‘Superspreader’ wedding, birthday party in Long Island lead to 56 infections

Within two weeks, 30 guests had tested positive for covid-19. Suffolk County health officials said an additional 159 people who had potentially been exposed to the virus by wedding attendees had been forced to self-quarantine to prevent further spread of the virus.

“One-third of all of those in attendance,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a news conference Wednesday. “Think about that for a second.”

County officials recommended a fine of $17,000 against the club for violating a county sanitary code as well as a statewide mandate restricting gatherings to no more than 50 people, and the State Liquor Authority told the New York Times it was investigating the incident. The country club did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Long Island birthday party that same day limited its guest list to 50 names, but has still led to another 26 coronavirus cases in the last two weeks, Bellone said.

Those ill-fated gatherings were not the only large events to spread the coronavirus across Long Island in recent weeks. Dozens of new cases have been tied to a string of parties in Suffolk County, and hundreds of residents have been forced to quarantine after possible exposure to the virus.

“This type of blatant disregard for the well-being of others is not only extremely disappointing; it will not be tolerated,” Bellone said Wednesday. “If you violate the rules, you’ll be caught and held responsible.”


Posted by Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone on Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The spread of the virus along Long Island is particularly concerning in the state and county that were once epicenters of the pandemic. More than 500,000 people in New York have tested positive for the virus, and at least 33,219 have died since the start of the pandemic. Even as coronavirus rates have remained low in New York in recent weeks, some social gatherings have led to hot spots.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) on Wednesday urged residents to avoid even family gatherings as the holidays approach.

“My personal advice is the best way to say, ‘I love you,’ this Thanksgiving, the best way to say, ‘I’m thankful for you,’ is to say, ‘I love you so much, I’m so thankful for you, that I don’t want to endanger you, and I don’t want to endanger our family and I don’t want to endanger our friends. So we’ll celebrate virtually.’” Cuomo said. “But that is my personal opinion.”

Despite admonitions to keep social gathering small and socially distanced, or to avoid them altogether, many people have decided to come together in large groups, especially in Long Island.

A Sweet 16 party hosted at a banquet hall on Sept. 25 became the county’s first “superspreader” event, Bellone said, after 37 guests tested positive for the virus after attending the 81-person soiree. At least 270 people had to quarantine after possibly being exposed to coronavirus at the teenager’s birthday party. County officials fined the wedding venue $12,000.

Another party flooded with teenagers in the Long Island hamlet of Farmingville led to multiple 911 calls on Saturday. Between 200 and 300 people had crammed into a house, violating the state’s coronavirus restrictions and laws against underage drinking. The homeowner, who Bellone said was the first homeowner to be penalized in the county, was fined $2,500.

In the nearby community of Riverhead, 300 people squeezed into a party with a live DJ on Friday. Bellone said county officials do not yet know if those large gathering have resulted in any new coronavirus infections, but the Suffolk county health department is monitoring for potential cases linked to either event.

Bellone on Wednesday also gave more details on the Oct. 17 birthday party that has led to dozens of cases, saying it was held in Bellport and blaming the spread on a lack of social distancing at the event. An additional 132 people have been asked to quarantine after possible exposure, Bellone said.

Though Bellone said public health officials believe the community spread of the virus connected to the wedding and the birthday party have been contained, he stressed the consequences of such “superspreader” gatherings.

“These kinds of superspreader events are a threat to our public health and our economic recovery,” he said.

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