Wedding and birthday party infect 56, leaving nearly 300 in quarantine
By Ed Shananhan
Long Island, New York, health officials scrambled to contain a coronavirus outbreak in Suffolk County when dozens of people tested positive for the virus after attending a high-end Sweet 16 party in September that violated state restrictions on gatherings.
On Wednesday, county officials said they were coping with the fallout from two more so-called superspreader events that left 56 people with the virus and nearly 300 in quarantine: a wedding that exceeded the state’s 50-person limit and a birthday party that did not.
“This kind of blatant disregard for the well-being of others is not only extremely disappointing, it will not be tolerated,” Steven Bellone, the Suffolk County executive, said at a news conference, referring specifically to the wedding. “If you violate the rules, you’ll be caught and held responsible.”
Bellone said the venue where the wedding was held, the North Fork Country Club in Cutchogue, would be fined $17,000. Ninety-one people attended the wedding, on Oct. 17, officials said. Thirty people, including 27 guests, two employees and an outside vendor, later tested positive for the virus, and 156 people wound up under quarantine, officials said.
A spokesman for the State Liquor Authority said it had opened an investigation into the matter “upon learning of this allegedly illegal and dangerous event.”
Raluca Pintea, the country club’s general manager, did not respond to requests for comment.
The announcement Wednesday came two weeks after county officials fined an opulent catering hall, the Miller Place Inn, $12,000 for hosting a Sweet 16 party that drew more than 80 people. Thirty-seven people tested positive for the virus after the event, and 270 were forced to quarantine.
Like much of the New York City area, parts of Suffolk County were hit hard by the pandemic earlier in the year, but officials have made major strides in keeping the virus at bay since then, according to data posted on the county government website.
County data showed that 1.7% of those tested for the virus in the most recent 24-hour period had tested positive, a figure slightly above the 1.5% statewide average reported by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday. By comparison, the positive rate in New York’s so-called virus hot spots was 3.8%.
At a news conference Wednesday where Cuomo discussed the latest virus figures and how families should handle the coming holidays, he noted that weddings, birthday parties and other celebratory gatherings had become causes for concern.
“The problem, at one time, was large gatherings: bars, restaurants, right?” Cuomo said. Now, he said, “it’s these small gatherings that are creating issues.”
The aftermath of the Long Island birthday party, which adhered to state restrictions, underscored the governor’s point.
About 50 people attended the party in Bellport on Oct. 17, officials said. Nonetheless, inadequate social distancing resulted in 26 guests testing positive for the virus and 132 people being forced to quarantine, officials said.
Although there was nothing illegal about the party, Bellone said, it was important for county residents to consider the potential harm that even seemingly modest family gatherings could do.
“These kinds of superspreader events are a threat to our public health and to our continued economic recovery,” Bellone said.
In addition to fining the country club that hosted the wedding, officials said Wednesday that for the first time since the pandemic began, the county was penalizing a local homeowner for violating the restrictions on gatherings.
The homeowner, Kim Catalanotto, was hit with a $2,500 fine after the county police broke up a party at her Farmingville house, where 200 to 300 people, most of them underage, had gathered and were consuming alcohol last Saturday, officials said. No virus cases had been linked to the party as of Wednesday, Bellone said.
Catalanotto could not be reached for comment.