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infection rate

As the new school year begins, students will have to wear masks once again. File photo from Smithtown Central School District

What a difference a month, or two, makes.

The percent of positive tests in Suffolk County on Aug. 29 stood at 5.1% with a 4.7% positive seven-day average, according to data from the Suffolk County Department of Health.

That is considerably higher than just a month earlier, with a 3.2% positive testing rate on July 29 and a 2.7% rate on a seven-day average. The increase in infections for the county looks even more dramatic when compared with June 29, when positive tests were 0.2% and the seven day average was 0.4%.

“With the highly transmissible delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes Covid-19] circulating, we are urging everyone who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible,” Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, wrote in an email. “We also advise residents to wear masks when indoors in public.”

With students returning to school during the increase in positive tests, including those who are under 12 and ineligible to receive the vaccination, Pigott explained that he was concerned about the positive tests in the county.

Nationally, the spread of the Delta variant is so prevalent that the Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky at a White House briefing urged people who are unvaccinated not to travel during the Labor Day weekend.

While area hospitals aren’t seeing the same alarming surge towards capacity that they did last year, local health care facilities have had an uptick in patients who need medical attention.

“The increased community transmission is concerning as it is correlating with hospital rates also slowly rising,” Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, wrote in an email. 

Meanwhile, most of the patients hospitalized at Huntington Hospital are younger, from children who are transferred to people in their 20s to 50s, explained Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/ Northwell Health, in an email.

As schools in the area prepare to return to in-person learning, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University has been coordinating with officials to prepare for a safe return to in-person learning.

“Stony Brook faculty are working with a diverse group of school districts in planning for the upcoming school year,”  Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, explained in an email.

In recent weeks, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital has had few pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19, with more pediatric positive cases in the outpatient setting.

Area hospitals including Stony Brook and Huntington Hospital continue to have strict guidelines in place for health care workers including social distancing, hand washing and the proper use of personal protective equipment.

Amid increasing discussion of the potential use of boosters, Stony Brook awaits “formal guidance and will continue to follow all DOH directives on vaccine administration,” Fries wrote.

Ida and Covid

Outside of Long Island, Hurricane Ida has the potential to increase the spread of the virus, as larger groups of people crowd into smaller spaces.

The hurricane “may become a super spreader event since vaccination rates in the South are low and people may crowd into shelters or at home indoors,” Popp explained. “I am concerned not only about the hospital capacity in Louisiana, but also of the impact the hurricane can have on hospital functioning.”

Popp cited a loss of power, lack of supplies, and the difficulty for ambulances trying to reach patients in flooded areas.