The COVID test positivity rate in Riverhead has averaged 5.6% over the past five days, County Executive Steve Bellone said today. Hampton Bays has averaged 6.5% positive over the same period, Bellone said.

In contrast, Suffolk County has had a 3.5% average positivity rate over the past seven days, according to data released today by the State Department of Health.

Bellone said he did not have information about the seven-day positivity rate for either Hampton Bays or Riverhead but would provide it after today’s briefing.

New York State uses the seven-day average metric to determine whether a geographic area (census tract or zip code) is designated as a micro-cluster zone. An area’s designation as a micro-cluster triggers targeted restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

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.

Under the metrics adopted by the state, a geographic area in Suffolk would enter 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. An area would enter 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. An area would enter 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.

Yesterday, Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced in a press release that Riverhead is “approaching micro-cluster status.” In an interview last night, Aguiar said Riverhead’s seven-day average positivity rate has been “over 4%” for 10 days. She did not give a precise number.

“Our focus here is not on clusters,” Bellone said today. “Our focus is on the community spread. Our focus is to get community spread under control.”

Bellone said there has been a surge in cases all across Suffolk County. The county has ramped up contact tracing and will ramp up testing, implementing testing programs in the Hampton Bays and Riverhead school districts. Testing started today in Hampton Bays and will start tomorrow in Riverhead. In addition to in-school testing of students, faculty and staff, the county will stand up testing sites in both communities.

Riverhead Town has had 126 new confirmed cases among residents in the past two weeks (Nov. 4-18), according to daily data released by the county.

Peconic Bay Medical Center president and CEO Andrew Mitchell said today the hospital has seen an increase in COVID-10 patients in both emergency room visits and in-patient admissions. There are 10 COVID in-patient admissions today, he said.

“As of late this afternoon, no one has contacted the hospital directly about the current potential micro-cluster matter,” Mitchell said. He said he would be “reaching out proactively” to the town supervisor to get an understanding of where things stand.

Data on the number of tests administered and the number of positive tests at the town level are not routinely released to the public. That information at the county and regional level is released on a daily basis by the state health department.

Aguiar said this afternoon town officials are not provided with those stats, either.

“I wish we did (get them),” Aguiar said. “We could monitor the spread and testing more accurately.”

Suffolk County releases daily updates on the total number of confirmed COVID cases on a town and hamlet level.

The county is working with the Hampton Bays and Riverhead school districts to test students, faculty and staff. Testing started in Hampton Bays today, Bellone said. It will begin tomorrow in Riverhead.

The county will also set up community testing sites in both Hampton Bays and Riverhead to increase community testing.

“We’ve seem a surge in cases over the last 10 days” across the county, Bellone said today. “Even with broad-based community spread, you’re going to see some areas with higher numbers. To get at that, you go in there and you do more testing,” he said.

The higher positivity rate in Riverhead and Hampton Bays “may reflect a higher rate of cases in those communities or a statistical anomaly, or maybe a combination of both,” Bellone said. “We’re not going to wait to find out. We’re going to be proactive, which is what this testing program is about,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a response from Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar received after it was published.

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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.