Counties Innovating: Suffolk Hotspot Testing and Morgue Expansion
As Suffolk County navigates the front lines of this public health crisis, one of our goals is to ensure that other communities can learn from our experience.
By Steve Bellone
Suffolk County Executive
The coronavirus is fast, it is intense, and we are responding with rapid innovation to strengthen our preparedness with the ultimate goal of saving lives.
A crucial initiative, of which we are the first county in the state to implement, has been to sponsor and coordinate hot spot testing in communities where the County initially saw exponential increases in COVID-19 positive cases. We analyzed the numbers based on overall increase of positive cases and per-capita data; and in response, created five hot spot testing sites in the communities of Amityville, Brentwood/Central Islip, Huntington Station, Riverhead and Wyandanch.
Regional public-private partnerships were key to getting these testing sites up and running as quickly as possible. With the assistance of the state, Suffolk County secured nasal swab test kits from Bio Reference Laboratories; these tests are administered at our sites by the medical staff of HRH Care, Suffolk's Federally-Qualified Health Centers. The physical logistics of the sites, parking and patient queuing, is coordinated by Reef Technologies, a North-American Parking Infrastructure network. Finally, Fidelis Care continues to provide additional tents for these sites in addition to bags for resources and giveaways that the County creates.
Education for individuals receiving tests is undoubtedly the most important component of this initiative. A County Health Services employee speaks to each person onsite, and informs them that they will receive their test results within four to five days. Additionally, they provide key information on isolation procedures, disinfection protocols, and instructions on what to do should their symptoms worsen.
We also know that the residents utilizing these hot-spot testing sites are experiencing much more than symptoms. Economic support, food and job security, and public service changes are just some of the many challenges impacting our communities hard, and fast, so every tested individual also receives the following resources while on-site:
- COVID 19 Flyer: "Steps to protect yourself and your families and how to stop the spread"
- CDC Guidance: “How to Create Your Own Face Mask”
- One Face Covering
- New York State guidance on evictions pause
- Updated Suffolk Transit COVID 19 Policies
- The names, locations, and contact numbers of our local food banks
- Resources for free and discounted Internet provider services, and
Additional comprehensive information regarding the following:
- New York State Department of Motor Vehicles - closures and online access instructions
- Unemployment eligibility and filing instructions
- United Way Benefit Fund resources
- Department of Social Services options
- The County's food-security program and Medicaid benefits, and
- Cellular companies with available discounts
It is our hope that other counties will want to follow this example, as we believe hot spot testing to be an incredibly effective and crucial step in our universal efforts to flatten the curve.
Another facet of this battle has been to address the question of Suffolk County's morgue capacity, which we tripled in under a month. Informed by monitoring the situations of Nassau County and New York City, where death tolls hit earlier than here, we were able to anticipate and prepare for the inevitable overflow that our hospitals, nursing homes, funeral homes and Medical Examiner's office would experience.
Through difficult and unfathomable conversations, county forces were able to accommodate the staggering number of decedents through the conversion of an existing County building adding storage for 450 remains. With the addition of two new Conex containers that together store up to 88 decedents on county property, Suffolk County's total capacity is now at an unprecedented 609. Each of our new morgue facilities utilize a racking system constructed by the County's Department of Public Works (DPW), while the County's Medical Examiner's office is picking up hospital overflow in coordination with the Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services, and DPW.
These efficiencies have left us prepared for the worst, and we hope that our work will help inform other counties in the state as they prepare for what is, perhaps, the most difficult and horrifying part of this crisis.