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Long Island set to reach Phase 4 Wednesday, but we’re not quite finished

Long Island is set to reach Phase 4 of the New York Forward reopening plan, but don’t expect that to lead to sweeping changes on the North Fork.

Unlike past phases that led to the return of in-person retail and a limited reopening restaurants and wineries, Phase 4 was modified in recent weeks to limit its scope.

Currently Phase 4 includes only the following:

  • Higher education
  • Low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment
  • Low-risk indoor arts and entertainment
  • Media production
  • Professional sports competitions with no fans

Some popular North Fork venues like Splish Splash waterpark remain closed. The Suffolk Theater has canceled its events through August, but does still have a September program on the books.

Other larger-scale venues once believed to be a part of Phase 4 are also slowly reopening. The Long Island Aquarium opened its outside displays and its shops last months. Phase 4 would allow for a limited, socially distant reopening of the indoor spaces.

Riverhead Raceway is hosting its official kickoff to the season on July 26.

Considering the current COVID-19 statistics in Suffolk County and where we were at this spring, officials are celebrating moving on to the final phase, even if there’s more work to do to get to a full reopening.

“It’s a huge milestone,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said of reaching Phase 4. “It is a reflection of the incredible progress we have made.”

In Suffolk, just 16 people remain in ICU beds and Mr. Bellone said Monday that there was only one fatality in the prior 24 hours. The county’s infection rate is down to just 1.1%, he added.

The county executive did still offer his concerns about a lack of mask wearing and social distancing at some popular locations this weekend, speaking specifically to Fire Island, where he called recent partying “horrifying.”

“People were seemingly going out of their way to violate all the rules,” he said of the South Shore summertime destination. “There was a complete flouting of health guidance, not maintaining distance or wearing facemasks. It will not be tolerated.”

He said Suffolk police are working with other law enforcement agencies, including on the East End, to continue to monitor guidelines. He said there will be consequences for bad actors, noting such action as getting the State Liquor Authority to revoke a bar’s liquor license as one possible outcome.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a media briefing Monday that residents cannot become complacent. He said that is one threat for the virus surging again along with COVID fatigue.

He said local governments must continue to enforce the mask law and social distancing.

“I get that politically, it’s difficult for the local governments to do it, but it is the law,” he said. “And if we don’t do it, there’s going to be a serious problem.”

Statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19 stand at 817, the lowest figure since March 18, the governor said. There were nine fatalities reported on July 5.