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Getting Close to the Infection Rate Limit

Wed, 09/23/2020 - 12:31


In remarks last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo talked about the difficult task of allowing businesses to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic. He put the challenge facing state regulators in terms of numbers, specifically the rate of positive tests for the virus. He explained that the goal was to resume economic activity as long as the infection rate remained under 1 percent for “a period of time.” If the rate went above 1 percent, then additional restrictions would be reimposed. Suffolk County’s seven-day rolling average for positive tests was 1.1 percent this week. Repeated requests to the State Department of Health to determine what exactly was the governor’s “period of time” were unsuccessful.

There are, of course, other measures used in determining what level of normal life is appropriate during the pandemic. Available hospital beds is one. Adequate testing is another. The final big piece of the guidelines is a region’s capacity for contact tracing to identify people potentially infected by a person who tests positive for the virus and get them to quarantine or isolate themselves for 14 days. The Long Island region is doing very well by these standards, thanks to a population that took mask wearing and other avoidance steps seriously. Also important, but not part of the state’s four-point system, is the death rate; Suffolk’s average has been below one per day since the end of June. Flu shots are a good way of helping assure there are medical resources available should the virus reappear with a vengeance.

And yet that 1.1 percent infection rate is a warning sign; the governor said so, even if he put it in vague terms. Our region is well prepared for a second wave. There are hospital beds enough, and doctors know better how to treat patients with the most acute symptoms. But this does not mean that a fall spike could not have very serious consequences. We do not know what period of time the infection rate can remain above 1 percent in Mr. Cuomo’s mind, but we do know Long Island is right at that limit. The governor said so.


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