Pictured Above: A handwritten sign at the Mattituck CVS on Tuesday informing customers the pharmacy does not know when it will be getting more at-home Covid-19 test kits.

Update: Jan. 1, 2022:

By Dec. 30, the Covid-19 positivity rate in Suffolk County surged further to 27.6 percent, with 6,547 new cases recorded that day, out of 23,683 total tests. The county had reported three new fatalities that day, bringing the death toll here to 3,805 people since the pandemic began. There were 640 people hospitalized with the virus in the county, with 92 of them in ICU. There were 795 hospital beds available in the county (26 percent), with 96 ICU beds available (26 percent).

Original Story: Dec. 28, 2021:

In the wake of the Christmas holiday, Covid-19 positivity rates in Suffolk County were soaring to levels not seen since December of 2020, driven by the new, highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus, while residents scrambled to find testing sites and at-home testing kits that were in short supply.

Suffolk County’s Covid-19 positivity rate spiked to 13.5 percent on Monday, Dec. 20, the highest positivity rate reported since “the early days of the pandemic,” according to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who held his first Covid-19 briefing in months on Dec. 21. On that date, 1,670 people tested positive.

But the positivity rate continued to climb throughout that week, and even a spike in the number of tests conducted as people made plans to visit relatives for Christmas didn’t dampen the positivity rate — on Dec. 23, 3,759 people tested positive for Covid, 15.8 percent of 23,825 tests conducted.

By Sunday, Dec. 26, the positivity rate was 17.5 percent, with 2,098 Suffolk residents testing positive for the virus, out of 11,997 total tests.

“We had hoped, of course, that the surge that we saw last year at this time might be the last big surge that we saw with the Covid-19 virus,” said Mr. Bellone on Dec. 21. “Even as cases were surging, we knew that there was a vaccine on the horizon. That gave hope that we would completely get the virus under control.”

But as the virus has mutated and the effectiveness of the vaccine has waned with time, Mr. Bellone and Suffolk County Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott urged members of the public to get booster shots.

But with many double and triple vaccinated people still testing positive for the virus, even if they have fewer and milder symptoms, many vaccinated residents turned to testing and isolating themselves from the people they love, a tried-and-true method of controlling the spread of the virus.

The problem? Tests were extremely difficult to come by, with urgent care centers either booked days in advance or in some cases closed to protect their staff, and at-home tests were flying off the shelves of pharmacies within hours of arriving at stores.

Mr. Bellone had announced on Dec. 21 that three testing sites throughout the county, including one at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, were slated to open this week and next.

On Tuesday, Dec. 28, the county provided details and changes to the testing locations, with testing sites slated to open at Hecksher State Park on Wednesday, Dec. 29, aat Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays on Monday, Jan. 3, and at Cathedral Pines County Park on Tuesday, Jan. 4.

Rapid Antigen Covid-19 tests will be administered at these sites by Baseline Health and Reef Technologies on a first come, first served basis.

The Hecksher State Park site will be in Field 8 at 1 Heckscher State Parkway, East Islip, Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., where up to 1,000 tests per day can be conducted.

The Red Creek Park site, at 102 Old Riverhead Road in Hampton Bays will be open Mondays only from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., where it can conduct up to 500 tests per day. The Cathedral Pines County Park site, at 116 Yaphank-Middle Island Road, will be open Tuesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and can conduct up to 500 tests per day.

“What we have learned so far is that the Omicron variant is highly transmittable and causing a spike in our daily positivity rate,” said Mr. Bellone. “Testing is one of the best tools we have when it comes to containing the spread of this virus. As we approach the New Year, these three new sites will provide quick and convenient results for our residents so that they can protect themselves and their loved ones.”

At-home test kits were few and far between in the days before Christmas, and they hadn’t improved in the days after Christmas, while promises from the White House to deliver test kits to Americans were still weeks away.

A hand scrawled sign inside the entrance to the Mattituck CVS on Dec. 27 read “We are currently out of stock of Covid test kits!!! (we do not know when we will get them back in)!! Sorry. 🙁

Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead also announced it was opening a drive-through testing site on Tuesday, Dec. 28 — the entrance is on the north side of the former Mercy High School, now owned by the hospital, on Middle Road. Appointments are required, the testing is free, and the site will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Monday, Jan. 3. Appointments can be made online.

Covid-19 testing is also being made available by East Hampton Town through CareOne Concierge at the East Hampton Center for Humanity (former CDCH school) at 110 Stephen Hand’s Path in Wainscott. 

In addition to PCR saliva and nasal swab tests, rapid tests are regularly offered at the testing site, but may be unavailable, due to high demand. During the holidays, the town cautions that PCR results may take at least 36 hours. PCR tests are at no out-of-pocket cost; rapid tests are $109, or $59 for town or village employees. Testing hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. No appointments are needed, but you can preregister online.

PCR and rapid testing is also available Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6:40 p.m. and Saturdays from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Parrish Memorial Hall at the corner of Lewis Street and Herrick Road. Registration is online.

Omicron was estimated to be responsible for 54 percent of Covid cases in the CDC region that includes New York and New Jersey as of Dec. 18, up from just 25.4 percent a week earlier, on Dec. 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By Dec. 25, Omicron accounted for 88.4 percent of cases here.

It’s not just the positivity rate that’s climbing. There were 349 people hospitalized with the virus, with 40 new admissions on Monday, Dec. 21 and 53 patients in ICU.

A week later, on Dec. 26, there were 470 people hospitalized with the virus, with 80 of them in ICU. The county reported 12 new fatalities Dec. 26, bringing the death toll here since the start of the pandemic to 3,783 people.

By comparison, on Nov. 30, 2021 there were just 153 people hospitalized with Covid in Suffolk County, with 27 of them in ICU. Between that date and Dec. 26, 95 Suffolk residents had lost their lives to the virus.

Hospitals here have been adding back bed capacity — there were a total of 3033 hospital beds in Suffolk on Nov. 30, and as of Dec. 26, there were 3,101.

As of Dec. 26, 1031 beds were available, or 33 percent, and there were 373 ICU beds in the county, 105 of which were available, or 28 percent.

“We’re seeing with this surge all of the capacity tested once again, and it needs to be ramped up, but we’ve been through this before. This isn’t a surprise and we know what we need to do,” said Mr. Bellone.

Local governments on the East End have also heeded the warnings, switching back to Zoom meetings and cancelling congregate senior programming, at least until it is safe for them to gather again.

East Hampton Town halted most in-person human services programs for senior citizens in mid-December, to protect the health of some of the most vulnerable residents. Suspension of the senior nutrition programs in Montauk and East Hampton, senior activities and classes such as meditation, yoga, and Bingo, and in-home services will continue for four weeks, through Jan. 14, 2022, at which time the situation will be reassessed. To continue to assist those in need, meal services will shift to a “grab and go” system, with packaged meals available for pickup. The town will continue to transport senior citizens to doctors’ appointments. For more information, call 631.329.6939.

The Town of Shelter Island announced Dec. 21 that it is terminating all in-person public meetings in an effort to protect the public health and the health of town employees. All scheduled meetings will be conducted via video conference. Meeting details will be posted on the Shelter Island Town web site, at the individual Board/Committee pages and on the Town Calendar.Shelter Island is asking any member of the public who has business with the town to make an effort to conduct their business remotely via email and phone. 

Shelter Island’s Senior Center is suspending all in-person gatherings. The Nutrition Program will continue in a modified version. The Recreation Department is suspending all programs except for its after school program and the FIT Center will be closed at least until Jan. 3, 2022. Both are reviewing their procedures and will keep the public informed via the town website, shelterislandtown.us.

Any senior citizen in need of home-delivered meals in Southold Town can call 631.298.4460.  All other requests for assistance for shopping or other essential needs should be directed to Denis Noncarrow, Government Liaison Officer at 631.765.5806.

The Southampton Town Board conducted its Tuesday, Dec. 28, via videoconference in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

This is a fluid situation that we expect to change throughout the month of January. Stay tuned here for updates throughout the month.

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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