Total confirmed COVID cases among Riverhead Town residents have grown from 911 on Nov. 3 to 1038 on Nov. 17, an increase of 134 new confirmed cases in the past two weeks, according to data provided by the Suffolk County health department.

COVID-19 test positivity rates in Riverhead have averaged over 4% for 10 days, according to Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

The positivity rate data trend is what prompted the supervisor to issue a press release yesterday warning residents that Riverhead is “approaching micro-cluster status,” Aguiar said in a phone interview last night.

The supervisor did not disclose the town’s test positivity rate in the release, which went out yesterday afternoon. She was not available for an interview until yesterday evening.

The state has not designated Riverhead Town, or any geographic area (zip code or census tract) within the town as a micro-cluster zone.

Aguiar said last night she sent out the release to urge residents to follow all COVID-19 restrictions and to get tested in order to control the spread of the virus in the community, so that the town can avoid designation as a micro-cluster. The designation would bring additional restrictions affecting schools, businesses and social activity.

Riverhead Central School District yesterday afternoon announced it will begin voluntary, in-school testing on Friday, with the goal of testing 20% of the school population — staff, students and faculty — over a two-week period.

Interim Superintendent Christine Tona in a letter to the school community said the school district is working with the county to create a “community testing site for those who are not exhibiting symptoms of COVIID-19.”

Aguiar said last night the county will likely establish a drive-through testing site outside the health clinic at the county center in Riverside, where it opened a testing site in April.

Test positivity rates for individual towns or areas within towns are not released to the public with data that is provided daily. The State Department of Health releases test positivity rates for counties.

Suffolk County provides raw data on a daily basis on the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic for each of the county’s 10 towns and the hamlets within the towns. The county also provides data on the total number of cases per 1,000 people in each locale.

Because the data released for towns and hamlets reflect total confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic in March, the publicly released data does not provide a clear picture of the current number of active infections in a given place.

According to an analysis of publicly available data, there have been 134 new confirmed cases in Town of Riverhead residents in the past two weeks. Without knowing the number of test results for Riverhead residents in the past two weeks, the test positivity rate cannot be calculated.

Aguiar said last night the county provides her office with the data on test numbers, positive cases and test positivity rates on a daily basis. She was not able to provide specific numbers during the interview.

A county spokesperson yesterday confirmed that the supervisor’s characterization of the town’s current test positivity rate — “approaching micro-cluster status” — was accurate. However, he said he did not have the actual test positivity rate for the town.

The governor last month announced a new micro-cluster strategy for containing the spread of the coronavirus. The strategy is based on imposing restrictions on distinct geographic areas based on the rate of new infections in those distinct areas.

The state’s metrics for micro-cluster designation are complicated and require calculations based on data not readily available to the public.

There are three micro-cluster zones: yellow “precautionary” zones, orange “warning” zones and red zones. Each zone has its own set of restrictions, with the red zone restrictions being the most onerous. The number of micro-cluster zones in the state and their designation as yellow, orange or red is continuously in flux, depending on average testing positivity rates in the specific zones.

The metrics for “geographic areas” — census tracts or zip codes depend on the total population of the county or city in which the area is located. Towns in Suffolk County are in “Tier I.”

A geographic area in Tier I enters the yellow zone if it has a seven-day rolling average positivity rate above 2.5% for 10 days and has 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

Restrictions in yellow zones are: gatherings indoor and outdoor are limited to 25 people; indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants is allowed but is limited to four people per table; houses of worship are limited to 50% capacity; and schools, while they remain open, are mandated to test 20% of students, teachers and staff for in-person settings.

A geographic area in Tier I enters the orange zone if it has a seven-day rolling average positivity rate above 3% for 10 days and has 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

Restrictions in orange zones are: schools are closed; high-risk, non-essential businesses (“gyms, personal care, etc.”) are closed; restaurants can have outdoor dining only, with a four person per table maximum; gatherings are limited to 10 people; houses of worship are limited to 33% capacity, with a maximum of 25 people.

A geographic area in Tier I enters the red zone if it has a seven-day rolling average positivity rate above 4% for 10 days and has 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

Restrictions in red zones are: schools are closed; businesses other than essential businesses are closed; all gatherings are prohibited; restaurants are limited to takeout/delivery only; houses of worship are limited to 25% capacity, 10 people maximum.

“We have to stay open. We have to keep our businesses open,” Aguiar said last night. “We can’t go backwards.”

Aguiar urged all Riverhead residents to abide by current restrictions and rules for gatherings, face-coverings, social distancing and hand-washing.

The number of confirmed cases in the Town of Riverhead has increased by 17% — 150 cases — in the month of November.

New cases and test positivity rates are increasing across the state and across Long Island.

Suffolk County yesterday reported a test positivity rate of 3.8% on Tuesday, with a 3.3% seven-day rolling average. Long Island’s positivity rate was 3.6% Tuesday. The statewide positivity rate was 3.4%.

Pointing to improvements in designated micro-cluster zones, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said yesterday the micro-cluster strategy is working.

The statewide rise in its test positivity rate must be viewed in the context of the coronavirus surge across the country and around the world, the governor said at a press conference yesterday.

“The whole world is going up. Every state in the nation is going up,” he said. “Success becomes how you’re doing compared to everyone else.”

New York, the first epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. this spring, is currently among states with the lowest positivity rate in the country, Cuomo said.

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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.