Calls for social distancing increase as Suffolk’s coronavirus death toll spikes to 69

Sixteen more deaths related to COVID-19 were reported Wednesday during a press briefing held by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

The county’s death toll now stands at 69, with 25 of those deaths reported in the past 48 hours.

“This is the start of a new month, this is normally a wonderful time of the year when we’re thinking about what is ahead,” Mr. Bellone said, including graduations, family traditions and the summer ahead. “That’s not what we’re thinking about this April 1. What we’re thinking about today is the battle that is ahead for us.”

There are now over 7,600 positive cases in Suffolk County out of 19,600 that have been tested, according to Mr. Bellone’s office. The total number of confirmed cases in Southold reached 152 Wednesday and there are now 93 in Riverhead.

As he spoke about preparing for the predicted surge ahead, the county executive took a stern tone with those who may not have been adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“The fight is about saving lives,” he said, adding that he’d tell those who have not been heeding the warnings to stay home that they are “dishonoring” those on the front lines: doctors, nurses and many other health care professionals working to save lives “under the worst of circumstances.”

“If you have not taken this as seriously as necessary I urge you to change course now,” he said.

Hospital update

A total of 897 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, an increase of 189 from Tuesday. That number reflects a spike from the usual increase of hospitalizations that has been around 100 daily. An additional 43 patients are under ICU care, bringing the total ICU beds to 272, he said.

“The race is on right now to meet the mandate,” Mr. Bellone said, referencing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s requirement that hospitals statewide increase their capacity by at least half to meet growing demand.

Capacity is steadily increasing, he said, reporting that there are now 2,824 hospital beds with 565 available as of Tuesday night. Of 415 ICU beds, there are 82 available.

“It’s like building a whole new hospital system on top of one that already exists,” he said, describing the “Herculean task” of accommodating additional beds.

More takeaways

• April 1 is Census Day, which is the day that determines who is counted in the 2020 Census and where. Mr. Bellone reminded everyone to complete the Census, either by mail or online, emphasizing the importance of an accurate count. He said Suffolk County will need to recoup every dollar possible to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

“If we don’t do what we need to do on the Census, we’re going to be facing shortfalls in what we should be receiving in aid for the next 10 years,” he said. “We cannot let that happen, despite the public health crisis we’re facing.”

• The Suffolk County Police Department and Department of Labor are enforcing guidelines when it comes to businesses and large gatherings, the county executive said, and will step up enforcement to “make sure people do the right thing.” Mr. Bellone repeated his call for social distancing, noting that actions taken over the coming days and week will help flatten the curve and may save lives.

• Mr. Bellone admitted it has been difficult to reach and communicate with Spanish-speaking communities throughout Suffolk County. He said they recognize the challenge and have begun several initiatives to help ramp up communications with that population. The initiatives include using fliers, recorded Public Service Announcements in Spanish and messaging on SCPD vehicles that will drive throughout communities to help get the message out. County DPW crews will also use signs on major roadways to help spread important information: Stay home, avoid groups and wash your hands, among other concerns.

• Gov. Andrew Cuomo also stressed the importance of social distancing during his briefing Wednesday. He reported the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York State has eclipsed 83,700. Nearly 8,000 new cases were reported throughout the state in the past 24 hours. New York’s death toll is now at 1,941.