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State Sen. Jim Gaughran said he received more calls than any other time in his career from people who could not get to PSEG. Photo from Gaughran's office

Following the power outage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in early August, State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) conducted a survey of residents.

With 3,243 people responding, the survey indicated that people lost an average of $434.66. That compares with the maximum of $250 that PSEG Long Island said it would reimburse residents if they produced an itemized list and proof of loss.

Click here to see the full survey results

“I don’t keep my receipts,” Gaughran said in an interview after he publicly released the survey. “I throw mine out. I would imagine a lot of Long Islanders are keeping receipts” from their grocery purchases after their experience with the storm, the outage and the food losses, particularly amid the economic decline caused by the pandemic.

More than half the survey respondents, or over 58%, said they were not able to contact PSEG easily about their outage. At the time of the storm, PSEG recognized that its new communication system was ineffective.

Additionally, over two thirds, or 67 percent, of the residents in the survey said PSEG did not restore power before the estimated time.

In the two years he’s been in the senate, Gaughran said he’s never had this many responses to questions from residents about anything.

The Democratic senator highlighted how over 56% of residents were unaware of PSEG’s Critical Care Program, although those residents don’t believe anyone in their households would qualify. An additional 21% of the survey respondents didn’t know about the program and believed someone in their house might qualify.

The fact that more than half of the people who responded didn’t know about the program is “significant,” Gaughran said.

“Unacceptable” Storm Response

In response to a letter Gaughran sent to LIPA, CEO Thomas Falcone said he would “make sure that your survey results are appropriately reflected in the work streams for LIPA’s upcoming 90-day and 180-day investigative reports into PSEG Long Island’s storm response.”

Falcone called PSEG LI’s response to the storm “unacceptable” and said the LIPA Board has “insisted that the failures not be repeated.”

LIPA’s 30-day report said the computer system caused incorrect restoration estimates.

In its report about the storm response, LIPA concluded that “problematic management control issues,” combined with outside vendors who had “poorly defined service quality assurances” delivered an unsatisfactory customer experience.

A tree fell on a mail truck on Old Post Road in Setauket during Tropical Storm Isaias. Photo by John Broven

LIPA’s 2020 Internal Audit plan had previously scheduled a re-audit of the process to maintain customer lists to begin the fourth quarter of 2020. After reports of outdated customer lists during Isaias, LIPA accelerated that process, which started in September. The power authority will address that further in its 90 and 180 day Task Force reports.

The senator, who presented the results of his survey, also reiterated concerns he has about LIPA’s oversight of PSEG LI.

Gaughran said the Public Service Commission, which has considerably more direct oversight with other utilities around the state, doesn’t have the same authority with PSEG LI.

The PSC provides “recommendations” to LIPA and can “force them to pay money to their customers for lost food, lost business. [It] can do this with every utility except PSEG LI because the relationship is different.”

In responding to this concern, LIPA, in a statement, said the LIPA Reform Act provides the Department of Public Service with oversight responsibilities of LIPA and PSEG.

“LIPA’s storm oversight activities are in addition to DPS’s statutory role and DPS’s statutory role is the same for PSEG Long Island as it is for the state’s other utilities,” LIPA said in a statement.

The DPS provides independent recommendations to the LIPA Board of Trustees. The board has accepted every recommendation from the DPS, according to the statement.

LIPA said the only difference between the oversight of PSEG LI and other utilities in New York is that the DPS recommendations are to LIPA’s nine-member board, instead of the Public Service Commission.

The 30-day report includes 37 specific recommendations for PSEG Long Island to put in place by Oct. 15, LIPA said.

As for losses from the storm, LIPA said it secured direct reimbursement for customers through the customer spoilage reimbursement program. That could be as high as $500 per residential customer for food and medicine. PSEG LI is forgoing up to $10 million in compensation to fund this program.

LIPA “may look to pursue additional actions after [its] review and the Department of Public Service’s Investigation” is complete, LIPA said in a statement.

In his letter to Gaughran, Falcone said the 90-day and 180-day reports would have additional “actionable recommendations,” which the LIPA board would ask for independent verification and validation to make sure these recommendations have been implemented.

 

Stock photo

Get a flu shot now. 

While timing a flu shot can seem like timing the stock market — buying or selling a stock now might mean missing out on gains later — it’s not. A flu shot generally provides immunological coverage against the flu from about four weeks after the shot until six months later.

With a flu season that doesn’t follow a yearly calendar, residents sometimes try to balance between minimizing the possible effect of exposure to the flu in the next few weeks with exposure to the flu in the middle of the spring.

“It makes most health professionals very uncomfortable when people [suggest holding off on protection through the spring] as a reason to delay immunization, as it takes four weeks for protective antibodies to mature,” said Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital. Influenza season can begin as early as November and sometimes earlier, so “any time now would be the right time.”

Medical professionals urged people to be even more proactive about getting a flu shot this year, as the pandemic continues to lurk in the shadows, on door knobs, and within six feet of an infected individual.

When people contract the flu along with other respiratory illnesses, the combination, as people might expect, can cause significant sickness.

“The novel coronavirus is just that, it’s novel,” Grosso said. “We don’t know exactly how it will interact with influenza. We do have significant prior experience with concurrent infections with other respiratory viruses. Individuals coinfected with one or more serious respiratory viruses frequently get sicker.”

That’s the case for both children and adults, Grosso added.

Getting an influenza vaccine could also reduce the confusion that will occur if people experience flu-like symptoms, which are also a hallmark of COVID-19 cases.

“Getting as much of the population immunized as possible is even more important than at other times,” Grosso said.

Each year, somewhere between 150,000 to 180,000 people are hospitalized from the flu and the death toll can range between 12,000 to 61,000 people per year in the U.S.

Doctors recommended that people who are 65 and older get a quadrivalent flu shot, which includes an additional influenza B strain.

In a trial of 30,000 people over 65, people who received the quadrivalent shot had 24% fewer illnesses compared to those who got the standard shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Susan Donelan, Medical Director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine, said the side effects of the flu shot include an uncomfortable arm for a few days, a low grade fever and fatigue.

“The vast majority of people can easily manage the minor side effects for a day or two with Tylenol or Ibuprofen or a cold pack on their arm,” Dr. Donelan said.

Doctors said practices such as wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent hand washing, which are designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, are also helpful in cutting down on the transmission of the flu.

Those measures will only help if residents exercise them correctly. Masks that fall below the nose of the wearer, which may make it easier to breathe, are not as effective at reducing the spread of these viruses, Dr. Donelan said.

 

While there have been no reported cases on Long Island, five people in Connecticut recently were infected with flesh-eating bacteria. File photo

With reports of five people who have been infected with flesh-eating bacteria across the Long Island Sound in Connecticut, area doctors answered questions about the dangerous pathogen.

For starters, the bacteria in Connecticut is called Vibrio vulnificus, and even though it’s extremely rare, it is especially problematic for people who have open wounds and have gone swimming in warm, salty or brackish — a combination of fresh and salty — waters.

Smaller cuts aren’t as much of a likely entry point for these bacteria, but open wounds such as skinned knees or elbows are, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Those residents with open wounds who have swum in salty or brackish water can lower the risk of infection by washing their wounds with soap and freshwater soon after coming out of the water.

“Soap and water work,” Nachman said. “If you have no access to soap, regular water would be great.”

Vibrio is a rapidly spreading bacteria and is often visible soon after swimming.

“If you swim and you have an open wound and it looks different an hour or two after you get home than it did that morning, seek medical attention quickly,” Nachman advised.

The wound tends to get hot, is tender and red, and makes people who contract the bacteria feel sick. Getting ahead of the spread is particularly important.

Residents who are concerned that their wound might be changing can take a picture of the area and then, an hour later, compare that picture to how the injury looked.

While everyone doesn’t need to race to an emergency room for a possible wound that may look different after a swim, Nachman suggested people approach possible exposure with “thoughtful concern.”

An untreated infection can become much more serious, sometimes leading to amputations and even death. The five Connecticut cases haven’t involved any such dire developments.

Residents whose wounds appear to have a Vibrio infection typically receive at least two antibiotics either orally or intravenously. Some other pathogens in the water also can look as bad as Vibrio, but they need different antibiotics, which include Aeromonas. These other bacteria also find their way into bodies through open wounds and can cause rapidly progressing infections.

“When you go to the hospital, [medical personnel] may say that it looks like one of these [bacteria], and we are going to give you two to three antibiotics and see what happens,” Nachman said.

Once the medical staff determines the cause of the infection, they will likely cut the antibiotics back to the one that’s more effective for that specific bacteria.

With fewer people on the beach as school has restarted and people are engaged in more fall activities, potential infections from Vibrio have decreased.

While antibiotics are effective, they take time to beat back the bacteria.

With over 25 years in practice, Nachman has seen several cases of children who have contracted Vibrio. The children have been very sick, but have recovered.

People who have certain conditions can be more vulnerable to Vibrio, including people who have diabetes, are obese, or have heart or kidney problems.

Vibrio typically appears through wastewater. Shellfish, which are filter feeders, effectively clean the water. Warmer temperatures, however, or a big storm can cause shellfish beds to get upended, where pathogens might be dumped back into the water.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/vibrio/wounds.

United States Supreme Court Building

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Republican senators have abdicated their responsibility for vetting a candidate for the Supreme Court.

President Donald Trump (who is a Republican, as if you didn’t know) could nominate a toothpick, a swimming pool, or a face mask and those objects, appealing though they may be, would become the ninth member of the Supreme Court, replacing the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The process was over before it began. The president, who is so fond of calling any event that might not proceed in his favor “rigged,” has exactly what he wants: a collection of at least 50 senators willing to rubber stamp the nominee to the Supreme Court, a lifelong appointment, for myriad reasons, not the least of which is to break a possible contentious election tie if and when the waters are muddy enough in the presidential election.

You have to hand it to them; they know a power grab when they see one, and this is a spectacular opportunity to reshape the court with Trump’s third nominee.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham didn’t say that his party agreed to consider the candidate when he spoke to one of the Republicans’ favorite publicists, Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

No, he said, “We’ve got the votes to confirm Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg’s replacement before the election,” according to a report in the New York Post.

That doesn’t preclude the infinitesimally small possibility that one or more of them might actually consider the merits of any candidate Trump, who is, in case you missed it, a Republican, might nominate, but it certainly suggests that the game is over well before it began.

Yes, I’m sure many people are as confident that the Democrats will all vote “no” on the candidate as that the Republicans will vote “yeah, hooray, yippee, we won.”

But that doesn’t make the votes from either party, and, specifically, the votes by each individual senator any more legitimate.

The Republicans have so effectively lined up the members of their party that none of them will question the magnificent incredible choice of the justice-to-be-named later.

They have so much confidence that the choice will be the best possible candidate for the highest judicial appointment in the land that they have no real need to consider the merits of her candidacy.

This has become an all out sprint to fast-track their candidate directly onto that important bench, without even the token consideration for her past decisions, her views on the Constitution, or her thoughts on important legal precedents.

If Republican senators have so much faith in the president’s choice, they should forfeit their salaries, go back home and allow the president to vote for them on every issue. I suspect the president wouldn’t object to adding such responsibility to his daily routine.

I understand that we live in polarized and divided times. I get that Senators reflect and amplify the differences that are pulling this nation apart. Each of them has an opportunity, no, a responsibility, to consider the job they are supposed to do, and not the party they are expected to support.

I don’t even need a Republican to vote against the president’s candidate to give me hope that someone in that esteemed chamber gets it. I just need a Republican to ask a genuinely difficult question. The hearings will go something like this:

Democrat: You’re unqualified and here’s why.

Republican: My Democratic colleague is wrong, offensive and disgraceful (see my last column for the search for grace). You’re the best person to protect the legal interests of every American.

Candidate: Was there a question in there?

James Misewich Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Even as the pandemic continues to cast a pall over the prospects for the economy, the federal government is finding ways to support science. Recently, as a part of a $625 billion award to a host of institutions, the Department of Energy earmarked $115 million over five years for a part of a project led by Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The science, called quantum information systems, could have applications in a wide range of industries, from health care to defense to communications, enabling higher levels of artificial intelligence than the current binary system computers have used for decades. By benefiting from the range of options between the 0s and 1s that typically dictate computer codes, researchers can speed up and enhance the development of programs that use artificial intelligence.

The investment “underscores the confidence the federal government has with respect to how important this technology is,” said James Misewich, the Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Photon Sciences at BNL. “Despite the challenges of the time, this was a priority.”

Local leaders hailed the effort for its scientific potential and for the future benefit to the Long Island economy.

“I have seen strong support inside of Congress and the administration for funding requests coming out of the Department of Energy for ideas on how to move the DOE’s mission forward,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1). “I have also seen a very high level of appreciation and respect for BNL, its leadership, its staff, its mission and its potential.”

Zeldin said the average American spends more time than ever engaging with technologies and other discoveries that were made possible by the first quantum revolution. “Here we are on the verge of a second quantum revolution and BNL is at the forefront of it,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin sees limitless possibilities for quantum information science, as researchers believe these efforts will lead to advancements in health care, financial services, national security and other aspects of everyday life. “This next round of quantum advancements seeks to overcome some of the vulnerabilities that were identified and the imperfections in the first wave,” he said.

State Senator James Gaughran (D-Northport) expects quantum science to provide a significant benefit to the region. “We believe this is going to be a major part of our economic future,” he said. “It is a huge victory for Long Island.”

The return on investment for the state and the federal government will also materialize in jobs growth. This is “going to employ a lot of people,” Gaughran said. “It will help to rebuild the type of economy we need on Long Island. The fact that we are on the front lines of that will lead to all sorts of private sector development.”

While the technology has enormous potential, it is still in early enough stages that research groups need to work out challenges before they can fully exploit quantum technology. BNL, specifically, will make quantum error correction a major part of their effort.

As quantum computers start working, they run into a limitation called a noisy intermediate scale quantum problem, or NISQ. These problems come from errors that lower the confidence of getting the right answer. The noise is a current limitation for the best quantum computers. “They can only go so far before you end up with an error that is fatal” to the computing process, Misewich said.

By using the co-design center for quantum advantage, Misewich and his partners hope to use the materials that “beat the NISQ error by having the combination of folks with a great team that are all talking to one another.”

The efforts will use a combination of classical computing and theory to determine the next steps in the process of building a reliable quantum information system-driven computer.

Misewich’s group is also focusing on communication. The BNL scientists hope to provide a network that enables distributed computing. In classical computing, this occurs regularly, as computer scientists distribute a problem over multiple computers.

Similarly, with quantum computing, scientists plan to distribute the problem across computers that need to talk to each other.

Misewich is pleased with the combination of centers that will collaborate through this effort. “The federal government picked these centers because they are somewhat complementary,” he said. The BNL-led team has 24 partners, which include IBM, Stony Brook University, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Yale University, Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Columbia University and Howard University, among others.

“We had to identify the best team and bring in the right people to fill the gaps,” Misewich explained.

Using a combination of federal funds and money from New York State, BNL plans to build a new beamline at the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, which will operate at very low temperatures, allowing scientists to study the way these materials work under real word conditions.

BNL would like the work they are doing to have an application in calculations in three areas: the theory of the nucleus, quantum chemistry, which explores ways to design better materials, and catalysis.

A quantum computer could help make inroads in some challenging calculations related to electron-electron interactions in superconducting materials, Misewich said, adding that the entire team feels a “tremendous sense of excitement” about the work they are doing.”

Indeed, the group has been working together for close to two years, which includes putting the team in place, identifying the problems they want to tackle and developing a compelling strategy for the research to make a difference.

The group is expecting to produce a considerable amount of research and will likely develop various patents that will “hopefully transfer the technology so companies can start to build next generation devices,” Misewich said.

Along with local leaders, Misewich hopes these research efforts will enable the transfer of this technology to a future economy for New York State.

This effort will also train a numerous graduate and post doctoral students, who will be the “future leaders that are going to drive that economy,” Misewich said.

The research will explore multiple levels of improvement in the design of quantum computers which they hope will all work at the same time to provide an exponential improvement in the ability of the computer to help solve problems and analyze data.

Real Estate brokers said people from more urban parts of the state are on the hunt for rustic or suburban homes like this one for sale in Port Jefferson. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Go east, homebuyers.

That’s the message people in Nassau County and New York City have heard in connection with home-buying decisions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘A number of people, because of the density of the population, decided they might like to move away from the city life and get to more open space.’

—John Fitzgerald

After the real estate market all but shut down during the worst of the lockdown in the spring, buyers have shown considerable interest in homes for sale in Suffolk County, driven by numerous factors including people leaving the higher-density areas of Manhattan. Additionally, prospective buyers working there have recognized that a remote working environment has given them options further from the city.

“Because of the pandemic, there was a slowdown in the request for housing and the market stopped for a while,” said John Fitzgerald, an owner and broker with Realty Connect USA, which is headquartered in Hauppauge. Once the market returned, “a number of people, because of the density of the population, decided they might like to move away from the city life and get to more open space,” he added.

With more buyers than houses available, bidding wars erupted. Prospective buyers also benefited from low interest rates, as people shopped for homes based on the monthly cost to build equity in their homes, rather than absolute price.

In some cases, within 10 minutes of a seller listing a house on the market, the phone started ringing for agents, Fitzgerald said. Prospective buyers and agents are calling or reaching out through the internet soon after some new listings appear on the market.

“It doesn’t matter the time of the day or the evening,” said Setauket-based Michael Ardolino, who is also an owner and broker at Realty Connect USA, which has offices throughout Long Island.

The prices for some homes have increased during the course of the year.

“If you’re selling something in February for one price, here we are in September, you can see a price difference,” Ardolino said. “Clearly, people are getting more money.”

Indeed, one home seller, who preferred not to use her name, said she put her house on the market in May but due to the pandemic nobody could come see it.

That, however, didn’t stop people from showing interest as numerous calls were made to her. She even received an offer from someone who hadn’t been in the house.

The offer that the seller eventually accepted was higher than the asking price. The sale closed only a few months after she put the home on the market.

With homebuyers expecting to use their houses for leisure and remote working, Fitzgerald said builders are already considering altering their architectural designs. Instead of a large den, some builders are exploring the potential for two private offices.

“In brand new construction, that will become more of a desired piece when people shop,” he said. Additionally, people may start looking for separate entrances, allowing them to minimize the noise and traffic that comes through their offices.

Some buyers are looking for an area where they are close enough to be in walking distance to town, but don’t want to be in the middle of town.

Catherine Quinlan of Coldwell Banker has also seen high demand for homes, particularly in Port Jefferson — one of her areas of expertise, where the inventory isn’t especially high.

Houses are “selling fast if they’re priced right,” she said.

While the supply-demand curve is tilted toward sellers, the pricing power isn’t extreme. She said sellers might get an extra $10,000 to $20,000, but that they aren’t collecting an additional $100,000.

Buyers are not only looking for office space to work at home, but are also interested in pools. If there isn’t a pool, buyers are asking if there’s enough room to build one.

In other markets, some folks may not want pools, but the current uncertainty about travel, vacations and even the availability of community pools has encouraged some buyers to add them to their shopping list.

Fitzgerald said the demand for pools is high enough that there is a waiting list to buy both in-ground and above-ground pools.

For one home she wasn’t showing, Quinlan was surprised to see a bidding war.

Houses that would have been on the market for months because of the condition are selling in a market in which buyers are willing to “work with a house” to accommodate their needs and to upgrade amenities or even rooms, she said.

Homes that are in the $400,000 to $500,000 range in particular are finding receptive buyers.

For prospective buyers who might be waiting for prices to come down, Fitzgerald suggested that the other side of the cost is interest rates.

“If the rates went up 1%, [buyers] could pay $40,000 to $50,000 more for the home,” he said, so they wouldn’t necessarily have saved by waiting.

From Photofest

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Normally, I’d build towards my request, but I know you’re busy. So, here’s the request: please send stories about your observations of graceful actions in our community. When I get enough of them, I’ll put them together in an article. If they keep coming, I’ll put together additional columns.

Now, onto the pitch: the challenges of today and in the uncertain times ahead continue to increase even as we are now only a few months away from the countdown to 2021. What kind of Halloween will we have this year? What kind of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or, if you’re a fan of the show Seinfeld, Festivus, awaits? We know we can’t plan for the kinds of things that we used to, like seeing friends and family in large groups, snuggling up close to watch movies or to tell stories of the triumphs of our children or our companies.

As of the date of this week’s paper, we have 47 days between now and the election and who knows how much longer between now and when an already-contested national election is actually decided. That means we will hear the word “disgraceful” bandied about as if it were the best way to take down the other side.

Democrats and Republicans will call the acts, thoughts and plans of the other side “disgraceful.” While you may agree with one person or party about how your favorite politician’s opponent is, indeed, completely lacking in grace and has ideas, thoughts or expressions that are as close to an abomination as you can imagine, those words and accusations don’t elevate your hero or you, for that matter.

Sure, it feels good to find targets for the frustrations and disappointments of a difficult year. However, during challenging times such as these, how about if we share the grace with which people are handling these challenges?

Teachers, principals, janitors and everyone else associated with schools are operating under extremely difficult conditions. Surely you must have seen one of the people in the education world come up with a graceful solution to these maddening moments?

Then there are all the people involved in health care, from first responders, to nurses, to doctors. I suspect we could create a wall of stories that reveal the grace under pressure that not only inspired you over the course of this difficult year, but also could inspire other readers looking for positive messages.

Police officers, fire fighters and other emergency services workers never know exactly what they’ll face in a day, from a cat stuck in a tree to an unstable domestic violence incident, to an escalating confrontation among protesters on opposite sides of a boiling nation. The grace some of these people demonstrate can lower the temperature and restore calm and peace.

Speaking of grace, religious leaders can and do lead by example, writing sermons and acting with patience and dignity that encourage us to find the best of ourselves.

While it’s tempting to write that Mrs. Smith is a graceful teacher, please think about what she does that’s so endearing. When you show us the story, by providing an anecdote about how Mrs. Smith defused a bullying situation or encouraged your daughter to stop sucking her thumb with subtle hand gestures, you are taking our hand and leading us into that socially-distanced classroom full of masked learners.

Hopefully, whatever stories you share, if you have the time, will motivate us to follow the examples of others who have found a way, despite circumstances that may seem out of their control, to reveal the kind of grace that soothes the soul and brings meaning to each day.

Doctor Says People Can Be Impacted by Califorinia Fires as Far as Long Island

Stock photo

Scenes of the ash and smog from wildfires in the West Coast not only trigger sympathy for those with friends and family living in a paradise under siege, but also are a cause for concern for doctors who specialize in the lungs.

Dr. Norman Edelman. Photo from SBU

While doctors don’t know how far and wide the effects of these fires might be for those who are already struggling with their breathing, such as people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or chronic bronchitis, physicians said the effect could spread well beyond the areas battling these blazes.

The danger is “not just at the site of the fire,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, a professor of medicine at Stony Brook University and a core member of the program in public health at Stony Brook. “I’m sure [the effect of the fire] is pretty wide.”

Indeed, at some point down the road, the small and large particles that are aerosolized during the fire could reach as far away as Long Island.

“We know quite firmly that air pollution from coal burning generator plants [in the Midwest] emits pollution that makes its way all the way to the East Coast,” Edelman said.

The current use of masks may offer some protection for residents on the West Coast.

Particulates, which are aerosolized particles that can get in people’s lungs and affect their breathing, come in various sizes. The larger ones tend to get lodged in people’s noses, throat and eyes and can cause coughing, hacking, and watery eyes. An ordinary mask can filter some of those out, although masks are not completely effective for these bigger particles.

The smaller ones are more dangerous, Edelman said. They can get further into the lungs and can exacerbate asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. They can even contribute to increased incidence of heart attacks.

“Nobody really knows” why these smaller particles contribute to heart attacks, Edelman said. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a reduction in pollution improves the health of a population.

When New York banned smoking in all public places, the level of heart attacks dropped by 15 to 20 percent.

“This level of pollution is nothing like what we’re seeing in the area of the wildfires,” Edelman said.

Additionally, lower pollution can improve the health of people with lung problems.

At the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, officials put in alternate day driving restrictions, which allowed people to drive every other day. By cutting down the pollution from traffic, doctors noticed a 25% reduction in admission to the emergency room for asthma.

If he were a doctor on the West Coast, Edelman said he would make sure his patients had all their medications renewed and available. He would also check in with his patients to make sure they had emergency instructions in case they need to boost the amount of any pharmacological agents.

The effect of the pollutants on people with asthma or other lung issues can be more severe if they are already dealing with an inflamed airway.

“The effects of various irritants are probably synergistic,” Edelman said. “If this is your allergy season, you become much more susceptible to the inflammatory effects of air pollution.”

COVID and the Lungs

As for the pandemic, Edelman said he didn’t come to the emergency room to work at the Intensive Care Unit during the pandemic.

His colleagues did, however, ask him to take care of patients who didn’t have to come in by telehealth. He’s continued to see many patients over the last three or four months.

One surprise from the data he’s seen related to the pandemic is that asthma does not seem to exacerbate the effects of COVID-19.

People with asthma “are not dying with COVID at any greater rate than the general population,” Edelman said.

He hasn’t yet seen the data for people with chronic bronchitis or COPD.

Stony Brook has set up a fund that helps students attend while dealing with small financial hurdles. File photo by Kyle Barr

Like so many other plans this year, the goal for Stony Brook University’s Student Emergency Support Fund has changed.

SBU students like Rijuta Mukim have relied on funds from the university’s emergency fund for their studies at home. Photo by Mukim

The fund, which SBU’s Dean of Students Richard Gatteau launched in January, was originally planned as an endowed source of funds that would help students in need. Amid the ongoing financial dislocation caused by the pandemic, the fund has now provided everything from money for car repairs, which some students need to get to campus, to books, iPads, or even rent.

Through July, the emergency fund provided about $935,000 in support to 1,194 students, according to the dean of students.

“Once COVID hit, we realized in March and April, the need was overwhelming,” he said. The school put in a new strategy to raise more money to expand the focus to include basic life essentials, like paying the electric bill or groceries. The university “didn’t want this circumstance to force someone to drop out.”

For some students, the financial need, especially in the current economic environment amid job losses and higher unemployment, exceeds the resources that financial aid, grants and loans can offer.

“We’re working with students on the margin,” Gatteau said. The parents of many students don’t have the financial ability to support them, either.

Many of the students who initially received money from the emergency fund  were remote learners who needed internet access or other remote support.

That included SBU junior Rijuta Mukim, who was working from her home in southern India when her computer broke down and her internet connection was unstable.

Taking classes and studying during the night and sleeping during the day to continue her education amid the time difference, Mukim was kicked off her Zoom calls for her classes within five minutes.

“I had a lot of trouble attending class,” Mukim said.

Without a fix for her computer and a better connection, Mukim, who is majoring in biology and psychology and hopes to attend medical school after she graduates, would have had to withdraw during the spring.

After she heard about the emergency fund on Reddit, she applied. Within a few hours, she received an email indicating that the school was trying to reach her by phone to make sure she was all right. She revealed her needs and received $1,000 within a week.

In the meantime, the support team explained her situation to her professors, who gave her extra time to complete her assignments.

Mukim had originally planned to work this summer at the Staller Center, but she was appreciative of the university and the donors who contributed to the fund for financial assistance, even as she worked from home several continents away.

“A thousand dollars might sound like a small amount but it helped me to ride through the spring and summer classes,” Mukim said. Having this kind of support “during a crisis is wonderful. It is satisfying to know there is a community helping you and looking out for you.”

Gatteau said other students also appreciated the calls soon after they made their requests.

Students “want an opportunity to tell their story, [to hear] a friendly voice on the other end of the call, to hear what’s going on,” he said. “Many students have faced challenging situations, with job losses and deaths related to COVID.”

A call from the emergency fund team can be as much about financial support as it is a counseling session with a student that helps them know how much the university cares about them.

As the fall semester started, the fund recently relaunched and has received between 130 and 150 applications for economic support.

The fund, which received a $75,000 donation from SBU President Maurie McInnis and is soliciting additional donations, is trying to rebuild after the earlier disbursements. 

The call for donations has just gone out to community members, prior donors, alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

“We’ve done a full marketing campaign across all of the stakeholders who donated [previously] and then we try to reach out to new people,” Gatteau said.

The dean of students said the school is collecting donations of any size.

“Small amounts have made a big difference collectively,” he said.

The school estimates that $100 supports Wi-Fi access and other online learning costs; $200 contributes to lab fees and books; and $500 helps with groceries and rent.

The fund doesn’t currently allow donors to earmark their contributions for any specific purpose. Gatteau said the top priority with any student is for academic needs.

Despite the financial hardship caused by COVID and higher unemployment, officials said Stony Brook has not had many students drop out for financial reasons.

Amid concerns nationally about students ignoring social distancing or mask-wearing rules, Gatteau endorsed the way students have complied with rules. 

“We’re very lucky,” he said. Students are motivated to prevent closures. “They want [the school] to stay open,”

Students whose financial need exceeds whatever the emergency fund can provide may be able to update their Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — forms, to see if they are eligible for additional financial assistance.

Meanwhile, students can apply to the Student Support Team at www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/studentaffairs/studentsupport. Students provide basic information and discuss their specific issues and challenges on a call.

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Dr. Nick Fitterman said they wouldn't necessarily endorse a COVID-19 vaccine immediately without first getting all the information. Photo from Huntington Hospital

Huntington Hospital won’t automatically endorse a COVID-19 vaccine, even if it receives approval from the federal government.

The hospital plans to evaluate the data from the vaccine’s phase 3 trials to ensure that the vaccine is safe and effective.

“We’ll see if things are starting to uptick long before it’s more obvious to the public.”

— Nick Fitterman

“It’s part of our oath, ‘Do no harm,’” said Dr. Nick Fitterman, executive director at Huntington Hospital. “If we don’t think the safety is there, I will scream it from the rooftops. It has to be a combination of safety and efficacy.”

Fitterman said at least seven vaccines are in phase 3 trials, with over 250 experimental vaccines in the works in total.

Fitterman was pleased to see that nine vaccine makers signed a pledge to uphold medical standards and not succumb to governmental pressure for rapid approval.

At this point, Fitterman would only take a vaccine after publication of the evidence from the clinical trials.

Once he is convinced that a vaccine is safe and effective, he said he would feel an urgency to take it as a health care worker.

“If you take care of people who are high risk, you’re going to need to take it,” Fitterman said.

The hospital would likely have the same policy for a COVID vaccine that it does for a flu vaccination: if workers choose not to get a vaccine, they will be required to wear a mask.

For the flu, hospital workers with purple badges on their name tags have had a flu shot.

At this point, it is unclear how long a COVID-19 vaccination might provide potential protection. Like tetanus or mumps, no vaccine wards off infection indefinitely, which means people will likely require boosters.

“I’m more worried about people getting complacent because they have been vaccinated,” Fitterman said.

Years down the road, the virus could return.

Asked whether those people who have antibodies for the virus would need a vaccine, Fitterman highlighted a recent case in Hong Kong. Published in the journal Lancet, doctors shared the story of one patient who contracted COVID-19 and then tested positive again.

The virus currently has several strains, so a vaccine might provide greater protection than natural antibodies against a single type of COVID-19.

The man who contracted the virus twice had antibodies that “didn’t protect him from another infection,” but he did not have any symptoms during the second positive test.

An infection in which a person develops antibodies could “protect you from the disease, but it doesn’t [necessarily] protect you from getting infected again,” Fitterman said.

A health care worker in particular would benefit from a vaccine that prevented infection from numerous strains to prevent that worker from spreading a disease to which he or she would likely be exposed during the course of any increase in cases.

With the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 overlapping with the flu, Fittterman strongly urged residents to get a flu shot, which would help prevent the virus from overwhelming a health care system that might again face an influx of hospitalizations from the coronavirus.

“It’s part of our oath, ‘Do no harm.'”

— Nick Fitterman

Huntington Hospital recently started making the flu vaccine available to frontline workers and urged people to get flu shots this month. He reminded people that the vaccine only works two weeks after an injection after the immune system has had a chance to recognize the virus.

Fitterman is encouraged by the range of current vaccines in trials for COVID-19, including those that use messenger RNA.

Fitterman said Huntington Hospital is prepared for a potential second wave of COVID-19. He monitors the data every day.

“We’ll see if things are starting to uptick long before it’s more obvious to the public,” Fitterman said.

As a part of Northwell Health, Huntington Hospital has stockpiled personal protective equipment. Northwell also gave Huntington $4 million to be prepared, which includes having more ventilators, dialysis machines, and negative pressure rooms ready. Huntington can handle 10% more than the number of patients who needed medical help in the spring.

“We are beyond ready [but we] hope we don’t have to exercise any of that,” Fitterman said.

Fitterman urged those people who need other hospital services, such as cancer screenings, to come to the hospital.

When the spring surge for COVID-19 occurred, the hospital told people who were dealing with nonemergency situations not to come to the hospital because they needed the beds, and not because they felt patients would be exposed to the virus.

Indeed, after the viral numbers declined, the hospital tested its staff for the presence of the antibodies. They found that 9% of the staff had antibodies to the virus, which is below the 14% for the surrounding community.

“What we did works,” Fitterman said, which included PPE and procedures to protect the staff. The hospital is a “safe place to be,” he said.

In monitoring the daily changes in infection in Suffolk County, Fitterman said positive tests have been rising and falling during the last few weeks. So far, he has not seen an increase in hospitalizations.

“Our numbers continue to go down,” Fitterman said, as the hospital had three people with COVID-19 as of Sept. 8.