Hundreds Of New COVID-19 Infections In South Fork Towns

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East Hampton Town mandated facemasks be worn in town buildings last month and on Thursday announced that the town will return all of its regulatory meetings to Zoom until further notice, because of a rise in new COVID-19 cases in the town. Kyril Bromley

Incidences of COVID-19 infections on the East End have continued to tick upwards in recent weeks, with East Hampton Town seeing the positivity rates at its two testing sites leap above 12 percent last week and Southampton Town reporting an average of about 18 new cases being reported town-wide each day.

East Hampton Town has seen 182 new cases of coronavirus infections since August 1 and 37 since September 1, with at least five new cases reported in the town every day so far this month, according to statistics released by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

The town runs two testing sites, one at the Town Hall campus on Pantigo Road, the other in Montauk. Last week the positivity rate at the East Hampton site was 13 percent and the average in Montauk was 12 percent. Rates had been about 10 percent the two weeks prior and 7 percent the second week of August.

The town-run testing sites tallied 272 positive cases the week of August 27 to September 2 according to a report to the town by the company conducting the testing — from among more than 2,000 test administered. The spike in people seeking tests overwhelmed the capacity of the testing sites to process the tests and record the results, forcing them to halt accepting testing without appointments. Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he is exploring getting more testing sites opened in the town.

The state-wide positivity rate is just 3.2 percent and Suffolk County’s seven-day average rate is 4.7 percent.

Southampton Town Emergency Management Administrator Ryan Murphy said that the town does not run its own testing, so it has no specific positivity rates from within its borders but the town has had more than 125 new cases in the past week, an average of 18.3 new cases per day — a rate that is down from what had been seen in mid-August when the town was notching more than 20 new cases a day.

The new infections do not as yet seem to have translated into a major increase in hospitalizations locally. Stony Brook Southampton Hospital had just five patients admitted with severe cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday — the same number as a week prior — and none were intubated, Mr. Murphy said.

East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village have both announced that they will halt in-person government meetings until further notice — including the town’s much anticipated community information sessions on East Hampton Airport — and have imposed new mask mandates in government buildings.

“The delta variant is rapidly growing out on the East End and more and more of our friends, family and colleagues are contracting the virus,” Village Administrator Marcos Baladron said in a memo to village officials on Sunday. “… the rise in COVID-19 cases in the village and the increasing number of ‘breakthrough cases’ every day, despite vaccinations, is a growing concern.”

On Tuesday, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc urged residents to wear masks in any indoor public space, warning that the return of students to in-person school this week poses a threat of an even greater growth in cases in the town.

The vast majority of new cases and essentially all the hospitalizations, officials said, are among those who have not been vaccinated.

East Hampton Town will host a vaccination clinic offering first doses of the Pfizer vaccine on September 14 at the Montauk Playhouse.

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital is offering walk-in vaccinations on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m. at Parrish Memorial Hall

New York State suspended its Open Meetings Law, which requires all government business to be handled in public, in March 2020, but reinstated it in June this year. Governor Kathy Hochul last week issued a new extension of the suspension last week allowing government boards to return to virtual meetings if they saw fit until January 2022.

Several East Hampton Town Board meetings had seen standing-room-only crowds in recent weeks — spurred by the town’s debate over the future of East Hampton Airport and where to site an emergency communications and cellular tower in Springs — though only one member of the public was in the room on Thursday when Mr. Van Scoyoc that the town would return to virtual meetings again.

The move prompted some to imply that perhaps the shift to virtual meetings was intended to dampen the efforts of Springs community members to voice their outrage about a town proposal to put a 180-foot communications tower on a 7-acre town-owned parcel in their neighborhood off Fort Pond Boulevard.

“I am concerned that this may be a backdoor attempt to quash public debate on the cell phone tower,” said Jacqueline Esposito, who called in to the meeting . “As you know, our community has packed that room every week for the past month.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that the packed meeting rooms are precisely the concern — for health reasons, not policy.

“I would much rather have in-person meetings, frankly,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “But I don’t think there’s a reason to jeopardize people’s health when people like yourself can easily call in. In fact, we’ve seen much higher engagement during the remote sessions … that during in-person meetings.”

Councilman Jeff Bragman said that he is confident the consultants who are running the airport information sessions will be able to facilitate useful meetings virtually as well as they could have in-person. He said the consultants, Massachusetts planning firm Dodson & Flinker, have led working group meetings through Zoom previously and will still be able to break each of the four meetings — two of which had been planned to be virtual already — into the small “rooms” that they think will facilitate more constructive discussion by community members with divergent interests.

East Hampton Town only returned to in-person meetings in June, several months after Southampton Town did, a move that was delayed while the town set up technology that would continue to allow those who were watching the meetings on television or through online livestreams to call in and offer comments without being in the room. Board members had celebrated how their meetings in 2020 had seen much higher participation from those who called in to the virtual meetings.

All East Hampton Town meetings are viewable live on Channel 22, and both live and on-demand on the LTV livestream at ltveh.org or on the LTV East Hampton page on youtube.com.

East Hampton Village meetings are viewable live on Channel 22 and on the ltveh.org livestream and on-demand on ltveh.org or the station’s YouTube page.

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