Bellone: Suffolk’s hospitalizations below 1,000 for first time since April 1

For the first time in nearly a month, less than 1,000 people are hospitalized in Suffolk County with COVID-19, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced during a media briefing Thursday afternoon.

The number of hospitalizations fell to 970, a drop of 77 people Wednesday.

“That’s one of the largest drops we’ve seen in hospitalizations [since the outbreak began],” he said.

At the beginning of April, he said approximately 900 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and will end the month at the same level. 

“It couldn’t be more different than where we started,” he said, noting that at the beginning of the month there was still uncertainty about when the virus would peak and if health care systems would be overwhelmed.

The county executive reported that COVID-related hospitalizations peaked around 1,658 patients on April 10. He described April as a month filled with “great pain, grief and tragedy,” but also hope, resilience and recovery.

“We end this month in a far better place than we began,” Mr. Bellone said.

If the decline continues through May 5—the fourteen day benchmark guideline set by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, things will begin to look up in terms of reopening the economy, Mr. Bellone said.

As local and state officials eye a phased reopening of the economy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set his sights on creating a contact tracing “army” to help reduce the spread of the virus in the coming weeks.

“Everyone wants to reopen. The caveat is reopen, but don’t reopen in a way that increases the spread of the virus,” the governor said during his daily briefing Thursday morning.

The state’s aggressive program, being developed in a partnership with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Johns Hopkins University, will be implemented together with Connecticut and New Jersey and employ at least 30 contract tracers for every 100,000 people, the governor said.

An estimated 6,400 to 17,000 tracers will be needed to serve essentially as detectives to find positive cases and trace individuals they’ve had contact with over 14 days. The challenge, Mr. Cuomo said, is the scale. 

On Wednesday, the governor pointed out, 4,681 people tested positive for COVID-19. “How do you now communicate with 4,681 people, trace all the people they’ve been in contact with over 14 days and contact those people?” Mr. Cuomo asked.

Mr. Bellone said Thursday that Suffolk will need an estimated 450 contact tracers to work locally.

Mr. Bellone said county officials have been preparing for the initiative since the beginning of the outbreak. “We’ve trained hundreds of staff from different departments, also within the health department to do contact tracing,” the county executive said, adding that the program will be key as the economy reopens in phases.

Mayor Bloomberg, who joined the governor’s press briefing via video, said tracers must participate in remote training and pass a test in order to begin working.

“When social distancing is relaxed, contact tracing is our best hope for isolating the virus when it appears and keeping it isolated,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

He said the materials will be made publicly available to help in other states and countries.

Mr. Cuomo said the tracing program is a monumental undertaking,” but it would get done. “This problem is bigger than any one of us but it is not bigger than all of us,” he said.

Statewide, there were 933 new COVID-19 hospitalizations and 306 deaths on Wednesday. There are now 34,802 positive cases in Suffolk County.

Maintaining hospital capacity, a 30-day equipment stockpile and additional testing remains critical to reopening, according to Mr. Cuomo. Testing has increased from 20,000 to 30,000 per day, with a goal of 40,000 tests.

In addition to contact tracing and ramped up testing, Mr. Bellone said county officials are working with different industries to plan as we move closer to the current deadline of May 15 for NY PAUSE.

“We are … working with industries to understand and to gather the information about what their plans are to put in protective measures to protect themselves, their employees and customers  so we can open the economy safely,” Mr. Bellone said.