Pictured Above: A sign warns motorists entering downtown Riverhead of the Covid spike.

Read our continuing coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Update: Nov. 22, 2 p.m.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said parts of Suffolk County will likely become yellow cluster zones later this week.

“Unless they drastically change the trajectory rate, they will go into those zones this week,” said Mr. Cuomo in his Sunday press briefing Nov. 22.

New York State’s Covid cluster guidelines include three different zones, increasing in severity from yellow to orange to red, based on the Covid positivity rate in the community.

New York classifies a “yellow zone” as a geographic area that has a seven day rolling average positivity rate above 2.5 percent for 10 days, and a seven day average of 10 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.

In the state’s “yellow zones”, businesses can remain open, gatherings are limited to 25 people, indoor and outdoor dining are permitted (with a maximum of four people per table), and schools can remain open with mandatory weekly testing of students and teachers for in-person education. Houses of worship would be limited to 50 percent capacity.

Update: Nov. 21, 3 p.m.

Beginning Monday, November 23, 2020, a no-cost, outdoor testing facility for the Covid-19 virus will be available by appointment only at the Riverhead County Center (Sun River Health), 300 County Center Drive, Riverhead.

It will be operational Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call 845.553.8030. Visit www.sunriver.org/testing for additional information.

Update: Nov. 20, Noon:

Testing at Red Creek Park at 100 Old Riverhead Road in Hampton Bays will take place TODAY Friday, November 20 and every Monday and Wednesday following from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Testing is available for children over 4 years old and adults. APPOINTMENTS ARE REQUIRED FOR TESTS. Please call 631.728.0505 to schedule an appointment. A prescription and insurance will be requested at time of scheduling an appointment.

Original Story Follows:

While the positivity rate for the Covid-19 coronavirus is currently averaging about 3.5 percent throughout Suffolk County over the past five days, the communities of Hampton Bays and Riverhead both currently have significantly higher positivity rates, and the county is ramping up virus testing in both communities to determine the degree of the spread there.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a Thursday afternoon press conference that the positivity rate among Hampton Bays residents has averaged 6.5 percent over the past five days, while the positivity rate among Riverhead residents has averaged 5.6 percent over the same time period.

The county began testing students in the Hampton Bays School District on Thursday, Nov. 19, and will begin testing students in the Riverhead School District on Friday, Nov. 20.

The county is working with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital to set up an outdoor community testing site at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays beginning Friday, and a similar testing site is expected to soon be set up in Riverhead, said Mr. Bellone, who said he would provide more details about those testing sites when they become available.

“What we’re seeing is broad-based community spread across Suffolk County,” said Mr. Bellone, who added that the county does not yet have enough data to discern whether Riverhead and Hampton Bays are hot spots.

“It could be a statistical anomaly, but we’re not going to wait to find out. We’re going to be proactive,” he said. “This is part of a larger effort to stop the surge in the county.”

The county is planning to test 400 students, faculty and staff members in the Hampton Bays School District using Abbott’s BinaxNOW rapid testing kits provided by New York State. The program is free of charge and utilizes trained County Health Department staff to administer the tests in the Hampton Bays Middle School cafeteria, with assistance from the school nursing staff.

Families who wish to participate are being asked by the school district to fill out the district’s Willingness to Test survey. Testing is expected to continue into early next week, before schools break for Thanksgiving.

Mr. Bellone said the county has chosen Hampton Bays for this project because “this district has not only done an excellent job instituting Covid protocols, but we’re also seeing higher numbers overall in Hampton Bays.”

“We’re being proactive in our effort to get control of the numbers in the county and keep schools open,” he added.

The Riverhead Central School District is also asking families to fill out a Willingness to Test survey.

“Since September’s school opening, the Riverhead Central School District has had 34 reports of positive Covid cases between staff and students with two additional cases reported today,” said Riverhead Interim Superintendent Christine Tona in a letter to families on Wednesday. “As of this afternoon, only one of these cases may have been the result of school spread. Even though our protocols of mask wearing, cleaning and sanitizing, and social distancing are working, we have still been forced to close our schools at times over the past month.”

“Currently, the sample sizes of the individuals tested in our community are just too small to truly understand the extent to which Covid-19 exists,” she added. “We will initiate a voluntary in-school testing program to test approximately 20 percent of the school population (staff, students, faculty) over a two week period.”

The Riverhead program will also use the rapid test.

While Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar cautioned Wednesday that residents should take caution to keep the town from becoming a state-designated “Covid cluster,” Mr. Bellone said his office is using different metrics than the state to determine how to deploy its resources.

“There’s no exact formula that’s going to determine the state designation. There are a lot of different factors. We’re trying to be proactive in reducing the spread so we don’t get to that place,” he said. “The best thing we can do as a county is to put forward every effort we can to reduce the community spread that we are seeing, to get control of that countywide.”

“We’re seeing spread everywhere in the county and we want to get that under control,” he added.

We will update this post with more details about the community testing sites as they become available.

Read our continuing coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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