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Editorial: As year ends, COVID-19 just won’t say goodbye

As 2021 comes to an end, a new and record-breaking wave of the virus we can’t seem to get rid of sweeps over the country once more. The possibility of schools going remote and businesses that are only beginning to get back on their feet being shuttered is an alarming reality yet again.

Here in Suffolk County, the number of new cases each day mirrors those seen a year ago when vaccinations were just launched, and the positivity rate has crept above 13% on a seven-day average. Last week, the state set a one-day record of 23,391 new cases. 

It appears the Ghost of Christmas Past won’t leave in favor of a more optimistic spirit, one more hopeful about the future in our country. Will next year be any different?

These numbers raise the question: Haven’t we learned anything in the last year about how to combat COVID-19 and stop its spread? Is working together to combat a common enemy no longer a deeply American trait?

Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul established mask-wearing policies in response to the rising numbers. But she left the mandate to each county to enforce. Leaving that door open meant each county — as Suffolk has done — could back off from strict enforcement and instead lean on press conferences, messaging and urgent statements from public officials to wear masks in public.

On Tuesday, County Executive Steve Bellone said the county was in need of additional testing sites, as long lines have formed outside of urgent care facilities county-wide. He said three new sites would open by Dec. 27. That surely doesn’t seem like enough.

Meanwhile, Gov. Hochul said the state will send out 10 million free at-home testing kits to local health departments by the end of January — six weeks from now. That seems late in the game.

A member of our staff recently walked into a pharmacy in Mattituck to find an at-home testing kit and was told they were sold out and no new stocks in any significant number were anticipated. Calls to other pharmacies came up with the same answer.

And all this as the positivity rate in Suffolk hits 13.6%, higher than the 12.85% of last December’s peak. There were 326 hospitalizations in Suffolk Tuesday — a number that has doubled since the beginning of the month.

President Biden said Tuesday that testing sites would be expanded nationwide, and a half-billion at-home testing kits would be distributed. In addition, help will be sent to hospitals that become overwhelmed with patients.

So in a country that once thrived on bold achievements, we muddle on.