The Suffolk Times asked Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, whose town is at the epicenter of the virus in Suffolk County, to answer some questions as to where we stand now. They have been edited for space and clarity.
Suffolk Times: What is the situation now with testing for the virus? There are widespread complaints that people can’t find a place to be tested or they are being turned down for testing?
Scott Russell: Testing capability has greatly expanded. Generally, testing is done by Northwell Medical in conjunction with the Suffolk County Department of Health. Because of expanded testing, we are likely to see numbers go up, not just because of the spread of the virus but also because of the ability to test more people in less time. There had been a problem originally that was due largely to the fact that people would be tested by a private lab then notified directly by the lab, which wasn’t reported to the SCDOH. This made it difficult for the Suffolk County Department of Health to keep track of up-to-date numbers.
That communication gap has been closed and the SCDOH has been able to keep towns updated with accurate information on a regular basis. Information regarding identity, specific addresses, etc., is limited largely to adhere to the requirements of health privacy laws. A lot of people want to know who has it, who is being quarantined and where do they work/live and we simply can’t share that information.
People should keep in mind that not everyone is a candidate for testing. If they have concerns or are starting to experience symptom associated with the virus — cough, fever or shortness of breath — they should call their primary care physician and follow their instructions. If they don’t have a primary care physician, they should call an urgent care facility. If they have been in direct contact with someone who is known to have been tested positive, they should contact the Suffolk County Department of Health at 631-854-0333.
People with general questions or concerns can call 311 for information and have their questions answered. They can also visit our website a click the CDC link.
ST: Southold now has 11 confirmed cases, the highest in Suffolk County. Looking ahead, what do you feel the trajectory will be over the coming days and weeks?
SR: Southold had the first patient that tested positive. It was likely to spread here faster than the other towns. The number of those infected will most likely increase each day for the foreseeable future, either by community spread or more timely testing. Only time will tell what the impacts of the virus will have to the more densely populated towns to the west. The supervisors and county health department are in regular contact several times a day.
ST: Is the county doing enough to back up the town with fast, reliable information?
SR: Representatives from the county, towns, school officials and health care industry are in regular contact to coordinate efforts and to share information so each community can be updated to the greatest extent possible. The Emergency Operations Center of Suffolk County has now been activated and Southold has expanded its Emergency Management Team and has met with over 35 government officials, including Suffolk County, local school officials, fire department chiefs, senior services and health care administrators to discuss current status and implement protocol to reduce community spread.
ST: We are told Greenport’s bars and restaurants are all but empty. Everyone who sees that number, 11, would most likely stay away from Southold. Do you have a sense of the economic impact of this?
SR: The impact is felt by business throughout the town, not just Greenport. The economic impact, certainly in the short-term, is severe. Impacts on the financial health of businesses in the long-term is difficult to predict.