Tighter restrictions on indoor dining, gatherings and schools. come with micro-cluster designation. File photo: Peter Blasl

Surging COVID-19 cases on Long Island mean some areas are facing new business and social restrictions, unless infection trends being tracked by the state health department are dramatically reversed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a midday press briefing yesterday,

“Parts of Suffolk will go into a yellow zone,” Cuomo said, referring to the state’s color-coded micro-cluster strategy to control the spread of the coronavirus at the local level.

Cuomo did not say which parts of the county are headed for designation, though as he spoke he displayed a slide titled “Highest Rates in New York State” that highlighted three Suffolk communities: Brentwood at 6.06%, Bay Shore at 4.55% and Huntington Station at 3.35%.

Notably, Cuomo did not mention Riverhead or Hampton Bays, which last week were singled out by County Executive Steve Bellone as having high infection rates as he announced the implementation of an in-school testing program and an outdoor community testing site in each community.

Bellone at a press conference Thursday announced Riverhead had a 5.6% “average” infection rate over the previous five days. Bellone said during the press conference he did not have Riverhead’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate — the standard used by the state to determine micro-cluster designation — and the county did not respond to follow-up requests for that information on Thursday and Friday.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar on Wednesday announced Riverhead was “approaching micro-cluster status” with a seven-day rolling average test positivity rate of “over 4%.” Aguiar urged residents to wear masks, maintain social distance and avoid gatherings — even deploying the town’s “code red” emergency notification system to get the word out with robocalls to residents. In an interview last week, Aguiar said Riverhead was nearing micro-cluster “red zone” designation.

The supervisor later said in an email that the town is not provided with testing positivity rate information specific to the town, but only has access to the county-wide data made public by the state.

Riverhead Interim School Superintendent in a letter to the school community Saturday said, “Riverhead is on the cusp of becoming a ‘red zone micro-cluster.’”

A spokesperson for the state health department on Friday acknowledged that community-specific testing positivity rates are not made public by the state. (The City of New York publishes this information for the five boroughs daily on its own website.)

The health department spokesperson declined RiverheadLOCAL’s request to release the testing positivity rate data for Riverhead Town.

‘What is my community’s infection rate?’

Despite the state health department’s refusal to release that information, Cuomo said yesterday during his press briefing that New Yorkers should be asking for precisely that information.

“What people should be asking now is, what is my community’s infection rate? Not what is the state rate, because it’s different across the state. What is my community’s infection rate, because it’s your community that’s going to determine if you go into a yellow, orange, or red zone,” Cuomo said.

The governor said “the state collects all the testing data and then we send it to the local governments… We do all the testing; we send them the numbers.” He did not elaborate what data is sent to the local governments or how frequently it is provided.

>>Transparency? I call bullsh*t. People deserve access to local COVID data and straight answers

While testing positivity rates — the metric on which the state decides whether to impose tighter restrictions and even possibly close schools — are published on the county level and regional level only, the county publishes raw numbers of total confirmed cases for each town and the hamlets within each town.

An analysis of the town-level data published by the county shows that there have been 186 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Riverhead Town residents since Nov. 1. Again, without knowing how many Riverhead residents were tested during that period, the testing percent-positive (or “positivity rate”) cannot be calculated.

The state’s micro-cluster strategy explained

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.

COVID-19 data update: Nov. 22

Reported Nov. 22 by N.Y. State and Suffolk County

Riverhead Town
Total confirmed cases: 1,074 (31.88 per 1k)
Riverhead Town hamlets:
Aquebogue 46 (27.22 per 1k)
Baiting Hollow 17 (10.28 per 1k)
Calverton 181 (25/30 per 1k)
Jamesport 25 (23.04 per 1k)
Northville 16 (11 per 1k)
Riverhead 669 (47.56 per 1k)
Wading River 158 (19.67 per 1K)

Southampton Town
Total confirmed cases: 1,684 (31.88 per 1k)
Nearby Southampton Town hamlets:
Flanders 249 (52.02 per 1k)
Riverside 116 (36.81 per 1k)
Hampton Bays 401 (28.08 per 1k)
Westhampton 166 (57.28 per 1k)
East Quogue 110 (22.93 per 1k)

Southold Town
Total confirmed cases 543 (24.47 per 1k)
Nearby Southold hamlets:
Mattituck: 98 (20.03 per 1k)
Laurel: 30 (27.78 per 1k)

Suffolk County
Total confirmed cases 56,532
New tests reported for Nov. 21: 14,027
New cases reported for Nov. 21: 532
Percent positive on Nov. 21: 3.8%
Percent positive 7-day day average: 3.3%
New hospital admissions: 23
Total hospitalized: 140
Total in ICU: 28 (11 on ventilators)
Fatalities reported: 0
Total fatalities: 2,032 (Suffolk residents)

New York State
Total confirmed cases: 596,214
New tests reported for Nov. 21: 196,608
New cases reported for Nov. 21: 5,391
Percent positive on Nov. 21: 2.74%
Percent positive 7-day day average: 2.89%
New hospital admissions: 119
Total hospitalized: 2,562
Total in ICU: 502 (+35)
Total on ventilators: 234 (+22)
Fatalities reported: 30
Total fatalities: 26,357

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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.