New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday that elective surgeries may be conducted in Suffolk County after a two-month hiatus due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
During his daily COVID-19 briefing, the governor said elective and ambulatory care procedures may resume in Suffolk and Westchester counties. Nassau was not given the green light.
During Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s daily briefing May 16, he said the county is still waiting for the governor to sign an executive order, but said that the announcement is “another positive step forward and another indication that we are moving in a very good direction.”
Hospitalizations continue to fall with 539 people hospitalized and 186 in critical care. Hospitals in Suffolk are at 70 percent capacity and the beds in the intensive care units are about 68 percent full, according to the most recent figures Bellone released on Saturday afternoon. As Long Island as a region looks to reopen it must maintain 30 percent availability in its hospitals and ICUs. Bellone, a member of the regional control room the governor instituted to oversee the reopening, will be paying careful attention to these numbers as elective procedures begin again, but he said he was confident they would not impact the figures much.
Hospitals on the East End have not set an exact date that elective procedures will begin.
“We look forward to resuming care of those who have been patiently waiting for treatment and will begin scheduling in guidance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health, and our colleagues at Stony Brook Medicine,” said Barbara Jo Howard, a spokeswoman at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
David Battinelli, the chief medical officer at Northwell Health, which runs Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and several other hospitals on Long Island, said the governor’s announcement was welcome news.
“Northwell alone has a backlog of well over 10,000 urgent and elective surgeries that were postponed because of the COVID-19 epidemic,” he said. “Many of them in Suffolk and Westchester.”
After two weeks, Northwell hospitals resume what he called “urgent surgeries,” such as cancer-related procedures that if delayed more than two or three months could result in long-term, negative health implications for patients, he said.
“But before any are performed, all patients will be required to undergo pre-surgical COVID-19 testing to ensure they are free of the virus,” he said. “The most-significant challenge for Northwell at this point is ensuring the public that its hospitals and outpatient facilities are safe, and that those who have medical concerns get them addressed immediately.”
Bellone said the move will help stimulate another area of the economy that was impacted by COVID-19.
“This is another important milestone,” the county executive said May 17. “Every day we’re seeing signs of positive things. We know elective surgeries need to happen, we know that COVID-19 has caused this delay in medical procedures that, while maybe not crisis emergency procedures, are procedures that people need, and we’ve always known that it’s important to work those back into the system. The fact that Suffolk County has now reached a place where we can get those procedures back on track . . . It’s certainly positive for the economy as well for the budgets of hospitals.”
The governor also announced that horse tracks, including at Belmont Park in Elmont, will be allowed to reopen on June 1, albeit without spectators. The Watkins Glen International, home to NASCAR races, in Upstate New York will also be allowed to resume races, just without fans in the stands.
He said the openings would generate economic interests and, in some cases, provide some televised entertainment without spiking the infection rate. At the horse tracks especially, people are already there, taking care of and training horses. Re-opening the activities without crowds offers “a lot of reward for minimum risk,” Cuomo said.
Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.