Coronavirus Updates (May 12): Suffolk Reopening Hinges on Contact Tracing, New Hospitalizations & Deaths

As New York prepares for a phased reopening of the economy this Friday, May 15, Long Island is likely to be among the last regions to reopen.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday morning, May 11, that three upstate counties will meet the seven metrics necessary to reopen on Friday, with seven other regions in the county trailing to varying degrees.

The metrics include the percentage of hospital capacity being used, downward trends in hospitalizations and deaths, the ability to test 30 of every 1,000 residents each month, and having 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.

New York State’s regional reopening dashboard.

The state also unveiled a constantly updated dashboard showing the progress each region is making toward meeting those goals, along with a guide for New Yorkers to navigate the reopening.

The Long Island region includes Nassau and Suffolk County, two counties that have by far the highest numbers of cases of Covid-19 in the state, outside of New York City.

In phase one, construction, manufacturing and curbside pickup at retail stores will be permitted to reopen. Mr. Cuomo said Monday that low-risk businesses like landscaping and gardening, low risk outdoor activities like tennis, and drive-in movie theaters will also be allowed to open statewide on Friday.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone declined to speculate on a date that the county would be able to begin phase one of reopening in his Monday afternoon press call.

“We are making progress toward meeting the metrics,” he said. “Our emphasis is on opening as soon as possible.”

“We’re not going to meet those metrics by Friday,” he said, adding that he is working closely with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and business leaders on coordinating reopening.

Suffolk County also unveiled a dashboard detailing its progress toward meeting its reopening metrics on Monday.

Mr. Bellone said that, of the metrics, contact tracing is “not in our control.”

He said 230 people in Suffolk have been trained to do contact tracing, but the county will need a total of nearly 450 contact tracers. New hires are being vetted, hired and trained by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

More information on applying to become a contact tracer is online here.

“I don’t have a status on the people hired at this point,” said Mr. Bellone. “The process began about a week ago. They’re taking in applications, and they’re going to be onboarding and training people.”

While he described the contact tracing system as “a huge task,” Mr. Bellone said his greatest concern is whether the county can meet the criteria for new hospitalizations, which much be under 2 per 100,000 residents on a three day rolling average. That number in the Long Island region currently stands at 2.85.

“That’s a less knowable thing than training people and onboarding them,” he said.

The region is also not meeting the state requirement of a 14-day decline in hospital deaths on a three day rolling average. Suffolk’s dashboard shows that the county has made 0 days of progress toward this goal.

Mr. Bellone reported 22 new deaths in Suffolk County on Monday, had reported 20 new deaths on Sunday and 29 new deaths on Saturday. As of Monday, 1,639 Suffolk residents had lost their lives to Covid-19.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo discussed the reopening plan at Rochester Regional Health on Monday.

Mr. Cuomo also announced Monday that the state has organized “control rooms” for each region, groups of leaders who would be “able to pull the plug or slow down the increase in activity, a circuitbreaker.”

After Phase 1 is implemented, the control room will be in charge of monitoring those seven metrics for two weeks before moving to the next reopening phase if the metrics continue to be met. Each phase would face the same two-week waiting period.

Phase 2 includes professional, financial and administrative services, real estate and retail. Phase 3 includes restaurants, food service and hotels, followed by arts, entertainment, recreation and education in Phase 4.

Mr. Bellone and Ms. Curran, the Nassau County Executive, are members of the Long Island Control Room, which is headed by Eric Gertler, President and CEO of Empire State Development.

Other Long Island control room members include Long Island Regional Economic Development Council co-chair Kevin Law, Long Island Federation of Labor President John Durso and NAACP Long Island Regional Director Tracey Edwards.

New York City is also struggling with new hospitalizations, with 3.46 new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents as of Monday. Unlike Long Island, the city has seen a 14-day decline in hospital deaths.

New York City has struggled with hospital capacity, with just 29 percent of overall hospital beds and 24 percent of ICU beds available as of Monday. The state requires regions to have 30 percent of their overall and ICU hospital beds available before reopening begins. Suffolk County has hovered around the 30 percent mark for the past week.

“The hospital bed capacity issue is not going to hold us back,” said Mr. Bellone on Monday, when the county reported 30 percent of overall hospital beds available, and 33 percent of ICU beds available.

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

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