Riverhead is among the first two hamlets in Suffolk County to be declared a yellow zone in New York State’s micro-cluster focus program, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
The designation, which has appeared likely for days, comes as the hamlet has maintained a persistent positivity test rate above 3 percent. On Monday, Mr. Cuomo said the rate in Riverhead was 4.6%, which might suggest it’s headed for even tighter restrictions in the near future if cases do not begin to decline in the days ahead. The focus zone does not include the surrounding hamlets in Riverhead.
Under a yellow-zone status, which goes into effect when an isolated community experiences a seven-day positivity rate above 3% for 10 consecutive days, restaurants are limited to four customers per table, houses of worship are limited to 50% capacity, mass gatherings are limited to 25 people and mandatory school testing will be conducted on 20% of the school population. Riverhead is already testing students under a pilot program with Suffolk County.
Hampton Bays, with a 5.3% positivity rate, was also declared a yellow zone Monday.
Mr. Cuomo said data is what determines if a community has reached micro-cluster focus zone status, but human behavior ultimately pushes the numbers to that level.
“You are responsible for your actions,” the governor said. “And here are the numbers. The numbers don’t lie.”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar stressed Monday that the yellow zone is more of a cautionary designation and that the hamlet can hopefully test out of it. She said that after more than 160 negative tests were reported at Riverhead schools on Friday, at least five people tested positive Monday.
“We are monitoring all of the data on a daily basis and if we start to decrease over a five-day period, there’s a possibility that we can get designated off of the yellow zone,” she said.
Many churches in the area will not be impacted under a yellow zone since they are already limiting capacity. First Baptist Church, for example, continues to do virtual services. St. Isidore R.C. Church remains at 30% or about 115 people per mass.
“It’s limiting restaurants and dining, unfortunately,” Ms. Aguiar said of the biggest impact of the designation. “Dine on 25 really helped the restaurants. They were packed.”
The governor described Monday’s news, which included additional zones declared in Nassau County, New York City and elsewhere throughout the state as a “little bit of a reality check.”
“We’re in a place now where there’s a bad synergy,” he said, adding that attitudes have been relaxed as we enter a social part of the calendar.
Mr. Cuomo said across New York State, hospitalizations have increased from 1,227 to 2,724 in the past three weeks. At the same rate, he said we would be looking at more than 6,000 hospitalizations, but he expects Thanksgiving gatherings will grow that number at even more alarming rate.
“That is a dangerous situation,” he said.
The governor said New Yorkers must remember how the state brought a 50.4% infection rate in April down to 0.9% in late summer. The current statewide infection rate is 3.08%
“But that’s not relevant,” Mr. Cuomo said. “What’s relevant is the variance [between areas] and what’s relevant to you is the rate in your community.”
Should Riverhead’s rate remain at 4% over the defined period moving forward, the next step would be to declare it an orange zone. Under an orange zone: indoor dining is halted; schools buildings are closed; “high risk” businesses like gyms and personal care centers are closed; religious gatherings are capped at 33% or a maximum of 25 people; and mass gatherings are limited to 10 people.
Ms. Aguiar was optimistic Riverhead could turn a corner. Over the weekend she announced a new Sun River Health outdoor testing site at the County Center in Riverside that reopened Monday. It will be open by appointment only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. To schedule an appointment call 845-553-8030 or visit www.sunriver.org/testing.
Ms. Aguiar said she anticipates another outdoor testing site to open in town soon.
“We’re doing a huge outreach to contain the numbers and by the way, we were in the situation back in April and we were able to contain the numbers,” she said. “I’m confident will be able to do that again and get ourselves out of this zone.”