Lack of compliance during the July Fourth weekend blamed as infection rate rises above 2 percent

Rising Number of Positive COVID Cases Should be a ‘Wake-up Call’

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wore a face covering at the start of his virtual briefing Tuesday to drive home the point: wear a mask.

“If you somehow thought the fight was done, that this was over — think again,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told the public in a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, during which he delivered news that the county’s infection rate is moving in the wrong direction.

Bellone reported 102 new positive cases in the last 24-hour period. There were 4,795 people tested, bringing the total to 42,214 cases in Suffolk with an infection rate of 2.1 percent. The number of new cases has not risen above 100 since May 31. After weeks of daily numbers ranging from 40 to 60, there were 84 new cases reported Monday. The county’s infection rate hovered around 1 percent for several weeks, then spiked to 1.9 percent on Monday.

“These numbers should be a wake-up call today,” Bellone said. “This is not over.”

The infection rate for Long Island as a whole region is 2 percent.

The governor, in a statement on Tuesday, said that it is clear, based on contact tracing, that many of the new cases in New York are a result of the lack of compliance during the July Fourth weekend. 

The governor used a holiday party in Suffolk County as an example. At least one person at the backyard party—believe to be in Holbrook—had COVID-19 and since then over 20 percent of the people who attended the party have tested positive for the virus. Bellone said he could confirm that four people from that party, where the number gathering was within the the state capacity limits, had tested positive.

Asked if any other clusters were found from July Fourth gatherings in Montauk or Fire Island, which gained attention, had been identified, Bellone and Dr. Gregson Pigott, the county health commissioner, said they were not aware of any. “Quite honestly we don’t know where the people gathering there are from,” Bellone said, adding they could be testing positive in the city.

“I cannot be more clear: Look at what’s happening in the rest of the country—if we are not smart, if we don’t wear masks and socially distance, cases will spike,” Cuomo said in a statement. “No one wants to go back to the hell we experienced three months ago, so please stay vigilant.”

Some of the new cases were county personnel. In fact, 10 ocean beach lifeguards tested positive, Bellone said. He believes they contracted the virus, not at work on the beach, but at private gatherings with fellow lifeguards during off-hours. Each of them are at home under quarantine.

Bellone singled out young people “who feel invulnerable.” Since June 24, he said, 42 percent of the positive cases are being diagnosed in people 30 and under. “My message to young people who think this virus doesn’t impact them is to think again. The truth is this virus impacts all of us.”

If the number rises to 5 percent, schools will not be able to reopen, based on a formula Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that will be used to make the decision in early August. “That will be terrible for kids and parents. On top of that, our economic recovery is at stake.”

The virus has devastated the economy, and that impacts young people directly, even if it does not physically affect them, the county executive said.

“If these numbers continue to climb we run the risk of having to stop or reverse this opening as they have in other places around the country. We know that will only create further economic strain. Following the guidance and doing the right thing is about protecting our economy as well.”

The answer, Bellone said, is to wear a mask “because this is how we are going to beat this virus. There is too much at stake for you not to.”

To drive home the point, he wore one to start his virtual briefing.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for people to maintain social distancing, and when you cannot, wear a face covering,” he said, adding that if you do not feel well to go get a test and isolate yourself as much as  possible.

Bellone referenced the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who recently said, “If all of us put on a face covering now for the next four to six weeks, we would drive this epidemic to the ground.”

“We’ve come too far to move to the other direction now,” Bellone added.

For the third consecutive day, the county executive was able to report no new COVID-19 deaths in the 24-hour reporting period. The number remains at 1,993.

Hospitalizations increased by seven, according to the lastest numbers, although the patients in the intensive care unit decreased by one.

However, Bellone cautioned, if the trend continues to rise, it will ultimately mean more lives will be lost. “We can’t let that happen,” he said.

taylor@indyeastend.com