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SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — As the number of new coronavirus cases in Suffolk County continues to climb to a "horrific" number — according to County Executive Steve Bellone, in 24 hours, the number rose by 39 to a total of 362 — a new campaign has been launched to engage young people in critical social distancing.
According to Bellone, there was a 24-hour increase of 1,700 confirmed cases reported countywide, bringing the total number in Suffolk to 18,602. Hospitalizations continued to rise — although the daily increase of 10 is the smallest seen so far, a possible "good sign," he said.
Currently, there are 3,365 hospital beds in Suffolk County, with 585 currently available, and 750 ICU beds, with 102 available, Bellone said.
"Rising most dramatically is the number of deaths we have seen in this county," Bellone said. The numbers, he said, "are horrific."
And, he said: "We are not at the apex. We are still in the thick of this."
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo said a total of 799 lives were lost in 24 hours, the highest number to date. "The virus is an effective killer," he said.
Peer-to-Peer Covid-19 Challenge
One of the greatest challenges has been educating young people — who think they are "not vulnerable" to coronavirus — about social distancing, Bellone said. Those young people have continued to congregate and disregard social distancing protocols in parks and on beaches. "The virus hits anybody, at any age," he said, adding that young people can also become infected and transmit coronavirus to the vulnerable.
A new "peer-to-peer COVID challenge" has been launched that will invite young people to share their stories with their peers online about what they are doing while quarantined, including learning new recipes, reading books, or engaging in physical activity while social distancing. Young people are asked to tag the county on Instagram and Twitter. "We are using this as a way to encourage people to stay home," Bellone said.
Although Bellone has reported a drop in crime during the coronavirus "crisis," he said there are some criminal elements that may want to take advantage of the situation. This week, Bellone said, a pair was arrested and charged in connection with a string of commercial burglaries; the duo believed police would be distracted by the coronavirus. "They were wrong," he said.
Also, Bellone said, a man charged with a number of arson attempts in Riverhead and other areas was apprehended.
"Make no mistake: Law enforcement is continuing to do their job and any criminals who thinks this is the time to get away with committing crimes are sadly mistaken," Bellone asid.
Nurses on the way
Bellone thanked 22 nurses from Onondaga County who are traveling from Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse to Stony Brook University Hospital to assist in treating COVID-19 patients.
"We are extremely grateful for these nurses and this community is willing to send individuals to go into what can only be described as the medical equivalent of a war zone," Bellone said. "We are thankful that there are people like this. It speaks to who they are and who we are as a people and as a state."
Suffolk County hot spots
While Bellone said early on, hot spots were not indicated in any one area in Suffolk County due to the fact that testing was too limited at that point to make that determination. Now, he said, "It is clear that we see higher rates in certain communities in the county."
Specifically, he said, there are higher numbers in communities of color, such as Latino communities. Bellone said messages about the importance of coronavirus testing and self-quarantining are being broadcast on radio and through community and faith organizations.
A new hot spot testing program kicked off Wednesday in Huntington Station and will expand Friday in Riverhead and Brentwood. Additional locations will be determined, Bellone said. He thanked Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar for connecting the county with Reese Technologies, which provided tents. HRHCare Community Health will administer the tests. In Riverhead, testing will take place at the county center, he said.
Personal protective equipment arrives
Bellone thanked President Donald Trump and Rep. Lee Zeldin for the 200,000 N95 masks that were delivered this week. He also thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the 136 ventilators delivered to Suffolk County.
A total of 249,000 pieces of PPE were delivered countywide since the shipment from the White House arrived, Bellone said.
Currently, he said, there is a desperate need for gowns. Although 25,000 are expected to arrive Thursday, as the county's procurement team has been "scouring the planet for the supplies we need," the need is great. "The burn rate on gowns is absolutely incredible," he said, adding that the hope is that more gowns come in from the federal level.
Supportive businesses step up
East/West Industries in Ronkonkoma have stepped up to design face masks for first responders, including Suffolk County police, Bellone said. He also thanked the United Way.
Golf courses now closed
Golf courses have now joined others businesses on the nonessential list and will close, according to wwnytv.
County cases climb
In Suffolk County, as of Wednesday afternoon, there were 18,602 confirmed coronavirus cases.
The breakdown by town is as follows:
East Hampton: 83
Shelter Island: 4
To see a detailed community breakdown, click here.
New social media campaign
The governor also announced a new social media campaign: "Who are you staying home for?"
While he thanked New Yorkers for all they have done so far, he added, "We are by no means out of the woods. It is not over. We are in the midst of it."
Feed the Need
On Wednesday, East End officials announced a new effort by community leaders to "Feed the Need" and fight hunger sparked by coronavirus and the impacts on the local economy.
Crackdown on short-term rentals
Also on the East End, Southampton Town announced a new crackdown on short-term rentals; despite coronavirus protocols calling for residents to stay at home and nonessential businesses being shuttered, rentals continue to spike and officials want to stem the tide in the interest of safety.