Suffolk Catering Hall Fined $12K After 'Super-Spreader' Sweet 16

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MILLER PLACE, NY — A Sweet 16 that led to 37 coronavirus cases and a total of 81 guests quarantined — the event also led to closure of a local high school — is now considered Suffolk County's first "super spreader" event, County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday.

The "specific incident" also led to the "first enforcement action" that Suffolk County has taken, Bellone said. The party was held at the Miller Place Inn on Sept. 25, with the first positive case reported on Sept. 30.

On Oct. 10, the catering hall on North County Road was served with a notice of formal violation by the Suffolk County Health Department; the business was asked to respond to several charges for COVID-19 violations. The business was fined $10,000 for violating New York State Executive orders and orders of the public health law; a $2,000 fine was also given for violations of the Suffolk County Health Department's sanitary code, Bellone said.

There were 81 people on the guest list for the Sweet 16, higher than the 50 allowed under state guidance, Bellone said.

Of the 37 positive cases, 29 were individuals who attended the Sweet 16, seven were household contacts, and one case was a close contact of someone who attended the party, Bellone said.

After the first reported case, the Suffolk County Health Department immediately began comprehensive contact tracing, Bellone said; the host voluntarily provided the guest list, comprising 49 students and 32 adults — and all were told to quarantine.

A total of 334 contacts were identified after contract tracing, with 183 affiliated with schools and 151 non-school affiliated, Bellone said.

"As a result of that one event, there were 270 quarantined; eight schools had positive cases; and 35 schools had individuals put on quarantine," he said. "There is no precise definition of what a 'super-spreader' event is. But Suffolk County has not seen an event like this before. For Suffolk County, this was a 'super-spreader' event, without question."

It was also the first time the Suffolk County Health Department has taken "immediate enforcement action" against a business, he said. In past months, the focus has been on education and compliance, Bellone said.

The action taken "in this case," he said, came after the location had been the subject of several visits and warnings. "Most importantly, we have never seen a case like this in Suffolk County that has had this great of an impact, in terms of speed in schools," he said.

Sachem High School North, which was closed to in-person learning after the Sweet 16 led to more than a dozen positive cases, is slated to reopen on Wednesday, the district said.

The Miller Place Inn halted its wedding operations last week, the Times Beacon Record reported.

"The governor tightened the noose on us,” Donna Regina, the co-owner of the catering hall, told TBR. “Our capacity is 250 … Why do we have to have 50 guests?”

The Sweet 16 outbreak is under control with no community spread, Bellone said. "And most importantly, this cluster" was an "egregious violation and should serve as a stark reminder of the potential consequences that exist for flouting COVID-19 protocols. We are not out of the woods yet," he said.

He added that Suffolk County does not want to see businesses and schools shut down again "as we've seen in New York City."

With the weather getting colder, it's more important than ever for individuals to follow the guidance, adhere to social distancing protocols, wear face coverings, and limit gatherings, he said.

To date, Suffolk County has seen 47,393 positive coronavirus cases; yesterday's numbers reflected 62 new positives out of 5,500 tested, or a little over 1 percent, Bellone said. Hospitalizations have seen a slight rise of 14, for a total of 38 countywide over the past eight days, he added. A total of three people were discharged.

The percentages, he added, have been holding steady in large part due to the vigilance of residents.

Giorgio's Baiting Hollow had its liquor license suspended after a wedding reception that reportedly had 95 guests, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The news led to a rally organized by Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who said catering halls should be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity.

The caterers have filed a class action lawsuit seeking permission to fully reopen, she said. The caterers also have a website, detailing the suit.

"We fully understand the seriousness and gravity of the current pandemic," the caterers state. But, they added on the site, "private events are the lifeblood of New York and an engine of prosperity for the city and state. Without private and public events, our cultural, political, economic, and physical landscapes have been dramatically altered. While the procedures and protocols for safety are essential to resuming business, it is our utmost priority to ensure that our employees, clients, and guests have sufficient confidence in our industry so we can reopen and safely host private events."


This article originally appeared on the Miller Place-Rocky Point Patch