County Executive reports spike in confirmed cases of COVID-19; mobile testing center opens

Huntington town has surpassed Southold’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases, according to data released by the county executive’s office Wednesday afternoon, though officials warned that the latest numbers are not indicative of any hotspot.

“We’ve seen the largest jump in the number of coronavirus cases in Suffolk County,” County Executive Steve Bellone said in a conference call with reporters around 2:30 p.m.

“The virus has spread throughout the county,” he said. “There’s really not anywhere it’s not located, whether the numbers are lower or higher.”

Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott, M.D. said the spike in confirmed cases was to be expected as testing ramps up.

“I don’t really see a particular hotspot,” he said.

Confirmed cases as of 3/18, 3 p.m.

Babylon: 17

Brookhaven: 20

East Hampton: 2

Huntington: 43

Islip: 23

Riverhead: 2

Smithtown: 3

Southampton: 3

Southold: 33

Address unknown: 6

Suffolk County total: 152

The spike comes on the same day Suffolk’s first mobile testing facility opened in the south ‘P’ parking lot at Stony Brook University. The drive-thru testing site began testing patients — who must make appointments in advance — around noon Wednesday. The county executive said data for how many patients can be tested at the facility was not available yet.

Southold Town supervisor Scott Russell said in an email Wednesday that it’s “disappointing” that the first testing site is located far from the East End.

“I assume the rationale was that it is located at a medical facility site and more central to all of the residents of Suffolk County. The problem is that the cases aren’t central to all of Suffolk County. Clearly, it has spread faster and for a longer period of time in Southold. It only seems logical that it be located closer to Southold even if it gets moved later.”

Mr. Russell noted that another testing company, besides Northwell Health, is now involved in the testing process. 

“The testing simply hasn’t been broad enough and the results have taken a long time. When you are trying to contain the spread, you have to know quickly and act quickly. For that to happen, you need more testing and quicker results.”

During the conference call, Mr. Bellone said that he expects testing guidelines to be expanded to allow for more patients to be swabbed. “We know how important the testing is,” he said, but said the criteria issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been limited to patients showing symptoms, who have traveled or are vulnerable to the virus.

For example, if someone has had close contact with a confirmed patient for a prolonged period of time — defined as within six feet of the person for more than 10 minutes — that person would not be automatically tested but rather put under mandatory quarantine.

“They’re not going to test you if you don’t have any symptoms,” Dr. Pigott said.

Mr. Bellone added that he believes that guidance may still shift and also said additional mobile testing facilities in Suffolk County will be determined on an “as-needed” basis.

With Southold reaching 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19, county officials declined to say how many of those cases may be related to Peconic Landing. Instead, Mr. Bellone said, the New York State Department of Health has taken the lead on that investigation.

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he expects the number of COVID-19 cases to surge in 45 days, an event that would trigger the need for 110,000 beds statewide. The state currently has a capacity of 53,000, the governor said.

As of this morning, Dr. Pigott said of the county’s 2,300 available hospital beds, 391 —or 17% — are available. The county has additional 242 Intensive Care Unit beds, 68 of which were available this morning. Mr. Bellone said county officials are working with hospital officials throughout the county to increase the number of available hospital beds.

While officials said they do not keep data to track whether healthcare workers have been quarantined or exposed to the virus, Mr. Bellone said there’s concern for the wellbeing of those workers — as well as emergency personnel and first responders.

“It’s a concern, no doubt,” he said. “It’s something the hospitals are very focused on. If a number of them have been sidelined by positive cases, that’s going to be a problem for all of us.”

Suffolk County residents wishing to gain access to the mobile testing facility at Stony Brook must make an appointment and be triaged by phone at 1-888-364-3065. County residents may also sign up to receive the latest alerts by texting COVIDSUFFOLK to 67283.