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Dr. Gregson Pigott

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Decades ago, doctors endorsed cigarette smoking, promoting it in advertisements. That was back in the 1950’s, in the decade after the U.S. government shipped cigarettes to members of the armed forces during World War II.

On Jan. 11, 1964, Surgeon General Luther Terry released a landmark report that showed a nine to 10-fold higher risk of lung cancer for smokers compared with non smokers. At the time, about 40% of the adult population smoked. The report helped dramatically alter the perception of smoking. Indeed, a Gallup Survey from 1958 showed that 44% of Americans believed smoking caused cancer. By 1968, that number surged to 78%, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health.

Pulmonologist Dr. Norman Edelman, a professor of medicine at Stony Brook University and a core member of the program in public health at Stony Brook, celebrated the legacy of that landmark report, even as he urged ongoing efforts to reduce smoking.

Dr. Norman Edelman. Photo courtesy Stony Brook University

“It was a momentous occasion,” said Dr. Edelman, who suggested that the number of deaths in the country would be even higher without this report. 

“By the beginning of the 1960’s, the medical literature was pretty clear that smoking causes lung cancer” but the tobacco lobby fought against warnings about the hazards of smoking, Edelman said.

Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County Health Commissioner, described the report as the “first step towards protecting the American people from the deleterious effects of tobacco use.”

Adult smoking rates have fallen from about 43% in 1965 to about 11.5% in 2011, according to Dr. Pigott.

The report, which was followed by 34 studies from the CDCs Office of Smoking and Health on the health consequences of smoking, validated the concerns of organizations like the American Cancer Society and helped reduce the prevalence of a habit that can have significant and fatal consequences.

“Smoking levels in teenagers are going down,” said Dr. Edelman. “It’s beginning to show up in the health effects” with lung cancer declining in men and plateauing in women.

Lung cancer deaths in men have fallen to 25.5 per 100,000 in 2021 from 65 per 100,000 in 1990, according to Dr. Pigott. More recently, smoking exacerbated the threat from Covid. An analysis of 22,900 people published in BMC Public Health in 2021 showed that 33.5% of people with a history of smoking experienced disease progression, compared with 21.9% of non-smokers. 

A ways to go

While smoking is not as prevalent as it had been in the 1960’s, it is still a killer, accounting for an estimated 480,000 deaths each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about one in five deaths each year.

“Smoking still kills more people than other preventable causes of death,” said Dr. Edelman.

Dr. Edelman recognized the severity of other problems like the opioid and overdose crisis. In 2023, the CDC estimates that over 112,000 people died from overdoses.

Still, even with a reduction in smoking, the number of people who are smoking is high enough that the public should continue to look for ways to cut back on the harmful habit.

Over 16 million people live with at least one disease caused by smoking and 58 million non smoking Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke, explained Dr. Pigott, citing CDC data. Second hand smoke causes 40,000 to 60,000 deaths per year in the country, while smoking-related illnesses, which combine direct medical expenses, lost productivity and second hand smoke exposure, cost over $300 billion per year. 

Increasing the cost of cigarettes has helped serve as a deterrent, Dr. Edelman said.

Suffolk County operates a smoking cessation program, which provides behavior modification and supportive pharmaceuticals to medically eligible participants, Dr. Pigott explained in an email. A nurse practitioner oversees the cessation groups, which the county provides at no cost to participants, who also receive personalized follow-up.Stony Brook has several cessation resources. Students interested in smoking cessation can consult a student health care provider who will help them develop a program.

Prescription medications, which are covered under student’s health insurance, are available at a pharmacy after a consultation with a student’s health care provider. 

As for vaping, Dr. Pigott described it as “highly addictive” and explained that its long-term effect is not yet fully understood.

The 2023 Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey found that more than 2.1 million youth currently use e-cigarettes, which represents 7.7% of students in high school and middle school. 

“We are especially concerned about the effect of vaping on young people,” Dr. Pigott added. 

Stock photo

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has announced that the County will host a free test kit and KN95 mask distribution event on January 24 between noon and 6 p.m. in the lobby of the H. Lee Dennison Building, located at 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge.  Approximately 1,000 test kits and nearly 1,000 KN95 mask will be available for residents to pick up.

All Suffolk County residents are encouraged to attend to obtain kits for their household. Each resident is eligible to pick up two test kits per household member. Test kits will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

“While many of us have resumed daily life, living with COVID-19, it is still important that everyone has access to the tools available to prevent exposure and spread,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “As we continue to see new variants, it is clear that availability to test kits is imperative as we work to keep this virus under control.”

“Testing is still crucial to slowing the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. When we test positive early in the course of illness, we have the opportunity to seek treatment to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID infection, and can limit the spread of the virus to others,” added Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County Health Commissioner.

Together, with local municipalities, County legislators, the Suffolk County Police Department, community groups, not-for-profits and more, the County has distributed approximately 660,680 test kits to residents, including seniors, first responders and other vulnerable populations.

Suffolk Health is also offering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to all Suffolk County residents who are eligible to receive them. Childhood vaccinations are also offered for children who are uninsured. Walk-ins are welcome.

County clinic dates and times are available as follows:

January 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sachem Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook

January 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Riverhead Library, 330 Court St., Riverhead

January 31 from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at West Babylon Library, 211 Route 109, West Babylon

For more information, call 631-853-4000.

Mosquito. Pixabay photo

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott announced Aug. 12 that 13 mosquito samples have tested positive for West Nile virus. The samples, all Culex pipiens-restuans, were collected 8/9/22  from Bohemia (1), Copiague (2), West Babylon (2), Port Jeff Sta (1), Selden (1), and 8/10/22 from  Islip (1), Brentwood (1)  BayShore(1)  and Northport (3).

To date, 51 samples have tested positive.

West Nile virus, first detected in birds and mosquito samples in Suffolk County in 1999 and again each year thereafter is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Most people infected with West Nile virus will experience mild or no symptoms, but some can develop severe symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. Individuals, especially those 50 years of age or older, or those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk, are urged to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

“The confirmation of West Nile virus in mosquito samples indicates the presence of West Nile virus in the area,” said Dr. Pigott. “While there is no cause for alarm, we advise residents to cooperate with us in our efforts to reduce exposure to West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases.”

  Dr. Pigott offers the following tips to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn.
  • Wear shoes and socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when mosquitoes are active.
  • Use mosquito repellent, following label directions carefully.
  • Make sure all windows and doors have screens, and that all screens are in good repair.
  • Keep mosquitoes from laying eggs inside and outside of your home. Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out containers that hold water, such as vases, pet water bowls, flowerpot saucers, discarded tires, buckets, pool covers, birdbaths, trash cans and rain barrels.
  • Download a copy of Suffolk County’s informational brochure “Get the Buzz on Mosquito Protection,” available in English and Spanish, and share it with your community.

Dead birds may indicate the presence of West Nile virus in the area. To report dead birds, call the Bureau of Public Health Protection at 631-852-5999from 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Residents are encouraged to take a photograph of any bird in question.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 631-852-4270.

For further information on West Nile virus, visit the Department of Health Services’ website.

Pixabay photo

Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said that due to the heavy rainfall that occurred recently, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has issued an advisory against bathing at 63 beaches, including beaches within and adjacent to various north shore embayments (Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington Harbor and Bay, Centerport Harbor, Northport Harbor and Bay, Port Jefferson Harbor Complex, and Stony Brook Harbor), along the northern shoreline of the Great South Bay, Sag Harbor, and those Long Island Sound beaches that are directly impacted by nearby storm water discharges (list attached).

The advisory is based on the potential that bacterial numbers in excess of New York State standards, resulting from the heavy rain, will impact these areas.

The beaches covered by the advisory are located in areas that are heavily influenced by stormwater runoff from the surrounding watersheds and/or adjacent tributaries, and, because of their location in an enclosed embayment, experience limited tidal flushing.

The Department recommends that bathing and other water contact be suspended in affected areas until the waters have been flushed by two successive tidal cycles (at least a 24 hr. period) after the rain has ended.  Unless sampling done by the Department finds elevated bacterial numbers persisting beyond the 24-hr period, this advisory will be lifted Wednesday, 6/29/22 7am.

 For the latest information on affected beaches, call the Bathing Beach HOTLINE at 631-852-5822, contact the Department’s Office of Ecology at 631-852-5760 M-F, or visit the website link: www.suffolkcountyny.gov/health.

Program information –


Interactive map of beach closures/advisories- https://ny.healthinspections.us/ny_beaches/

Amityville Village Beach Babylon Amityville Advisory Rainfall related
Tanner Park Babylon Copiague Advisory Rainfall related
Venetian Shores Beach Babylon West Babylon Advisory Rainfall related
Sound Beach POA East Brookhaven Sound Beach Advisory Rainfall related
Sound Beach POA West Brookhaven Sound Beach Advisory Rainfall related
Tides Beach Brookhaven Sound Beach Advisory Rainfall related
Beech Road Beach (NSBA) Brookhaven Rocky Point Advisory Rainfall related
Broadway Beach (NSBA) Brookhaven Rocky Point Advisory Rainfall related
Friendship Drive Beach (NSBA) Brookhaven Rocky Point Advisory Rainfall related
Shoreham Village Beach Brookhaven Shoreham Advisory Rainfall related
Shoreham Beach Brookhaven East Shoreham Advisory Rainfall related
Corey Beach Brookhaven Blue Point Advisory Rainfall related
Stony Brook Beach Brookhaven Stony Brook Advisory Rainfall related
Shoreham Shore Club Beach Brookhaven East Shoreham Advisory Rainfall related
Miller Place Park Beach Brookhaven Miller Place Advisory Rainfall related
Scotts Beach Brookhaven Sound Beach Advisory Rainfall related
Woodhull Landing POA Beach Brookhaven Miller Place Advisory Rainfall related
Bayberry Cove Beach Brookhaven Setauket-East Setauket Advisory Rainfall related
Bayview Beach Brookhaven Setauket-East Setauket Advisory Rainfall related
Grantland Beach Brookhaven Setauket-East Setauket Advisory Rainfall related
Indian Field Beach Brookhaven Setauket-East Setauket Advisory Rainfall related
Little Bay Beach Brookhaven Setauket-East Setauket Advisory Rainfall related
Soundview Beach Association Beach Brookhaven Old Field Advisory Rainfall related
Terraces on the Sound Brookhaven Rocky Point Advisory Rainfall related
Havens Beach East Hampton Sag Harbor Advisory Rainfall related
Eagle Dock Community Beach Huntington Cold Spring Harbor Advisory Rainfall related
Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club Beach Huntington Lloyd Harbor Advisory Rainfall related
West Neck Beach Huntington Lloyd Harbor Advisory Rainfall related
Lloyd Neck Bath Club Beach Huntington Lloyd Harbor Advisory Rainfall related
Lloyd Harbor Village Park Beach Huntington Lloyd Harbor Advisory Rainfall related
Gold Star Battalion Park Beach Huntington Huntington Advisory Rainfall related
Head of the Bay Club Beach Huntington Huntington Bay Advisory Rainfall related
Nathan Hale Beach Club Beach Huntington Huntington Bay Advisory Rainfall related
Baycrest Association Beach Huntington Huntington Bay Advisory Rainfall related
Bay Hills Beach Association Huntington Huntington Bay Advisory Rainfall related
Crescent Beach Huntington Huntington Bay Advisory Rainfall related
Knollwood Beach Association Beach Huntington Huntington Advisory Rainfall related
Fleets Cove Beach Huntington Huntington Advisory Rainfall related
Centerport Beach Huntington Centerport Advisory Rainfall related
Huntington Beach Community Association Beach Huntington Centerport Advisory Rainfall related
Centerport Yacht Club Beach Huntington Centerport Advisory Rainfall related
Steers Beach Huntington Northport Advisory Rainfall related
Asharoken Beach Huntington Asharoken Advisory Rainfall related
Hobart Beach Huntington Northport Advisory Rainfall related
Crab Meadow Beach Huntington Northport Advisory Rainfall related
Wincoma Association Beach Huntington Huntington Bay Advisory Rainfall related
Valley Grove Beach Huntington Eatons Neck Advisory Rainfall related
Prices Bend Beach Huntington Eatons Neck Advisory Rainfall related
West Islip Beach Islip West Islip Advisory Rainfall related
Benjamins Beach Islip Bay Shore Advisory Rainfall related
Islip Beach Islip Islip Advisory Rainfall related
East Islip Beach Islip East Islip Advisory Rainfall related
West Oaks Recreation Club Beach Islip West Sayville Advisory Rainfall related
Brightwaters Village Beach Islip Brightwaters Advisory Rainfall related
Bayport Beach Islip Bayport Advisory Rainfall related
Sayville Marina Park Beach Islip Sayville Advisory Rainfall related
Bayberry Beach & Tennis Club Beach Islip Islip Advisory Rainfall related
Ronkonkoma Beach (Town of Islip) Islip Ronkonkoma Advisory Rainfall related
Callahans Beach Smithtown Northport Advisory Rainfall related
Short Beach Smithtown Nissequogue Advisory Rainfall related
Nissequogue Point Beach Smithtown Nissequogue Advisory Rainfall related
Long Beach Smithtown Nissequogue Advisory Rainfall related
Schubert Beach Smithtown Nissequogue Advisory Rainfall related


Many doctors are suggesting people learn to live with the virus and begin returning to usual activities such as going to the movies. Photo from Pixabay

Dr. Gregson Pigott went to the movies this week.

While the activity would be considered mundane in 2019, the decision to go to the theater to catch a flick is yet another example of how local doctors, or, in this case, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, is practicing what he preaches.

“We need to learn to live with the virus,” said Pigott, who has also been to a few Brooklyn Nets basketball games. Pigott, who is not using a mask except in situations where it is required, such as on a plane or on public transit, suggested people are “trying to resume life as it was pre-COVID.”

While the percentage of positive tests has risen, the numbers haven’t raised any alarm bells.

The percentage of COVID positive tests increased to a seven-day average of 2.6% as of April 2, according to figures from the New York State Department of Health.

That figure is higher than it had been in the weeks prior, when the percentage dipped below 2%.

“I certainly expected this,” Dr. Sean Clousten, associate professor of Public Health at Stony Brook University explained in an email. “I suspect this increase is due to unmasking at public schools because many kids who are infected are asymptomatic or the symptoms are different.”

Pigott said the current symptoms for the newer variant of omicron, called BA.2, which is becoming the dominant strain across the country and through much of the world, includes stuffy noses, scratchy throat and a slight cough.

Clousten added that the symptoms can also appear more like a bad stomach bug.

Second booster

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved a second booster for people over 50 and for those who are immunocompromised and who had a first booster more than four months ago.

Pigott said he would urge people who are over 65 or those who are immunocompromised to consider getting another jab.

“Most of the general population is fine with the three-shot regimen,” Pigott said. “Your body will recognize any kind of COVID infection and deal with it quickly.”

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, indicated in an email that Stony Brook has been “advocating for switching vaccines.”

Switching vaccines could mean triggering a different response to the shot for the second booster, Nachman added.

Data about a second booster shows that the shot provides “good protection” against serious COVID, Nachman said. “Will it protect against any infection (meaning you might get a runny nose, cough or upper respiratory infection)? Not really.”

Nachman urged people to consult with their primary care doctor to decide whether to take a booster. What people are doing and where they are going can and should affect that decision.

Finally, daily activities such as going back to a crowded office or starting to take New York City transit could be “excellent reasons” to get a booster, she said.

Nachman plans to get a booster, although she is working on the best timing for another shot.

“Before I travel abroad is key to making sure I have my booster and am protected,” Nachman added.


Nachman is encouraged that people are returning to in-person conferences and other activities.

“It will be great to have people starting to get back to routine living, and that means being with other people,” she explained in an email.

She urged people to stay at home if they don’t feel well.

“Now is not the time to push to go to that meeting or get together with extended family, since you might just be responsible for getting someone else sick,” she explained.

She suggested people should be patient and understanding of others who choose to wear masks or continue to practice social distancing.

“Don’t shame anyone who is wearing a mask,” Nachman advised. “If that is what it takes to get them together with you in public, go for it.”

In another sign of a return to a pre-pandemic life, Pigott suggested that the Health Department was planning to direct more resources to tracking illnesses like Lyme disease.

Pixabay photo

Over the last month, the pandemic trends continue to improve in Suffolk County and in the country.

After a rocky start to the New Year, brought on by an omicron variant that was more contagious than either the original strain of the virus or the delta variant, the percentage of positive tests in Suffolk County continues to decline.

As of Feb. 7, the percentage of positive tests over a seven-day average in Suffolk County was 4.9%, according to the New York State Department of Health. That is down from 14% on Jan. 21 and 27% on Jan. 7.

The trends on Long Island are following similar patterns in other parts of the world that experienced the omicron infection earlier.

South Africa “experienced the omicron wave first,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, health commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, wrote in an email. “Almost as steeply as cases rose, they fell.”

Indeed, at Port Jefferson’s St. Charles Hospital, Dr. Sunil Dhuper, chief medical officer, said there has been a “significant” drop in the number of patients hospitalized and in the number of Emergency Room visits, while the use of monoclonal antibodies to treat patients in the early stages of an infection has also dropped dramatically.

“We are not seeing the kind of volume we were seeing a few weeks ago,” Dhuper added.

The Department of Health for the country reported that the reinfection rate, which reached a peak in the last week of December and first week of January, has also been declining.

The number of hospitalizations throughout the country has fallen enough that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joseph Biden (D), recently said in an interview with the Financial Times that the country is almost past the “full-blown” pandemic phase. While he didn’t offer a specific timetable, he suggested that virus restrictions could be lifted within a matter of months.

Area doctors suggested that vaccinations and more mild symptoms among those who contracted the virus helped alleviate the strain on the health care community.

“The vast majority of those hospitalized for respiratory or other COVID-type illnesses have not been vaccinated,” Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, explained in an email.

While the overall number continues to decline, the county, and the country, need to make continued progress in reducing the overall infection rate before the all-clear signal.

Sean Clouston, associate professor in the Program in Public Health and the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, suggested that the current number of infections still leaves room for improvement.

A positivity rate above 5% which was the figure earlier this week, is “still extremely high,” Clouston explained in an email. “Currently, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] would recommend that no one in the globe travel to Long Island, which doesn’t seem like we ourselves see this as safe objectively.”

Health care providers highlighted the difference between the reported and the actual infection numbers.

When the pandemic started in March of 2020, Dhuper estimates that the ratio of reported to actual cases was close to 1 to 10. With Delta, that number likely dropped to closer to 1 to 5, and with omicron, that’s probably about 1 to 3 or 4.

With the increase in at-home testing, the numbers “we see are more of a sampling, showing the approximate prevalence of COVID-19 virus circulating in the population,” Pigott explained.

Nachman added that Stony Brook is following guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it comes to vaccinations for people who tested positive for COVID-19.

These public health authorities generally recommend a booster dose after people feel well, which is usually 10 days to two weeks after an illness.

Doctors said they are monitoring a new version of the omicron variant, called BA.2

The new variant seems a “bit more” contagious” than the original omicron, Dhuper said. Vaccines, however, have a “reasonable level of protection to prevent hospitalizations and death.”

Dhuper said he continues to “keep an eye” on that variant.

Nachman suggested that the available vaccines continue to help.

“Right now, the [two omicron variants] do not seem to be radically different,” she suggested, as both have a short incubation period and people are protected by the vaccine.

With the number of people contracting the virus and developing more severe symptoms declining, Dhuper said the demand for the effective monoclonal antibody treatment continues to fall.

Dhuper said a recent New England Journal of Medicine study indicated that the antiviral treatment remdesivir, manufactured by Gilead Sciences, was effective at treating mild to moderate illnesses on an outpatient basis over a three-day period.

“Given under controlled conditions, (remdesivir) could be one of the best alternatives that we have,” Dhuper said.

Stony Brook University Hospital

As the flu and COVID-19 are expected to circulate at the same time this season, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever. Although the flu vaccine will not prevent COVID-19, it will help decrease the risk of you and your family getting sick and needing flu-related medical care. Every year, about 2,000 New Yorkers die of seasonal flu and pneumonia, which can develop as a complication of the flu. Meanwhile, over 56,000 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began last year. Vaccination is the best way to protect against both the flu and COVID-19.

Presenter Gregson Pigott,
Suffolk County
Department of Health Services

This Tuesday, November 16 at 7 p.m. join trusted health experts and Health Commissioners from the Suffolk and Nassau County Departments of Health, for a FREE Zoom webinar “The Flu and COVID: A Conversation with Your County Health Commissioner” at 7 PM. They will answer your questions about COVID-19, the flu vaccine and provide advice for maintaining you and your family’s health. Some topics experts will discuss include:

  • How to prevent the spread of flu and COVID this year.

  • What the Department of Health in each county is doing to help Long Islanders.

  • What you should know about vaccine safety, the Delta variant, and how other variants can be prevented.

  • Why booster vaccines are important and who should get them.

  • How to safely get both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Questions can be submitted in advance and real time Spanish translation will be available. To register for this FREE event visit, https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-SUVMjnORoWTfYU52MS-Gw


  • Gregson Pigott, MD, MPH, Commissioner of the Suffolk County, Department of Health Services

  • Lawrence Eisenstein, MD, MPH, FACP, Commissioner of the Nassau County, Department of Health

Presenter Lawrence Eisenstein, MD, MPH, FACP, Commissioner of the Nassau County, Department of Health



  • Héctor E. Alcalá, PhD, MPH, Core Faculty, Program in Public Health; Assistant Professor, Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine, Renaissance School of Medicine, Stony Brook University

This event is co-sponsored by Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Nassau County Department of Health, Stony Brook Program in Public Health, Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. With support from the Stony Brook University Alumni Association.

County Executive Steve Bellone with Dr. Gregson Pigott in front of the vaccine pods in Hauppauge. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Thanks to vaccines for COVID-19, the percentage of positive tests recently dropped below 1% for the first time since the third week of October.

“That’s a big deal,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner for the Department of Health Services in Suffolk County.

Indeed, Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/Northwell Health and associate professor of medicine at Hofstra School of Medicine, said the infection rate was closer to 10 percent in the middle of the winter.

The current positive tests represent a “really low number,” Popp said.

Infections are coming down even more than they did last year amid the economic shutdown because of the vaccine, Pigott said.

Pigott added that the vaccines have proven effective against the most predominant mutated form of the virus, B117 or the UK variant, which is also the most common mutation throughout the country.

“We haven’t seen evidence of resistance to the vaccine,” he said. “The vaccine is working against it.”

The number of people hospitalized with the virus also has been declining in recent weeks. Throughout the county, under 150 people were in the hospital battling symptoms of the disease that caused the pandemic. That’s down from a high of 863 on Jan. 19.

The age of those hospitalized is generally younger than the people who needed urgent medical care in 2020. They are in their 40s and 50s, and they generally don’t stay in the hospital for long.

Because they are younger and healthier, even if they are hospitalized, they generally are discharged sooner, Pigott said.

“I expect we’ll be under 100 soon,” Pigott said.

Indeed, area hospitals reported lower numbers of Covid patients. As of May 10, Stony Brook Hospital had 42 COVID-19 patients, with 13 in the Intensive Care Unit.

As of the same date, Huntington Hospital had 17 COVID-19 positive patients.


The population of people who are older than 65 have generally embraced the opportunity to receive vaccinations. Pigott said about 80% of this population in Suffolk County have been vaccinated.

The elderly, who were among those representing the larger groups hospitalized or killed by the virus, were the first group eligible to receive the vaccination. Children as young as 12 are now eligible to receive a vaccine.

The medical community has been wondering how to “cross this barrier” to encourage more people to receive a vaccine that could continue to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus, Popp said.

Popp urged medical professionals to have conversations with each person to figure out why he or she might be reluctant. He attributed some of the fears of the vaccine to misinformation spread on the Internet or over social media.

Popp recognized that some of those who are unwilling to consider the vaccine don’t have a personal or regular connection with a member of a medical community they trust.

He suggested that doctors and nurses should visit people at cultural centers and schools.

Among workers at Huntington Hospital, the rate of vaccinations has slowed and is about 73%.

“We did quite well” to get to that point, but the hospital “can not go much further” without overcoming some resistance, Popp said.

Pigott said that the halt in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 13 tamped down on the vaccination rate.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration stopped the use of that vaccine pending an analysis of rare side effects, the county “never recovered momentum.”

Pigott said he has participated in webinars and has encouraged people to gather information to make informed decisions.

“The best you can do is show the numbers,” Pigott said, as the number of people who are over 65 who have been hospitalized has declined dramatically as a result of the use of the vaccine.

Reopening in stages

Employers throughout the county have been monitoring the health of their workers and keeping track of the vaccination rate.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has been working its way through various phases of reopening, from phase 1, which occurred on June 1 and involved bringing back most of the scientists, to phase 2 in late September, with the return of more administrators, to phase 2A, which started May 3 and involved bringing back even more people.

The lab, which has historically hosted well-attended scientific meetings that bring together some of the best researchers from around the world, has not yet entered phase 3, when it would be open without any restrictions.

On any given day, the lab probably has 60 to 65% of its staff working on site, according to John Tuke, the chief pperating officer.

“We aspire to be 100% vaccinated, but we’re realistic to know that that’s probably not going to happen,” Tuke said. “Before we move into phase 3, we’re going to want to see that percentage be very high.”

The lab is hoping to bring some conferences back in the fall on a limited basis.

In the last week, the lab tested 400 people, with one test coming back positive. The highest the positivity rate ever got was around 1%.

The percentage of people who have received the vaccine at CSHL is in the low 80s.

While the lab has restrictions on travel, it has made exceptions for staff members to travel through requests to the director of research, the president of the lab or to Tuke.

BNL, meanwhile, continues to have about a third of its staff on site, while most of the staff continues to work remotely. Like CSHL, BNL is not requiring staff to be vaccinated.

BNL is not planning any in-person events this summer or fall. The lab has slightly expanded user access to facilities on a case-by-case basis. BNL has had 10 positive tests in the past month.

At Stony Brook University, about 82% of health care workers have been vaccinated, while 77% of students are vaccinated, with 16% looking to get it sooner rather than later, according to a spokeswoman. As with other SUNY and CUNY schools, Stony Brook will require a vaccine for everyone who returns to school in the fall.

Stony Brook is no longer requiring fully vaccinated people to wear a mask outdoors, except in crowded settings or venues.