Bellone: Suffolk seeking additional hospital beds

The number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases continues to rise, with 2,260 positive cases reported in Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone announced Wednesday.

He said that three more deaths have been connected to the coronavirus: a man in his 80s, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 70s who all had underlying conditions. The death toll now stands at 20, county officials said.

Heeding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call to more than double the number of hospital beds available for treating COVID-19 patients, Mr. Bellone said that he is working with state and hospital officials to meet the demand. He reported that there’s been “tremendous outreach” from different entities who may have properties that could be used in order to increase hospital bed capacity in response to the virus.

County officials unveiled a submission form that businesses and other large property owners can use to provide information about their potential sites. A real estate team from the Office of Economic Development will initially vet the sites, Mr. Bellone said.

“Those that look good…that we think are the best, will be forwarded to the county Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services team for additional evaluation,” Mr. Bellone said, adding that the goal is to be able to provide hospitals and New York State with information in order to ramp up hospital capacity.

As of Wednesday, 206 COVID-19 patients remain hospitalized across Suffolk County, up from 163 yesterday. There are 67 patients in ICU beds, and Suffolk County Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott M.D. said that of the 67, 55 patients are intubated.

As he updated members of the media on available hospital beds — 2,646 beds and 305 ICU beds — Mr. Bellone said that will change. “[Those numbers] are going to go up significantly in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

The number of positive diagnoses in Southold grew to 111 Wednesday and 47 in Riverhead.

The county executive also announced additional locations where Personal Protective Equipment items can be donated to health care workers who are on the front lines of this health crisis. In addition to the fire academy in Yaphank, which began collecting supplies on Monday, PPE items can now be donated at the DPW site on Old Riverhead Road in Westhampton and the DPW facility on Crooked Hill Road in Commack.

Mr. Bellone said 282,000 items of PPE have been donated to workers during the supply drive. In addition, Amneal Pharmaceuticals, which has several locations in Suffolk County, has pledged to donate 2 million hydroxychloroquine pills, which are thought to be effective in treating COVID-19, to New York state.

He also praised Congress, which is expected to act on a $2 trillion relief package to help Americans during the pandemic. 

“The relief is so necessary,” he said during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon. “We know that small businesses are hurting severely, we know that there are significant impacts to governments all across the state—county governments in particular that are reliant on the sales tax,” he said, urging federal representatives to see it through.

“It’s devastating,” he said of the economic impact, which has left over 5,000 Suffolk County residents either furloughed or laid off, out of 835 businesses surveyed. “Those numbers are just a slice of what is actually happening out there…what the real numbers are,” Mr. Bellone said. “We’re in this for the long term.”

And while so many face job uncertainty or must work from home, many remain on the front lines of this crisis. That includes grocery store employees, Mr. Bellone said, who have described business as “the snowstorm that never ends.”

But that’s not a reason to flood grocery stores and purchase bulk items to hoard, Mr. Bellone said.

“The supply chains are open. Those items will be there,” he said.

He encouraged families to designate a ‘shopper,’ to go out and run essential errands in a time of social distancing to limit exposure to people such as grocery store cashiers, who interact directly with the public. Many stores have begun installing plexiglass barriers to protect both the customer and cashiers.

“[Grocery store workers] are feeling the same anxieties and fears that everyone on the front lines is feeling. We need them out there,”  Mr. Bellone said.