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SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — Despite a grim death count that continues to climb across Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone said he was "cautiously optimistic" Saturday that the efforts taken by front line heroes and the public to flatten the curve of the new coronavirus could be working.
Holy week, Bellone said in his daily press briefing, is a "time of hope. There is a lot to be hopeful about."
To that end, while the number of hospitalization of patients with coronavirus went up again over 24 hours countywide by 16, for a total of 1,658, the rate of increase appears to have slowed since the week prior. Last week, he said, an average of 144 patients was admitted, compared to this week, when that average number was 35.
"The numbers are still going up, but we've seen a big difference," Bellone said. "We will be looking forward to this week when hopefully, those numbers will be going down."
The other positive, Bellone said, was that in the last 24 hours, the highest number of patient discharged to date was seen, with a total of 160 headed home — a "positive sign," he said.
Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though, and Bellone have said that any possible positive developments do not mean that people should stop adhering to social distancing protocols. "Stay the course," Cuomo said Saturday.
Death toll rises
As of Saturday, there were 20,321 confirmed cases of coronavirus across Suffolk County.
On Friday, Bellone said, there was a "glitch in the automation" of Suffolk County's online map and reporting system that was due to "double counting," with some lab reports counted twice. The county's IT teams corrected the error, he said.
Friay's number of confirmed cases, he said, should have been 19,246 — and, with Saturday's number at 20,321, that indicates an increase of more than 1,000 positive cases in 24 hours.
On Friday Bellone said that when the numbers are added with confirmed cases recorded in Nassau County: "We have more cases than any other state in our country except for New York or New Jersey. That's a remarkable number, one that emphasizes how we really are in the center of this COVID-19 battle."
Across Suffolk County, 541 hospital beds are occupied by coronavirus patients, up 18; 771 patients are in ICU beds, an increase of 13. There are currently 651 hospital beds and 112 ICU beds available in Suffolk County.
A total of 44 lives were lost in 24 hours, bringing the total number of lives lost to 458, Bellone said.
Altogether, 45,751 COVID-19 tests have been administered; 43.5 percent of those tested were confirmed positive for COVID-19.
As of Saturday, the town breakdown of coronavirus cases is as follows:
East Hampton: 87
Shelter Island: 5
"It really felt like the calvary was coming"
Bellone thanked 22 nurses from Onondaga County who traveled from Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse to Stony Brook University Hospital to assist in treating COVID-19 patients.
He described the scene at the hospital as "inspiring. They joined the battle where it's happening in an effort to save people's lives," Bellone said. When the nurses arrived, there were cheers of joy. "It really felt like the calvary was coming. It's a wonderful statement about who we are."
Nurses, he said, "are the unsung heroes of our medical system. The work that they do every single day in our hospitals and other health care facilities is so critical during this crisis. We cannot say enough to thank them. We cannot express enough gratitude."
New hot spot testing sites announced
New testing sites opened Friday in Riverhead and Brentwood, along with a site opened this week in Huntington Station; the three sites are meant to expand messaging to areas, particularly Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, where communication has been difficult. The goal is not just to test but to educate on social distancing and other protocols, Bellone said.
New hot spot locations will be coming to Wyandanch and North Amityville soon, he announced Saturday.
The county is rolling out text messaging in Spanish. For updates in Spanish, text "COVID Espanol" to 67283.
Thanks to teachers; schools
Countywide, Bellone said, schools have done a great job in distributing meals to kids in need. Since schools were closed due to coronavirus, more than 770,000 meals have been distributed — 254,000 in just the past week. And, he said, not just the grab and go meals — some districts are delivering the meals directly to students, something that is "vitally important," he said.
Bellone said the contributions of many have meant everything in the coronavirus fight. "We are going to win this battle against the COVID-19 virus by doing it together," he said, speaking of the incredible "acts of generosity" by heroes, including health care workers and essential workers.
Teachers, he said, have been doing "amazing work," as they embrace distance learning.
He also gave a shout out to technology teachers in the William Floyd School District who are making 500 face shields for hospital workers. "They are a great example of the kinds of people we have teaching our students," Bellone said.
On Saturday, Bellone again mentioned the new 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.
Good Friday, Passover, and Easter are a time of hope, Bellone said. To that end, a new Suffolk Recovery Task Force is being formalized, to help lead the way for Suffolk County to emerge from the pandemic in the areas of public health, the economy, and social services.
Leading the fight, Bellone said, are healthcare workers, and supplies are critical. "This is the body armor for the soldiers on the front line, the people fighting the battle," he said.
He thanked President Donald Trump and Rep. Lee Zeldin for more than 200,000 N95 masks but said now, the need is desperate for gowns. Although 25,000 gowns were expected to arrive Thursday, the shipment was in Allentown, PA, and would not arrive until April 14. So Bellone dispatched a county crew to PA to pick up the gowns Friday. However, they will not fill the need; more gowns and personal protective equipment are needed.
Bellone said those who have recovered are needed to donate plasma."This is a great way to give back, to save lives," he said.
A Stony Brook Medicine research study is underway to determine if blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can help treat hospitalized patients with active infections, officials said. Stony Brook is looking for those who have recovered from coronavirus to donate blood plasma; researchers are collecting the convalescent serum to use in an experimental treatment strategy.
“We are fast-tracking this large-scale clinical trial, as every second counts when seeking lifesaving treatment for these critically ill patients,” said Dr. Elliott Bennett-Guerrero. “The study will assess the safety and efficacy of convalescent plasma versus standard plasma in hospitalized adult patients with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.”
If you have recovered from COVID-19 and want to help others battling the disease by donating your blood plasma, click here. After filling out an online survey, potentially eligible people will be asked to participate in a screening visit at a Stony Brook Medicine facility. The screening visit will take approximately 30 minutes. You do not need to be a Stony Brook University Hospital patient to participate, but you must meet required criteria for plasma donation and have high levels of antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19, officials said.