East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village this week re-instituted mask-wearing requirements for all public buildings — less than two months after they were lifted — and Stony Brook Southampton Hospital has ended visitation in its emergency department and said it will require staff to be vaccinated, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the region continues to rise once again.
The New York State Department of Health also announced this week that it will require all health care workers, including hospital and nursing home staff, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 27.
New infections of COVID-19 remained high compared to a month ago, but are still well below the soaring numbers of daily infections from the winter surge before the vaccination effort got up to full steam. The county reported 506 new cases on Monday, the highest number seen since April.
Hospitalizations have continued to climb. There were 145 people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 symptoms countywide. Stony Brook Southampton Hospital reported having seven patients in its COVID-19 wing on Monday.
The rising cases have spurred an uneven response from lawmakers since Governor Andrew Cuomo said the new surge does not yet warrant a state edict, but asked local municipalities to issue their mandates as they saw fit.
All East Hampton town and village municipal employees and all members of the public visiting town or village facilities are now required to wear face coverings inside. The new mask mandate applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
“The Town of East Hampton urges its employees, residents and visitors to protect their own health and the health of their families and our community by taking all precautions against COVID, as even vaccinated individuals can contract and spread the delta variant,” a statement from the town announcing the new policy on Friday said. “The best defense … is vaccination, which can prevent severe illness if you do get COVID, and help prevent the virus from spreading and mutating into new strains that will present new risks.”
Southampton Village re-imposed its mask mandate at Village Hall earlier this month and has issued a formal request that all businesses require face coverings for customers indoors.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said that Southampton Town is not yet changing its protocol — which requires face coverings for non-vaccinated individuals in public buildings — but will be closely monitoring infection rates.
“We have no plans to require vaccinated people to wear masks unless the incident rate increases,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a message on Friday. “Right now, it is still very low.”
Mr. Schneiderman said over the weekend that infection rates in the town have plateaued and even declined slightly in recent days, but that increases were still being seen in the most densely populated hamlets of Hampton Bays and East Quogue.
The county department of health has recommended that schools require mask wearing when classes resume next month and some local school districts have already announced that they will require mask wearing for students and faculty.
No local municipality has issued a vaccination mandate for its employees as New York City and some other governments around the country have done.
The state says that about 76 percent of adults in the state have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine and that more than 300,000 shots are being administered daily statewide.
Since early in the vaccination effort, the state has put an emphasis on getting those caring for the ill and infirm in hospitals, longterm care facilities and nursing homes, vaccinated. Healthcare workers were given the first priority when the state started receiving the vaccine in December, and were the only ones eligible to get the shots for several weeks at the outset.
Nonetheless, some corners of the industry have lagged behind the state averages in terms of how many workers are vaccinated and some unions have resisted, and even angrily protested, vaccination mandates at facilities that have demanded their employees get the shots.
Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook Medicine have still not informed employees of a specific vaccination requirement, but said in a statement this week that the network will follow state guidelines.
“Stony Brook Medicine follows state guidelines requiring immunization against COVID-19, guidelines that are aligned with Stony Brook Medicine’s mission to deliver the safest and highest quality of care to our patients,” the statement reads. “COVID-19 vaccines have proven highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. They are important tools to keep patients, patient-facing healthcare workers, and the wider community safe as we observe a rise in COVID cases in New York State, driven by the Delta variant.”
Other than doctors, the medical staff at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital are all members of the 1199 United Healthcare Workers union, one of the largest in the country. The union has officially opposed vaccination mandates but “encourages” it’s members to get vaccinated. But it has also led protests outside private hospitals that have already instituted vaccination mandates.
Some members of the Stony Brook Southampton said last week that they would consider leaving their jobs at the hospital if a mandate were imposed — though that was before the state mandate was expanded to include all hospitals.
To date, 75 percent of the state’s approximately 450,000 hospital workers, 74 percent of the approximately 30,000 adult care facility workers, and 68 percent of the state’s approximately 145,500 nursing home workers have completed their vaccine series, Governor Cuomo said last week.
“When COVID ambushed New York last year, New Yorkers acted, while the Federal Government denied the problem,” the governor said at a press conference last week. “Our health care heroes led the battle against the virus, and now we need them to lead the battle between the variant and the vaccine. We have always followed the science … But we need to do more. I have strongly urged private businesses to implement vaccinated-only admission policies, and school districts to mandate vaccinations for teachers. Neither will occur without the state legally mandating the actions — private businesses will not enforce a vaccine mandate unless it’s the law, and local school districts will be hesitant to make these challenging decisions without legal direction.”