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Two years after first COVID-19 fatality in New York, shifting to a new stage as cases decline

On March 14, 2020, as the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic began to set in across the region,  then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the first confirmed death caused by the coronavirus in New York. An 82-year-old woman with respiratory issues died at a Brooklyn hospital, the first of what would soon be a monstrous wave of tragedy.

Two years later, and nearly 55,000 deaths in New York state alone, the COVID-19 pandemic shifts to an endemic stage as restrictions to limit spread have largely ended and cases steadily drop following the winter omicron surge.

For the first time since last July, daily positivity of COVID-19 in Suffolk County for a two-week period fell below 2%, starting on Feb. 22. Through the first two weeks of March, cases in Suffolk have averaged about 91 per day, a massive decline from the first two weeks of January when daily cases averaged more than 4,800. On Feb. 27, the number of positive cases recorded was below 100 for the first time since July 19.

By comparison, last year during the first two weeks of March, when vaccines were still in the early stage of distribution, average daily cases stood at 605.

The positivity rate in Suffolk stands at 1.4% on a seven-day average as of Sunday, according to the county health department. 

Testing and vaccines remain the key as spring approaches, health officials say. On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, along with county health commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott, announced that about 3,000 free at-home COVID-19 testing kits would be available to residents on Monday, March 21 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the lobby of the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge. The county has worked to distribute at-home kits to towns as well and Riverhead and Southold towns have both held distribution of tests in recent weeks. On Wednesday, March 16 Southold Town began distributing additional tests to residents at Town Hall between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Each kit contains two tests. 

“Testing plays a vital role in keeping this virus under control and will be absolutely critical as we begin to live with this virus as part of our everyday lives,” Mr. Bellone said.

The county has distributed more than 300,000 test kits, mostly through the height of the omicron surge, and will continue over the next several months to work with partners to distribute additional tests, masks and hand sanitizer, county officials said.

Suffolk County recently reached a milestone in the vaccination effort with 75% of the total population fully vaccinated. About 48.5% of adults 18 and older have received a booster dose that follows the initial first two doses.

The county continues to host vaccination clinics and one will be held at Riverhead Free Library Wednesday, March 23 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. First, second and booster doses of Pfizer will be available. More information can be found at vax4.suffolkcountyny.gov or by calling 311.

Vaccination rates remain low in the 5-11 age group with about 25.5% of Suffolk children having received two doses. The number climbs to 62.4% for kids ages 12-17, who have been eligible longer for the vaccine.

“Parents and guardians, the vaccine and booster are the best tools to prevent child hospitalizations and reduce the risk of them spreading the virus to other loved ones in your families,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday in a statement. “Please consult with your child’s pediatrician about getting the vaccine, and booster if they’re eligible, as soon as you can.”