New York State has re-imposed a 10-person cap on all gatherings at private homes, ordered restaurants and bars to close earlier and has issued dire warnings that Thanksgiving holiday gatherings could lead to a dangerous spreading of the COVID-19 disease, as infection rates continued to climb steeply statewide and on Long Island.
The rapid expansion of new infections this month has been traced to primarily small social gatherings that have moved indoors as fall temperatures have dropped and with college students expected to start flooding home next week and an infamous “bar night” approaching, public officials pleaded with parents and young people not to participate in traditional social events that could seed new infections in the community.
On Tuesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said that County Police would be stepping up enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and private homeowners, as well as the state’s “social host” law, which can lead to criminal charges against a homeowner who allows underage people to consume alcohol at their homes. With bars being forced to close at 10 p.m., Mr. Bellone said there are concerns that more college-age students could flock to private residences for traditional holiday socializing.
“We know that typically the night before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest party nights of the year, [but] this year is far from normal,” Mr. Bellone said on Tuesday. “We cannot afford to move forward with normal celebrations. We know how this virus spreads: indoors at bars and restaurants and at gatherings.”
“Small gatherings that may seem harmless could lead to spread events,” he added. “Drinking and the flouting of social distancing guidelines is a bad combination.”
To that end, he said there would be “serious consequences” for homeowners who allow gatherings at their house that violate either the 10-person limit or social host law. The county executive said his office will be working with the Long Island Health Collaborative, a non-profit healthcare and wellness advocacy group, on a social media campaign over the next week to spotlight the dangers of social gatherings during the holiday.
New infections continued their steep and steady upward trend his week, with more than 300 new cases reported nearly every day, and 400 new cases reported on Tuesday. The county infection rate — the percentage of all people tested who were found to have the novel coronavirus — remained above 3 percent, a pace that health officials have said shows there is significant spread of infections happening in public.
Southampton Town has seen more than 100 new cases reported since November 12, and East Hampton has had more than 20 new cases.
Thus far, the rise in cases has been reflected only in scattered new hospitalizations in our region. Stony Brook Southampton Hospital reported a sudden bump in new cases midway through last week — in the wake of a jump in new cases attributed by county health officials to Halloween parties — when the number of patients admitted with COVID-19 symptoms jumped from four to eight in just two days.
But more new cases have not materialized, and a promising trend in the length of hospital stays continued. As of Wednesday, the hospital reported just five patients being treated with confirmed coronavirus infections.
Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead had seven admitted patients in its COVID-19 ward, an increase of two since last week.
Countywide, however, hospitalizations have been on a steady rise, as health officials say they would expect considering the quickly increasing number of new infections. As of Wednesday morning, there were 100 people hospitalized in Suffolk County hospitals, 22 of them in intensive care. The last time there were more than 100 people hospitalized countywide was on June 18.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has said that the one bit of good news amidst the rise in infections is that schools do not seem to be seeing significant spreading events and have mostly gotten control of infections when they are identified, so there are not currently plans to order schools to close again.
“Why would we take [students] out of 1-percent infection rate schools and place them in the 3-percent infection rate community?” Mr. Cuomo said on Friday.
There has been discussions of returning to more strict limitations on businesses, like restaurants, in areas where infection rates are climbing most steeply — a specter that Mr. Bellone said was most concerning for the economic health of the region.
Mr. Bellone on Tuesday said that the county DOH has identified six cases of infection among staff at a Friendly’s restaurant in Riverhead and has asked anyone who visited that restaurant on November 5 or 6 to self-quarantine and monitor their health through the end of the week and to get tested if they feel any symptoms of illness, though there have not yet been any cases of patrons of the restaurant falling ill.
“We know how tough this has been — everyone is exhausted physically and mentally — but we cannot jeopardize our continued economic recovery,” Mr. Bellone said on Tuesday.