Coronavirus Updates (April 29): Caution Urged As Suffolk Nears Reopening Threshold

Pictured Above: Wednesday afternoon outside Southold Town Hall.

Hospitalizations have been on a downward trend in Suffolk County since April 20, but the county is still reporting hundreds of new Covid-19 cases each day, and has a narrow margin of error to get reopening the economy right

Suffolk County last saw a spike in Covid-19 hospitalizations on April 20, said Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott on Wednesday, and total hospitalizations have trended downward since.

This factor is an important one in determining when it will be safe for an economy to reopen, said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Wednesday, adding that the county is “on the path to reach a 14-day trend within the week.”

New York’s non-essential businesses have been shuttered by the state until at least May 15, when “New York Pause” is currently expected to end.

But the county is still reporting hundreds of new Covid-19 cases each day, with 661 new cases reported by Wednesday, bringing the county total to 34,079.

On the East End, 643 cases have been reported in Southampton Town, 430 in Riverhead, 323 in Southold, 184 in East Hampton and seven on Shelter Island. By comparison, there are 9,957 cases in Islip and 7,184 cases in Brookhaven.

Mr. Bellone did say that the county is hovering around the 70 percent hospital occupancy number set by New York State as a guideline for whether a region will have the available capacity to handle a surge of patients if the economy reopens.

Mr. Bellone said Wednesday that, of the county’s current 3,316 hospital beds, 874 are available, which means the hospitals are 74 percent filled, while the county has 230 free ICU beds of a total of 738 ICU beds, meaning ICU beds are 69 percent filled.

“We’re right about at the numbers the state says we need to be at to reopen the economy in a safe way,” said Mr. Bellone.

But, with 1,155 Suffolk County residents already dead of Covid-19, 24 of them in the past 24 hours, Mr. Bellone saw the statistics as cold comfort to an area still in shock over the speed with which it was overtaken by this disease.

“Do we have the testing in place? Do we have the contact tracing in place?” he asked. “The worst thing that could happen, in my view, is we reopen the economy and then, if the virus starts to spread, it would be emotionally, psychologically and economically devastating.”

“At the end of the day, it will be up to us whether we can successfully reopen the economy in a phased way and not see a surge in cases happen once again,” he added “That will be on us.”

Mr. Bellone added that the rate of transmission of the disease in Suffolk is currently .8, meaning each infected person infects, on average, .8 other people.

“If that number gets to 1.1, we are looking at this virus spreading again,” he said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also said “there are caution signs out there that we should pay attention to” at his Wednesday morning briefing.

He pointed out that Singapore has reported a second wave of 900 cases after that country believed it had clamped down on the disease, and that Germany has seen its rate of infection jump from .7 to 1 in just 10 days.

“That’s troubling,” said Mr. Cuomo. “It shows you just how fast the infection rate can increase if you don’t do it right on reopening.”

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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