COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations steadily on rise after holiday spike

A holiday spike in COVID-19 cases has now led to some of the highest daily infections since April in Suffolk County as the positivity rate surged above 10% on a seven-day average, according to the most recent data from the State Department of Health.

More than 1,750 cases per day have been recorded in Suffolk County over a five-day period from Dec. 29-Jan. 2, including a peak of 2,016 reported for Dec. 30.

The positivity rate reported for Jan. 2 was 10.6%.

“We are seeing the spike that we talked about here, that experts talked about all across the country,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday during a media briefing. “When you increase social activity, you’re going to increase the spread of the virus if people don’t take precaution. That’s what we’re seeing in New York State. That’s what we’re seeing all across this country and that’s the growing numbers of hospitalizations, infections and deaths, unfortunately.”

Statewide hospitalizations have climbed over 8,200, a figure now on par with early May. In Suffolk County, there are 759 people hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the latest figures reported late Sunday. The Long Island region has now reached the highest number of hospitalizations since May 7, at which point the number of cases were steadily declining from the outbreak’s initial peak.

The governor reported 170 fatalities in the prior 24 hours due to COVID-19. There were 13 fatalities in Suffolk County, according to Sunday night’s report.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement Monday afternoon that the most recent positivity rate was 11.3%

“As we begin this new year, we put behind us one of the most difficult months since the start of the pandemic,” he said. “In 31 days we saw the highest number of new cases since the beginning of this crisis and suffered 100 more deaths than we experienced in the prior six months combined.

“With the holiday season behind us, we must do everything we can to bring these numbers down by limiting gatherings and making sure we socially distance and wear masks when we are with others.  

“With distribution of the vaccine underway, the goal line is in sight but we must remain vigilant in the weeks and months ahead.”

Mr. Cuomo said with 2021 underway, the state’s focus will be “controlling COVID and defeating COVID.”

“They’re two different functions,” he said. “Control the spread, control the virus and then put a harpoon in the beast and actually defeat COVID.”

The governor outlined additional details on the vaccine rollout, which began last month.

“This is a massive undertaking for this nation,” he said.

He said the state is stepping in to expedite the rollout of vaccines in nursing homes that was started as a federal program, which linked facilities with a specific pharmacy. He said of the 611 facilities across the state, 288 have completed the first dose. (A second dose is administered after 21 days). The state will supplement the federal program with additional personnel, he said, and an additional 234 first doses for residents will happen this week.

The remaining 15% of nursing home residents will be completed over the next two weeks.

The vaccine distribution in hospitals is being overseen within each health care system. The governor called on public officials in local counties to step up and oversee distribution in public hospitals and “take personal responsibility for their hospitals,” he said.

Across the state, hospitals have used about 46% of the total allocation so far. The governor published a slide that showed the 10 highest performing hospital systems and the 10 lowest performing systems.

Northwell Health, the state’s largest health care provider, was listed ninth on the list of highest performing systems at 62%. The bottom 10 had used 32% or less.

“We want those vaccines in people’s arms,” Mr. Cuomo said, calling on the distribution rate to increase across the state.

The State Department of Health on Sunday sent a letter to hospitals that warned if allocations received are not used by the end of the week, they face fines and risk not receiving further allocation.

Hospitals have seven days to use that allocation of vaccine doses from when it is received.

The governor said the state will establish drive-thrus for public distribution of the vaccine and will use public facilities such as churches or community centers once the nursing homes and hospitals are completed. Specific details on locations for drive-thrus were not yet available.

To help that effort, the state will recruit additional retired personnel, such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Approximately 2.1 million New Yorkers are currently eligible to be vaccinated under Phase I.

The governor also talked about keeping schools open in counties with positivity rates above 9%. He said schools can remain open if testing shows they are below community average.

“It is up to the local school districts to make that decision,” he said. “My position has always been if the children are safer in the school than they are on the streets of the community, then children should be in school.”

Data on the state dashboard that tracks school cases has not been updated since before Christmas, as of Monday afternoon.