By Julianne Mosher and Kyle Barr
The well-known wedding and event venue Miller Place Inn has been issued a hefty fine for hosting an event that led to around 270 individuals having to quarantine across Long Island.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said Oct. 13 a notorious Sweet 16 party was hosted at the venue Sept. 25. The event involved 81 people, including 49 students and 32 adults, which is over the state-mandated limit. That party has now led to 334 people having been notified by the Suffolk County Department of Health for contact tracing. Of that number, 183 of those people were affiliated with schools, while 151 were non-school specific. The county executive said the people affected were spread throughout the county.
“It was the first time the health department has taken a course of action against a business.”
— Steve Bellone
The county DHS has identified 37 positive cases in connection to the Sweet 16 party, of which 29 of the positive cases were those who attended, seven were household contacts, and one case was a close contact of an individual who attended.
State law restricts all non essential gatherings to 50 or fewer people or 50 percent capacity, whichever one of those is less.
“It was the first time the health department has taken a course of action against a business,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters, citing that businesses before have largely complied with COVID restrictions when confronted by officials. The Inn has received previous warnings, he said.
The Inn was fined $10,000 for violations of the New York state executive orders, as well as $2,000 for violations of the Suffolk County sanitary code. The county exec said the determination that the Inn was at fault based on the “comprehensive contact tracing investigation.” Though he noted not everyone at the party was wearing masks, the primary violation was breaking the mass gathering rules.
Christopher Regina, a co-owner of the Inn, said in a phone interview after Bellone’s announcement that they were made aware Oct. 8 they were in violation of the guidelines. They thought they were allowed to operate at 50% of their fire marshal cap of 250 persons. He said, along with implementing air filtration measures, they were “operating safely” with less than 125.
“At no time before that did we know we were operating in the wrong,” he said.
On Friday, Oct. 9, the Inn announced it would be closing down after what they said was a warning call from the New York State Liquor Authority over reported COVID violations. Miller Place Inn owners Donna Regina, during an interview Friday, expressed that she was aware of “a group of teens [who] tested positive somewhere.”
“At no time before that did we know we were operating in the wrong.”
— Christopher Regina
The event has become notorious in the past few weeks, as the Sweet 16 was reported to have directly led to the Sachem school district having to temporarily shut down the high school.
Though the county executive said there is no dictionary definition for a so-called superspreader event, “Based on our experience in dealing with this pandemic for seven months now, this is a superspreader event without question.”
On Friday, a spokesperson from the New York State Liquor Authority told TBR News Media they had issued a warning to the Inn about complaints. A spokesperson for the SLA did not immediately respond to a request for comment over if they will take any action against the venue.
Bellone said that people need to be mindful of the consequences of mass gatherings so no more clusters pop up.
“We need to make sure as we move into the colder weather, as we move towards winter, that we cannot have these types of activities that could cause a superspreader event like this,” he said. “We are entering a period of time where it is dangerous. We know as people move indoors they shut the windows, shut the doors and when inside that’s the real possibility for a second wave of cases happening.”