COVID-19 cases in Suffolk surpasses 20,000; county to form recovery task force to address economic fallout

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Suffolk County surpassed 20,000 on Friday, a higher figure than the majority of U.S. states.

“It’s remarkable to think about a little more than a month ago we didn’t have a confirmed case,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

An additional 52 fatalities were reported in the county, bringing the latest total to 414. Mr. Bellone called that an “unimaginable” figure.

While the number of hospitalized patients in the county increased by 49 compared to Thursday, the number of patients in intensive care unit has decreased by eight. Mr. Bellone also pointed to good news in the number of COVID-19 patients who have been discharged from hospitals in the last 24 hours: 132.

More than 43,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 and 43.3% have tested positive.

• Mr. Bellone announced the county will form a recovery task force to help address the economic fallout of the pandemic. Deputy county executive Jon Kaiman, who was special adviser on Superstorm Sandy relief to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will lead that effort along with officials in numerous county departments.

Mr. Bellone said it’s important to remain focused on the current public health crisis, but also to look ahead at what will come next.

“This is a longterm effort to get our economies, communities back on their feet,” he said.

• The biggest need right now for the health care workers in terms of personal protective equipment is gowns, Mr. Bellone said.

He called that the “body armor for soldiers on the front lines.”

He said the county was expecting a shipment of 25,000 gowns to arrive yesterday that had been ordered 10 days ago from Texas.

However, those did not arrive and officials discovered the gowns had only made it to Allentown, Pa. The shipment, officials were told, would arrive Tuesday.

Mr. Bellone said that wasn’t going to work, so he dispatched a crew to Allentown to pick up the supplies and bring them to Suffolk. They were due to arrive Friday afternoon, he said.

“25,000 gowns will not last long,” he said.

• Residents can sign up to receive mobile updates by texting “COVIDsuffolk” to 67283. Mr. Bellone said updates in Spanish can be received by texting “COVIDespanol” to the same number.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier Friday the change in daily ICU admissions across New York was a negative number for the first time during the coronavirus outbreak.

“That means there are fewer people in the ICU statewide than there were,” he said.

The number of fatalities increased by an additional 777, a similar number to the prior three days. The governor said the fatalities are a byproduct of the large influx of people who required hospitalization a few weeks ago as cases grew toward an apex.

“Either you get treated and get better and get discharged or you stay in the hospital and probably wind up on a ventilator and the longer you’re on a ventilator, the less likely you’ll come off the ventilator,” he said. “That’s what’s happening now.”

Statewide fatalities have now climbed to 7,844.

The governor said they remain “cautiously optimistic” that the infection rate is slowing.

• As the curve begins to flatten, Mr. Cuomo defended the projections that showed the number of hospital beds needed would far outweigh the state’s capacity. He said the projections, which were done by statisticians at Columbia University, McKinsey and IHME, did not necessarily take into account the full measures put into place to curb the spread and whether citizens would comply.

“The actual curve is much lower than any of them projected,” he said. “In fairness to experts, nobody has been here before. There is no model to track against.”

The biggest variable he said was whether anyone would follow the policies the state enacted, in terms of businesses closing and social distancing.

He said it’s important to stay the course to continue flattening the curve.

• Mr. Cuomo is pushing for the federal government to create a COVID-19 heroes compensation fund, similar to what was done for victims of 9/11.

The fund would be for any essential workers during the pandemic.

“Saying thanks is nice, actually providing assistance is even better,” he said.

• Mr. Cuomo spoke about testing being key to reopening the economy. He said the state is working to bring an antibody test to scale.

He said the state lab is developing an antibody test. Right now 300 tests per day can be done. By next Friday it can be 1,000 and in two weeks it can be 2,000.

The test uses a small blood sample taken from a finger. Bringing it to larger scale is a more complicated issue, he said, and requires assistance of private sector companies and federal government.

Antibodies are specific proteins made in response to infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An antibodies test would detect if a person had an immune response to the virus, whether symptoms developed from infection or the infection was aysmptomatic.

Mr. Cuomo said New Jersey and Connecticut would join New York as a testing coalition to help bring testing to scale.

He said the federal government can use the Defense Production Act to help bring testing up to scale.