Suffolk County is launching free COVID-19 testing in “hot spot” communities where infections have spiked. The COVID hot spots are communities with large Latino populations and many immigrants.

While most communities in the county have confirmed-case infection rates of less than 10 cases per 1,000 people, the rates in “hot-spot” communities are double what they are elsewhere.

For instance, Brentwood and Central Islip are both nearly 20 cases per 1,000 people. Greenport West is nearly 21 and Greenport Village is nearly 17 cases per 1,000.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the communities in question were “hard to connect with,” citing a language barrier. The county has been working on improving how it gets the message out to those communities, he said.

“We’re looking to provide more information and launching very targeted testing sites,” Bellone said. The testing sites will be operated by the HRH, which operates the county’s health centers. Appointments will be required and the same screening procedures will apply, Bellone said.

Last week, the county executive announced that Suffolk Police were driving through Latino communities making announcements in Spanish over loudspeakers, providing information about testing and best practices to protect one’s health, like social distancing and hand hygiene.

Immigrant advocacy groups have been asking the county for outreach to the immigrant communities.

“At SEPA Mujer we have been receiving a lot of calls from people who are essential workers, and that even though they suspected they had had the virus, employers demanded they keep working since they didn’t show any more symptoms, or they would be fired,” said SEPA Mujer executive director Martha Maffei.

“The [Latino] community does not have access to testing places, sometimes employers will not give them permission, sometimes is because of a language barrier, or because of lack of insurance since many sites you have to pay full price for testing, and sometimes they can’t get to those places because of transportation,” Maffei said.

She said the county has been slow to do any outreach through grassroots organizations that deal with these communities — and until recently, there has been no outreach in their native languages. The issue does not affect only Spanish-speaking immigrants, Maffei said. There are many communities in Suffolk — Chinese, Polish, Creole, for example —that also need that information. Maffei said she has seen anything in those languages.

“Long Island is a hot spot right now,” Maffei said. “We are all in this together.”

Maria Piedrabuena contributed reporting.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.