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The number of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Suffolk has climbed 77% since Thanksgiving, from 38.6 to 68.3 cases per 100,000, State Department of Health data show, as new infections continue to surge.

Confirmed cases per 100,000 in Suffolk rose 34% in the seven-day period ending Friday, Dec. 10, from 56 to 75 per 100,000 people. The test percent-positive rate rose from 6.3% to 6.9% over the same period — a 9.5% increase.

There were 13 COVID-19 fatalities in Suffolk between Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, and 20 fatalities in the week prior.

Hospitalizations in Suffolk rose 36% week over week. An average of 220 COVID patients were hospitalized daily over the seven days between Dec. 3 and 10, up from an average of 162 during the week prior. There were an average of 36 new inpatient admissions per day, up from an average of 25 per day in the week prior.

COVID hospitalizations at Peconic Bay Medical Center remain low, PBMC executive director Amy Loeb said this week.

“We’ve been very stable, between two and 10 max, pretty consistently,” Loeb said in an interview. “Hopefully with vaccination rates, that will keep up,” she said.

There were 82 new COVID cases confirmed in Riverhead Town residents between Dec. 3 and 10. Data at the town level on tests administered, test percent-positive rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are not released by the county or state health departments.

More COVID-19 coverage, data and updates

While hospitalizations in Suffolk countywide have increased, they are not keeping pace with hospitalizations at this time in 2020 — even though new confirmed cases and the number of cases per 100,000 are higher than the same period a year ago. There were 386 average daily hospitalizations in Suffolk between Dec. 3 and 10, 2020, according to Suffolk County Department of Health Services data, 43% more than the average of 220 per day between Dec. 3 and 10 this year.

Vaccines have made the difference, health officials say. Fully vaccinated the lower number of hospitalizations relative to infection numbers compared to last year. Unvaccinated people who contract COVID are 10 times more likely to land in the hospital than vaccinated individuals, according to state health department data. In Suffolk, 69% percent of the total population has completed the vaccine series, Suffolk health department data show, while nearly 83% of those 18 and older and 10% of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated (as of Dec. 10.)

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges all who are eligible to get a booster shot and this week expanded its booster recommendation to include 16- and 17-year-olds who are at least six months post their initial Pfizer vaccination series.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday “initial data suggests that COVID-19 boosters help broaden and strengthen the protection against Omicron and other variants.”

Omicron, the most recently identified variant of concern, is highly contagious and has been spreading rapidly around the world since first detected by scientists in South Africa last month. As of Dec. 11, the omicron variant has been lab-confirmed in 57 countries and 27 U.S. states, including New York, which as of Friday had confirmed 30 omicron cases. Four of those confirmed cases were in Suffolk County.

“These case counts represent those known cases that have been confirmed by a state approved laboratory, and do not fully represent the total cases likely in the population,“ the state health department said.

CDC issues report on initial omicron variant cases

The CDC on Friday issued a report of its study of 43 omicron infections confirmed in the U.S. between Dec. 1 and 8.

Breakdown of the CDC study results:

  • 58% (25 people) were ages 18-39
  • 67% (29 people) had no international travel in the 14 days prior to a positive test or symptom onset
  • 33% (14 people) were fully vaccinated and had received a booster dose, though five of the “boosted” people had their additional dose less than two weeks before a positive test or symptom onset
  • 47% (20 people) were fully vaccinated
  • 19% (8 people) were unvaccinated.
  • 14% had previous known coronavirus infection
  • 49% had no previous known coronavirus infection
  • 93% of those infected with omicron were symptomatic. Symptoms included cough (89%), fatigue (65%), congestion or runny nose (59%), fever (38%), nausea or vomiting (22%), shortness of breath (16%), diarrhea (11%), loss of taste or smell (8%).
  • One person, who was vaccinated, was hospitalized and released after two days.

The authors of the CDC study caution against drawing broad conclusions from the study’s findings. The clinical severity of infection with the omicron variant will become better understood as additional cases are identified and investigated, the report says.

“Characteristics of the cases described in this report might also not be generalizable because case findings might be associated with individual characteristics (e.g., persons with recent international travel might be more likely to be younger and vaccinated.) Even if most infections are mild, a highly transmissible variant could result in enough cases to overwhelm health systems,” the report states. “The clinical severity of infection with the omicron variant will become better understood as additional cases are identified and investigated.”

Meanwhile, the delta variant, which the CDC says is responsible for 99.9% of all COVID infections, continues to surge across the country. The seven day average of new daily cases in the US was 118,515 as of Dec. 8, up 37% over the previous seven-day average as of Dec. 1, according to CDC data. The total cases reported in the U.S. topped 49.7 million. To date, 793,937 people have died of COVID-19 related illness, according to the CDC.

NY’s new mask mandate takes effect Monday

Citing the statewide surge in cases, reduced hospital capacity and insufficient vaccination rates in some areas, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday announced that as of Monday, Dec. 13, masks will be required in all indoor public spaces, unless proof of vaccination is required for entry into those spaces. The new mandate will remain in place until at least Jan. 15, when the state will re-evaluate it based on current conditions, she said.

“Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43% and hospitalizations have increased by 29%,” the governor’s office said in a press release Thursday. Vaccinations have also increased, gaining 2% since Thanksgiving weekend, but it’s not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus, particularly among communities with low vaccination coverage, Hochul said.

NY-01 Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is running for governor, immediately criticized Hochul’s action.

“I strongly oppose the Governor’s unilateral decision to impose a statewide mask mandate,” Zeldin said in statement.

“Access to vaccines and therapeutics is important, and so is medical freedom,” Zeldin said. “We need leaders who value the freedoms of their constituents, not ‘government always knows best’ bureaucrats who view constituents as their ‘apostles’,” he said.

The congressman, who has voiced opposition to mask mandates in schools, vaccine mandates for health care workers, and proof of vaccination for entry to businesses and public spaces, did not specify what actions he thinks are appropriate to curb the rising number of cases and hospitalizations statewide, including in his Suffolk County congressional district.

Since the summer delta surge, Suffolk County’s rate of community transmission remains high, according to data published by the CDC, which says all residents age 2 and up should wear masks in public spaces in Suffolk County — a recommendation that has been in place for months.

While the governor has urged New Yorkers to follow CDC guidance, she declined to impose a general statewide mask mandate until now. Hochul previously left that decision to county health officials.

Suffolk County did not impose any local mask requirements, though Suffolk County health commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott, said in a statement this week prior to the governor’s announcement that he strongly recommended “preventive measures such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings, washing hands frequently, and putting some distance between oneself and others if you don’t know their vaccination status.”

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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.