SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — As April draws to a close, the number of hospitalizations across Suffolk has dropped below 1,000 for the first time in weeks, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.
"April, 2020 was a month unlike any we have ever seen in our lifetimes, a month in which we have experienced great pain, grief and tragedy, but also a month in which we have seen signs of great hope, strength, resilience and recovery," Bellone said. "As we move forward, although we know great challenges lie ahead, we can look back at this road and see how far we have come."
The number of individuals hospitalized countywide dropped by 77 in 24 hours, "one of the largest drops in hospitalizations we have seen since this began," Bellone said, adding that that total number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 stands at 970 countywide.
While some may say that the month started with around 900 hospitalized and ended at around the same number — and it may seem that the number haven't moved that far — Bellone said: "It couldn't be more different. When we started, we had no idea when the peak was."
The peak to date has been 1,658 hospitalized countywide and the health care system was not overwhelmed, due to the incredible work of "health care heroes fighting to save people's lives. They held the line," Bellone said. "They made sure the system was able to handle the blow, that it took the surge that happened. As a result of that, people's lives were saved."
Not only front line workers but also residents, Bellone said, helped to protect lives, including "everyone who followed the guidelines and practiced social distancing." Because of all of the sacrifice, Bellone said, "We end this month in a far better place than where we began. To all our heroes: 'Thank you for what you have done and continue to do.' We are not out of the woods yet. There are challenges ahead but we will get through them together."
As of Thursday, there are 34,500 confirmed coronavirus cases countywide, Bellone said, an increase of 723 in 24 hours.
In addition to the reduction in hospitalizations, there is also a reduction in patients who are in ICU beds; that number is down 25 to 344.
Hospital capacity stands at 3,312, with 728 ICU beds; of that number, 933 are available, with 189 ICU beds open in Suffolk County.
"Our bed capacity is a little higher than 70 percent, one of the key metrics" required to start reopening the economy, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Bellone said.
Another key metric set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that a 14-day reductions in hospitalizations must be seen before any reopening plans can commence; Suffolk County is set to hit that 14-day mark on May 5 if the hospitalization rate continues to decline, Bellone said.
A total of 114 patients went home over the past 24 hours.
And the number of total deaths increased by 22, for a total of 1,177 lives lost in Suffolk County.
As of Thursday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases by town is as follows:
Babylon: 5,610 Babylon
Riverhead: 436 Riverhead
East Hampton: 184
Shelter Island: 7
Response to protestors
When asked how he would respond to reported "MAGA May Day" car rallies slated to take place in Valley Stream and Commack Friday, with participants "begging" for the economy to open, Bellone said: "I would say that we hear you and we understand the pain out there."
That's why, from the start, when the county was dealing with a public health crisis, a business recovery unit was also created, because what was to follow the human health component was "economic devastation and a human services crisis," Bellone said. "We are in agreement that it is very important that we get our economy back going but we need to do it in a safe way and protect public health at the same time. The worst thing that can happen is if we start to open up the economy and see a surge in cases and then, have to tighten restrictions again. That would be devastating economically, psychologically and emotionally."
To open the economy safely, social distancing protocols and face coverings are still necessary and a scaled up testing program, coupled with aggressive contact testing is critical, Bellone said.
Mourning a county loss
"I don't think there's a person in Suffolk County not impacted" by coronavirus, Bellone said. "We certainly have been impacted in our family here."
Most recently, Terri Freda, who worked for the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office for 30 years, as a spokeswoman and as a records management supervisor, lost her battle with coronavirus, as did her husband. "They both died of COVID-19," Bellone said.
Freda, Belllone said, was part of the medical examiner's response to the TWA Flight 800 crash, announcing when those who died in the crash had been positively identified.
Flight 800, Bellone said, "was the last crisis this office faced where more capacity was a huge issue. We've seen it now become an issue again."
Bellone sent his thoughts and prayers to Freda's family as well as to the many employees in the medical examiner's office mourning her loss.
Antibody testing for Suffolk County Police
Bellone thanked all the men and women in law enforcement and said antibody testing would begin Monday through Northwell Health. To start, 500 antibody tests will be available at the Suffolk County Police Academy; registration begins Friday for law enforcement personnel. The goal is to expand the testing to other employees, he said.
Former NFL running back scores big for veterans struggling in coronavirus crisis
Bellone said he takes great pride in the fact that Suffolk County is home to more veterans than any other county in New York State; Suffolk has the second highest number of any county in the United States.
"We know that in a crisis like this there are people in the veterans' community who have been impacted and may have already been struggling with the challenges our heroes face when they come home," Bellone said.
To that end, a special Veterans Town Hall will be held via Facebook Live on Bellone's Facebook page at 5:30 p.m. featuring Bellone, Rep. Lee Zeldin, and former NFL running back and "Super Bowl champ" Gary Brown, a Long Island native who attended high school in Brentwood. Brown, Bellone said, is a "champion for those in need," with his Gary Brown Dream 68 Foundation for underprivileged youth and his work with veterans through the Play For Your Freedom organization, which uses fitness and peer to peer support to help military members transitioning to civilian life and their families, Bellone said.
Donate food, personal hygiene supples for the hungry, hospital workers
New drive thru food drives are set to commence at multiple locations, with drop off spots across the county where those wishing to donate can drop off non-perishable items, personal hygiene products, and baby supplies on May 1 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Those wishing to donate can have the items in a bag and hand them off, Bellone said.
Also needed are items for health care workers, including power bars and candy bars; those items can be placed in a separate bag, he said.
Drive thru donation points include Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch, the Dix Hills Fire Department, Pronto in Bay Shore, the Knights of Columbus in Ronkonkoma, Help for People/PSEG in Patchogue, the Axis Church Cafe in Medford and the Assembly of God Church in Shirley.
For a full list of drop off locations, click here.
New hot spot testing
A new mobile hot spot testing site opened Thursday in Southampton at the Kraus Health Center, located at 330 Meeting House Lane. Testing will take place Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.; for an appointment call 845-553-8030.
So far, 2,459 people have been tested at hot spot sites; of those, 1,868 results have come back, with 881 positive, indicating a 47 percent positive rate, higher than the county rate of about 37 percent, Bellone said.
The county has partnered with Long Island Cares and Island Harvest to distribute food in need to individuals at the Brentwood mobile hot spot testing site on Wednesdays and Fridays; the food distribution program will be expanded soon to additional hot spot testing sites, beginning with Wyandanch, Bellone said.
Those who find themselves without food should call 311 for immediate help, Bellone said.