COVID-19 cases continue to soar as county sets new daily record; more testing sites opening

New cases of COVID-19 continue to surge to the highest levels since testing became widely available and hospitalizations are quickly rising as well.

Total patients in Suffolk County hospitalized rose to 544 on Monday — a 246% increase from the beginning of the month when the number stood at 157.

Just over 24,000 new cases were recorded in Suffolk over a one-week period from Dec. 22-28 —an average of more than 3,400 per day as the omicron variant fuels a vast spread even among those who are vaccinated.

New York has continued to set new records for daily cases and again hit a new mark on Tuesday with 67,090 cases for a positivity rate of 18.5%. Suffolk County set its own record on Tuesday with 4,577 new cases. It marked the fourth time in the last week that the county set a new single-day record for cases.

The county’s positivity rate now stands at 17.6% on a seven-day average.

There were five fatalities in the county due to COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing this month’s total to 101.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said rising hospitalizations is an area of concern as the statewide figure reached 6,767. Locally at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, the hospital now has four times as many COVID-19 patients compared to the start of the month. There were 14 new patients admitted on Dec. 26 alone and the total stands at 33 as of Tuesday. One year ago on the same day, there were 48 COVID-19 patients at PBMC, a sign that even as cases soar, the severity of disease is not yet as high thanks to high vaccination rates.

Statewide data shows those who are fully vaccinated are between 90.2 and 95.7% lower chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to those who are unvaccinated. Data for the week of Dec. 20 shows the unvaccinated daily hospitalization rate at 30.01 per 100,000. For fully vaccinated, the rate is 2.08 per 100,000.

New testing centers having been coming online in recent days to help meet the high demand as testing is now being done at the highest rate at any point during the pandemic.

PBMC opened a drive-thru site on Tuesday in partnership with Northwell Health that operates from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. by appointment. Anyone interested in scheduling can do so online or by calling 833-487-2273, option 3. The drive-thru will be closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday announced details on three new sites. The first opened Wednesday at Hecksher State Park. The second site opening on Monday, Jan. 3 is at Red Creek Park at 102 Old Riverhead Road in Hampton Bays. The third site opens in Middle Island on Tuesday, Jan. 4 at Cathedral Pines County Park. The later two sites will have capacity for up to 500 tests per day while the Hecksher location can accommodate 1,000. The Hampton Bays site will operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the other two sites will operate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The rapid tests will be administered by Baseline Health and Reef Technologies on a first come, first served basis.

“What we have learned so far is that the omicron variant is highly transmittable and causing a spike in our daily positivity rate,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement. “Testing is one of the best tools we have when it comes to containing the spread of this virus. As we approach the New Year, these three new sites will provide quick and convenient results for our residents so that they can protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Residents are encouraged to call 311 for more information on the county testing sites.

As part of the state’s initiative to open 13 additional sites, testing is now available in Hauppauge at IBEW Local 25 located at 370 Motor Parkway. That site is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and appointments are required.

Ms. Hochul has maintained that schools should remain open when the holiday break ends in the new year. The state has been working on providing tests to districts that can be easily distributed to allow as many students as possible to receive a test coming out of the holiday break.

“All of us agree, we have a strong public interest in keeping our kids in school,” Ms. Hochul said.

Jackie Bray, commissioner of the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, called it an “all hands on deck operation” to keep kids in school. She said earlier this week that about 3 million tests were going out this week and will be supplied through 60 different hubs throughout the state, including through BOCES, direct to districts and some county hubs. Districts that have the highest level of transmission are being prioritized, she said.

On Wednesday, Ms. Hochul said districts will manage the “test to stay” program as they see best.

“Some school districts are able to, as soon as the children arrive at school, will be able to administer a test then,” she said. “Others are saying that that’s logistically a challenge so then they will be able to send the test kits home that first day. The bottom line is our test to stay program says we want children back in schools.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday announced a major shift in guidance, saying the recommended time for isolation for people with Covid can be five days rather than 10, if asymptomatic. The person should continue to wear a mask around others for five additional days.

The CDC said the change in recommendation is due to the omicron variant, which has shown transmission occurs early in the course of illness.

The CDC also updated quarantine recommendations for people exposed to COVID-19. The CDC recommends a five-day quarantine for unvaccinated people or those who are more than six months removed from a second dose and not yet boosted. Those people should adhere to strict mask use for an additional five days, the CDC says.

Those who have received a booster shot do not need to quarantine following exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days. The ideal time to receive a test is at day five after exposure. If symptoms occur, the person should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms there’s no COVID-19.

“The omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses.”

In a statement, Ms. Hochul called the updated guidance a “critical step to support our small businesses, critical industries and essential services as we get through this new variant.”