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Coronavirus hot spot erupts on Long Island as cases surge

The island's two counties, Nassau and Suffolk, have about 3 million residents combined and more than 29,000 COVID-19 cases, according to the governor.

Three large blue and white tunnel-shaped tents sit ready in a distant corner of North Shore Medical Center in Manhasset, Long Island.

Set up in the past few days, the makeshift hospital in suburban New York has about 60 beds for COVID-19 patients.

Staff members hope they never need to use them.

"We're well beyond capacity," said Dr. Michael Gitman, medical director at North Shore, where an auditorium, a conference room and every other available space have been turned into hospital rooms.

Emergency tents are assembled in the parking lot of the North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., April 1, 2020.Johnny Milano / The New York Times via Redux

"If we look at our numbers, we have either grown or repurposed somewhere between 500 beds to try and deal with this issue," Gitman said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday warned again that COVID-19 cases on Long Island were continuing to spike. From the suburbs bordering New York City to the exclusive summer enclave of the Hamptons, Long Island has become the latest "hot spot" in a state ablaze with the coronavirus.

The island's two counties, Nassau and Suffolk, have about 3 million residents combined, but they now have more than 30,000 cases, according to Cuomo. That's more than 45 states. Cuomo announced on Monday that cases on Long Island have grown at a fast clip, with 1,218 new cases in Nassau for a total of 15,616. Farther east in Suffolk County, there were 1,082 new cases for a total of 14,487.

"I believe this week, things will get worse. We have to be clear-eyed about that," said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

"It's the ripple effect," she said. "A lot of people who live in Nassau work in the city and vice versa — we're suburban, but we're dense."

Even though Long Island saw it coming, like so many other communities, the march of the virus threatens to overwhelm the health system and push first responders to the limit.

"As of now, we are out of PPE," Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone said over the weekend, referring to personal protection equipment for medical staff.

"It's a sick feeling to realize you don't have anything else to distribute out because you know there are workers risking their own safety, and first responders as well," Bellone said.

Bellone noted that three weeks ago, no one in Suffolk had died from the coronavirus. But now more than 200 people have.

"We are pleading with the country to send supplies," he said.

By Sunday, Bellone says, the White House had heard his cry and promised to send 200,000 masks and a 30-day supply of additional protective gear.

At North Shore Hospital, the medical director says they have enough equipment, for now.

The facility is part of the Northwell Health Care system, the state's largest. Still on the front lines, doctors, nurses and other medical staff members there are taking it one extremely stressful day at a time, trying to be as innovative and flexible as possible while treating patients in unrivaled conditions.

"I think the way we're going to be successful is keep our staff healthy, keeping our staff safe and keeping them focused on our patients," Gitman said.

"We are trying to save our community."