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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

My five-year-old neighbor Jack keeps me and his parents on our toes, and for that, I am grateful.

In this strange and challenging year, Jack offers a refreshing, clear-eyed and honest assessment of everything he sees. He speaks directly, asks questions and expects people to treat him the way his kind, caring and supportive parents do.

During the spring, at the start of longer walks around the neighborhood with my dog, I started the pattern of wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts during cooler weather. After all, with nowhere else to go, I didn’t feel compelled to put on a collared shirt, to change my outerwear or to put on my dress shoes. Speaking of which, I don’t think I’ve even looked for my shoes in months. The search for those shoes, and the black socks at the bottom of a drawer somewhere, will be a welcome return to a more normal routine some day.

Anyway, back in the first stages of an endless homebound existence, Jack saw me one morning, greeted my dog , who is 30 pounds heavier than he, and asked me one of the many five-year-old questions that he shares.

“Why are you wearing the same clothes as yesterday?” he asked, as if I were somehow on a walk of shame after an evening that stretched into morning in a college dorm.

“Oh, honey, he’s just wearing the same sweatshirt as yesterday. You do that, too,” his mother gently offered.

Then again, Jack was right. I was wearing the same sweatshirt and sweatpants.

Later, when a nephew who tested negative for the virus came to visit and took a walk with me, Jack listened to his mother chat with us. As we were walking away, Jack watched my nephew and me head to my house.

“Dan,” he shouted, “Don’t forget about six feet.”

Again, Jack was right. Comfortable as I was, even outside with my nephew, Jack learned the rules and was encouraging me to follow them.

Recently, Jack delved into the minefield of politics. Without any hesitation, he asked my wife and daughter about their votes for the presidential election.

His mother, once again, tried to provide a filter, suggesting that such a conversation might not be necessary or comfortable.

Our daughter, who has had extensive experience babysitting children of all ages, had no trouble answering the question in a way that wouldn’t upset Jack, regardless of his or, more likely, his parents’ thoughts on the subject.

Cliche as it seems, it occurred to me, listening to my wife recount this conversation, that Jack, and the need to meet his earnestness and honesty, offered a reminder about public discourse.

Five-year-olds may not know everything, but they know when an adult is being condescending or is belittling them. They need the same kind of honesty they give.

At the same time, they need answers that don’t insult them. Even if they, or their parents, have different views, they need to know that others respect them.

Therein, it occurred to me, lies the lesson. We don’t need to avoid conversations with each other about topics on which we disagree. We are guaranteed the freedom to disagree with everyone, from our siblings, to our parents, to the president.

We also might do well to think of others who are speaking to us as Jack. We don’t need to picture others as five-year-olds. We can, and will, engage in more satisfying discourse if we follow some of the same principles when speaking with anyone. With so many challenges ahead, we will accomplish more together, and respectfully, than if we take each other down.

Suffolk County officials said we are certainly in the midst of the pandemic's second wave. Stock photo

Responding to numerous 911 calls on Monday, Nov. 30, just after midnight, the Suffolk County Police Department arrived at 51 Hawkins Lane in Brookhaven to find an estimated 300 to 400 people arriving for a party.

Police said it took about four hours to break up a gathering that was just getting started. The owner of the 5,000 square foot property, which is listed on Air BNB for $399 per night, was one of the people who called the police.

SCPD Chief Stuart Cameron said the people who rented the house who officials believe came from New Jersey would face civil fines of up to $15,000 and criminal charges that include criminal nuisance in the second degree and section 12-B of the public health law, which are the sections the police have been using for COVID-19-related enforcement.

The “prompt response” by the police and the “effective dispersion of the crowd” enabled the police to avert a “potential supers spreader event,” Cameron said on a call with the media run by County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“We have gotten significant cooperation from the homeowner,” Bellone said on the conference call. “When they found that the home was being used for this purpose, they did report that. We will be holding accountable the people who did hold this party.”

Bellone cautioned anyone who might consider coming in to Suffolk County from out of town that they will not be allowed to skirt COVID-19 public health rules.

“Renting a home and thinking you will be able to get away with that … that’s not going to happen,” Bellone said. “We’ve worked too hard to allow selfish and reckless individuals to set back our efforts to continue to protect people’s health.”

Bellone thanked the SCPD for their efforts.

Bellone urged people to continue to follow public health guidelines, particularly as the holidays approach. He said there was hope on the horizon with a vaccine and that there is an “end in sight. We need to do the best we can to follow the guidance so we can contain this second wave.”

Across the county, Chief Cameron described the number of 911 calls over Thanksgiving as a “handful,” which was below his expectations. In the cases when the police did arrive at a home, they didn’t notice “any gross deviations,” which the police chief described as a “testament to the people of Suffolk County.”

A Tough Beginning

As for the number of positive tests, the trend continues to provide warning signs to area officials about the return of the spread of a virus the county had originally beat back earlier this year.

Positive tests for COVID-19 stood at 5.2% as of Dec. 1, with 609 new cases in the previous day. The county hasn’t had a rate above five percent since May 17.

Hospitalizations now stand at 248, which is the highest since June 3.

“Those numbers are alarming to say the least,” Bellone said. “There’s no doubt we are in that second wave we talked about for so long.”

The county and state will now incorporate hospital capacity into cluster zone designations in determining yellow, orange and red levels.

As of the beginning of this month, 28% of hospital beds were available, with 32% of intensive care unit beds available.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has indicated that hospitals in the state need to prepare for surges by identifying doctors and nurses, preparing field hospitals and planning for “all the things we did in the spring,” Bellone said.

Bellone reinforced a message about schools he’s been sharing for several weeks, even as positive cases continue to increase. The county executive said Suffolk is not seeing the spread happening in schools in any significant level.

“Keeping our schools open is critical for students, families and for our continued economic recovery,” Bellone said.

Bellone reminded residents that the majority of new cases seem to be coming from small gatherings, where family and friends who feel safer with each other are congregating, often without masks and, at times, within six feet of each other.

“It is critically important that people limit those gatherings,” Bellone said.

The county continues to rely on contact tracing to try to limit the spread of the virus. On the first of November, the county had 30 people in place who were contact tracing, reflecting the smaller number of positive tests. Now, the county has over 200 contact tracers, who are reaching out to positive cases to connect with those who might have been exposed to the virus.

In the last two weeks, the county had 7,948 confirmed cases. Contact tracers reached 6,114 people, with 3,801 of those providing contacts, which represents less than half the total.

Dr. Shahida Iftikhar, deputy commissioner for the Department of Health, said the number of people who didn’t provide contacts included those who weren’t within six feet for 10 minutes or more of other people.

Tobias Janowitz. Photo from CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

The body’s savior in its battle against disease, immune cells respond to a collection of signals which tell them to dial up or down their patrolling efforts.

Scientists and doctors are constantly trying to determine what combination of beneficial or detrimental signals can lead to different outcomes.

Recently, Assistant Professor Tobias Janowitz and Professor Douglas Fearon of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, working with Duncan Jodrell at the University of Cambridge Cancer Research Institute, used an inhibitor developed and tested for the treatment of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, in patients with colorectal and pancreatic cancer for a week.

Douglas Fearon. Photo from CSHL

The study was done on 24 patients and is a phase 0 effort, in which scientists and doctors test the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of the treatment.

In the study, which was published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the researchers showed that the treatment got into the blood, that the patients tolerated it, and that it enabled immune treatments to reach the tumors.

While this is an encouraging step, Janowitz cautioned that any such studies are far from a potentially viable treatment for either type of cancer. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration requires a lengthy and rigorous scientific process for any possible therapy, in part because numerous promising efforts haven’t led to viable therapies for a host of reasons.

Still, this study offers a promising beginning for a potential approach to treating various forms of cancer.

Janowitz said patients “tolerated the treatment by and large very well,” and that “no new toxicities were observed compared to the ones that were known.” Some people developed slight disturbances in their sleep, which were immediately resolved after they discontinued using the treatment.

The history of the possible treatment for HIV showed similar side effects years ago. “We anticipated it would have a favorable toxicity profile,” said Janowitz.

The link between this early candidate for HIV treatment and cancer came from an analysis of the receptor that is expressed on immune cells, called CXCR4.

This receptor is targeted by the drug plerixafor. Most of the work linking the inhibited receptor to potential cancer treatment came from Fearon’s lab, Janowitz explained.

Fearon found that blocking the receptor enabled immune cells to migrate to cancer in a mouse study. Along with Janowitz and CSHL Cancer Director David Tuveson, he published a paper on the preclinical study in a mouse model in PNAS in 2013.

This inhibitor also has been used to release stem cells from bone marrow that can be used in a hematological context for treatment and transplantation. During their cancer study, the scientists found these stem cells circulating in the blood. It’s unclear from this first study how the combination of cancer therapy and releasing stem cells from bone marrow affects patients.

“We are not able to say that that has a relevancy to the cancer patient,” Janowitz said.

While some drug treatments work for a period of time until a cancer returns, immunotherapy may have a longer term benefit than chemotherapeutics, as some studies suggest.

“By giving this drug, our hope is that we enable an influx of immune cells into the tumor and have an across the board integrated immune response,” Janowitz said.

Down the road, Janowitz said the group hopes that this treatment will be a part of a combination of treatments that treat cancer.

By enabling immune cells to access cancer where the mutation rate is lower, these treatments could provide a sustained treatment.

The researchers chose pancreatic and colorectal cancer because those cancers don’t respond to current immunotherapy. “It’s really important to uncover why that is,” said Janowitz. The scientists had evidence from pre-clinical models that the pathway and the biochemistry that this drug activates can be effective.

In his lab, Janowitz performed some of the mechanistic work to understand why this drug might function. A medical doctor who is awaiting his license to practice in New York, Janowitz was also involved in the trial management group and in analyzing the multiplicity of data that came together.

The researchers in this study came from fields including bioinformatics, clinical medicine, pharmacology, and immunology. Fearon explained in an email that Jodrell wrote the grant to Stand Up to Cancer, or SU2C, in 2014 to obtain funding for the trial. Jodrell oversaw the clinical trial and Fearon directed the evaluation of the immunology findings.

Janowitz had a “major role in putting together the clinical data for the write-up,” and Daniele Biasci, a computational biologist at Cambridge, developed the analysis of the transcriptional data of the tumor biopsies, said Fearon.

As for the next stages in this work, physicians at Johns Hopkins Medicine International and Dana Farber Cancer Institute will soon start a phase 2 trial that is already registered and that combines this inhibitor with anti-PD-1.

Fearon said his continued pre-clinical research has shown that this immune suppressive pathway may be relevant to multiple human carcinomas, and has identified new potential targets for more effective immunotherapy.

Janowitz, meanwhile, will explore the systemic immune competence of the body as he continues to take a top down, broad-based approach to cancer.

He would like to know the degree to which the body can mount an effective immune response, while also exploring the factors that diminish that ability.

Separately, with three young children at home, Janowitz and his wife Clary, who is a radiation oncologist, have been balancing between their busy careers and the demands of parenting during the pandemic. Their extended families are both in Europe.

“We can’t visit them and they can’t visit us,” he said adding that he appreciated the way CSHL has offered day care to young children on campus.

As for this study, Janowitz said he’s encouraged by the early results.

A sign of the times outside Smithtown Town Hall. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Library

Even before some family gatherings provide a potential breeding ground for the coronavirus, Suffolk County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at rates not seen since the worst of the first wave, in April.

In the last day, 501 people have tested positive for the coronavirus which is the highest number since April. That represents a 4 percent positive test rate, which is also the highest figure since May 18.

“It is unclear if we are plateauing or whether [these numbers] will continue to go up,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters. He is concerned about “where we may go after the Thanksgiving holidays.”

Indeed, Dr. Shahida Iftikhar, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Health, said the numbers were likely climbing as a result of smaller gatherings, which is what triggered an increase after the Halloween weekend.

Long Island surpassed 1,000 cases on Tuesday, according to officials. More communities on Long Island are close to being named so-called yellow zones by the state, which might mean more restrictions and the potential rolling back of the phased reopening seen earlier this year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during his Wednesday livestream the virus is being spread mainly by bars and restaurants that sell alcohol, gyms and small gatherings. New restrictions have been placed on all three earlier this month. Cuomo also said places like Monroe County, whose officials said cases were mainly due to small gatherings and not places like gyms, were outliers, and stressed people limit gatherings on Thanksgiving.

I give thanks for the intelligence of New Yorkers, but we have to stay safe, we have to keep the infection rate down through the thanksgiving holiday,” he said. ““Don’t be a turkey, wear a mask this Thanksgiving.”

Despite the move away from contact tracing in other regions with widespread community spread, Suffolk County continues to use contact tracers to call people who have received positive tests and to warn anyone they might have infected.

For those residents who have received a negative COVID test and plan to gather with family and friends, Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner in the County Department of Health, cautioned that people can have a negative test and still transmit the virus after they are exposed.

There is a lot of “asymptomatic spread,” Pigott warned.

To limit the spread of the virus, Bellone urged people to follow state guidelines, limiting gatherings to 10 people, washing their hands, wearing face coverings where possible and keeping a distance of at least six feet, particularly from vulnerable members of the population.

In anticipation of gatherings, the Suffolk County Police Department has added patrols and will perform compliance checks with bars and restaurants to ensure that these businesses are adhering to the state requirements that they shut down indoor food and beverage service after 10 p.m.

The SCPD will not go from house to house counting cars, but they will respond to any reports of private residences that exceed the 10-person limit.

New York State has designated Riverhead and Hampton Bays as yellow zones. Bellone encouraged residents living within these zones to get tested. Residents can find testing sites at the web site suffolkcountyny.gov.

Cuomo said New York, among other states, has started adding field hospitals again, much like what was seen during the first wave of the pandemic. The first field hospital has been set up in Staten Island, though more be on the way.

Free testing sites, supported by New York State, are opening Monday at the Northwell Health Dolan Family Healthy Center in Huntington and on Tuesday at Sun River Health in Patchogue.

As the Board of Elections continues to count votes, Bellone said one of the people who worked for the elections tested positive. The county has tested 111 people who worked in the building, with eight people testing positive and 37 quarantined because of close contact.

On the positive side, Suffolk County’s testing in schools in Riverhead and Hampton Bays has demonstrated a low rate of infection. In Riverhead, 12 out of 524 people tested positive, while Hampton Bays had four positive tests out of 417 people tested.

“While we continue to monitor the rise in cases, we are not currently seeing community spread happening in our schools,” Bellone said. “As long as students and faculty are kept safe, schools should remain open.”

Additional reporting by Kyle Barr

Mather Hospital changed its visitation policies Nov. 23. File photo by Alex Petroski

This story was updated Wednesday to include Stony Brook University Hospital.

Amid increases in the percentage of positive tests for coronavirus, Northwell hospitals including Huntington Hospital and Mather Hospital have changed their visitor policies.

Effective on Tuesday, Nov. 24, Mather Hospital has suspended patient visitation, including the Emergency Department and Transition Care Unit.

The exceptions for visitors include patients for whom a support person is considered medically necessary, including people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities and patients with cognitive impairments, including dementia.

Additionally, patients in imminent end-of-life situations may be allowed a family member or legal representative as a support at the bedside. The Department of Health defines imminent end-of-life as a patient who may die within 24 hours.

Pediatric visits in Emergency Departments are limited to one parent or guardian. Adolescent psychiatry, meanwhile, is limited to one parent or guardian between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Visitors must meet several criteria at Mather. They have to be 18 years old or older, have not been exposed to COVID-19 and be screened for symptoms. Visitors also have to wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Those who don’t wear such PPE won’t be permitted in the hospital.

Visitors will have to stay in the patient room during the visit. When they leave the room, visitors will remove their PPE, wash their hands and leave the hospital. Visitors should not be in the room during aerosol-generating procedures.

Patients can choose who can and can’t visit and may select priority support people.

A view of the front entrance to Huntington Hospital on Park Avenue in Huntington. File photo

Huntington Hospital

Meanwhile, at Huntington Hospital, all visitation, except for extraordinary circumstances, is suspended, effective Nov. 30.

The hospital has experience an increase in cases, although the total numbers remain low, with fewer than 20 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

“Social Distance and mask wearing by the community is critical,” Nick Fitterman, Executive Director at Huntington Hospital, said through an email.

One support person for patients in the Center for Mothers and Babies may remain throughout the hospital stay.

Outpatient Radiology services are canceled, effective Nov. 30.

Huntington Hospital’s surgical services are fully operation. The staff will take COVID-negative surgical patients through the hospital’s safe pathways.

The hospital strictly enforces universal masking, protective eyewear, hand hygiene and social distancing.

“We remain confident in these practices, and that they will protect our patients from COVID-19 while in the hospital,” Fitterman said.

File photo

Stony Brook Hospital

Starting on Friday, Nov. 27, all visitation is suspended except for patient support persons or family members and/or legal representatives of patients in imminent end-of-life situations.

Hospitals will permit a patient support person at the bedside for patients in labor and delivery, pediatric patients patients with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities or patients with cognitive impairments including dementia.

Photo courtesy of Pixaby

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Hello and welcome to the first and hopefully last Zoom Thanksgiving. Hey, hold on, I can see that you’ve muted yourself in Box 6 over there, Uncle Mary. Yes, I know I said Uncle Mary because I’m reading the name on your screen. Did you think that was funny? What are you saying that I can’t hear?

OK, so we’re going to forego the usual list of what we’re thankful for because it’s 2020 and we’re not together, and I promised the kids they wouldn’t have to talk to such a large group of faces who are all
looking in the wrong direction.

Seriously, what’s wrong with you people? Can’t you look at the camera? I know that might sound harsh. I just spent the last few hours before this fake happy scene trying to remember something about the Ottoman Empire. No offense to the Ottoman Empire, but I didn’t like history much when I was that old and now I’m trying to learn it again.

Yes, I know, Uncle Mary, it’d be easier for me to teach my kids these subjects if I pretended to be interested, but that ended in early April, when I had to try to remember something about the number of electrons in different orbits around atoms.

Anyway, I’m thankful we’re together. I saw that, cousin Clarence. Look, we don’t see you very often. The least you could do is not roll your eyes the entire time I’m talking. You’re doing it again! Cut it out! Oh, really? You have something in your eye? Let me see. Oh yeah, it does look red.

Okay, so we’re going to make this virtual Thanksgiving all about the senses. You see, we’re going to each search through our house for things that look like something else, put them on the screen and guess what the other person is holding. I read something about being creative this year, so this is it.

No, Alex, you can’t ask a question. Because I said you couldn’t. I’m running this virtual Thanksgiving, and I said you couldn’t. Well, then, your teacher is a better person than I am. I wish he was your father, too. No, no, I didn’t mean that. I just mean that we’re doing something differently this year. Okay, if you stop crying, you can ask a question.

Well, actually that is a good question. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Thanksgiving per se, but guessing what we’re holding is a way for each of us to connect. Okay, so, now, everybody, go get something and bring it back.

Ah, I see Uncle George has come back with something that looks like a baseball. Oh, it is a baseball? That’s not very creative. Oh, Uncle George, you’re not going to tell the story about how you almost caught a foul ball hit by Mickey Mantle, are you? Oh, you were? Well, that is a great story, and I’m sure there’s someone who hasn’t heard that story yet. By a show of hands, who hasn’t heard that story? Okay, well, Uncle George, it’s only because we all listen to you so carefully and we love to hear your stories. Maybe, though, we’ll skip that one this time. Are you crying too, or do you have something in your eye?

Okay, someone else go. Matthew, what are you holding? It looks like an origami bird. Wait, it is an origami bird? I wasn’t supposed to guess it that quickly? Well, it’s because you did such a great job. Now you’re crying?

Okay, it’s Jennifer’s turn. It looks like a huge glass of wine. You’re drinking it to test it? So, it was wine? And now you’re refilling it and drinking it again? One more time? Really? Okay, anyone else want to go?

Veronica Sanders. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

If doctors could somehow stick numerous miniature flashlights in human bodies and see beneficial or harmful reactions, they would be able to diagnose and treat people who came into their offices.

That’s what Vanessa Sanders, Assistant Scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, is working to develop, although instead of using a flashlight, she and her colleagues are using radioisotopes of elements like arsenic. Yes, arsenic, the same element at the center of numerous murder mysteries, has helpful properties and, at low enough concentrations, doesn’t present health threats or problems.

Arsenic 72 is useful in the field of theranostics, which, as the name suggests, is a combination of therapeutics and diagnostics.

Isotopes “allow us to observe visual defects and through using these radioactive agents, we can also observe the functionality of organs,” Sanders explained in an email. These agents can assist in diagnosing people, which can inform the treatment for patients.

What makes arsenic 72 and other radioisotopes helpful is that they have a longer half-life than other isotopes, like fluorine 18, which only lasts for several minutes before it decays. Arsenic-72 has a half life of 26 hours, which matches with the life of an antibody, which circulates through bodies, searching for targets for the immune system. The combination of arsenic-72 and arsenic-77 allows the former to act as a diagnostic agent and the later as a therapeutic partner.

By attaching this radioisotope to antibodies of interest, scientists and doctors can use the decay of the element as a homing device. Using Positron Emission Tomography, agents allow for the reconstruction of images based on the location of detected events.

“When you want to use an antibody as a target for imaging, you want an isotope that will be able to ride with the antibody and accumulate at an area of interest,” Sanders said.

A radiochemist, Sanders is working to develop systems that help researchers and doctors diagnose the extent of problems, while also tracking progress in fighting against diseases. She is working to produce arsenic-72 through the decay of selenium-72.

Using the Brookhaven Linac Isotope Producer, scientists produce selenium-72. They then create a generator system where the selenium 72 is absorbed onto a solid substrate. As it decays, the solid substrate is washed to obtain arsenic-72.

Sanders is hoping to create a device that researchers could ship to clinical institutions where institutions could use arsenic-72 in further applications.

The system BNL is creating is a research and development project. Sanders and her colleagues are working to optimize the process of producing selenium-72 and evaluating how well the selenium, which has a half life of eight days, is retained and how much they can load onto generators.

“We want [arsenic 72] in a form that can easily go into future formulations,” Sanders said. “When we rinse it off that column, we hope to quickly use it and attach it to biomolecules, antibodies or proteins and use it in a biological system.”

With the increasing prevalence of personalized approaches to diseases, Sanders explained that the goal with these diagnostic tools is to differentiate the specific subtype.

A person with pancreatic cancer, for example, might present a specific target in high yield, while another patient might have the same stage cancer without the same high yield target.

“We want to have different varieties or different options of these diagnostic tools to be able to tailor it to the individual patient,” explained Sanders.

Cathy Cutler, Director of the Medical Isotope Program at BNL, said the isotopes Sanders is working on “have a lot of promise” and are “novel.” She described Sanders as “very organized” and “very much a go-getter.”

Cutler said the department feels “very lucky to get her and have her in the program.”

In her group, Sanders explained that she and her colleagues are eager to develop as many radioisotopes as possible to attach them to biomolecules, which will enable them to evaluate disease models under different scenarios. Other researchers are working with arsenic-77, which acts as a therapeutic agent because it emits a different particle.

Scientists are working on a combination of radioisotopes that can incorporate diagnostic and therapeutic particles. When the arsenic 77 destroys the cells by breaking the DNA genetic code, researchers could still observe a reduction in a tumor size. Depending on the disease type and the receptor targeted, scientists could notice a change by observing less signal.

Sanders is working on attaching several radioisotopes to biomolecules and evaluating them to see how well they are produced and separated.

“We make sure [the isotope] attaches to the thing it’s supposed to stick to” such as an antibody, she said.

A resident of Sound Beach, Sanders grew up in Cocoa, which is in central Florida. When she was younger, she wanted to be a trauma surgeon, but she transitioned to radioisotopes when she was in college at Florida Memorial University. “I liked the problem solving aspect of chemistry,” she said. While she works with cancer, she said she would like to investigate neurological diseases as well.

Sanders, who has been living on Long Island since 2017 when she started her post doctoral work at BNL, enjoys the quieter, suburban similarities between the island and her earlier life in Florida.

At six feet, one and a half inches tall, Sanders enjoys playing center on basketball teams and, prior to the pandemic, had been part of several adult leagues in the city and on Long Island, including Ladies Who Hoop and LI Hoops. She is also involved in a sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc, that contributes to community service efforts.

Sanders and her fiancee Joshua Morancie, who works in IT support, had planned to get married in July. They set a new date in the same month next year. If the pandemic continues to derail their party plans next year, the couple plan to wed in a smaller ceremony.

As for radioisotopes, Sanders hopes people become inspired by the opportunities radioisotopes provide for science and medicine.

“There are so many good things that come out of radioisotopes,” Sanders said. “There are so many promising advantages.”

Older folks are going to be struggling mentally this holiday season, as with current travel and gathering restrictions it will be harder to connect over long distances. Stock photo

Before, during and after major storms, state and local officials typically urge residents to check on elderly friends and neighbors to make sure they have what they need.

While the pandemic hasn’t torn up trees or left a physical mess strewn across impassable roadways, it has triggered the kind of problems residents might have during an ongoing storm.

Indeed, after a brutal spring that included school and business lockdowns followed by a summer respite when the number of infected people declined, the fall has proceeded the way many infectious disease experts had anticipated, with a resurgence in positive tests, steadily rising hospital bed occupancy and the possibility of renewed lockdowns.

Dr. Youssef Hassoun, the medical director at South Oaks Hospital, offers advice with connecting to the elderly over the holidays. Photo from Northwell Health

All of this is happening against the backdrop of a time when elderly residents typically welcome friends and extended family during Thanksgiving and through the December holidays. Many people have canceled or postponed seasonal rituals indefinitely, things that normally offer an opportunity to reconnect.

Holidays are a “needed process that are embedded in our culture and society and, for most, bring significant joy and purpose,” said Dr. Youssef Hassoun, Medical Director of South Oaks Hospital. “For the elderly, that is exaggerated, simply because that is their time to connect back with their loved ones.”

Elderly residents are managing, though they are feeling numerous stressors.

The mental health toll on elderly residents has increased since the pandemic began. In the first few months after the virus upended life on Long Island, the number of elderly residents seeking mental health support declined at Stony Brook, according to Nikhil Palekar, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine.

In the last few months, “we have seen a significant increase in referrals our center has received for mental health services,” Palekar explained in an email.

Stony Brook has not had to increase their staffing yet, but if the demand for mental health services continues to be as high as it has been for the past couple of months, the university “will be hiring more clinical staff to provide care,” Palekar explained.

Elderly residents are trapped in a battle between the fear of contracting the virus and the impact of loneliness, which can increase the rate of depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment, Palekar added.

Indeed, the number of nursing home residents contracting the virus has increased in the country and in Suffolk County, according County Executive Steve Bellone (D) during a Tuesday call with reporters.

For people who are battling against the loneliness triggered by isolation, “our recommendation to our elderly patients is to use televideo conferencing to connect with their loved ones, peers and support groups,” Palekar wrote.

Ongoing Stress

For Baby Boomers, concerns about loneliness predated the pandemic, said Adam Gonzalez, Founding Director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.

“COVID adds a whole ‘nother layer of barriers that might get in the way of people connecting,” Gonzalez said. “It’s definitely a high-stress and overwhelming time for many.”

Indeed, ongoing stress, including from concerns about COVID, can trigger cognitive stress.

“Stress can make it harder for people to think,” said Chris Christodoulou, Research Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health and Neurology at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. When people are thrown out of their habits, that can be “disorienting and stressful.”

‘For the elderly, [that need for holiday joy] is exaggerated, simply because that is their time to connect back with their loved ones.’

—Dr. Youssef Hassoun

A stressful situation can also reveal cognitive vulnerability for people who are suddenly unsure of themselves and their environment.

“Chronic stress changes our brains in ways that are not healthy and may contribute to lots of diseases, including those affecting the brain,” Christodoulou said.

As for what to pay close attention to when checking in on elderly residents, Palekar suggested that people listen for key words or phrases, such as “feel lonely,” “don’t like myself,” “poor sleep and appetite,” or “can’t stop worrying.” Additionally, members of a support network should pay close attention if others feel helpless, can’t concentrate, have lost interest in doing things or are tired all day.

Solutions

Christodoulou said activities like yoga and aerobic exercise can prevent and slow the decline in cognition.

Hassoun also urged residents to have an open conversation with elderly family members.

“We are very good at assuming that someone appreciates” the risks of larger or even medium-sized family gatherings, Hassoun said. People may understand those risks differently.

The South Oaks Hospital medical director suggested conversations begin not with the unknowns related to potential sicknesses or even new tests, treatments and vaccines, but rather with the knowns of what’s working. While residents may be tired of hearing it, the reality is that masks, social distancing and hand hygiene have reduced the spread of COVID-19, along with other pathogens and microbes that might spread through family contact during the holidays.

Doctors and mental health professionals urged people to be creative in their efforts to connect with others this year.

“How can we get dad, who has never enjoyed looking at an iPad, let alone using it, to find it more fun to have a zoom Thanksgiving together?” Hassoun asked.

He added that these unconventional Thanksgiving interactions could be a way to connect relatives and even children who may not participate as actively in group discussions during these holiday meals.

Residents can improve the holiday during this challenging year by making the most of each interaction, even if it’s not in the familiar personal setting.

The Modell's Sporting Goods store in Miller Place closed earlier this year during the height of the first wave of the pandemic. Officials are looking to stave off even more closures during the coronavirus' second wave. Photo by Kyle Barr

The second punch from the resurgent virus, which has already caused an increase in positive tests in Suffolk County, may soon also connect with small businesses.

Determined to help the economic engine of many communities throughout the county survive through the winter months when people may be stuck indoors, an initiative started in the spring called Suffolk Forward is expanding.

With financial support from Bank of America, the effort, which started with consulting, technology and think tank ideas, will expand to 200 to 300 companies in the coming months.

Suffolk Forward taps into the expertise of Dave Calone, Chief Executive Officer of Jove Equity Partners, Dr. Manuel London, the Dean of the College of Business at Stony Brook University, Tom Moebus of the Shift Group and Bob Isakson, Long Island Market President for Bank of America.

“This time, right now, when our Suffolk County businesses and Long Island businesses are at their most vulnerable spot, with the failure of the federal government to come up with legislation that would help small businesses” said Calone on a conference call with reporters. Without a federal Paycheck Protection Program to fall back on, efforts like Suffolk Forward become increasingly important, he added.

Suffolk Forward has a job board, a virtual expert network that is staffed by professors at the Stony Brook University College of Business and a gift card platform that helps support local businesses.

“People would spend a lot of money to get consulting like this,” Calone said. “Local businesses have the opportunity for free to tap into these experts.”

Calone said he is “excited to expand the pandemic shift workshop” from the few dozen companies so far to a few hundred in the coming months.

Moebus of the Shift Group said some of the breakout sessions in these work groups include four, 90-minute interactions.

“Business owners are very clever [but] they run out of ideas for themselves,” Moebus said. In these interactions, they “work together and create new ideas and develop creative solutions for each other.”

These efforts help “rebuild Main Street through one of these zoom groups at a time,” Moebus added.

The sessions also are available to chambers of commerce, which help them operate differently, particularly in a challenging, fluid and changing setting.

Interested business owners can sign up for workshops through shiftgroup.com/pandemic-shift or at the Stony Brook College of Business web site, College of Business Programs Offered | College of Business.

County Exeutive Steve Bellone (D) thanked the participants for their efforts and highlighted the importance of these sessions for business owners and for the future economic survival of the county.

“We want to continue the incredible progress we’ve made from the time when we were at the epicenter of this epidemic to where we are today,” Bellone said. “As these numbers continue to surge, we put at risk not only public health, but our economic recovery.”

Stock photo

As the percentage of positive tests throughout the county continues its rapid climb to about 3.5% from around 1% in the last 10 days, Suffolk County has started its first school-based testing in Hampton Bays and Riverhead.

Those two school districts, where county and school officials are testing students who have received permission from their parents, recently started testing students for COVID-19 in an effort to monitor and reduce the spread of the virus.

Hampton Bays has a 6.5% positive testing rate over the last five days, while Riverhead has a 5.6% positive rate for that same period, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

About 400 tests for students, teachers and faculty in Hampton Bays, which started on Thursday, Nov. 19, will be administered before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Four employees from Suffolk County are on site to administer the rapid tests, which provide results within 15 minutes.

“The goal in launching this free school-based testing program is to be proactive in an effort to get control of these numbers in the county,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. More testing will help the county locate the potential source of community spread, helping to enable schools and businesses to remain open.

The school testing is part of a “comprehensive effort to get our arms around these nubmers and stop the surge in the county,” Bellone said.

The Riverhead tests will start on Friday, Nov. 20. The county hasn’t determined how many tests it will administer at that location. The Riverhead and Hampton Bays testing kits came from New York State.

Additional pop up testing will occur in the Hamptons Bays that Stony Brook South Shore Hospital will administer over the next two weeks, which will continue on an as-needed basis.

Bellone said the spread of positive tests is occurring throughout the county and isn’t localized in any one region.

“What we’re seeing is the spread is happening everywhere across the county,” Bellone said. “The announcement today is part of a larger, comprehensive effort to get community spread under control.”

While schools in Manhattan have closed in response to a rise in positive tests, Bellone said concerted efforts in the county may prevent the eastern part of Long Island from the same fate.

These efforts include increasing the number of contact tracers to 150 today from just 30 before this surge began. The Suffolk County Police Department is also increasing enforcement around the holiday about social host laws and gathering limits below 10 people. The Suffolk County Department of Health is also working through social media to remind residents about their public health responsibilities.

Bellone reiterated that some of the increase in cases in the county came from gatherings around Halloween. With Thanksgiving next week, which typically brings multiple generations of families together, the result from these gatherings could continue to increase the number of positive tests.

Bellone said the county would continue to follow local data. If other communities also have positive test rates above the average in the county over a long enough period of time, the county will “engage with those school districts” as it has with Hampton Bays and Riverhead, Bellone said.

At this point, the county has no plans to conduct additional testing after Thanksgiving.

“We’re not seeing the spread happening inside the school,” Bellone said. “The effort we are engaged in today is part of a larger, comprehensive effort trying to get a handle on this in the county. It’s not, per se, an issue about the schools. We are looking at certain communities” where the positive rate is above the average for the community.

The county executive said he would provide data about the school-based testing once it was collected.