2.96%, including the microclusters, which are oversampled, and 2.62% excluding them. The level in the hot spots was 4.13%.
Cuomo criticized the Office of Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. for stating in a Nov. 20 tweet that it "will not be participating" in enforcing the governor’s mandate that no more than 10 people gather inside a home for Thanksgiving.
"The law is the law," Cuomo said.
"The sheriff says, ‘Well, politically I disagree with you.’ Well, are you a politician, or are you a law enforcement officer? You have to pick. Because it gets very dangerous when a law enforcement officer says, ‘I’m only going to enforce the laws that I agree with,’ " Cuomo said.
"That’s a frightening precedent," he added. "What if they don’t agree with anti-discrimination laws? What if they don’t agree with domestic violence laws?"
Top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa said she believes the sheriff’s jurisdiction is only the jails and not the general population, "So his opinion on this is even more irrelevant."
Toulon did not directly address Cuomo’s criticism, but issued a statement praising his deputies and extolling his office’s track record. He said only two Suffolk jail inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. "Based on my 30 years of experience, I think our deputies and correction officers are doing a great job considering the challenging times we are facing," Toulon said.
Temporary school closures continue
Seventh-grade students at South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre will switch to remote learning until Dec. 7 due to a confirmed positive case of a staff member, the district said.
Mepham High School in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School district switched to remote learning Tuesday after two staffers "self-reported separate and unrelated positive test results for COVID-19," the district said.
The Hampton Bays School District, which falls in a yellow zone, said it switched all grades to remote learning Tuesday and expects to return to its regular schedule on Nov. 30.
Great Neck schools, a yellow zone, said John F. Kennedy, Saddle Rock, North Middle and North High School will continue remote-only instruction as announced on Saturday, and resume in-person instruction on Monday.
In Riverhead, another yellow zone, the high school and Riley Avenue Elementary School began remote-only instruction on Tuesday. Elementary school students will return to in-person instruction by cohort on Dec. 1, and high school students on Dec. 7.
John S. Marshall Elementary School in East Hampton switched to remote learning on Tuesday after an individual tested positive, district officials said.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying confirmed cases continue to rise, used his strongest language yet predicting the city will face more restrictions soon.
"We're going to be in an orange zone in December," he said.