Officials opt to focus on vaccines, not masks, to combat the spread of the delta variant.

Suffolk County has no plans to reinstate a mask mandate, officials said yesterday, despite the governor urging local governments to do so, as the highly infectious delta variant spreads and COVID infections and hospitalizations rise. Instead, the county will focus its efforts on increasing vaccination rates among residents.

Northwell Health yesterday announced its employees are required to be vaccinated by Aug. 16 or get tested weekly. Northwell employs more than 76,000 people in 23 hospitals, including Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, and more than 800 outpatient facilities. It is the largest private employer in the Town of Riverhead.

Northwell Health’s announcement came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday urged private hospitals and those operated by county and local governments to implement a mandatory vaccination policy as the state has done with state-run hospitals, where public-facing health care workers are required to be vaccinated or be tested weekly.

The governor yesterday also urged private businesses to require proof of vaccination for admission to their premises.

“I believe it’s in your business interest to run a vaccine-only establishment,” Cuomo said during a press conference yesterday. He said vaccinated customers and patrons will feel more comfortable entering those establishments, citing the pubic response to the reopening of venues like Radio City Music Hall and sports arenas like Madison Square Garden. “It’s going to help your business,” he said.

Cuomo said if businesses only admit people with proof of vaccination, “you will see a real incentive to get vaccinated.”

He urged residents and business owners to utilize the state’s Excelsior Pass app to show proof of vaccination.

Local governments should follow the CDC’s new mask guidance, the governor said.

“Learn the lesson from last year. Don’t deny reality,” Cuomo said. “Better safe than sorry.” He said local government officials are worried “people will be upset” by a new mask mandate. “People are going to be upset no matter what you do, so show leadership and do it and save lives,” Cuomo said.

The governor said he does not have authority to set a statewide mask mandate without a state law.

“We’re not there, so it’s up to the local governments,” he said.“Right now this is all up to local governments. If they don’t act, then we’ll be where we were last year where it becomes a statewide emergency and the state is going to have to act,” the governor said.

Suffolk County is not considering a county-wide mask mandate at this time.

‘We are considering all options when it comes to vaccination rates and keeping the public safe,” Suffolk County spokesperson Derek Poppe said yesterday.

New York State saw the number of confirmed new COVID-19 cases tick up during the month of July, as the delta strain virus surged across the country. By the end of July, the number of confirmed new cases each day was four times higher than a year ago, before a vaccine was available and before the fall/winter/holiday season spike.

Suffolk County has been identified by the CDC as an area with low vaccination rates and significant viral spread. Vaccination rates are uneven around Suffolk, with some areas well above the national average and some areas, including the areas in the Riverhead and Calverton zip codes, lower than average.

The delta variant rapidly became the prevalent strain of the virus in the U.S. and is currently responsible for more than 80% of COVID infections, according to the CDC.

Vaccinated people can get infected by the virus and can spread it to others. Vaccinated people generally experience mild symptoms or none at all, but can spread the virus as effectively as unvaccinated people, the CDC says. That is the main reason the CDC last week recommended all people wear masks in indoor public settings, whether vaccinated or not.

Vaccinated individuals are far less likely to experience severe illness, hospitalization and death. According to the CDC, 97% of people hospitalized for COVID now are unvaccinated.

“If you are unvaccinated, delta variant should be a major concern to you and you should be worried about it,” Cuomo said yesterday.

“The vaccine is free, safe and effective – and our strongest weapon in this ongoing fight, he said. “If you are still unvaccinated, you remain vulnerable and it is critical that you get your shot as quickly as possible.”

The state yesterday reported 55.8% of New Yorkers have completed their vaccine series, while 63.2% have had at least their first shot.

In Suffolk, 57.1% of the total population has completed the vaccine series, according to the county health department.

In the Calverton 11933 zip code, 51.7% have completed the vaccine series, according to data published by the State Department of Health. In the Riverhead 11901 zip code, 53.7% have completed the series.

Suffolk reported a 3.9% test percent positive rate yesterday: 223 new cases out of 5,754 tests. The county’s seven-day average was 3.1%. There were 14 new COVID hospital admissions in Suffolk on Sunday and seven discharges, for a total of 55 hospitalizations, a net increase of eight patients in 24 hours. Ten patients were in an Intensive Care Unit, increase of four in 24 hours. Two patients were intubated. There were no fatalities yesterday.

Statewide the test percent-positive rate was 3% — 2,143 positive test results for 72,514 tests administered on Sunday. There were 122 COVID patients newly admitted to hospitals statewide on Sunday for a total of 788 (a net increase of 50 patients.) There were 88 discharges. The state said 162 COVID patients were in ICU and 56 of them were intubated. There were four COVID deaths statewide on Aug. 1, according to data reported yesterday.

During the month of July there were 831 COVID-19 deaths in New York, according to State Health Department data.

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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.