County partners with hunger-relief organizations to distribute COVID-19 testing kits to residents in need

In a partnership with two hunger-relief organizations, Suffolk County plans to distribute thousands of at-home COVID-19 test kits that will be targeted toward residents who are “most vulnerable,” County Executive Steve Bellone announced Thursday afternoon.

The care bags will include two rapid tests, a KN-95 mask and hand sanitizer.

The distribution will be done through networks of the nonprofits Long Island Cares and Island Harvest. Mr. Bellone made the announcement at a Long Island Cares warehouse in Hauppauge.

Mr. Bellone said part of the focus is on seniors, veterans and people who may be home bound and can’t easily travel to a drive-thru site.

“We’re so incredibly fortunate to have these organizations — Long Island Cares, Island Harvest — that have these incredible networks and work every single day with the most vulnerable in our communities,” Mr. Bellone said.

The county recently opened three drive-thru testing sites in Hampton Bays, Middle Island and East Islip to help expand testing during the new wave of cases driven by the omicron variant. The Middle Island location at Cathedral Pines County Park was the most recent to open Tuesday. That site is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays and can handle 500 tests per day. The Hampton Bays location at Red Creek Park is open Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can also handle 500 tests per day.

“We had hoped by this time that we would be in a position to say that the pandemic is behind us, and I believe we will get there,” Mr. Bellone said. “I’m very hopeful we will get there this year. But we know with this new variant now, the numbers are surging.”

There were 6,345 new cases reported on Tuesday, bringing the positivity rate to 27.1% on a seven-day average. There were 16 fatalities recorded. There have now been 168 fatalities in Suffolk due to COVID-19 since Dec. 1.

Mr. Bellone said hospitalizations and deaths are the two key metrics he’s keeping an eye on.

“Unfortunately with this wave we have now surpassed the total number in hospitalizations for the second wave, which was a year ago of the pandemic, and the number of deaths has been steadily climbing. Between Christmas and New Years we saw 55 people die from the virus.”

Hospitalizations in the county have climbed to 875, compared to 157 on Dec. 1.

The county executive said he’s hopeful that as cases have so quickly risen, they will also quickly drop, but there is no certainty to that.

Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy, who’s a registered nurse, noted that the tests handed out are rapid tests and are less accurate than the PCR tests. Anyone who tests negative on the rapid test but still maintains symptoms should get a PCR test as well, she said.

Paule Pachter, the CEO of Long Island Cares, said it’s critical the nonprofits work together with the county and Legislature because the people targeted for the program are at “tremendous risk.”

People who struggle with food insecurity are commonly facing health issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity that put them at greater risk to suffering serious illness from the coronavirus, he said.

“Long Island Cares is very proud to be collaborating with our partners at Island Harvest to make sure these quick tests are available to any person on Long Island who is struggling,” he said. “There’s a segment of the population that have no transportation and as you know Nassau and Suffolk counties are transportation regions. You don’t get around both counties much with public transportation.”

Distribution is expected to occur over two weeks through satellite locations and mobile outreach programs.

Long Island Cares provided food assistance to an additional 287,481 people between March 2020 and 2021, on top of the 259,000 people already known to the Long Island network.

Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest, said the nonprofit has a partnership with 74 community based nonprofit organizations. The test kit distribution program “will provide immediate distribution to Suffolk County residents in targeted hotspot areas,” she said.