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As the omicron variant sweeps across the country, fueling record-breaking case counts in the U.S. every day, New York on the last day of 2021 recorded its highest one-day total of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

The 85,476 new confirmed cases reported by New York State for Dec. 31 exceeded the new record set the day before, when 76,555 new cases were reported.

Unprecedented case numbers are being reported locally as well. There were 14,519 new cases reported Dec. 31 on Long Island, a rate of 349 per 100,000 people — more than any region of the state outside New York City, where 49,724 new cases were reported, a rate of 419 per 100,000.

Long Island’s test positivity rates were higher than any other region in the state at nearly 23%, outpacing even NYC, which recorded a nearly 21% test positivity rate.

Suffolk County has recorded record-breaking new cases every day since Dec. 22, when the 3,268 new confirmed cases outstripped the previous high of 2,194 recorded on Jan. 6, 2021, the peak of last winter’s surge.

But the reported case counts represent a fraction of the actual number of infections. The numbers do not include home test positives and do not reflect people who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

The antigen rapid tests are increasingly viewed as unreliable in detecting infection with omicron and may produce false negatives. The FDA said in a statement this week that data suggest while the antigen tests do detect the omicron variant, they “may have reduced sensitivity.”

So far, the data also show that infection with the omicron variant — which has demonstrated an ability to evade immune protection from both prior infection and vaccination — produces less severe illness, especially in fully vaccinated people.

Health officials are nonetheless concerned about the ability of the health care system to withstand the omicron onslaught. Even though a fewer proportion of those infected may require hospitalization, the sheer number of new infections is capable of pushing hospitals to the brink, New York State Commission of Health Dr. Mary Bassett said.

Hospitalizations in New York reached a peak of 18,825 people in the spring of 2020 — at a time when the downstate regions were the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. Some hospitals were overwhelmed and others avoided becoming overwhelmed by moving patients to hospitals that had capacity to treat them, even those in other regions of the state which were not then experiencing the same kind of outbreak.

At last winter’s peak, there were 9,273 hospitalizations — with 1,621 patients in ICS — on Jan. 19. Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at the time, the state’s hospital system was in a precarious spot, describing it as “balancing on the head of a pin.”

Statewide hospitalizations are keeping pace with last year’s numbers, though ICU numbers are down. As of Dec. 31, there were 7,919 COVID patients hospitalized statewide, with 1,072 in ICU. On Dec. 31, 2020 — nearly three weeks before the Jan. 19 peak — there were 7,935 people hospitalized with COVID in New York, and 1,276 in ICU.

In Suffolk County, there were 640 people hospitalized with COVID on Dec. 30 — the most recent data currently available — with 92 in ICU. A year ago on Dec. 30, there were 733 hospitalized, with 106 in ICU.

Riverhead Town on Dec. 30 also saw the highest single-day case increase since the Suffolk County Department of Health began publishing daily case number data, recording 137 new cases.

Peconic Bay Medical Center had 43 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Dec. 30, including five who tested positive post-admission, according to N.Y. State health department data. Five patients were in ICU, and three were intubated. There were 13 new admissions on Dec. 30 and seven discharges. There were no COVID deaths reported. (Data from Dec. 31 has not yet been published.)

One year ago on the same date, there were 49 COVID in-patients in the Riverhead hospital. Two were in ICU and none were intubated. There were three new admissions, five discharges and two deaths on Dec. 30, 2020.

Comparing seven-day averages, which smooth out daily ups and downs and can provide a more accurate picture for purposes of comparison, the state data show COVID hospitalizations at PBMC are down about one-third this year compared to last year, for the seven days ending Dec. 30: 30 in-patients on a seven-day average this year versus 47 in 2020.

PBMC’s new admissions are higher this year: an average of eight per day versus four per say in 2020. Patients in ICU were near the same: an average of three per day in 2021 and four per day in 2020. But a greater number were intubated this year during the same seven-day period, an average of 1.4 versus an average of less than one per day (0.1) in 2020. There were 34 people discharged from the hospital during the seven-day period this year, versus 19 in 2020.

There were seven deaths during the seven-day period this year, and six deaths during the same seven-day period last year.

There have been a total of 194 deaths and 1,120 discharged reported by Peconic Bay Medical Center from the start of the pandemic through Dec. 30, according to the state data.

While PBMC’s in-patient admissions are, so far, trending lower this winter than last, the number of emergency department visits is “roughly double” than it was last year at this time, PBMC Executive Director Amy Loeb said in a statement emailed to the community Friday afternoon. The emergency department is seeing record numbers of patients, she said.

Health officials are urging all people to wear N95 or KN95 respirator masks in indoor settings, to avoid crowded places, maintain physical distance of at least six feet and practice good hand hygiene. People experiencing COVID-19- like symptoms should stay home.

Drive-up PCR tests are available at Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Mercy campus, 1225 Ostrander Avenue. Appointments can be made online here.

As of this morning time slots available for booking were very limited through out the coming week. Drive-ups without appointments may be served on a first-come, first-serve basis, based on availability. The hospital has a capacity of 750 tests per day at the site, which will close when the limit is reached, Loeb said.

The hospital has administered 3,000 tests since the site opened on Tuesday, she said.

A state-run site is being operated at IBEW Local 25, 370 Motor Parkway, Hauppauge, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Residents can book an appointment online here. As of this morning, there were no appointments available until Thursday afternoon.

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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.