Bellone: Suffolk’s Covid Spike Pushing County Toward Cluster Zone

Update: Nov. 13, 5 p.m.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone reported Friday that the county had averaged 300 new Covid cases per day over the past seven days, with 2.9 percent of the people tested in the prior 24 hours testing positive.

He urged the public to stay home this weekend and to limit their plans for Thanksgiving.

“This weekend I encourage people, to the maximum extent possible, to avoid gatherings. If you can stay home with your family, it’s a good time to do so.”

“If you’re out and about and find yourself at a gathering indoors, it’s critically important that you follow the guidance — wear a mask, social distancing and sanitize and wash your hands frequently.”

Mr. Bellone said the county had put 200 new contact tracing case investigators to work in the past week, assisted by 1,000 contact tracers from New York State, and has assigned a fire marshal and a staff member from the county’s consumer affairs department to step up code enforcement of the state’s Covid public gathering orders.

He urged people planning to attend Thanksgiving celebrations with people outside their household to either quarantine for the two weeks between now and Thanksgiving or get tested for Covid before the holiday.

“Nobody wants their Thanksgiving gathering to be another super-spreader event,” he said. “Cases are surging nationwide and Suffolk County is not immune. Now is the time to double down on common sense measures that work.”

Lines have returned to Covid testing sites throughout the county, including the CityMD location in Riverhead (above).

Update: Nov. 11, 3 p.m.

New York State is limiting private indoor gatherings to 10 people or fewer as of Friday evening at 10 p.m., Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday afternoon. Beginning Friday, the state will also require bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m., though they can still serve takeout (without alcohol) for curbside pickup after 10 p.m.

Original Story Follows:

Suffolk County’s Covid-19 caseload has ballooned in the past week, and County Executive Steve Bellone is warning the public that the county is headed toward being listed as one of the state’s Covid “cluster zones” if people don’t heed precautions against spreading the virus.

The county’s Covid testing positivity rate has been hovering around 1 percent for months, and was at 1 percent last Tuesday, Nov. 3, but in the week since has ballooned to the point where 3.8 percent of the people tested in the 24 hours ending Monday were positive — a total of 324 people. On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the county reported 280 new cases of the virus, with 3.6 percent of the people tested testing positive.

Mr. Bellone said in a virtual press conference Tuesday that, prior to this week, the last time the county’s positivity rate was above 2 percent was May 25.

Mr. Bellone said he believes the new spike may be related to Halloween parties, which likely fell within the state guidelines for limiting public gatherings to fewer than 50 people.

“This is exactly when we would expect to see cases spiking (from Halloween parties),” said Mr. Bellone. “We’re investigating one Halloween party and we believe there will be others.”

Mr. Bellone urged people to avoid gatherings, even those that are within the state guidelines, and to consider limiting their Thanksgiving festivities to protect family members, especially those at higher risk of serious illness.

He said the county has averaged a 2.17 percent positivity rate over the past seven days — as of Oct. 31, the seven day average positivity rate had been 1.1 percent — and the county was in danger of entering a New York State “yellow zone,” which could mean the rollback of some business activities.

“These numbers are disturbing not only because of what it potentially means for public health, but if we do not get these numbers under control, it will threaten our continued economic recovery,” said Mr. Bellone. “We will only reverse this if we are taking action.”

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.

Mr. Bellone said the county is ramping up its contact tracing program, and is encouraging residents to get tested for the virus, even if they don’t have symptoms, if they have spent time in gatherings that are conducive to viral spread.

He added that, unlike this past spring, when it was nearly impossible to get tested for the virus, there are now numerous places to get tested throughout the county. Here is the county’s list of testing locations.

“The current spike is clearly related to gatherings that do not violate state limits. That is a warning for us as we move further into the holiday season, as we approach Thanksgiving and the weather gets colder,” said Mr. Bellone. “We have to take precautions to keep these surges from continuing.”

“Right now, the numbers we are seeing, to a great extent, are in younger populations that are less vulnerable, but if these levels continue to rise and we continue to see a surge happening, how long will it be before it gets into that more vulnerable population again, particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, and families gathering together in celebration?”

Mr. Bellone urged residents to limit holiday gatherings “to the maximum extent you can,” to open windows at those gatherings, keep a distance from others and wear a face covering while inside.

“Our kids are wearing face covering throughout their school days right now,” he said.” Kids are troopers. When faced with an unprecedented pandemic, kids are doing this. We can do this in an environment that could be threatening to friends and family members.”

“We are headed toward one of these cluster zones, and we don’t want to see that,” he added. “We’ve bucked the odds and bucked the trends for an extended period of time. Communities are now being forced to roll back reopenings…. We are no longer beating those odds.”

The 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 each community.

New York classifies an “orange zone” as a geographic area that has a seven day rolling average positivity rate above 3 percent for 10 days, and a seven day average of 10 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.

If the virus worsens and the area becomes an “orange zone,” schools would be closed, with only remote education; high-risk businesses like gyms and personal care services would close; restaurants would only be allowed to have outdoor dining (maximum of four people per table), mass gatherings would be limited to 10 people and houses of worship would be limited to 33 percent capacity.

New York classifies a “red zone” as a geographic area that has a seven day rolling average positivity rate above 4 percent for 10 days, and a seven day average of 10 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.

If the area enters the red zone, schools would remain closed, only essential businesses would open, restaurants would only be able to serve takeout, mass gatherings would be prohibited and houses of worship would be limited to gatherings of 10 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever is lower.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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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