Updates: Coronavirus Hits the East End

Pictured Above: Signs at the entrance to Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in mid-February asked members of the public to wear a mask if they had symptoms of a respiratory infection.

Update March 10, 11 a.m.:

The San Simeon by the Sound Center for Nursing, Rehabilitation & Adult Cay Health Care has suspended visitors from entering San Simeon “due to the recent community exposure to coronavirus,” and is asking anyone with concerns to call them at 631.477.2110 for more information.

Update March 10, 10:30 a.m.:

The Town of East Hampton announced this morning it has temporarily suspended programs for senior citizens at the East Hampton Town Senior Center and at the Montauk Playhouse, as well as other group activities for seniors, out of an abundance of caution as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads.

According to the town, “As the virus poses greatest risk to the elderly as well as those with underlying health conditions or suppressed immune systems, town-sponsored group activities offered to senior citizens will be canceled as of Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The senior center on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton will be closed until further notice.”

“Town Human Services staff will be in contact with clients of the adult day care and nutrition programs and alternate measures will be taken to meet their needs, such as providing frozen take-out meals at home in lieu of having senior citizens gather together at the center. Those in need of transportation services for doctors’ visits or with other needs may call the Human Services Department at 631.329.6939.”

Update March 9, 7:25 p.m.:

The Peconic Landing retirement community in Greenport announced this afternoon that “for the safety of our members, we are limiting non-essential visitors to our campus until further notice.”

Peconic Landing added that it is “required by the Department of Health to maintain a comprehensive infectious disease control program that includes the prevention and management of pandemic outbreaks.”

Update March 9, 1:25 p.m.:

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell announced Monday morning that the town is suspending its congregate meals program on weekdays at its Human Resource Center in Mattituck “out of an abundance of caution, but meals for the homebound will still be offered.”

“Seniors over the age of 60 who are mobile but want to limit their own risk of exposure are invited to call the Human Resource Center at 631.298.4460 for meals that will be served curbside,” he added. “The public should be assured that the Town of Southold is working closely with other governmental agencies, law enforcement, and representatives from agencies charged with public safety to address the threat posed by the coronavirus.”

The Greenport Harbor Brewing Company confirmed this morning that the first coronavirus patient in Suffolk County was an employee of the brewery’s Peconic tasting room who had not been to work since Feb. 24.

“Any food service and our tasting room in Peconic will remain closed through the end of this week,” according to a statement from the brewery. “A qualified cleaning company has been contracted to perform a deep cleaning of the premises.”

They referred further questions about the matter to the department of health.

At a Monday morning press conference, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone confirmed the patient, who sought medical care at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, was transferred to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, where he remains in isolation but his condition is improving.

Mr. Bellone added that the county has placed one person who had extensive contact with the patient under mandatory quarantine and the New York State Department of Health “is doing a complete investigation to make sure anyone who might have been exposed to the virus is isolated.”

Mr. Bellone could not confirm whether any Greenport hospital staff were exposed to the virus when the patient originally sought care.

Mr. Bellone said 18 people had been tested for the virus in Suffolk County, although some test results were still pending, and local testing ability is still limited, although it’s ramping up as fast as possible.

“Testing right now is very limited,” he said. “It’s focused on the guidelines of who should be tested… Medical professionals will make a determination in consultation with the state and county health department.”

In an email to parents Monday, the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District said that a staff member who worked part-time at the Greenport Harbor Brewery, who is not sick, was asked to stay home until it could be determined whether they had been infected with the virus. Schools in the district remain open.

Update March 8, 6:15 p.m.:

Southampton’s 27east.com, citing an unnamed source, reported Sunday afternoon that the Suffolk County coronavirus patient came in through Greenport’s Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital and is currently being treated at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, where he is reportedly “in critical but improving condition.”

We will have more details as they become available.

Also late on Sunday, Northwell Health announced it has received approval to begin testing for the new coronavirus at its Lake Success lab.

“Utilizing a testing process developed and approved by the New York State Department of Health, Northwell’s Lab expects to manually test 90 potential COVID-19 samples within the first full day, said Dwayne Breining, MD, executive director of the Northwell Labs. “Beyond the manual testing authorized today, Northwell Labs is seeking the US Food & Drug Administration’s approval to use semi-automated testing within the next week. This would give the laboratory the capability to process hundreds of tests daily, with a plan to ramp up to thousands daily in the near future.”

“Now that the accuracy of our testing process has been validated, we can begin notifying providers and patients of their lab results and start gearing up for an automated testing process that would enable us to significantly expand the number of samples we can process,” he added.

While Northwell says its expanded ability to test patients for COVID-19 will greatly enhance its ability to manage patients with potential infection, testing will continue to be reserved for those at risk for severe disease and who have had confirmed close contact with an infected individual. 

“Only people who meet that criteria will be tested – and that testing is currently being performed at hospital emergency departments and urgent care centers,” said John D’Angelo, MD, chair of emergency medicine at Northwell, which operates 18 emergency departments throughout New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. “Even as our testing capacity increases, we will continue to screen people judiciously so we can focus our attention on those most at risk for severe COVID-19 infection who require more-immediate and intensive medical attention. All others who are concerned about exposure but who have mild or no symptoms should recuperate at home.” 

Governor Andrew Cuomo at the Sunday morning press conference.
Governor Andrew Cuomo at the Sunday morning press conference.

Original Story:

Suffolk County reported its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus on Sunday, March 8, as the number of cases in New York State jumped overnight as more testing was conducted.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone confirmed Sunday that the resident was a man in his mid-40s who is hospitalized and isolated, but the county executive did not elaborate on where the patient was located.

“Suffolk County communicable disease professionals have begun a thorough investigation into the patient’s contacts as it is believed that this case was contracted via community transmission,” said Mr. Bellone in a statement Sunday. “We are continuing to work closely with the New York State Department of Health to ensure a swift and effective investigation. While we continue to do all that we can to avoid a widespread outbreak, we are asking the public to do the same. If you are sick, stay home and contact your primary care physician to avoid spreading any illness to others.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo held a press conference at Northwell Health Labs at the Center for Advanced Medicine in North New Hyde Park early Sunday, updating the public on the overnight jump in the number of cases in New York, and on the lag in federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) authorization of laboratories that has stymied testing in the state.

Mr. Cuomo said the 150,000-square-foot lab where he held the press conference is “the most sophisticated lab in the State of New York and one of the most sophisticated labs in the United States.”

He added that it was capable of automated testing, in which machines could handle 120 samples at a time.

“The CDC has not authorized the use of this lab,” he said. “It’s just outrageous and ludicrous. CDC, wake up and let the states test. Let private labs test…. Not to be using this laboratory and other private labs around the state makes no sense whatsoever.”

Mr. Cuomo said that people should not panic over the virus, which for most people causes a flu-like illness that they easily recover from. But he did urge older adults and people with compromised immune systems to take precautions and avoid large gatherings.

He said the state is glad to be finding people who test positive, so that they can be isolated and not spread the virus to other people, pointing out that the large cluster of cases (83) in Westchester is because “a person who was positive was in a very large gathering. People got infected and they went to very large gatherings. An infected person in a large gathering can infect many people quickly.”

He said he is urging private business owners to offer generous sick leave policies so that workers don’t come in to work sick, to stagger shifts and to enable workers who can to work from home.

When taking mass transit, he urged New Yorkers “if you see a packed train car, let it go by.”

“Move to a train car that is not as dense,” he added. “It’s the density and proximity to other people that we are trying to reduce.”

The New York State Health Department has set up a coronavirus hotline at 888.364.3065.

Read Our Earlier Coverage of New York’s Preparations for Coronavirus

Suffolk County is also welcoming calls to its 311 service regarding being tested for the coronavirus or any other issue, according to the county health department.

The service can be reached from within the 631 area code simply by dialing 311, or from a phone outside the area code by calling 631.853.6311.

East End Congressman Lee Zeldin weighed in on Suffolk County’s first coronavirus case Sunday afternoon, saying it “serves as a reminder for all levels of government to work closely together to try to contain coronavirus as much as possible. This outbreak over the past several weeks has been a quickly evolving situation, and now is not the time to play politics, and, in light of this, I implore our partners in government to improve communication. At a time like this fear can oftentimes outweigh facts, and we are even more susceptible to fear when the facts are hard to come by, especially with regards to many students being sent to our district from affected countries. Clear, open and constant communication is key to effectively combat this outbreak.”

Twenty-two State University of New York students who had been studying in Italy are slated to arrive today in Southampton to be quarantined in unused dormitories on the Stony Brook Southampton College campus, where they will be tested for the virus.

Older adults and people with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to this new illness, and Medicare sent its members locally and across the country an emailed update on coronavirus testing coverage on Thursday.

According to the message, “Medicare Part B covers a test to see if you have coronavirus. This test is covered when your doctor or other health care provider orders it, if you got the test on or after February 4, 2020…. Your provider will need to wait until after April 1, 2020 to be able to submit a claim to Medicare for this test.”

Robert. J. Syron, the CEO and President of the Lifecare retirement community Peconic Landing in Greenport, issued the following statement late last week:

“Peconic Landing is committed to the safety of its members, team members and visitors,” he said. “We are proactively monitoring the situation through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Department of Health and community partners. Peconic Landing is required by the Department of Health to maintain a comprehensive infection control program that includes the prevention and management of pandemic outbreaks.”

New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who represents the South Fork, said in a statement Friday that, “while this is a serious public health issue, there is no reason to panic. The vast majority of people who have contracted the virus haven’t become seriously ill, and only a small percentage requires intensive care.”

“Earlier this week, the legislature approved $40 million in emergency funding to deal with the emerging novel coronavirus (COVID-19) threat,” he added. “The funding will be used to purchase medical equipment and supplies as well as hire and train additional health care workers to ensure New York State is fully prepared in the event this virus spreads.”

This story, originally published on the afternoon of March 8, is rapidly developing, and we will be monitoring and updating any local developments as they occur.

See our earlier coverage:

https://www.eastendbeacon.com/new-york-gets-ready-for-coronavirus/

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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