COVID-19 fatalities in Suffolk this month surpasses three-month total from August-October

The number of fatalities in Suffolk County linked to COVID-19 so far this month has already surpassed the three-month total from August to October, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday.

There have been 34 fatalities reported from Dec. 1-8, nearly matching the prior month’s total of 35 in November. From August to October, there were 26 deaths.

“These numbers are a stark reminder of the dangers that this virus poses,” Mr. Bellone said. “Everything we’ve done and continue to do is fundamentally about protecting public health and saving lives. Simply wearing a mask and social distancing can literally save lives.”

Since the pandemic began, a total of 2,093 fatalities in Suffolk have been linked to COVID-19.

The county executive said the expectation is the latest data from the State Department of Health to be released later Thursday will show more than 1,000 new cases again for the prior 24 hours and a positivity rate above 6%.

As Hanukkah begins Thursday evening, Mr. Bellone again urged people to be cautious with indoor gatherings, noting the recent surge has been linked back to Thanksgiving and other small indoor gatherings. The Suffolk County Department of Health is currently monitoring 13 clusters from either Thanksgiving or a family gathering.

He cited an example from Manorville where six out of nine people in attendance at a Thanksgiving dinner have tested positive for COVID-19. And in Southampton, seven out of 10 people in attendance at a gathering tested positive. In East Islip, all five people at one gathering tested positive.

“None of these gatherings violated the state’s limits and I think that’s very important to talk about and emphasize,” Mr. Bellone said. “That doesn’t mean just because you’re within the gathering limit the virus won’t spread and you won’t have a spreader event happen.”

He added that it can be easy for people to let down their guard in small gatherings when around loved ones or close friends.

Mr. Bellone said the school-based testing program has resulted in more than 2,000 students and faculty have been tested. The Riverhead Central School District was one of the first in the program along with Hampton Bays. Following up on that program, the county is now launching a testing initiative for first responders.

The Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services will launch six sites throughout the county to provide rapid tests for first responders. The testing will be done on weekends, starting Saturday. Testing will be done by appointment only and those who sign up will be provided with the location for testing.

The county also plans to roll out an employee testing program for county law enforcement and “partner agencies.”

“Cold weather’s here, the second wave is here and we have to remain vigilant to bring these numbers down,” Mr. Bellone said. “We’ve done it once and we can do it again.”