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COVID-19 cases are surging in Suffolk County and across the state.

Daily confirmed cases in Suffolk, on a 7-day rolling average, soared 170% over the past month. The test percent-positive rate grew by more than 108%.

New confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Suffolk reached 1,800 on Dec. 15, the higher number since January.

Daily hospitalizations in Suffolk, on a 7-day rolling average, have also more than doubled and daily new admissions have nearly tripled.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases have spiked statewide, topping 18,000 on Wednesday, the highest number since last January. Cases per 100,000 people doubled statewide over the past month, from 28 to 56 per 100k, and daily hospitalizations rose 84%.

Health officials do not yet know how much of the recent surge in the state is linked to the omicron variant circulating in New York.

The state health department yesterday reported 59 known cases of the omicron variant statewide as of Dec. 15, with 14 of those in Suffolk County, where one of the first cases in New York was reported Dec. 2.

Variants of the novel coronavirus are identified by genomic sequencing of the virus at several state-approved laboratories across the state. But only a small proportion of total positive test results are actually sequenced, so the number of known cases “do not fully represent the total cases likely in the population,” the state health department said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul sounded the alarm during a press conference yesterday in Albany. A winter surge of the coronavirus, like the one New York experienced last winter, is “upon us and …is in full force,” she said.

“And we are in for a rough ride this winter season,” Hochul said.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has shown to be about twice as contagious as the highly contagious delta variant, which began to spike in New York this summer and remains responsible for nearly 90% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the omicron variant was first confirmed in the U.S. on Dec. 1 in California, it has spread to 39 states, as well as to Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

The CDC estimates that the omicron variant is now responsible for more than 13% of new COVID cases in the New York-New Jersey region.

Early indications are that omicron causes less severe disease than the delta variant, State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said during yesterday’s press conference. But less deadly and more contagious viruses are more likely to spread exponentially, Bassett said.

The health commissioner displayed a graphic (above) comparing the spread of delta to omicron over 10 “generations” of transmission. With delta, one infected person will infect two others and 10% of all infections will result in hospital admissions. With omicron, one infected person will infect four others. If only 1% of omicron infections result in hospital admissions the total hospitalizations will skyrocket anyway due to the vastly higher number of infections — and could very easily overwhelm New York’s hospital systems, Bassett said.

With a 1:2 infection ratio, one case will result in 2,047 total infections and 205 hospital admissions over 10 generations.

With a 1:4 infection ratio, one case will result in 1,398,101 new cases and 13,981 new hospital admissions over 10 generations.

“We are in the midst of a Delta surge. We have Omicron in the wings,” Bassett said. “And we also can’t forget that with winter comes seasonal influenza,” she said.

“People are underestimating the power of omicron because they’re saying, well, people aren’t getting really sick, they’re not in hospitals,” Hochul said. “Look at the percentages she just showed us based on that graph. You may only have 1% of people infected hospitalized versus 10% from delta, but if you have a million more people infected because it’s spread so much more quickly, that means you’ll have overflowing hospitals at this rate,” she said.

The governor defended her indoor mask mandate, amid a growing number of Republican county executives saying their county health departments will not enforce it. When Hochul announced the mask mandate for public indoor spaces last week, she said it would be up to county health departments to enforce. The incoming Nassau County executive, Republican Bruce Blakeman, who ousted Democratic incumbent Laura Curran, was the first to say Nassau County would not enforce the mask rule. At least another dozen Republican-controlled counties have followed suit.

Hochul yesterday called it the “least intrusive” measure that can be taken to help stop the spread of the virus and, with vaccination, a needed step to avoid overwhelming hospitals and additional restrictions.

Masks are effective in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, according to scientific studies done since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Compelling data now demonstrate that community mask wearing is an effective nonpharmacologic intervention to reduce the spread of this infection, especially as source control to prevent spread from infected persons, but also as protection to reduce wearers’ exposure to infection,” wrote the authors of “An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19,” in a journal of the National Academy of Sciences in January 2021.

But masks nonetheless remain a controversial topic.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, (R-Shirley), who has widespread support of Republican Party leaders statewide in his bid to secure the GOP nomination for governor next year, has roundly criticized the new mask mandate, as he has the mask mandate in schools and mandatory vaccinations for health care workers and others.

He has participated in anti-mask rallies and this week held a press conference in Westchester where businesses and local elected officials demanded County Executive George Latimer, a Democrat, also refuse to enforce the indoor mask rule, which they said was hurting local businesses.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has been silent on whether the county health department would enforce the mask mandate. His communications director did not respond to emailed requests for comment on the question. The Suffolk County health department also did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

In a statement through a spokesperson yesterday, Zeldin accused Hochul — along with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio — of “using” the omicron variant “to instill fear in New Yorkers.”

Asked what policies and measures he would be implementing if he were governor right now trying to deal with the current surge, Zeldin said in the statement the priority should be “access to vaccines, treatments and testing, and investing in research and development for new ideas to fight this virus.”

“People can certainly wear masks if they’d like,” Zeldin said, but he said it was “unreasonable and flat-out wrong” to “ask small business owners and their employees, who are still struggling to recover from the state’s overreaching lockdown policies, to enforce the mandate.”

He said government should do more to “recognize natural immunity” and recognize that COVID risks among “young health kids” are “very different” from the risks to older people with comorbidities.

“The politics should follow the science instead of the science following the politics,” Zeldin said.

That is precisely the argument Hochul makes in defending the indoor mask mandate and other state COVID-19 policies, including urging people to get vaccinated and boosted. Yesterday the governor called it “common sense.”

She addressed the complaints of critics — among them the First District congressman — who decry the mandate’s infringement on personal freedom.

“People have a right to stay alive and people that you affect have a right to live as well,” Hochul said yesterday. “And that’s something we all should remember.”

By the numbers: COVID in Suffolk County

New cases, tests, and percent positive rates:

7-day average on Nov. 14: 406 new cases, 10,901 tests, 3.4% percent-positive

7-day average on Dec. 14: 1,099 new cases, 1,457 tests, 7.7% percent-positive

Daily hospitalizations and new admissions:

7-day average on Nov. 14: 118 daily hospitalizations, 14 daily new admissions

7-day average on Dec. 14: 268 daily hospitalizations, 40 daily new admissions

In Riverhead, the daily number of new confirmed cases topped 20 yesterday for the first time since last spring, according to data published by Suffolk County. The county does not provide test numbers or percent-positive rates for individual towns.

Peconic Bay Medical Center Executive Director Amy Loeb said yesterday the hospital has seen a slight uptick in patients with COVID-19. PBMC had been reporting COVID cases in the single digits. As of yesterday morning, there were 17 in-patients with COVID-19, Loeb said. However on Dec. 16, 2020, there were 37 COVID patients in the hospital.

See more COVID-19 coverage

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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.