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Now available at a doctor’s office or pharmacy near you: the latest COVID-19 booster.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration gave Pfizer and Moderna Emergency Use Authorization to start distributing their newest COVID booster, which includes protection against the highly infectious Ba.4 and Ba.5 strains of omicron.

A few days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the administration of the booster.

Area doctors welcomed the news and suggested the newest booster would be helpful for certain groups.

“I suspect that, at a minimum, those who needed to get a fourth booster (elderly, comorbidity, immune issues) should get” it, explained Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, in an email. “I believe that its approval will include all individuals over age 12.”

Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/ Northwell Health, agreed that senior citizens and immunocompromised people should consider the latest booster.

With other shots available until now, residents may need to consider how much time to wait between boosters.

People are eligible for another booster two months after a previous COVID vaccine, according to the FDA website.

The FDA authorized single doses of Moderna’s booster for people 18 and over and Pfizer’s booster for those 12 and older.

The incidence of hospitalizations among people who have COVID at area hospitals has remained fairly stable during the summer. Stony Brook University Hospital has about 50 COVID inpatients each day, while Huntington Hospital has about 11.

Doctors cautioned, however, that those numbers include people who are hospitalized for other procedures or treatments and who test positive as a part of the hospital’s effort to monitor the pandemic.

“The vaccines, to a large extent (primary series plus a booster-protection) are working quite well” at preventing the need for hospitalizations, Nachman wrote.

Doctors urged people to take steps to protect themselves, their families, and their communities against contracting the virus.

“With the virus changing, it’s even more important to keep yourself and your family safe from getting COVID again and remain vigilant about taking precautions, i.e. hand washing, social distancing, mask wearing,” Nachman added.

A minority of residents treated with Pfizer’s antiviral therapy Paxlovid have experienced a rebound, testing positive days or even a week or more after receiving the antiviral treatment.

“Viral rebound occurs in about 10%” for those who have taken Paxlovid, with the majority in the older age groups, Nachman wrote. Having said that, the rebound we are seeing has not led to Emergency Department visits or hospitalizations.” 

As for mental health issues, residents of Suffolk County, as with other communities, have generally seen an improvement amid a relaxation of restrictions that limited social contact and kept people from their routines.

“Mental health issues were mostly related to the isolation mandates that were required to slow the spread of COVID,” Popp explained. “The reduction in restrictions has improved the mental health issues for many people.”

Monkeypox vigilance

Area hospitals continue to remain on the lookout for potential outbreaks of monkeypox.

“We are aggressively evaluating all suspected cases of monkeypox and have protocols in place for testing as well as treatment,” Nachman wrote. “We will be rolling out a [National institutes of Health] funded clinical trial for treating individuals across the ages with TPOXX.”

Huntington Hospital has had two confirmed cases of monkeypox. Popp expects the virus will “likely continue to spread.”

Several medical facilities continue to administer the limited monkeypox vaccines.

SBUH is working with the Suffolk County Department of Health to provide vaccinations at the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center in Hampton Bays.

On the official Suffolk County website, eligible residents can schedule monkeypox vaccinations through Northwell Health at the Bayshore Mall on Sunrise Highway.

As for the flu, Nachman urged residents to get their vaccines prior to the start of the seasonal flu season, sometime between now and November.

Stock photo from Metro

Amid the typical questions about returning to school, such as finding friends in their classes and navigating to the right room at the right time, students on Long Island and elsewhere are preparing for the third year of the pandemic while other health care concerns loom.

As the summer enters its final weeks, health officials have found mosquitoes that have the West Nile virus, monkeypox has become a national health emergency, and Rockland County and New York City have reported cases of polio.

With all those health concerns, however, medical officials emphasized numerous pieces of good news that they hope will provide less of a disruption to communities, parents, teachers and students.

For starters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week eased some COVID-19 restrictions. In the past two years, some students had switched back and forth from in-person to remote learning after a positive test.

The CDC advises students, staff members and workers who were exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 to wear face coverings for 10 days and to get tested, instead of urging them to quarantine.

At the same time, the CDC is no longer suggesting that unvaccinated students get tested regularly in order to attend school.

“Part of the reason they’re easing the restrictions is that the current strain that’s circulating is fairly non aggressive, there are not a lot of hospitalizations and there is not a lot of severe illnesses,” said Dr. Philip Nizza, chief of Infectious Disease at Mather Hospital and attending infectious disease physician at St. Charles Hospital.

The cases Nizza has seen in the hospitals are “very mild” and he hasn’t had an intensive care unit patient with a ventilator in well over a month.

Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of the Healthcare Epidemiology Department at Stony Brook Medicine, suggested that the shift in the CDC guidance likely reflects the reality that non-pharmaceutical mitigation measures are of more limited use in an era when opportunities exist to receive effective vaccines, which are well tolerated, and safe therapeutics have become a tool to manage those people who are acutely affected.

“The shift now appears to be focused on self-assessment of risk [for self, close family members or others who may be adversely impacted if infected] and thus individual risk mitigation,” Donelan explained in an email.

Still, Nizza, among other health care providers in Suffolk County, urged people to continue to receive vaccinations and to stay up to date with their boosters.

Nizza suggested that a new booster, which could provide protection against the infectious Ba.5 omicron strain that has become the dominant variant in the county and in the United States, could be a “game changer.”

Doctors cautioned people in higher risk groups, such as those who are immunocompromised, have chronic lung disease or are significantly overweight to be vigilant about their exposure to the SARS-CoV2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

As of earlier this week, Suffolk County reported a 7.8% positive test rate on a seven-day average using lab-reported PCR tests, which doesn’t include the rapid tests. At the same time, the number of positive cases on a seven-day average stood at 33.8 per 100,000, according to the New York State Department of Health.

“If you’re not a high-risk patient the danger zone is lower,” said Nizza.


Meanwhile, monkeypox continues to be a threat to the county, the state and the nation, as the availability of vaccines against the virus lags the need for shots.

New York State continues to have the greatest number of cases of the virus, with close to 2,300 out of about 12,000 cases in the country, according to the CDC. Most of the New York State cases are in the city.

The virus has affected men who have been intimate with other men, although the virus can spread through physical contact.

Nizza described monkeypox as “generally a nonfatal infection with a high presentation rate amongst the undocumented high-risk groups,” he said. “I don’t think the general population needs to rush out and get the monkeypox vaccine, unless [you] are in a high risk group.

Nizza doesn’t anticipate that the virus will spread at anywhere near the rate that COVID did.

“There is a vaccine available, which is much different than COVID, which caught us unaware,” he added.

West Nile virus

As of earlier this month, 38 mosquitoes had tested positive for the West Nile virus, including samples in Setauket and Port Jefferson Station.

The virus was first detected in birds and mosquitoes in Suffolk County in 1999.

People who contract the virus typically experience mild or no symptoms. In a small number of cases, people can have high fever, headaches, stiff necks and may have vision loss, numbness and even paralysis.

Symptoms can last several weeks and the neurological effects can be permanent.

The CDC recommends people use insect repellent to reduce the chance of getting bitten by a mosquito that harbors the virus. Additionally, reducing any standing water around the outside of the house cuts back on the opportunity for these virus-bearing insects to breed.

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott recommended that people minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn, make sure windows and doors have screens and, at places where mosquitoes are active, wear shoes and socks and long pants and long sleeved shirts.

As of late last week, Mather and St. Charles didn’t have any reported cases of West Nile virus.

The people who are especially vulnerable include the elderly and anyone on drugs that suppress their immune systems.


Health officials in Rockland County and New York City reported two cases of people with polio.

This disease, which spreads from contact with infected feces, has been largely eradicated after the widespread use of an effective vaccine.

“Most people have their children vaccinated as a part of a routine series,” Nizza said. “It’s a much lower risk.”

The doctor urged people to remain vigilant about other threats that might come this fall, particularly the flu.

With masks and social distancing, the incidence of the flu declined over the last few years. As people return to work and school on a full time basis, the chance for the spread of a problematic strain rises.

“The flu is always bound to rear its head in the fall and winter months,” Nizza said, as he reminded people to get their shots and to continue to wash their hands before eating.

Even if people feel healthy and are in low risk groups, they can and should help others the way they might lend a hand to their neighbors after a storm.

“We have to protect those who have a high risk of mortality,” Nizza said. “We need herd compassion, to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

The reported rate of positive tests for COVID-19 is likely well below the actual infection rate, particularly for the highly-transmissible BA.5 strain of Omicron, health care officials said.

“I expect that we’re at least double, and we’re probably significantly higher than double,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “I, like many others, am quite concerned for the fall and winter.”

Indeed, with positive results for PCR tests in the range of 10 to 12% during the summer, the percentage of people who might contract the most infectious variant of the virus yet could surge in the colder months, when students return to school and people spend more time indoors.

The good news so far is that the number of people who have been hospitalized with COVID has stayed relatively steady at Stony Brook University Hospital, at around 50.

Over the past few weeks, the number hasn’t dipped below 40 or gone above 75, which means that the current infections generally aren’t causing hospitalizations, Nachman said.

“While COVID-19 rates may be higher than reported, cases are less severe than they were at earlier stages of the pandemic and hospitalizations are fewer,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Service, explained in an email. “Vaccinations play a large role in the reduction of hospitalizations.”

The number of people hospitalized with COVID on Long Island averages about 450 per day, which is down from 4,000 in April of 2020 and 2,200 in January of 2022, according to the county Department of Health.

Suffolk County hosted a back to school test kit distribution event on Tuesday at the H. Lee Dennison Building for parents and residents.

Raising awareness of monkeypox

At the same time, government and health care officials are dedicating more resources to combat the threat from monkeypox, a virus with symptoms including fever, headaches, exhaustion and a rash that can last two to four weeks.

In Suffolk County, the number of confirmed cases has climbed to 22 as of the beginning of August, according to Department of Health officials.

Working with Northwell Health and Stony Brook University, the county has been providing monkeypox vaccinations. The county expects to get more vaccines later this month, although the demand continues to exceed the supply.

Governor Kathy Hochul (D) declared a state of emergency on July 29 over the outbreak, which will allow a faster response and enhance the distribution of vaccines in the state. The governors of California and Illinois have also declared states of emergency over a virus that is rarely fatal but is painful and can cause scarring. The more vulnerable populations include pregnant women, young children, people who are immunocompromised and individuals who have a history of eczema.

Nachman said the response from the governor was a “way of getting ahead” of the spread of the virus.

The state of emergency “raises everyone’s concern,” Nachman said. “When you go to a local physician, more people are thinking, looking and testing [for monkeypox]. Testing is critical” to confirm cases and to reduce the spread.

Vaccinations, which involve getting two shots that are four weeks apart, can accelerate the immune response, Nachman said.

Stony Brook hopes in the next few weeks to work on a National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trial with children, pregnant and postpartum women on a potential treatment for the virus.

Spread during physical contact, the large majority of monkeypox cases have occurred among men who have been intimate with other men.

Pigott has been working closely with the community to promote prevention efforts and vaccinations. He spoke on Monday at a forum hosted by the LGBT Network, where he said gay or bisexual men in their 20s and 30s were at the highest risk.

Other viruses

In addition to COVID concerns for the fall, Nachman explained that other seasonal respiratory viruses have become more prevalent and problematic through the summer.

Flu has historically been a winter virus, starting in late November or early December and ebbing in its infectiousness around March.

In 2022, the flu season stretched through June. At the same time, respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, typically starts in November and lasts through February.

“We had RSV all summer long,” Nachman said. “We never had a break.”

Nachman is concerned that the overlap among the viruses with infection rates may increase at the same time.

“I worry about the juxtaposition with other respiratory pathogens” that have exceeded their usual seasonal limitations, Nachman added.

Those other viruses are highly contagious, but were limited in their spread when people were wearing masks. Once people stopped taking precautions for COVID, these other viruses also spread.

“No one had been exposed, and it was like a match to tinder,” Nachman said. “It spread through the population” after few people had contracted these illnesses.

Health care providers urged people to take several steps to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.

“If you’re sick, please don’t go to work,” Nachman said. ‘If your child is sick, please don’t send them to school.”

People also need to practice safe cough techniques. If they need to cough or sneeze, they should minimize the number of aerosolized particles by covering their nose and mouth or coughing into their clothing.

A plea for proper vaccinations

With a reluctance to return to the widespread use of masks or other restrictions that might limit the spread of COVID, health care officials continue to urge people to benefit from the protection vaccines provide.

Indeed, most of the people who have required more extensive medical care at Stony Brook University Hospital have not been fully vaccinated.

Some of those who have required medical attention received a single dose of a vaccine over two years ago, which is effectively not vaccinated, she said.

Nachman expects that COVID vaccinations may become required as they are for measles mumps and rubella and other diseases for students to attend class in person.

“I do see in the future that will happen,” Nachman said. “Not vaccinating hurts the child and the entire community.”

Monkeypox vaccines were made available at pop-up clinics on Fire Island. Stock photo

Amid an increase in cases of a virus caused primarily by close skin contact, Suffolk County started to provide vaccinations this week.

By appointment only, Suffolk County is administering 750 vaccinations to eligible people at pop-up clinics on Fire Island. Within under two hours, the county, with help from Northwell Health, had received requests for all of the available vaccines.

“It was heartwarming that so many people signed up for the vaccine right away in the at-risk community,” said Dr. David Galinkin, an infectious disease specialist at Port Jefferson-based St. Charles Hospital. People want to “stop this in its tracks.”

While monkeypox was discovered in 1958 and had its first reported cases in humans in 1970, the current limited outbreak is the first time health officials documented it spreading through person-to-person contact in the United States. Previous outbreaks involved a returning traveler from Africa or through contact with an infected animal.

As of the end of last week, Suffolk County had reported three cases of monkeypox.

About 98% of the cases in the country were reported among members of the gay and bisexual community of men who have sex with other men, Galinkin said.

A rare condition, monkeypox has symptoms including fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and a rash that looks like pimples or blisters on people’s faces, inside their mouths and on hands, feet, chest
and genitals.

People who contract monkeypox can have symptoms that last for two to four weeks.

“While the current global outbreak appears to have heavily impacted [men who have sex with men], it is important to understand that this is a disease that is transmitted by intimate prolonged contact with an infected individual,” Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine, explained in an email. 

Medical officials pointed out that monkeypox doesn’t present the same threat to public health as COVID-19, which can be spread by breathing in air contaminated with viral particles.

Health officials, however, are urging people to take steps to protect themselves against a virus that can be uncomfortable and that can spread to others through various levels of contact.

“Most important to understand is that monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease,” Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/Northwell Health. “It is sufficient to touch an active lesion to be exposed.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has considerable information on a website dedicated to monkeypox, which people can access at the link: www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox

The CDC urges people to avoid close skin to skin contact with the rash. The center also recommends that people not kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with someone who has the virus.

People should not handle or touch the bedding, towels or clothing of someone who is sick. To protect themselves, those who might have come in contact with a person who has monkeypox should wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Adding to the list of concerns during pregnancy, women can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.

Unlike COVID, people who do not have monkeypox symptoms can’t spread the virus to others.


The most commonly used vaccinations involve two shots that are 28 days apart. Like vaccines for COVID, the optimal protection is expected two weeks after the second dose, Donelan said.

The CDC recommends that people who are close personal contacts of those with the virus get the vaccine. The center also urges those who may have been at increased risk of exposure, through laboratory testing, to consider receiving shots as well.

The CDC suggested that people get the vaccines within four days from the date of exposure for the best chance to avoid developing the disease.

Vaccines given between four and 14 days after exposure may reduce symptoms but may not prevent the disease.

Combining the vaccination with self-isolation and other measures can control outbreaks and prevent further transmission of the virus, the CDC explained.

Monkeypox vaccines aren’t as readily available as those for COVID.

“As vaccine production ramps up, we will expand our operations to ensure that anyone who wants to get vaccinated is able to,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement.

Dr. Gregson Pigott, county health commissioner, also explained in a statement that he encourages “those who may be at risk to get the vaccine and, in the meantime, be cautious with your intimate relations.”

COVID-19 update

COVID, meanwhile, continues to spread through Suffolk County, despite the warmer weather and the greater opportunity for outdoor interactions.

As of July 10, the seven-day average for positive tests was 9.3%, according to the New York State Department of Health. That is up from 7.5% on a seven-day average in June.

“The incidence of COVID has increased in the last few weeks in Suffolk County,” wrote Popp, of Huntington Hospital, which, earlier this week, had 15 COVID patients at the hospital.

The high current positive rate is “likely due to the fact that most COVID-related prevention measures have been discontinued” including masks and social distancing and the current omicron subvariants are also more transmissible, Popp said.

As of July 11, Stony brook University Hospital had 52 positive COVID inpatients, compared with 39 on June 11, according to Stony Brook Medicine officials.

Over the past weekend, Galinkin admitted more patients with COVID at St. Charles Hospital than he had in months.

“It seems to be on the rebound,” he said, as the BA-5 strain is the “most contagious strain we’ve seen,” he said. He expects the numbers to continue to rise.

COVID symptoms from BA-4 and BA-5, which are the dominant variants in Suffolk County are milder than previous types. Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, wrote in an email. The hospital is also seeing much less frequent loss of smell or taste with the current variant.

Nachman is concerned about possible increased rates of infection in the fall and winter.

“Overlying that concern is the heightened risk of our routine, formerly seasonal viruses co-occurring with COVID leading to more illness visits and hospitalizations, especially among our most vulnerable populations,” Nachman said in an email.

Galinkin said the higher level of COVID infections underscores the importance of vaccinations.

“It’s our best defense against this,” he said. “There’s talk of a new and improved vaccine coming out in the fall” that will provide protection against omicron variants. “Hopefully, people will take advantage of that.”

Stock photo

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services announced July 1 the first individual confirmed orthopoxvirus, or monkeypox, case in Suffolk County. The person, who was seen by a local healthcare provider, is following isolation protocols from home. Testing for orthopoxvirus was conducted at the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center Laboratory.

Suffolk County health officials are communicating with the individual and will contact persons who may have been exposed. The case is one of 96 currently confirmed orthopoxvirus cases in New York State and approximately 400 in the United States to date.

“While the current risk to the general public is low, we urge the public as well as healthcare providers in Suffolk County to be aware that this rare virus has been found in the region and to know the signs and symptoms and manner of transmission of the monkeypox virus,” said Suffolk County Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott.

Monkeypox can spread from person-to-person most often through direct and prolonged contact with the infectious rash, scabs, body fluids, or respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex. It may also spread by touching items, such as clothing or linens with infectious body fluids. Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.

Anyone with a rash that looks like monkeypox should talk to their healthcare provider, even if they don’t think they had contact with someone who has monkeypox. The New York State Department of Health has alerted New York healthcare providers so they have information regarding reporting and case testing.

Recent monkeypox cases in the region have involved a rash that is often in the genital and peri-anal regions and may include other symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, and pain when swallowing, before or after the rash appearance. Most infections last two to four weeks.

Suffolk County residents can learn about monkeypox at the New York State Department of Health website: www.health.ny.gov/monkeypox