Suffolk Covid Spike Prompts New Testing Sites

Suffolk County’s Covid-19 positivity rate spiked to 13.7 percent on Monday, 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.

As the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus becomes the dominant variant here, the county is planning to set up testing sites at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach and “in the West Sayville area” next Monday, Dec. 27, with another testing site in Sound Beach opening Jan. 4.

Omicron was estimated to be responsible for between 69.1 and 99 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 Center for Disease Control.

Mr. Bellone said the current Covid-19 positivity rate in Suffolk is higher than the last peak of 12.8 percent on Dec. 29, 2020.

“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. “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.

“We have over 90 percent of adults vaccinated here now, but the booster shot is the best protection that you can have, and booster numbers are relatively low,” said Mr. Bellone.

“If you’re vaccinated and boosted, knock yourself out, have folks over” for the holidays, said Dr. Pigott. “If not, have a test that’s negative before you have a lot of people in the house.”

Monday’s 13.7 percent positivity rate amounts to 1,670 people, but it’s not just the positivity rate that’s climbing. There were 349 people hospitalized with the virus, with 40 new admissions on Monday, and 53 patients in ICU.

By comparison, on Nov. 30, there were just 153 people hospitalized with Covid in Suffolk County, with 27 of them in ICU.

“That number is rising rapidly,” said Mr. Bellone, adding that the county is aware of a new nationwide shortage in treatments like monoclonal antibodies.

“That is an issue that needs to be addressed at the state and federal level, and we’re very encouraged by what seeing there,” he said. “The best protection from getting severely ill is having vaccines and getting boosted.”

Hospitals here have been adding back bed capacity — there were a total of 3033 hospital beds in Suffolk on Nov. 30, and as of Monday, Dec. 21, there were 3,101, 872 of which were open, or 31 percent. There are currently 369 ICU beds in the county, 90 of which are open, or 24 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,” he said.

The county reported five new deaths from the virus on Monday — bringing the total to 3,756 people killed by the virus here since March of 2020.

Mr. Bellone said the county would continue its efforts to educate small business owners about the need to adhere to state mandates to wear masks in public, but was not planning more stringent enforcement measures.

“We will communicate with businesses and inform them of the guidance. It’s an approach that worked very successfully for us, even at the height of the pandemic,” he said.

When asked by a reporter if the county would consider new business shutdowns if positivity rates climbed much higher, Mr. Bellone said “I’m not going to speculate on what we’re going to do in the future.”

“We’re in an entirely different situation now. We have 90 percent of people vaccinated. We need to get people boosted. That protection is the most you can have, with the vaccine.”

The Gabreski Airport testing site is expected to be open on Mondays beginning Dec. 27. We will have details as they become available. Pre-Christmas, lines for testing at local urgent care sites have been long, and those that are doing testing appointments are mostly booked through Christmas.

COVID testing made available by East Hampton Town through CareOne Concierge is now being held 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 here.

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. Here’s how to register

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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