The talk on television and in the national news outlets may be turning more and more to “re-opening” the national economy by lifting restrictions meant to stanch the spread of the coronavirus, but in New York State, Suffolk County and on the South Fork, the virus continues to spread at disconcerting rates, officials acknowledged this week.
There were more than 5,000 new cases of the virus identified this week in Suffolk County, 250 in the two South Fork towns — though both numbers include past cases that were identified by antibody tests.
But daily new hospitalizations, a key indicator of the continued spread of the coronavirus, have remained stubbornly high.
Stony Brook Southampton Hospital has seen a steady rate of discharges, but also enough new cases to keep the number of hospitalized patients about on par with last week as of Tuesday morning, communications director Barbara Jo Howard said.
After a steady decline following the peak of infections in early April, the state has continued to see hundreds of people come streaming into hospitals every day with new, severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Suffolk County had seen nearly two weeks of declining hospitalization numbers through the end of last week, despite dozens of new patients being admitted to the county’s 11 hospitals daily — thanks to sizeable numbers of discharged patients.
But the county saw two days of increases in overall hospitalizations on Monday and Tuesday, combined with continued high numbers of new cases being detected at testing sites. Officials said they are troubled by the increases, and will be watching anxiously for new trends to emerge.
“That’s definitely something I’m concerned about,” County Executive Steve Bellone said on Tuesday. “We certainly don’t want to see these numbers increasing again. We don’t even want to be plateauing. This is still a very high number, 835 people in our hospitals who are COVID positive. Those are bad numbers.”
Mr. Bellone said that a decline in the number of discharges is also somewhat concerning, and is something health officials need to look at in more detail as well.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that a region would need to get its rate of new hospitalizations down to less than two per day per 100,000 people in order to be considered having the spread of the coronavirus under control. That would be just 30 new hospitalizations per day here — a bar that Suffolk County has not gotten under in the last seven days, and has doubled or nearly doubled on two of those days.
There were 715 new cases of coronavrius infections identified on Tuesday in the county. On the South Fork, both towns have continued to see steady increases in the total cases — which climbed over 1,000 for the two towns with the new antibody tests — as dozens are identified each day and local officials plead with residents to adhere strictly to social distancing guidelines and the wearing of face masks in public.
A new drive-through testing site was opened in Southampton Village last week and East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday that he is asking the company running the sites, Hudson River Health, to open a drive-through site in East Hampton as well.
“If we see a renewed outbreak, we may have to go back to tighter controls,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “This disease is quite insidious. It is unseen and it spreads quickly under certain conditions.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the state will be putting contact tracers to work reverse tracing the possible source of the continued new cases to ferret out community hotspots or problem areas in the essential work force that may still be allowing the virus to spread.
Mr. Bellone said that Suffolk County is looking to hire 450 tracers — a number also set by the metrics the CDC has laid-out as measures of the control off the virus’s spread and a key to being able to consider lifting some non-essential business restrictions.
The county executive said as that small army is mobilized, the county may be able to start identifying its own hotspots of new infections and address them directly.
Even with the new upticks in hospitalizations, the burden on hospitals has eased somewhat, but the county is still putting on a full-court-press to secure more protective garb, the county executive said on Tuesday, in preparation for an anticipated “second wave” of disease cases, either as the economy re-opens or if the coronavirus makes a new surge through the American population in the fall. He said the county’s goal is to have a stockpile of a few months worth of face masks, gloves and medical gowns on hand.
“We are hoping for the best,” Mr. Bellone said, “but preparing for the worst.
As for the first wave, 23 Suffolk County residents died of COVID-19 complications between Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon. Some 230 died statewide. Both numbers are well down from the peak and represent a gradually declining number of the most severely impacted patients.
Both Mr. Bellone and Mr. Cuomo have nodded to the large numbers of deaths in nursing homes and the tragedy of all deaths from any cause during the epidemic, which has kept most families away from bedsides during a loved one’s last hours.
Mr. Cuomo deflected criticism of the care at nursing homes — even as he announced late last week that the state would conduct an investigation of how individual nursing homes handled the epidemic — and of the state’s response to the crisis in senior care facilities.
“We lost 230 people today,” he said, nodding to the statewide 24-hour death toll on Tuesday. “We didn’t lose 230 people to coronavirus because we didn’t do everything that we could do.
“We have the best healthcare system on the planet, I believe, and our people are doing everything they can do,” he added. “Still, 230 people died.”