Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone ended a streak of 122 daily press briefings Wednesday as Long Island entered Phase 4 of reopening.
The daily briefings began March 8 when Suffolk saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a Greenport man. There are now 41,807 cases of coronavirus in the county; Mr. Bellone reported an additional 69 cases Wednesday.
The additional cases increased the county’s infection rate to 1.7%, slightly above the 1% rate that had been documented for several days.
“That is a little higher certainly than we have seen, but it’s just one days numbers,” Mr. Bellone said. “So we won’t put a lot of credence in that.”
Just 50 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19 and nine patients are in ICU beds, the county executive said.
“It’s an amazing number considering where we’ve been,” Mr. Bellone said, reflecting on the 122-day journey.
Five days after Mr. Bellone held his first in-person briefing, deputy county executive Peter Scully tested positive, sending the county executive and his administration into quarantine. The next day, schools closed and Mr. Bellone said the county entered “full crisis mode.”
Four months later, the final phase of reopening began on Long Island, allowing for higher education, low-risk arts and entertainment, media production and professional sports without spectators.
“We’ve been up the mountain and we’ve made it down the other side,” Mr. Bellone said. “We know we still have more work to do.”
While the regular briefings will end, the county executive said information will be updated on the county website daily and he may still hold briefings on an as-needed basis.
He encouraged residents to visit the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, Long Island Maritime Museum in Sayville and Long Island Game Farm in Manorville, which all reopened Wednesday.
Some popular North Fork venues like Splish Splash water park remain closed. The Suffolk Theater has canceled its events through August and the Riverhead Raceway is hosting its official kickoff to the season on July 26.
While good news, Mr. Bellone identified several sectors that were left out of the governors New York Forward plan under Phase 4.
“We still have other businesses that need direction and a plan,” he said, including bowling alleys, movie theaters, catering halls and gyms.
The county executive said he’s communicated with gym owners who he says wants to be part of the solution. “Many of them have spent months developing their own health and safety plans,” he said, to reimagine their operations with social distancing and no equipment sharing.
Officials said Wednesday that they’re working on developing standards that would allow gyms to reopen in phases, likely starting first with individual and small-group sessions. “Based on how things can go, gym capacity can increase. We need to get people moving again,” Mr. Bellone said.
Though the curve has been flattened in New York, coronavirus cases continue to rise in other parts of the U.S. and officials locally are beginning to plan for a possible second wave.
Mr. Bellone said the county is continuing to procure personal protective equipment and build up the stockpile in case of a second wave of the virus. In addition, he said an emphasis remains placed on testing and contact tracing.
“That is going to be very key this fall, I believe,” he said.