Counting of absentee ballots in several close races was cut short on Saturday after a worker in the Suffolk County Board of Elections tested positive for COVID-19, which will suspend counting until Tuesday, county officials said.
Because of the positive test after the employee showed symptoms of the virus, the county Health Department ordered seven other employees into quarantine, according to county election commissioners Nick LaLota, a Republican; and Anita Katz, a Democrat. The seven other employees have shown no symptoms and will be tested again on Monday.
County election officials had been working 10-hour shifts the last five days and had planned an eight-hour day of counting on Saturday. So far, nearly 100,000 of the 175,000 absentee ballots have been counted, but some races still hang in the balance.
The worker is a part-time employee brought in to help in sorting of thousands of absentee ballots. A test of the worker came back positive on Saturday. The counting was stopped as the elections officials consulted with the county Health Department on the next steps.
Still to be counted are mailed votes in the 1st Congressional District, the 1st and 3rd state senate districts; and the 4th Assembly District.
Katz called the bipartisan team counting ballots “the backbone of our democratic process. They have stepped up to every challenge 2020 has thrown at them and I am confident we will get through this together, too.”
Meanwhile, the infection rates in the state remain troublesome, officials said. The overall state infection rate stands at 2.87%, which is lower than the seven-day rolling average of 2.91%, according to state figures. The rate in the focus areas was 4.34, slightly lower than the seven-day rolling average of 4.55%.
The statewide positivity rate, not including the focus areas, was 2.49%, higher than the seven-day average of 2.46%, the state figures said.
New York suffered 34 deaths related to COVID-19, including one in Nassau County.
“While we continue to see COVID-19 cases surge around the globe, our data-driven micro-cluster strategy — centered on a robust testing program — has helped New York maintain one of the nation’s lowest infection rates. However, we are in no way immune to the problems we are seeing elsewhere and we are entering a very dangerous period with the cold weather and holidays approaching,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.
He added, “I understand the desire to come together with those you love and celebrate the holidays, but truly loving someone in 2020 unfortunately means you might not get to be together physically. … By making these tough decisions and practicing the safe behaviors we know help stop the spread, we will get through this as one unified, loving state.”
The infection rate on Long Island was 2.9% Friday, around where the number has hovered for days, according to state figures.
Nassau had 403 new cases for a total of 56,278, and Suffolk had 479 new cases for a total of 55,808.
New York City officials said Saturday that the number of diagnosed coronavirus infections has risen in the city for yet another day.
There are 1,345 new cases and the seven-day average infection rate is 3.11%, according to a tweet from Mayor Bill de Blasio. These figures have climbed nearly every day for weeks.
And major police departments on Long Island will respond to complaints about private gatherings exceeding the 10-person limit for Thanksgiving, but they are hoping that the public will respect the limitation put in place by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, officials say.
Nassau County police will respond to any violations of Cuomo’s order, said department spokesman Det. Richard LeBrun.
“For their health and safety, we will continue to educate residents and visitors on the COVID-19 restrictions,” LeBrun said. “If there are repeat offenders to this order, we will work with the Health Department and fire marshals with regard to further enforcement.”
The Suffolk County Police Department also said officers would respond to reports of violations of the order by individuals and businesses. In addition, police will be enforcing drunken driving laws, said spokeswoman Dawn Schob.
Police will step up patrols Wednesday evening to respond to reports of gatherings at private homes that exceed the state limit of 10, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has said.
If underage drinking or drug use is occurring, homeowners could be charged with social host law violations, with fines of $500 to $1,000, in addition to gathering restriction violations, he said.
The night before Thanksgiving is typically when many college students returning home gather at bars with friends. With new restrictions requiring bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m., Bellone has said he worried that crowds would instead gather in private homes.
Health experts predict large indoor celebrations such as on Thanksgiving will lead to another coronavirus outbreak, although they also said Long Island likely wouldn’t return to March and April levels, when hospitals were packed with patients and more than 100 people died daily in Nassau and Suffolk.
The New York State Police said that enforcement of the limitation was the responsibility of local officials. If state troopers become aware of any issue, their priority would be to educate those involved about the need to limit unsafe behavior, said Officer William Duffy, a spokesman.
He added that troopers wouldn’t be making any spot checks but they would be enforcing drunken driving laws.
Suffolk County Sheriff Errol P. Toulon Jr. said he was not involved in the planning to create the 10-person limit and said on Facebook that his office would not be involved in the enforcement of it on Thanksgiving. The sheriff’s office also announced that as of Saturday all inmate visits would be suspended indefinitely to guard against spread of COVID-19.
With Matthew Chayes and Anthony M. DeStefano
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