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By Daniel Dunaief

For the first time since May 2023, Brookhaven National Laboratory required masks on site at its facility starting on Jan. 8, as the rate of hospital admissions for the virus that caused the pandemic climbed.

Following the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, BNL, which is a Department of Energy-sponsored site, reinstituted the mask policy once Covid admissions climbed above 20 per 100,000 people in the county, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The CDC level rose to 24.8 on the evening of Jan. 5 and the lab re-implemented its mask requirement on the following Monday. Area doctors said they’ve seen an increase in illnesses tied to Covid, particularly after people traveled during the December holidays.

“We’ve seen a lot more Covid,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. 

Dr. Nachman said people who are talking to friends and neighbors are hearing regularly about those who are sick with Covid.

Stony Brook University Hospital is not requiring masking at all times. The hospital is recommending that people consider wearing masks. Medical staff entering patient rooms are wearing them.

People walking into the hospital will see “more people wearing masks” in general, she added. In addition to Covid, hospitals in the area are also seeing a “huge amount of flu,” Dr. Nachman said.


Photo by Katja Fuhlert from Pixabay

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new COVID-19 booster, which will protect against the virus’s circulating strain.

With hospitalizations and cases rising in Suffolk County and nationwide, single booster shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna should be available soon.

Local doctors recommended that people at the highest risk consider getting the shot.

That includes those with other medical issues, such as a 45-year-old smoker or a 65-year-old with diabetes.

Health care providers generally believe people who recently had COVID have at least three months of protection, although no definitive rule exists.

“If you had it in August, you probably don’t need to get a booster now,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “If you had it in January and you’re high risk, you should get it now.”

Nachman added that no study has indicated the age at which patients should get a booster shot.

People should consult their physicians to determine how their underlying health can affect the decision to get an updated vaccine.

“That gets back to the doctor-patient relationship,” Nachman said.

People who are 70 years old and planning a cruise that stops in several ports might want to get a shot at least two weeks before they travel because “the last thing you want happening is to be hospitalized in a foreign country,” Nachman said.

Nachman suggested that this vaccine, like the others that people have taken, won’t prevent illnesses but will keep people from shedding the virus and can reduce the symptoms and duration of an infection.

The FDA approval of the current vaccine is welcome news because it is a “good match” for the current strain, Nachman indicated.

It’s difficult to predict how much protection the current vaccine will provide for whatever strain might be circulating in February.

When a higher percentage of the population receives the vaccine, the likelihood of new variants declines, she added.

As children return to school this fall, doctors in Suffolk County expect COVID-19 cases to rise. Photo by Ronny Sefria from Pixabay

People may think COVID-19 is out of sight and out of mind, but the virus, which is still around and is making people sick, doesn’t care. 

The new variant of COVID, EG.5, or “Eris,” is making people sick in the area, with hospital admissions and visits creeping up over the last few weeks.

Left, Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Right, Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Left file photo; right file photo from Stony Brook Medicine

As of Aug. 9, 105 patients were hospitalized with COVID across the entire Northwell system, including 82 people on Long Island. That compares with 63 hospitalized patients on July 9, with 46 on Long Island exactly a month earlier.

That’s also the case for other area hospitals, doctors said.

“The numbers are definitely going up,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “That’s probably a snapshot of what we expect in the fall and the winter.”

Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, explained that COVID-19 is “no longer an emergency” but is “still with us and we continue to see new variants.”

In an email, Pigott explained that the county has seen a “slight uptick in hospitalizations” that is still low in comparison to the earlier days of the pandemic.

He urged those at high risk to take precautions that could include avoiding crowded places, wearing a mask and meeting people at outdoor venues rather than indoors.

While the numbers of people sick with COVID are substantially lower than they were during the worst of the pandemic in 2020, health care professionals suggested that the fall and winter could be challenging for families, particularly as children return to school.

“The first two weeks of school, every kid is sick,” said Nachman. “Come November-ish, that’s when we see” that increase.

Dr. Bruce Hirsch, attending physician in Infectious Disease at Northwell Health, also anticipates a rise in COVID-19 cases coming this fall and early winter.

“I think there’s a very good chance that a lot of people will be having COVID,” he said.

Hirsch added that the symptoms for those people who don’t have underlying medical conditions, such as cardiac or lung-related problems, are likely to be considerably milder than they had been in the early stages of the disease, when no one had resistance.

“The sickness will not have the severity and mortality except in those of us who are unfortunate to have weak immune systems, other health problems or who are elderly or frail,” Hirsch said.

Pigott added that Eris, which is a subvariant of omicron, is not a variant of interest or concern, according to the World Health Organization.

Vaccine options

Doctors urged people to consider getting vaccines for COVID, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus for this coming fall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are expected to approve the latest booster for COVID in late September or early October.

The newest booster, which should be available from Pfizer, Novavax and Moderna, should include protection against the latest COVID strain.

“The new booster formulation is much more similar and much more protective [against] the current strains,” Hirsch said. “The booster available now is protective against a couple of strains ago.”

Pigott urged people to get the new vaccines in the fall when they become available and before the holidays.

The vaccination may not prevent infection or all symptoms, but doctors suggested it would make illnesses shorter and less severe and could make the virus less infectious.

That could be particularly helpful for those who might otherwise develop more significant symptoms as their bodies attempt to fight off the virus.

Health care professionals suggested residents could receive several vaccines at the same time, enabling their immune systems to build resistance to a host of potential health threats.

“Our immune systems can chew gum and walk at the same time,” said Hirsch. “They are miraculous at reacting to all kinds of things every day anyway. The immune system is more than up to the challenge of handling two [shots] at the same time.”

Receiving several shots at once could give people a sore arm and a short-term fever that will likely respond to Tylenol, Nachman said.

“The science has shown that if you give a bunch of vaccines, you get a great response to everything,” Nachman added.

People who would prefer to get the vaccines in separate doses should space them out over several weeks, rather than getting one after another on consecutive days, she said.

Warning to pregnant women

Apart from viral infections, doctors warned pregnant women and those who might get pregnant  this winter about the ongoing shortage of a form of penicillin to treat syphilis.

Penicillin G benzathine, or Bicillin, is expected to be in short supply through the start of the summer of 2024.

The medicine is not only the only treatment recommended for pregnant people with syphilis, but is also the only one recommended for infants.

“We are prioritizing that medicine specifically only for that vulnerable population,” said Nachman.

The dangers of syphilis in pregnant women are significant, with the CDC estimating that about 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis can be stillborn or die from the infection.

Other dangers from syphilis include bone damage, anemia, enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice, nerve problems causing blindness or deafness, meningitis and skin rashes.

With cases of congenital syphilis more than tripling in recent years, the demand for Bicillin has exceeded the supply.

“It has been a concern for those in our Bureau of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” Pigott explained. “They have been in consultation with the state. We defer to the state regarding supply.”

Locally, hospitals have been exploring other options without much success.

“We are looking for alternatives” to Bicillin, said Nachman, but “we are not necessarily finding them.”

Doctors urged pregnant women who think they might have syphilis to get tested to protect themselves and their unborn children.

Beef with a copy of Charles Armstrong's book

By Melissa Arnold

Author Charles Armstrong

A few years ago, Smithtown resident Charles Armstrong was looking forward to a long, lazy summer break from high school. Then, everything changed when doctors found a tumor in his brain. He was only 15 years old.

Throughout the course of his intense treatment regimen, Armstrong was comforted and entertained by his family’s sweet new dog, Beef. In fact, Beef had such a special personality that someone suggested he write a book about her.

And that’s exactly what he did. Now 18 and thankfully cancer-free, Armstrong decided to share his story to help other kids with cancer feel a little less alone. His debut book, The Dog Named Beef and Her Superpower, focuses on Beef’s relationship with Charlie as she works to help him feel better. It’s light and approachable for young kids, and includes a note from Armstrong in the back that goes into more detail for older readers. The book has cute illustrations throughout and some real pictures of Beef and her family at the end. Kids stuck in bed will enjoy the activity pages that were wisely included as well.

Did you ever consider writing a book prior to your illness?

I wasn’t much of a creative kid. In fact, I had to take extended English classes because I struggled with it. I always told my parents I hated reading. But then in my junior and senior year of high school, I had a few teachers tell me that they really liked my writing. After my treatment, I realized I actually liked to read and started writing things on my own.

Charles Armstrong and Beef

Did you have any warning signs that something was wrong prior to your diagnosis?

I was out riding my bike with some friends right after school got out for the summer in 2020. It was a hot day, and my head really started to hurt. I had lots of pressure in my head, along with black spots in my vision and nausea. I came home and told my parents, and they figured it was heat exhaustion, but decided to be on the safe side and take me to the doctor. Not long after that, results of the scans came back to show a ping pong ball sized tumor in the center of my brain. It flipped our whole world upside down.

It was a type of tumor called a pineoblastoma. The tumor was causing spinal fluid to build up and I developed hydrocephalus, so I had surgery to address that, and then the biopsy confirmed it was cancer. During a second surgery, they were able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. After that, I had six weeks of radiation and six months of chemo infusions at Stony Brook.

It’s hard for anyone to face cancer, but it’s even rarer for young people to be in that position. Were you lonely?

It was tough because the COVID pandemic was also going on at the time, so there were a lot of restrictions on hospital visitors. But the staff did whatever they could to keep me connected to people while I was in the hospital. I would stay there for four or five days every month as part of my treatment routine. But my mom was able to take time off of work to stay with me, and I was able to use my phone to text with friends.

Did you have pets growing up?

Yes! We had both a cat and a dog when I was younger. My brother has a ferret, and we also have a bird. 

Whose idea was it to get a dog?

It was a family decision. After our first dog passed away, we took some time to grieve and after a while we decided to go to an adoption event at Last Chance Animal Rescue in June of 2020. That’s where we met Beef. My brother and I volunteered there when we were younger.

What drew you to Beef?

She was so timid and hiding in the back of the area, but when we approached her she got so excited and licked our faces. We all fell in love with her right away. Other people were looking at her, but we said, “No way, this is our dog now!” As it happens, she had been up for adoption for several months before we met her. I guess she was waiting for us.

Many animals are known to be very caring, especially when a family member is sick. Did Beef treat you differently?

We hadn’t had her for that long when I got sick, but she could tell that something was wrong in the house. She knew we were distraught, and at night she would always snuggle with me.

How did she help you? Did she affect your family too?

She just always knew what to do to lift me up, whether it was putting her head on my shoulder or chasing her tail to snap me out of a rut. On days when I was feeling okay we would play together. She makes all of us laugh. There’s a scene in the book where she does a handstand, and something very similar to that actually happened. She’s so emotionally intelligent and funny.

Why did you decide to write a book about your experience?

Going through all of the treatment associated with cancer, I had support from so many different directions. I wanted to find a way to provide that support in some way to other kids My cousin’s girlfriend joked that I should write about Beef, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it could help other kids that were going through an illness. Beef is a funny dog, and the story could help them feel some of the love she showed me in that time.

Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

I self-published through Amazon KDP. They made it very simple. It’s a lot of work, but the process was pretty streamlined and it was a great experience overall.

Who is the illustrator?

The illustrator is Inga Buccella. My mom found Inga on Etsy, and she was so enthusiastic about being a part of the book when I told her my story.

What was it like for you when the book arrived?

It felt so surreal to hold it in my hands. It still doesn’t feel real to think of myself as a published author, but it’s great.

How are you doing now? What are you up to?

I had my most recent scans a few months ago, and they showed that I am still cancer free. I work a couple different jobs and am interested in getting into marketing. I’ve been working out a lot and just did my first Spartan race! I also got a chance to be a part of a short student film in New York City.

What is the target age for the book? 

I wanted it to be accessible to as many kids as possible. I think it would be right up the alley of kids between the ages of 3 and 7, though other age groups might find it relatable, too.


The Dog Named Beef and Her Superpower is available now at Keep up with Charles on Instagram @charlesparmstrong, and follow Beef’s antics on TikTok @the_dog_named_beef.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

[email protected]

The number of people battling significant symptoms from the flu and respiratory syncytial virus has been coming down since its peak in January, as these infections have run their course.

“This year, we experienced the most severe flu and RSV waves in decades, and our COVID wave wasn’t small either,” said Sean Clouston, associate professor of Public Health at Stony Brook University.

The number of these illnesses was high as people no longer wore masks in places like schools and after people experienced lower-than-usual illnesses in the months before the mask mandate was lifted, creating fertile ground for viruses to spread.

“The most likely reason that the current flu and RSV seasons have improved is that we have had such a bad season earlier on that we have hit a natural ceiling on the ability for these diseases to successfully infect more people,” Clouston said in an email.

As for COVID-19, the numbers of people who have developed significant illnesses has continued to decline as well, through a combination of the natural immunity people have after their bodies successfully fought off the infection and from the protection offered by the vaccine and boosters.

Doctors added that the vaccine and natural immunity hasn’t prevented people from getting infected, but they have helped people avoid severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms.

“All these people who run around saying, ‘My vaccine isn’t working because I got reinfected,’ are missing the point,” said Dr. Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Medicine. “It is working. It doesn’t protect you from infection, but [it does prevent] a bad outcome.”

Indeed, during the most recent COVID surge during the winter, Fries said the hospital continued to care for patients, most of whom recovered. 

Vaccine timing

Amid discussions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health organizations throughout the state and country about the timing of future booster shots, local health care providers indicated the increasing likelihood of an annual COVID booster.

Fries said we will get to an annual vaccination for COVID, adding, “It’s the same as we see with the flu.”

In general, people aren’t rushing off to get an updated COVID booster.

“To maximize the protective value of the vaccine while minimizing the number of vaccines you use, people should likely get the vaccine two weeks before they anticipate heavy exposure,” Clouston said.

For most people, that would mean getting the shot in early November to prepare for larger indoor gatherings, like Thanksgiving and the December holidays.

In a recent article in the journal Lancet, researchers conducted an extensive analysis of COVID reinfection rates.

The study dealt only with those people who had not had any vaccinations and addressed the effectiveness of natural immunity from preventing infections and from the worst symptoms of the disease.

Prior infections in general didn’t prevent people from getting reinfected, but it does “protect you from getting a really bad disease and dying,” Fries said.


Even with the number of people contracting COVID declining, the overall population of people battling symptoms of long COVID, which can still include anything from loss of smell and taste to chronic fatigue, continues to increase.

“There’s a plethora of symptoms of long COVID,” Fries said. “We’ll have to figure out how to classify this and hopefully come up with better therapy. Right now, we can only symptomatically treat these patients.”

Dr. Sritha Rajupet, director of the Stony Brook Medicine Post-COVID Clinic, explained in an email that some patients who have lost their sense of smell or have a distorted sense of taste have tried a process called a stellate ganglion block “after several case reports and early research have shown that it could be helpful.”

In such a procedure, doctors inject a local anesthetic on either side of the voice box into the neck. Rajupet said that “additional research and clinical trials still have to be performed.”

Newborns and COVID

As for children infected with COVID soon after birth, doctors suggested that the impact has been manageable.

“The great majority of young children who contract COVID do quite well and recover fully,” Dr. Susan Walker, pediatrician with Stony Brook Children’s Services, explained in an email. “The impact on their development from having actually experienced COVID illness is minimal.”

Children hospitalized with more significant illness from COVID might experience temporary developmental regression which is common in children hospitalized for any reason. The developmental impact seems more tied to social isolation.

“Children born during the pandemic spent their first years of life rarely seeing adults or children other than those in their immediate family,” Walker said. “The result is that many of these kids became excessively stranger anxious and timid around others.”

The lost social opportunities, the pediatrician said, resulted in delays in the personal/social domain of development. She added, “The good news is that kids are resilient and, in time, with appropriate social stimulation, [these children] should be able to regroup and catch up developmentally.”

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This message is for older people who are reading this column and may get COVID-19. The information may save your life. It may have saved mine.

Especially for older people, COVID is a deadly virus. What defines older? Let’s say, beyond 50. Now there is a medicine that dramatically reduces severity and possible death from this virus, but many Americans are not taking it. Its name is Paxlovid.

“Never really in recent history for a respiratory virus can I think of an anti-viral medication being as effective, demonstrated in scientific literature, as what Paxlovid has shown,” stated Dr. Rebecca Wang, an infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, when interviewed by The New York Times.

Both random trials and data from electronic health records have shown this medicine to be effective, particularly among older patients. The medicine works by inhibiting the virus’s replication once it invades the body. Its underuse is already associated with thousands of preventable deaths, according to Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the medicine department at the University of California, San Francisco.

“A large chunk of deaths are preventable right now with Paxlovid alone,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID response coordinator told David Leonhardt of The New York Times. He predicted that if every American 50 and above with COVID received a course of either Paxlovid or monoclonal antibodies, daily deaths might fall to about 50 per day, from about 400 per day.

So why aren’t people taking the medicine?

For one reason, Paxlovid, which is taken twice a day for five days, does leave a metallic taste in the mouth. So I found that by eating half a banana after each dose, I got rid of the unwelcome taste. I also got the benefit of a banana a day, which is a healthy and nutritious fruit containing fiber and some essential vitamins and minerals.

Another possible reason is the association of Paxlovid with “rebound,” a second session of the disease which can occur a week to a month after the end of the first round. Experts don’t know what causes the rebound. A rebound is possible even if the patient never used Paxlovid. And even if he or she did, perhaps a longer duration of the drug is necessary for some patients than the five days currently administered.

Research has shown that out of sample of 568,000 patients, 0.016% over 50 who used Paxlovid died. For a similar cohort of patients who did not use the drug, the death rate was four times higher or 0.070. But only 25% of patients eligible to receive the drug actually took it, even though it is available and free.

Thanks to my son, Daniel Dunaief, who has spoken with two infectious disease experts, we also have some local reaction to the drug. Dr. Andrew Handel, pediatric infectious disease physician at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, commented, “Hesitancy to take Paxlovid seems to fall in line with the general ‘COVID fatigue.’  COVID is clearly less lethal now than during prior surges, thanks in large part to vaccinations, but it still causes some hospitalizations. Those at highest risk of severe disease, particularly those who are unvaccinated, benefit from antiviral treatment if they are infected.”

Dr. David Galinkin, infectious disease expert at St. Charles Hospital, said, “The media has overblown this rebound experience. In the literature, about 10% of cases [have a rebound.] Like any other medication, people that could really benefit from Paxlovid [should consider it.] … We are still seeing people dying from this.”

Perhaps more doctors could be better informed about this drug. Additional information and encouragement are needed from the White House, and a lot more public announcements should be placed in the media to reach people. As has been the case throughout these last two-and-one-half COVID years, instructions have been changing, adjusted as the scientific and medical professions learn more about this pathogen. Proper treatment is still a work in progress.

Photo from Deposit Photos

Now available at a doctor’s office or pharmacy near you: the latest COVID-19 booster.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration gave Pfizer and Moderna Emergency Use Authorization to start distributing their newest COVID booster, which includes protection against the highly infectious Ba.4 and Ba.5 strains of omicron.

A few days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the administration of the booster.

Area doctors welcomed the news and suggested the newest booster would be helpful for certain groups.

“I suspect that, at a minimum, those who needed to get a fourth booster (elderly, comorbidity, immune issues) should get” it, explained Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, in an email. “I believe that its approval will include all individuals over age 12.”

Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/ Northwell Health, agreed that senior citizens and immunocompromised people should consider the latest booster.

With other shots available until now, residents may need to consider how much time to wait between boosters.

People are eligible for another booster two months after a previous COVID vaccine, according to the FDA website.

The FDA authorized single doses of Moderna’s booster for people 18 and over and Pfizer’s booster for those 12 and older.

The incidence of hospitalizations among people who have COVID at area hospitals has remained fairly stable during the summer. Stony Brook University Hospital has about 50 COVID inpatients each day, while Huntington Hospital has about 11.

Doctors cautioned, however, that those numbers include people who are hospitalized for other procedures or treatments and who test positive as a part of the hospital’s effort to monitor the pandemic.

“The vaccines, to a large extent (primary series plus a booster-protection) are working quite well” at preventing the need for hospitalizations, Nachman wrote.

Doctors urged people to take steps to protect themselves, their families, and their communities against contracting the virus.

“With the virus changing, it’s even more important to keep yourself and your family safe from getting COVID again and remain vigilant about taking precautions, i.e. hand washing, social distancing, mask wearing,” Nachman added.

A minority of residents treated with Pfizer’s antiviral therapy Paxlovid have experienced a rebound, testing positive days or even a week or more after receiving the antiviral treatment.

“Viral rebound occurs in about 10%” for those who have taken Paxlovid, with the majority in the older age groups, Nachman wrote. Having said that, the rebound we are seeing has not led to Emergency Department visits or hospitalizations.” 

As for mental health issues, residents of Suffolk County, as with other communities, have generally seen an improvement amid a relaxation of restrictions that limited social contact and kept people from their routines.

“Mental health issues were mostly related to the isolation mandates that were required to slow the spread of COVID,” Popp explained. “The reduction in restrictions has improved the mental health issues for many people.”

Monkeypox vigilance

Area hospitals continue to remain on the lookout for potential outbreaks of monkeypox.

“We are aggressively evaluating all suspected cases of monkeypox and have protocols in place for testing as well as treatment,” Nachman wrote. “We will be rolling out a [National institutes of Health] funded clinical trial for treating individuals across the ages with TPOXX.”

Huntington Hospital has had two confirmed cases of monkeypox. Popp expects the virus will “likely continue to spread.”

Several medical facilities continue to administer the limited monkeypox vaccines.

SBUH is working with the Suffolk County Department of Health to provide vaccinations at the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center in Hampton Bays.

On the official Suffolk County website, eligible residents can schedule monkeypox vaccinations through Northwell Health at the Bayshore Mall on Sunrise Highway.

As for the flu, Nachman urged residents to get their vaccines prior to the start of the seasonal flu season, sometime between now and November.

A monarch butterfly rests on Theresa Germaine’s finger before taking flight. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A Stony Brook resident is doing her part to help the ecosystem, one monarch butterfly at a time.

The monarch before leaving its enclosure. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Theresa Germaine knew she had to keep busy when the pandemic shut down practically everything in 2020. Pre-COVID-19, the now 83-year-old traveled frequently, and when she wasn’t making trips, Germaine split her time between New York City and Stony Brook, where she shares a house with her sister.

When everything shut down, the retired educator decided Long Island was the best place to be. Shortly after, she decided to grow milkweed, a flowering perennial plant, in her garden and encourage the growth of the monarch butterfly population. Not only did she attract the butterflies with the milkweed — the only place they will lay their eggs on — she also took their eggs and nurtured them.

“There are so many negative things going on in the world that you have to find some way to make yourself feel good about something,” Germaine said.

The butterflies, distinguished by their orange and black coloring with white spots, have recently been added to The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The environmental network considers the monarchs an endangered species, even though the U.S. itself has not yet added the pollinators to its endangered-species list.

a caterpillar feeding. Photo from Theresa Germaine

When the pandemic shutdowns struck, Germaine read about the monarch butterflies and how to attract and raise them. This year marked the third year of her garden and, once again, she has been busy looking for the tiny eggs, about the size of a pin, under the milkweed leaves where the butterflies lay them. She then brings them inside her home where she puts the eggs and leaves in a container.

After the eggs hatch, they emerge as caterpillars and are very small. Germaine puts them in mesh butterfly tents bought online along with pieces of milkweed from her garden in tubes to feed them. She has a few of the enclosures to handle each stage, from the caterpillar — larva stage — to pupa, where they form a chrysalis around themselves, and then the emergence of the butterfly. 

Germaine said once the monarch butterfly appears, it climbs up the side of the cage and needs time for its wings to dry. Once the monarch begins fluttering around the enclosure, she knows it’s time to release them outside. She brings the enclosure outside and allows the creatures to leave at their will.

“I’ve always kind of been a Girl Scout type of person,” Germaine said. “I was a Girl Scout when I was young, and I always had an interest in nature.”

A butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. Photo from Theresa Germaine

While she nurtured a dozen of the pollinators in 2020, last year she released 41 and this year so far, 45. She said she estimates that approximately 10 more butterflies will emerge before the summer ends.

Over the last couple of years, Germaine has purchased more milkweed plants, and the perennials have become more robust over time.

A native of the Bronx, she taught in Manhattan for nearly 30 years, and was an assistant principal for two years in the borough. She retired in 1995, and she said she never chose to get married or have children. Germaine said while many her age may be busy with grandchildren; she was keeping herself busy with her travels and entertainment. The raising of the monarchs has been a welcomed activity.

“As you get older, it’s very important that you have a purpose in life,” she said.

Her hope is that everyone will grow a little milkweed in their garden to help the monarchs. She said while it’s not the most attractive plant, even a small garden with the flower in a corner of one’s property can make a difference. While the eggs have a better chance of surviving inside — more than 80% — just having milkweed can increase the monarch butterfly anywhere between 3% to 10%, Germaine said based on her research.

“If everybody did their part, we would see more butterflies,” she said. “And who does not love to see a butterfly?”

Stock photo from Metro

Amid the typical questions about returning to school, such as finding friends in their classes and navigating to the right room at the right time, students on Long Island and elsewhere are preparing for the third year of the pandemic while other health care concerns loom.

As the summer enters its final weeks, health officials have found mosquitoes that have the West Nile virus, monkeypox has become a national health emergency, and Rockland County and New York City have reported cases of polio.

With all those health concerns, however, medical officials emphasized numerous pieces of good news that they hope will provide less of a disruption to communities, parents, teachers and students.

For starters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week eased some COVID-19 restrictions. In the past two years, some students had switched back and forth from in-person to remote learning after a positive test.

The CDC advises students, staff members and workers who were exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 to wear face coverings for 10 days and to get tested, instead of urging them to quarantine.

At the same time, the CDC is no longer suggesting that unvaccinated students get tested regularly in order to attend school.

“Part of the reason they’re easing the restrictions is that the current strain that’s circulating is fairly non aggressive, there are not a lot of hospitalizations and there is not a lot of severe illnesses,” said Dr. Philip Nizza, chief of Infectious Disease at Mather Hospital and attending infectious disease physician at St. Charles Hospital.

The cases Nizza has seen in the hospitals are “very mild” and he hasn’t had an intensive care unit patient with a ventilator in well over a month.

Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of the Healthcare Epidemiology Department at Stony Brook Medicine, suggested that the shift in the CDC guidance likely reflects the reality that non-pharmaceutical mitigation measures are of more limited use in an era when opportunities exist to receive effective vaccines, which are well tolerated, and safe therapeutics have become a tool to manage those people who are acutely affected.

“The shift now appears to be focused on self-assessment of risk [for self, close family members or others who may be adversely impacted if infected] and thus individual risk mitigation,” Donelan explained in an email.

Still, Nizza, among other health care providers in Suffolk County, urged people to continue to receive vaccinations and to stay up to date with their boosters.

Nizza suggested that a new booster, which could provide protection against the infectious Ba.5 omicron strain that has become the dominant variant in the county and in the United States, could be a “game changer.”

Doctors cautioned people in higher risk groups, such as those who are immunocompromised, have chronic lung disease or are significantly overweight to be vigilant about their exposure to the SARS-CoV2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

As of earlier this week, Suffolk County reported a 7.8% positive test rate on a seven-day average using lab-reported PCR tests, which doesn’t include the rapid tests. At the same time, the number of positive cases on a seven-day average stood at 33.8 per 100,000, according to the New York State Department of Health.

“If you’re not a high-risk patient the danger zone is lower,” said Nizza.


Meanwhile, monkeypox continues to be a threat to the county, the state and the nation, as the availability of vaccines against the virus lags the need for shots.

New York State continues to have the greatest number of cases of the virus, with close to 2,300 out of about 12,000 cases in the country, according to the CDC. Most of the New York State cases are in the city.

The virus has affected men who have been intimate with other men, although the virus can spread through physical contact.

Nizza described monkeypox as “generally a nonfatal infection with a high presentation rate amongst the undocumented high-risk groups,” he said. “I don’t think the general population needs to rush out and get the monkeypox vaccine, unless [you] are in a high risk group.

Nizza doesn’t anticipate that the virus will spread at anywhere near the rate that COVID did.

“There is a vaccine available, which is much different than COVID, which caught us unaware,” he added.

West Nile virus

As of earlier this month, 38 mosquitoes had tested positive for the West Nile virus, including samples in Setauket and Port Jefferson Station.

The virus was first detected in birds and mosquitoes in Suffolk County in 1999.

People who contract the virus typically experience mild or no symptoms. In a small number of cases, people can have high fever, headaches, stiff necks and may have vision loss, numbness and even paralysis.

Symptoms can last several weeks and the neurological effects can be permanent.

The CDC recommends people use insect repellent to reduce the chance of getting bitten by a mosquito that harbors the virus. Additionally, reducing any standing water around the outside of the house cuts back on the opportunity for these virus-bearing insects to breed.

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott recommended that people minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn, make sure windows and doors have screens and, at places where mosquitoes are active, wear shoes and socks and long pants and long sleeved shirts.

As of late last week, Mather and St. Charles didn’t have any reported cases of West Nile virus.

The people who are especially vulnerable include the elderly and anyone on drugs that suppress their immune systems.


Health officials in Rockland County and New York City reported two cases of people with polio.

This disease, which spreads from contact with infected feces, has been largely eradicated after the widespread use of an effective vaccine.

“Most people have their children vaccinated as a part of a routine series,” Nizza said. “It’s a much lower risk.”

The doctor urged people to remain vigilant about other threats that might come this fall, particularly the flu.

With masks and social distancing, the incidence of the flu declined over the last few years. As people return to work and school on a full time basis, the chance for the spread of a problematic strain rises.

“The flu is always bound to rear its head in the fall and winter months,” Nizza said, as he reminded people to get their shots and to continue to wash their hands before eating.

Even if people feel healthy and are in low risk groups, they can and should help others the way they might lend a hand to their neighbors after a storm.

“We have to protect those who have a high risk of mortality,” Nizza said. “We need herd compassion, to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

From left, Mike Fallarino, Chairman of the Board, RMHC NY Metro; Margreet Cevasco, Cevasco Design, Designer of RMHC NY Metro Family Room; Carolyn Milana, MD, Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Stony Brook Medicine; Dr. Hal Paz, Executive Vice President of Health Sciences, CEO of Stony Brook University Medicine; Carol A. Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ, CEO, Stony Brook University Hospital; and Matt Campo, CEO, RMHC NY Metro cut the ribbon to officially open the new Family Room at the Stony Brook Hospital NICU. Photo from RMHC NY Metro

Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) NY Metro officially opened its newest Family Room at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Stony Brook Hospital on Aug. 4. The space will serve as a respite area for parents and families caring for a newborn in the NICU receiving life-saving treatment. 

The new family room was designed and decorated mostly with donated goods and services and is equipped with a kitchen area, laundry facility and shower, all to keep families close to their ill children in the hospital. Coffee and snacks are also made available free of charge and local restaurants regularly donate warm meals to serve to families. 

“This has been a labor of love,” said Matt Campo, CEO of RMHC NY Metro. “We have partnered with Stony Brook over the last two years to see this come to fruition. Families have been stopping in, expressing their gratitude, and using the facilities that we built for them. It’s providing so much comfort and has given us a glimpse of what this room will mean to them.” 

The room is the second at Stony Brook Hospital. Ronald McDonald House opened a family room in the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital before the COVID pandemic. Both rooms are staffed entirely by volunteers from around Long Island. 

“Serving families is at the heart of what we do,” said Dr. Hal Paz, Executive Vice President of Health Sciences, CEO of Stony Brook University Medicine. “Having the opportunity to provide a quiet space for families is an essential part of providing quality care for all of our patients. Partnerships like these are fundamental to the care that our hospital system provides, allowing us to meet the needs of our patients and their families more fully.

More photos of the Ronald McDonald NICU Respite Lounge at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital can be found here