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Bellone: Suffolk County catering hall fined for ‘superspreader’ Sweet 16

A Miller Place catering hall has been hit with $12,000 in fines after hosting a Sweet 16 party last month that led to 37 positive COVID-19 tests among people who attended, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Tuesday.

The Sept. 25 event at the Miller Place Inn featured 81 guests, exceeding the state limit of 50 people at such a gathering. Many of those affected are students of the Sachem School District, Mr. Bellone said.

“The investigation identified 37 positive cases of COVID-19 out of that party,” Mr. Bellone said. “Twenty-eight students, nine adults.”

Mr. Bellone added that the event caused more than 280 county residents to be placed in quarantine. He said positive tests resulting from the party affected eight schools and students in 35 schools had to quarantine.

It’s the first time the Suffolk County Department of Health has issued violations to a business since the COVID-19 outbreak hit Suffolk County in March.

“In Suffolk County we have not seen an event like this the entire [pandemic],” Mr. Bellone said. “For Suffolk County, this was a superspreader event.”

A phone message at the inn directed calls to the owner Donna Regina’s cell phone. She did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

In an article published on the Times Beacon Record website this weekend, Ms. Regina said the catering hall has temporarily halted wedding operations due to the COVID-19 crisis, a decision that followed a “courtesy call” from the New York State Liquor Authority. She said state regulations made it difficult to remain open.

“The governor tightened the noose on us,” she said. “Our capacity is 250 … Why do we have to have 50 guests?”

Mr. Bellone said the violations leveled against the catering hall, which were issued Oct. 10, and the resulting fines are all related to the Sept. 25 party. He said the first positive test connected to the party was reported Sept. 30.

Sachem North High School has been closed due to positive COVID-19 tests since Oct. 1. It is expected to reopen tomorrow. In-person instruction continued at two other Sachem schools with positive tests, according to a letter from the district.

The Sweet 16 was hosted one week before a rally was organized in support of loosening restrictions on catering halls, an effort organized by Riverhead Town Councilwoman and 2nd District New York State Assembly candidate Jodi Giglio.

“Let weddings, Sweet 16s, ceremonies and other activities that were put on hold during the COVID pandemic take place,” Ms. Giglio said in announcing the event. “Catering facilities have been brought to the brink of bankruptcy with no cash flow since March.”

She could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday. The 2nd Assembly district includes Miller Place.

Ms. Giglio’s rally, which was held outside Mr. Bellone’s office, came on the heels of a liquor license suspension at Giorgio’s in Baiting Hollow for a similar violation regarding capacity restrictions put in place during the pandemic.