Persistent Pandemic: COVID-19 Rates Rise Again as East End Prepares for Beach Season

COVID testing at pop-up site
COVID rates are back up on the East End and nationwide
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Coronavirus diagnoses are once again rising in the run up to beach season as the East End prepares for the crowds to return for the third summer of the so-called new normal.

The numbers are not as dramatic as the record-breaking surge in cases over the holidays this winter, but Long Island had an infection rate of nearly 10% based on the seven-day average percentage of positive test results reported over the three days prior to May 10, according to the most recent New York State health data available as of press time. There have been both local outbreaks and initiatives to reclaim a sense of normalcy.

“Due to COVID-19, the leisure and hospitality sector suffered historic job losses,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said following Suffolk’s East End Hospitality & Tourism Academy at Hampton Bays High School last month. “Rather than wait for these jobs to come back, Suffolk County worked with local community-based organizations and business leaders to create an industry-driven workforce training program to start bringing these jobs back now.”

The leisure and hospitality sector — a leading industry in the Twin Forks region — lost more than 60,000 jobs between February and April 2020, according to the 2021 Suffolk County Local Workforce Plan. From April 2020 to March 2021, the sector began to bounce back, regaining a little over 40,000 jobs or 62.9%, of initial jobs lost. The academy is the latest effort to help continue the momentum in reversing those losses.

“The academy provides a positive and productive training and education experience with a two-fold benefit: Introducing businesses to enthusiastic and engaged job candidates and exposing our neighbors to exciting local job opportunities,” said Lars Clemensen, superintendent of the Hampton Bays school district.

Hospitality Academy at Hampton Bays react to COVID job losses
Hospitality Academy at Hampton BaysSuffolk County photo

Nearly 50 students participated in the five-week adult continuing education course taught in Hampton Bays High School’s state-of-the-art commercial culinary lab in partnership with Canoe Place Inn & Cottages.

“We believe the development of The Hospitality Academy will have an immediate impact and aggregate benefit for the East End community, and particularly Hampton Bays,” said Michael Brod, a managing director of the Canoe Place Inn & Cottages.

While the economy appears to have mostly made a switch rebound from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, officials are still continuing to urge the public to get vaccinated to mitigate future upticks.

“We urge every person who is eligible to receive a booster vaccine to get one as soon as possible,” Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said recently. “Recent studies have shown that COVID-19 vaccines have been extremely effective at reducing your risk of dying or needing a ventilator from this virus as compared with adults who were not vaccinated. Protection was highest in adults who received a third COVID-19 vaccine dose.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was recently diagnosed herself, agreed.

“We have come a long way in the past two years, so let’s continue to use the tools we know help protect against, treat and prevent serious illness from COVID-19,” the governor said. “I know first-hand how tests can help stop the spread to our vulnerable loved ones, so let’s keep using this critical tool. I also encourage every New Yorker to make sure you are fully vaccinated and up to date on your booster doses. And if you test positive, talk to your doctor about available treatments. This is how we will continue to move forward through the pandemic safely.”

Outbreaks, however, have become a fact of life. The Town of East Hampton Senior Center reopened May 2 after temporarily closing for a deep cleaning to protect vulnerable seniors who attend programs there from being exposed after several cases were reported among attendees and staffers, town officials said.

“The temporary suspension of in-person senior center services was determined to be prudent, out of an abundance of caution to protect the senior citizens who use the center,” the town said in a statement.

Beyond the East End, an increase in COVID-19 infections around the U.S. has sent more cities into new high-risk categories that are supposed to trigger indoor mask wearing, but much of the country is stopping short of bringing back restrictions amid deep pandemic fatigue. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to mask up in indoor public places, including schools, regardless of vaccination status. But few, if any, local jurisdictions in the region brought back a mask requirement despite rising case counts.

Meanwhile, reported daily cases in the U.S. are averaging 73,633, up more than 40% over the past two weeks, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. But that is a vast undercount because of the testing downturn and the fact tests are being taken at home and not reported to health departments. An influential modeling group at the University of Washington in Seattle estimates that only 13% of cases are being reported to health authorities in the U.S. — which would mean more than a half million new infections every day.

Town of Southampton: 12,388
Town of Riverhead: 7,890
Town of East Hampton: 4,103
Town of Southold: 3,659
Shelter Island: 154
Suffolk: 442,999
Long Island: 866,241
New York State: 5,228,137
United States: 81.9 million
Worldwide: 518 million

~ With Associated Press

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