Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
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Police said a man stole a grill outside a Miller Place Shop April 26. Photo from SCPD
Police said a man stole a grill outside a Miller Place Shop April 26. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk police are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate a person who allegedly stole a full display grill from outside a Miller Place store last month.

Police said a man allegedly cut the cable and stole a Weber Spirit grill outside Brinkmann’s Hardware, located at 900 Route 25, on April 26. The grill was valued at approximately $700.

People with information can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS, utilizing a mobile app which can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or online at www.P3Tips.com. Police offer a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. All calls and texts are confidential.

Main Street in Port Jefferson empty of traffic on a weekday. Photo by Sapphire Perara

By Sapphire Perera

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a temporary solution for the climate crisis. For many years, people have sought out various approaches to bring down greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment through renewable energy sources. However, the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be the most effective solution yet. The earth is finally being allowed to breathe. Many scientists are calling this pandemic a temporary solution to the climate crisis but I believe that we can continue to have air with lower carbon dioxide levels, water that is clear and clean and a healthy environment if we all worked hard to change our daily routine. 

Sapphire Perera

The COVID-19 started healing the environment in China: the most polluted country on earth. Due to the forced closings of factories, shut-downs of manufacturing plants and mandatory quarantines for its citizens, there were reductions in coal and crude oil usage. It resulted in a reduction in CO2 emissions of 25 percent or more, which is approximately six percent of total global emissions. Italy was the country next in line to feel the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. However, with everyone in quarantine, Italy followed China in terms of environmental revival. In only a few months, the people of Venice were able to see the fish and the bottom of the canals that were once murky and polluted. In India, similar improvements were being seen. The beautiful snow-covered Himalayas were once hidden by smog but after months of quarantine and a strict curfew, they could be seen by the Jalandhar citizens from more than one hundred miles away; they claim that it’s the first time in 30 years that they’ve clearly seen the Himalayas.

These changes to the environment are being seen all across the world. However, once quarantine ends, the earth will be suffocated by humans once again. To prevent this, I believe that more time and resources should be invested in the search for permanent solutions that would ameliorate the climate crisis. In terms of individual change, I know that there are hundreds of ways for us to stop partaking in the activities that promote the oil industry and fossil fuel industry. For instance, we can stop using cruise ships and motorboats for personal entertainment. According to the 2016 Pacific Standard report, “each passenger’s carbon footprint while cruising is roughly three-times it would be on land”. 

In addition to regulating our carbon footprint through marine activities, we can also start placing more emphasis on alternative sports that don’t require corporate culture producers who promote environmentally unfriendly functions and corporations. Also, while this last one might be a small change, it can have a great impact. This change requires us to use less of our private vehicles to get places, and more of the public transport system. Transport makes up about 72 percent of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. If public transportation is increased to the point that families are taking buses and trains more than their own cars, we might be able to significantly reduce the percentage of gas emissions that come from driving.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY-14 Bronx) Green New Deal reinforces some of these ideas and has already shown results through the pandemic. Some proposals in the Green New Deal include high-speed rail, removing combustible engines from the road, upgrading all existing buildings, and retraining coal workers. 

One very important aspect of this Green New Deal is to reduce air travel. Many people find that to be too drastic a step towards fixing climate change, but is it really? According to a Center for Biological Diversity report, airplanes will generate about forty-three gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050. But with the current travel restrictions and just a few months of limited air travel, we are seeing clouds of nitrogen dioxide begin to evaporate from places above Italy and China. In addition to being less dependent on air travel, we are now less dependent on the coal mining industries. This has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the employment of coal workers; over 34,000 coal mining jobs have disappeared in the U.S. in the past decade. Fortunately, the Green New Deal focuses on training the coal workers in occupations pertaining to renewable and clean energy, and infrastructure. By eliminating the coal mining industry we would be making great leaps in the fight against the climate crisis. 

Ever since the green revolution, humanity has been taking more than they need from the environment. We have abused Earth’s natural resources and expanded into territories that were inhabited by other species. I hope that this coronavirus pandemic has shown us that humanity doesn’t have to behave like a virus. We don’t have to continue worsening the climate crisis but instead, we could learn from this pandemic and start implementing regulations such as limited air travel and increased public transportations. We can turn consumerism to conservation, capitalism to socialism, and industrialism to environmentalism. 

Sapphire Perera is a junior at Port Jefferson high school. The “Turtle Island,” as the name for this ongoing column refers to the Native American mythology about North America existing on the back of a great turtle that bears every living being on its spine.

Suffolk's own data shows areas with large numbers of black and latino populations have been impacted greatly by the ongoing pandemic. Photo screenshot from Suffolk data map

Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and on Long Island where communities are as segregated as they are, much of it comes down to geography.

COVID-19 cases in Suffolk County have an identifiable curve. Data on maps provided by Suffolk County show a darkening red on a path rolling from the eastern end of the Island toward the west, homing in on the western center of the Island — Wyandanch, Brentwood and Huntington Station. In such areas, data also shows, is also where many minority communities live.

Suffolk County health services commissioner Gregson Pigott shares COVID facts in Spanish online April 8. Photo from Facebook video

Data from New York State’s Department of Health maps shows the coronavirus has disproportionately harmed black and Latino communities. Brentwood in particular has shown 3,473 cases, or nearly 55 per 1,000 persons. New York State Education Department data shows the Brentwood school district, as just an example, is nearly 85 percent Latino and almost 10 percent black. Huntington Station, another example of a location with large black and Latino populations, has just over 1,000 cases, or 33 persons per 1,00 have the virus. As testing continues, those numbers continue to grow.

Though data showing the numbers of COVID-19 deaths is out of date, numbers from New York’s Covid tracker website show the percent of black residents who died from the virus was 12 percent, higher than the 8 percent share of the overall Suffolk population. For Latino residents, the fatality percent was 14 percent, lower than their population of 19 percent.

While whites make up 81 percent of the population, their proportion of residents confirmed with the virus is only 64 percent. If the white population were suffering the same proportionate death ratio higher than their overall population, then dozens more white people would have already perished from COVID-19.

“I’m not surprised by the information given,” said Brookhaven town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “We need to be testing as much as possible, we need to be tracing, we need to make sure once we get that under control, we need to make sure people get treated.”

The COVID Hot Zones

Toward the beginning of April, Suffolk County established three “hot spot” testing centers in Wyandanch, Brentwood and Huntington. Those sites quickly established a higher rate of positive cases compared to the county’s other sites, especially the testing center at Stony Brook University. A little more than a week ago, such hot spot sites were showing 53 percent of those tested were positive. On Tuesday, April 29, that number dropped slightly to 48 percent hot spot positive tests compared to 38 percent for the rest of the county.

Though such testing centers didn’t arrive until more than a month into the crisis, county leadership said plans for such sites developed as data slowly showed where peak cases were. 

“When we started working with the IT department to find the addresses where these cases were, Southold was leading,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, the Suffolk Department of Health Services commissioner. “Then Huntington Station became the hot spot. Then Brentwood became the leader in cases, and to this day Brentwood has the most cases.”

Suffolk County has also started plans for recovery after things finally start to open up. The Recovery Task Force is being headed by multiple partners, including Vanessa Baird Streeter, an assistant deputy county executive.

The task force will need to provide aid, but Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said there needs to be emphasis on addressing the glaring inequities, and put an emphasis on “coming back stronger.”

“There’s no question the issue is we know there have been disparities,” he said. “The crisis like this is only going to exacerbate those issues and have those disparities grow.”

But as it became clear to officials the virus was greatly impacting the majority of minority communities harder than others, said communities were watching day by day how the virus was upending lives, infecting whole households and leaving many without any chance of providing for their families.

Latino Community During Coronavirus

Martha Maffei, the executive director for Latino and immigrant advocacy group SEPA Mujer, said Latino communities are hit so hard especially because of many people’s employment. Either they were effectively let go, or they are working in jobs that if they tried to take time off, they would be out of a job. Instead, such workers, even in what has already been deemed “nonessential business,” are still going to work even in places where workers have already gotten sick.

“We were receiving calls of jobs they know the workplace has been infected, they continue to ask employees to come to work,” she said. “They don’t have the option to say no, because they’re basically forcing them and they don’t want to lose their jobs.”

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in early April found approximately 41 percent of Latinos have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic, compared to just 24 percent white and 32 blacks being laid off or furloughed. This jives with research showing about 50 percent of people on the lower income scale have either lost their job or had to take a pay cut.

Many who relied on their jobs to support their families have now lost them completely, and since many are undocumented, they have no access to any kind of federal assistance. In homes that are often multigenerational and cramped, workers out on the front lines come home and have very little means of sequestering themselves.

SEPA Mujer shows their support for immigrants by donning yellow bracelets. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

SEPA Mujer also advocates for women in violent domestic situations, and Maffei said its crisis hotline phone has been ringing daily. Bellone has told reporters the incidents of domestic violence are up 3.5 percent from early to mid April.

At issue is the immigrant community’s trust in local government and law enforcement, and that same government’s ability to get the life-saving and virus-mitigating information to them.

The hot spot testing centers now include Spanish-speaking translators, at least one per each, according to Pigott. Bellone also announced, working with nonprofits Island Harvest and Long Island Cares, they are providing food assistance to visitors at the testing sites. Brentwood is already seeing those activities, and Wyandanch will also start providing food April 30.

When the first hot spot site opened in Huntington Station, Maffei said she had clients who were struggling to schedule an appointment. Though she suspects it has gotten better with more sites opening up in western Suffolk, true help to the community should come in the form of facilitating access to information. 

“We’re trying to do the best we can, but a lot of people don’t have access to the internet, don’t have Facebook,” Maffei said. 

Pigott related the county is providing multi-language information via their website and brochures at the testing sites, but community advocates argue there is a demand for such details of where people can get tested and how they can prevent infection, straight into the hands of people, possibly through mailings or other mass outreach.

Why Minority Communities are Vulnerable

Medical and social scientists, in asking the first and likely most important question, “why?” said the historic inequities in majority minority populations are only exacerbated by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Dr. Johanna Martinez, a physician with Northwell, is in the midst of helping conduct a research project to work out the variables that are leading to how the pandemic has deepened and exacerbated existing inequities.

“It’s not something biological that is different between black and Latino people. It really is the historical inequities, like racism, that has led to the patients being marginalized,” Martinez said. “It is most closely linked to social determinants.”

The links are plain, she said, in socioeconomic status, and perhaps most importantly, one’s access to health care. Immigrant communities are especially likely to lack insurance and easy communication with doctors. It’s hard for one to know if one’s symptoms should necessitate a hospital visit if one also doesn’t have a doctor within phone’s reach. It also means an increased spread of the virus and a potential increased load on hospitals.

“If you’re uninsured, the place where you’re going to get health care from is the emergency room,” the Northwell doctor said. “Right now, we’re trying to use telemedicine, but if you don’t have an established primary care doctor, you don’t have the ability to speak to the doctor of the symptoms you’re having and if this is something you can stay home for or go to the hospital.”

Current data released by New York State has mostly been determining age, as its well-known vulnerable people include the elderly, but Martinez’ data is adjusting for other things like comorbidities. Data shows that diabetes, hypertension and obesity put one at a higher risk for COVID-19-related death, and studies have shown poorer or communities of people of color are at higher risk for such diseases. 

“It’s almost like a double whammy,” she said. “It’s something that makes them even more vulnerable to a very serious disease.”

“It’s not something biological that is different between black and Latino people. It really is the historical inequities, like racism, that has led to the patients being marginalized.”

— Dr. Johanna Martinez

Housing is also a factor. Once one leaves the hospital, or on recommendation from a doctor, it’s easy to tell people who are showing symptoms to isolate a certain part of the house, but for a large family living in a relatively small space, that might just be impossible.

Whether Suffolk’s numbers detailing the number of confirmed COVID patients is accurate, Martinez said she doubts it, especially looking at nationally. Newsday recently reported, upon looking at towns’ death certificates compared to New York’s details on fatalities, there could be many more COVID deaths than currently thought.

“We need more testing to see the prevalence in certain communities,” she said.

Cartright, who works as a civil rights attorney, said these factors are what the government should be looking at as the initial wave of COVID-19 patients overall declines.

“We know black people are dying at a disproportionate rate,” she said. “We need to look at how many people are living in the same household, how many people actually have health care, how many are undocumented who were scared of going to the emergency room. There are so many factors we need to be able to take a look at.” 

Junior attack Xavier Arline drives to the cage for the Wildcats in the Suffolk Class C county final against Mount Sinai last year. With spring season cancelled, there will be no chance for a rematch. File photo by Bill Landon

High School seniors are normally under a lot of pressure come their last year of classes. It’s a time where students have to be thinking about where they want to go after graduation, what they want to do, all mixed in with a sense of finality to their grade school careers. For students involved in sports, it means the last season and the last chance they will have to take their team to county championships or maybe even states. 

Ward Melville second baseman Matt Maurer makes the scoop in a League I matchup against Central Islip last year. The team was hoping for even better this year, before the spring season was cancelled. File photo by Bill Landon

Then on April 22, Section XI made the announcement cancelling the spring sports season.

“After much discussion and consideration, the Athletic Council of Suffolk County has voted unanimously to cancel the spring sports season for 2020 at all levels,” Tom Combs, the Section XI executive director wrote in a statement. “The decision was not an easy one to make, however in what the world is experiencing at this time, it is the most prudent decision to make.”

With the cancellation of the spring sports season due to the ongoing pandemic, those same students now see any hopes of making it to playoffs dashed. Some teams, like the Ward Melville baseball team, might have been looking at their best season yet after making it to Suffolk County championships last year.

“Though we lost in the Suffolk County championship, the juniors were a big reason why they got there in the first place,” said Ward Melville baseball coach Lou Petrucci. “When we heard the news I talked to all the captains, and we talked to the seniors and juniors. They’re upset, but the spin we have to put on it is every time you play a baseball team you have to play it like it’s your last.”

Scott Reh, the Mount Sinai director of athletics, echoed the sentiment that the decision is going to most impact seniors, who he said the decision was “totally out of their control.” Though he and other athletic directors understood why it was done.

“At the end of the day, it’s very important because people are losing their lives, their jobs and the list goes on and on, “ Reh said. 

Mount Sinai girls lacrosse head coach Al Bertolone said his team has been “training every day since school closed,” and that he hosts video meetings with the team and individual groups daily. 

Though the news was hard, Bertolone said they had already participated in a car parade that ran past Mather and St Charles hospitals, which included the entire varsity team, parents, a fire truck, local police and some alumni as well.

“As far as we are concerned the games might have been canceled but our team is still going strong,” he said.

They are planning another car parade for Senior Day, May 14. 

Charles Delargey, the director of PE, health and athletics at the Rocky Point school district, said the girls lacrosse team hosted a senior parade for their 10 seniors last Saturday, and the boys lacrosse has plans to do something similar this weekend. 

Mount Sinai sophomore, then freshman Mackenzie Celauro slides home in game last year. File photo by Bill Landon

At 8:20 (20:20 military time) on Friday, May 1, districts will be turning on the lights and score board of their school football fields. The event is supposed to celebrate the sports teams in their 2020 season, with several schools planning live streams including comments from coaches.

In addition to several videos that coaches and students have put together, homes throughout the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District are displaying ‘Home of a Wildcat Senior 2020’ lawn signs to share in the school spirit. The district is also promoting the NYSPHSAA Mental Health Awareness Week from May 4-8 with social media messages. Plans are also in progress to honor all athletes at the annual athletic awards event which will be held virtually in the coming weeks. 

“Our coaches are in contact with our athletes to help to maintain optimistic attitudes and keep physically active during this time,” said SWR Director of Physical Education, Health, Athletics and Nurses Mark Passamonte.

School sports directors have been doing their best to keep spirits high. Adam Sherrard, the Port Jefferson School District athletic director, shared a video to his Twitter showcasing baseball players practicing, intercutting the video so it seemed the players were tossing the ball to each other.

Port Jeff is planning to host its regular sports ceremonies, including pictures of seniors in their uniforms in May and the signing ceremonies in June, but this time having to bring up each player individually for photos.

Indeed, practicing at home has become the new norm. Players have taken videos and pictures of themselves in their workouts and practices and posted such things to their coaches and teammates in phone messages and online.

Still, many students mourn the loss of their lost season — for some their last. As the bearer of bad news, coaches have done their best to offer consolation and hope for the future.

Matt DeVincenzo, the athletic director at Comsewogue School District, helped craft a video that was released Friday, April 24, on the district’s Facebook going through all the spring sports teams and specifically mentioning the graduating players, thanking them for all their hard work.

“Everyone’s pretty devastated,” DeVincenzo said. “Everyone saw the writing on the wall, and all the kids are affected, but our hearts really go out to the senior class. Unfortunately, they were robbed of last season in high school.” 

Port Jefferson senior Aidan Kaminski, then a junior, looks for an open lane last year during the Class D county final. He will not be able to finish his final senior season. File photo by Bill Landon

The unanimous decision from the Section XI board was a tough one, DeVincenzo said, but all acknowledged the impossibility of hosting sports during the ongoing pandemic.

But beyond the spring season, many still question what will happen in the summer, fall and winter.  All agree it’s still too early to tell.

For students participating in college sports, the National College Athletic Association said students graduating in spring will be eligible for collegiate scholarships as long as they still meet the course number requirements and show a 2.3 or higher GPA in those courses. The NCAA’s evaluations will not look at separate reviews of spring or summer distance learning during COVID-19 closures.

The question whether the coronavirus will impact sports in summer and fall is still up in the air, but with coaches not even aware if students will be back in school by the end of May, that question is leaning heavy on the minds of school athletics. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said April 24 he would later be announcing whether schools would remain closed, but as of press time has not yet made the decision. 

Delargey said when the news arrived last week, students were of course disappointed. On the other end, it was also a showcase of how students can show compassion.

“On a call with the softball team where the coach broke the news, after everyone spoke, one of our youngest kids on the team said to the seniors, ‘just want to let you know what an inspiration you’ve been to me.’” he said. “For a young kid to do that that’s amazing says what sports is all about.”

The Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds made a pass over Suffolk County to support the area impacted heavily by coronavirus. The planes could be seen pretty well from the St. George's Golf Course in East Setauket. Photo by Chrissy Swain

The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds roared overhead Tuesday, April 28, signaling a national support for health care workers all across the region.

The planes took off from Florida, and the flyover began at 12 p.m. over the George Washington Bridge, continuing over New York City before eventually turning east and heading onto Long Island. In Suffolk County, it passed through Babylon, Bay Shore and Medford before turning northwest and going up through the Port Jefferson Station area and over Setauket and Stony Brook at around 12:20.

Cars lined Nicolls Road and along the streets leading to Stony Brook University Hospital hoping to catch a glimpse. At the hospital itself, medical workers bedecked in scrubs, face masks and shields crowded in front of the hospital and even on top of the two main towers to catch a sight of the passing planes.

 

Stock photo

After police announced Monday, April 27 several incidents of tense armed standoffs between police and residents, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) cited increased levels of domestic violence and the need to combat it while people remain stuck at home.

Police said Mark Reyes, 51, allegedly entered the home of a female acquaintance Saturday, April 25, in Kings Park. Police said she received knife wounds during the incident where she was assaulted. After the woman escaped the next day, the man would eventually be arrested after a prolonged standoff between him and police.

Bellone said the ongoing crisis has created a “climate” for people in situations with domestic violence, “increasing the risks they are facing.”

The county executive said police has seen an uptick in domestic violence incidents of 3.5 percent from April 3 through 16. 

The current crisis, where more people are at home without any means of visiting other places or seeking help, has intensified the issue.

“Domestic violence is horrific and intolerable,” Bellone said, also citing numerous services people can use if they are in such a domestic situation. Because many in such situations cannot pick up the phone to call for help, they can reach New York State’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence by texting 844-997-2121 or visiting opdv.ny.gov. Bellone said people can also reach out to Suffolk through 311 to get a list of resources, or visit suffolkcountyny.gov/crime-hotline. Suffolk also has the Hauppauge-based DASH Center that offers crisis care for children and adults. They can be reached at 631-952-3333. 

“We know this climate is absolutely conducive to exacerbating mental health challenges that were there prior to the crisis unfolding – we want people to know those resources are available,” he said.

While the county executive said the vast majority of people have adhered to social distancing, there have been cases where people haven’t abided. Police said officers have done 870 checks of non-social distancing since New York Pause began, and they have found 76 violations. In addition, 86 officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 70 are back at work. That’s up from 81 who tested positive April 17, according to police data.

Meanwhile, with questions about how New York State will be able to reopen, more testing and research has resulted in showing more people have been infected with COVID-19 than originally thought. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced today close to 15 percent of New Yorkers actually have the virus. Long Island specifically shows 14.4 percent of people have the virus, according to results from the state survey. 

This has only placed new importance on county and state-level testing initiatives. Bellone said there are plans to expand the number of hot spot testing sites within the county, but did not go over details of where those could be located. He also said there are plans to expand the operations of testing sites in spots Brentwood and Huntington Station, which have already seen a higher percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 compared to sites like Stony Brook University.

He said he supported such “diagnostic testing” initiatives such as Cuomo’s announced plans for testing kits being available at pharmacies. As both counties and states in the region work out the details for eventually gradually reopening the state, such tests and the data they receive from them will be invaluable. 

The county executive added after speaking with the Army Corps. of Engineers, the Gov. plans to keep the field hospital located at Stony Brook University in place for the time being. Worries that the virus could come back in a resurgence later in the year, the so-called “second wave,” is weighing heavy on officials’ minds.

The move from Sunday to Monday saw a general increase in the number of COVID-positive cases rise 464 to 33,286 in Suffolk. While Saturday saw a bump in the number of hospitalizations, this day’s numbers saw the overall declining trend continue with a decrease of 37 bringing the total down to 1,097. ICU beds have also opened up thanks to the discharges by 35, bringing the total number of people in ICU beds to 408. 

Hospital capacity is sitting at 3,369, while ICU beds are at 775. 953 hospital beds and 228 ICU beds are available. There have been 69 people who have left hospitals, recuperating enough to continue recovering at home.

With that, the number of deaths continues to rise, with 32 people dying in Suffolk from COVID-19, bringing the total deaths to 1,102.

With additional reporting by Daniel Dunaief

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File photo.

Police arrested a man Sunday, April 27 after an alleged several-hour long armed standoff at his Rocky Point residence.

Suffolk County Police said the landlord for the property located at 56 Shell Road called 911 at around 6:30 p.m. to report her tenant, Damien Loecher, 39, had locked himself inside the residence following a verbal dispute.

What followed was several hours of negotiations between Loecher and police as the man had barricaded himself inside the small, single story house with a rifle. 7th precinct officers, Emergency Service Section officers and members of the Hostage Negotiation Team responded to the scene. Loecher allegedly broke windows, damaged the interior of the house and threatened police. At around 10:15 p.m., Loecher exited the rear of the residence where police said officers apprehended Loecher in the backyard of the residence and arrested him. There were no injuries.

7th Squad detectives charged Loecher with menacing a police officer and criminal mischief 2nd degree. He will be arraigned on a later date.

The sign outside Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus along Nicolls Road. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The coronavirus pandemic has temporarily disrupted life for Suffolk County Community College, but college officials said it hasn’t dampened the spirit and ingenuity of those determined to carry out the college’s mission, make a difference and continue classes and services for students.

The sudden shift of instruction on March 23 from the classroom to 2,903 online classes for Suffolk’s nearly 20,000 students took place in less than two weeks. A herculean task matched by shifting Suffolk’s libraries, advising, counseling, financial aid, and a host of other services to remote operation built on a foundation made by Suffolk’s Information Technology (IT) Department.

“How do you move nearly 3,000 course sections online in only two weeks?” said Suffolk County Community College Interim President Louis Petrizzo. “You ask our faculty to do the impossible and they deliver in record time for our students. We are eternally grateful for the dedication of our faculty, our front-line employees in Public Safety and Plant Operations who pulled together in this time of need.”

Suffolk’s libraries are providing virtual hours, online chat and electronic resources for students.

Counselors and advisors are meeting with students via Zoom, email and phone while Suffolk’s Veterans Affairs resource centers are hosting virtual office hours. Later this month the group will host a virtual meeting and discussion with a World War II veteran who is a Battle of the Bulge survivor and concentration camp liberator. The Zoom meeting is open to all.

The college is also calling every Suffolk student to answer questions and provide direction to resources. More than 13,000 students have been called to date. And, just like all of us, Suffolk students and their families have been affected by the pandemic.

Suffolk’s IT Department distributed more than 300 laptops and dozens of hotspots to students who lacked the technology to log into online instruction and fielded more than 300 technology inquiries from students.

A newly established Suffolk Community College Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Fund has fielded more than 170 students’ applications for support. 90 percent of students who applied cited job loss, as well as family unemployment and related that a family member or members are ill and being treated for coronavirus. Any enrolled student can apply for emergency funds.

“We are here for our students because we’re all in this together,” said Sylvia A. Diaz, executive director of the Suffolk Community College Foundation.  “Our generous donors, our faculty & staff, alumni and corporate partners have all pitched in to help students facing financial hardships because of the pandemic.” 

Contributions to the student COVID-19 Emergency fund are being accepted at: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/sccf-covid19.

SCCC moved activities from its two health clubs online, providing access to a YouTube hosted exercise regimen, and the athletics department is hosting online gaming competitions, while also emphasizing that everyone needs to exercise.

The college’s sustainability department has continued conservation efforts by celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day with the Take 1 Less challenge. Participants are challenged to use one less plastic item a day and document their efforts with photos that are shared on the college’s social media channels. On Earth Day, a virtual nature walk with the Suffolk County Community College Ammerman Campus Environmental Club will take place via Zoom.  

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Above, Mount Sinai senior Matt Campo won the day at the state wrestling championship March 1. Several other North Shore wrestlers placed on the day. Photo by Mel Jacoby

Like many students in the time of the coronavirus, Matt Campo, a senior at Mount Sinai High School, has had to wrestle with a lot, from having to take all schoolwork home, to planning for college not knowing what events will be like in just a few short months.

Mount Sinai’s Matt Campo in eighth grade. He started his career at 99 pounds and ends it at 170. Photo by Bill Landon

But Campo, at 170 pounds who early last month won the state championship against the No. 1 seeded wrestler in New York, the road has been long but worth it.

“Just making a name for myself in Mount Sinai — people know I’m a wrestling guy,” he said.

The path toward the championship started 6 years ago, when Campo joined the varsity team in 7th grade at 99 pounds. Mount Sinai wrestling head coach Matt Armstrong said that is rather rare, but Campo had quickly proved he was made of strong stuff.

“We knew early on he was very talented, and he always worked very hard,” Armstrong said. “His drive and his focus of winning a state championship got to be greater and greater, and he put in a lot of extra time and a lot of hard work.”

Joining the team in middle school, Campo said it was different than what he had seen before, with a new focus on the team dynamic. Though it would be the team-based mentality that would lead him to be class president for every year of his high school career.

Wrestling, to Campo, is a mental game. 

“In a match, every move has offense and a counter — you have to think three steps ahead,” he said. “Most wrestlers are extremely smart, the ability to have usually an edge over my opponent, it’s like a big chess match.”

At the Feb. 28 and 29 NYSPHSAA wrestling tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany, Campo would face his most formidable opponent, Mickey Squires of Norwich, the No. 1 seed. Squires had pulled off a win against Campo last year at the Windsor Christmas tournament where Squires won 6-4.  The finals was the seventh time Campo and Squires faced off, with Squires winning four and Campo winning two of those matches.

Armstrong said in the night before the match, he and his fellow coaches were discussing Campo’s prospects. Universally, it seemed every one of them were betting on Campo’s skills.

“We all thought Matt was going to win,” the coach said. “It was his work ethic and drive, he wrestled with the best kids and beat them or lost by a point or two. We just knew how focused he was, and thought he was gonna make that happen.” 

Matt Campo in 2018. Photo by Melvyn Jacoby

The match itself was an overtime nailbiter. It started with Squires scoring one point in the first period with an escape and took the lead 1-0.
Campo responded in the second period with a takedown, scoring two points and a 2-1 lead. Squires responded with a third-period escape, scoring one point. This tied the score at 2-2 and sent the match to overtime. The crowd was in a frenzy, knowing the first one to score would win the championship. In a dramatic finish, Campo scored two points on a takedown and won the match 4-2.

“It’s more I just go out there and just the ability to act and react in a match is what gives me an edge,” the wrestling champ said.

The tournament also represented a milestone for both him and Mount Sinai High School, leaving Albany with 200 wins under his belt. He is ending his high school wrestling career with 202 wins, a school record.

Beyond the mat, Campo has also started his own business that he’s now run for several years. Called Campo Creations, he does balloon twisting for parties and other events. It started several years ago, when he was bored in his room and started watching YouTube videos about making balloon animals. Though he is still getting calls during the ongoing pandemic, he said he has not been able to get out to do the job. 

After he graduates high school, he said he has plans to attend Siena College, going into the pediatric neurology program. He said he wants to become a pediatric neurologist, specifically because of his interest in the brain and his continuing desire to work with and help children.

Though Armstrong said the team is going to be missing Campo, along with a bevy of other seniors who are graduating this year, he thought Campo has the ability to accomplish anything.

“He definitely has drive and focus,” the coach said. “When he sets his mind to something, he’s gonna do it.”

St. Charles Hospital in Port Jeff plays "Here Comes the Sun" every time a patient is discharged during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Kyle Barr

St. Charles Hospital ICU nurse Kacey McIntee, walking through the halls of a hospital in the midst of a pandemic, is just one of  scores of RNs who have watched their world flip the wrong way around. 

Where once the hospital had one Intensive Care Unit, now it has three. Every time she gets to work, she slips into hospital-issued scrubs and she’s assigned to one of the three units. Every single bed is housing a patient on a ventilator, nearly 40 in all. She’s bedecked in a mask, hair covering and face shield. 

Nursing Assistant Martha Munoz is working at St. Charles Hospital during the pandemic

Typically, the ratio is two ICU patients to one ICU nurse. However, now there are cases where she cares for up to three patients, alongside a helper nurse. She starts her day by looking at her assigned patients’ charts, and then spends the rest of her 12-hour shift doing her best to keep these patients, many in such dire straits, alive.

“A lot of times you can kind of expect something is going to go bad just based on blood values alone,” she said. “We mentally prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario with our patients.”

It’s a common story among many medical centers, but local hospitals St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown and Port Jefferson’s St. Charles, both in the Catholic Health Services system, have been on the front lines of fighting the virus for longer than others, having seen their first COVID-19 positive patients March 8.

Jacquelina VandenAkker, a 33-year veteran respiratory therapist at St. Charles and Port Jeff resident, said while the past week has shown what seems to be a plateauing in the number of new cases, the first 10 days of the virus “was hell. You didn’t know the end of it.”

“We felt it was literally such a war zone. You knew you could be a victim to it because you don’t understand it,” she said. 

Hospital officials confirmed there were a number of staff who have contracted COVID-19, but declined to release the number of employees  who have been infected, citing that staff did not want it known if they’ve been previously infected. 

“We see a lot of deaths,” the respiratory therapist said. “I take the same unit. I know my patients. We start to understand the disease a lot more.”

McIntee, a Sound Beach resident, knows the pain and suffering of the COVID-19 patients suffering. It’s hard not to become entangled in the lives of these people, knowing the pain of suffering when the family can only communicate via tablet computer and online video chats.

“Nurses are really, really good at coping mechanisms,” she said. “One of the most useful ones is humor and the other is detachment. We cannot picture our loved ones in the bed — if we hear that one of our loved ones is sick with COVID, all bets are off, we are a mess.”

When it comes to that, when what has universally been the once inconceivable is happening moment to moment, McIntee said they rely on their fellow nurses.

“It’s almost as if we’re all in war together, and we have this bond for life that we will always be connected together, that we had these experiences that really nobody else in the world can experience except during this time,” she said.

The Initial Wave and Beyond

Jim O’Connor, the president of St. Charles and chief administrative officer of St. Catherine of Siena, said hospitals faced initial difficulties but hope things continue to look up. 

“Both St. Charles and St. Catherine had their first COVID-19 patient on the same day,” he said. “We struggled to keep up with it and the personal protective equipment we needed in that first week. Thankfully we seem to have gotten our sea legs.”

Dr. Jeffrey Wheeler, the director of St. Charles Hospital Emergency Department

Only about 25 percent of patients who are diagnosed require hospitalization, but of that 25 percent, 50 percent require ICU care, and many of them require a ventilator, O’Connor said.

Even before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) mandates shutting down all essential businesses, hospital admin said they saw what they call a “surge” of patients. 

Bonnie Morales, the director of infection prevention for St. Catherine, said she and other specialists at hospitals around Long Island had started preparing for the “what ifs” a few weeks before it finally came, but even then, it was hard to estimate just how much it would overtake the entire health care system. 

“I would have to say we were prepared, but that line list [of staff procedures] I went back to in the beginning, has grown from a page to three pages long,” she said.

The precautions for reducing infections became one of the most supreme considerations with both patients and staff, she said. Morales, a Selden resident, said the average patient on “transmission-based precautions” which were before only meant to help patients and staff avoid contact, has now gone from 20 to 30, up to over 100 that are currently on these transmission-based precautions because of the virus.

The hospitals had what the admin called a surge plan, but as the St. Charles president put it, “a man plans, and God laughs.” Learning just how many beds they would have to increase to was staggering, but he thanked the admin team who worked with barely little notice to start the process of acquiring more beds and space.

After Cuomo announced an executive order mandating hospitals increase their bed capacity by at least 50 percent, St. Charles and St. Catherine have boosted the number of beds to 243 in St. Charles and 296 beds at St. Catherine.

Mike Silverman, the COO at St. Catherine, said early on the hospitals decided to close access to the public. It was something that was unpopular to start, but in hindsight has been a smart decision.

Silverman only joined the hospital little more than two months ago and has had a trial by fire in the truest sense of the phrase.

“I don’t think anybody thought this was going to happen,” he said. “There was no playbook for this … It’s a lot of people doing what needs to be done,” he said.

O’Connor said the hospitals hit a high in the number of patients in the previous weeks, but since they have been climbing, inch by strenuous inch, off of that peak. Since the start of the outbreak, St. Charles has gone from eight ventilators to nearly 37 at peak. St. Catherine had 35 at peak. Each hospital has transformed its space to accommodate the massive number of critical patients by creating two new ICUs in each. All elective surgeries have been suspended and those workers have been moved to aid COVID-19 patients. 

“There’s definitely some angst,” Silverman said. “We know how many people are dying in the state, and we would see this many deaths in a week. It’s tough, whether it’s at work, whether its friends or friends’ families.”

Michelle Pekar, in purple scrubs, is part of the St. Charles Emergency Department. Photo by Marilyn Fabbricante

Both admin and health staff agreed the community has done an incredible amount of support for the health care workers. There have been consistent donations of meals, snacks and drinks. There have been a rollout of homemade masks and PPE supplies as well, along with cards and notes thanking the health care workers for all they do.

Still, to say it hasn’t taken an emotional toll would be wrong.

“It has been very tough on the staff because there is a very high mortality rate for people on ventilators,” O’Connor said. “What compounds it we weren’t allowed to have visitors so that really adds a whole different isolation for the patient and the families.”

The hospital has been using tablet computers to connect patients with family members at home, but it has also meant having to give them difficult news about those family members remotely.

“They have their own fears understandably about it. They have their own families they go home to that they worry about spreading it to,” he said. “I give them so much credit for them to put themselves at risk to be in a room with someone with a contagious disease.”

There have been moments of hope throughout the day in between the darkness. Every time a patient comes off a ventilator, the hospital plays “Breathe” by Faith Hill over the loudspeaker. When a patient is dismissed from the hospital, they then play the classic Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun.”

Hospitals’ PPE

O’Connor said the hospitals sterilize the PPE used by hospital workers at the end of each shift, and after the N95 is used three times then it is discarded, though if it becomes “soiled or contaminated” then it is discarded before that. Normally, such masks are not designed to be reused, but with supplies tight, hospitals and other medical centers have been looking to get as much use out of equipment as possible.

Susie Owens of St. Charles Hospital delivered a special message to her colleagues in chalk. Photo from St. Charles Facebook

“We know it is not a perfect system,” O’Connor said. “Nobody expected to have this patient volume, but I think we’ve done a good job, but is it perfect? No.”

The federal Office of Emergency Management has added to supplies, along with donations from companies and other local individuals. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has made guidelines for decontaminating such equipment, and hospital administration said they are following those guidelines. Catholic health systems announced earlier this month they had created an ultraviolet light sterilization system for masks in CHS hospitals.

The New York State Nurses Association has taken issue with the hospital’s practice of reusing such PPE as N95 masks after they’ve been sterilized. The union points to mask manufacturer 3M, who said there were no disinfection methods that would kill the virus and maintain effectiveness, though the CDC’s website cites numerous sources related to the positive results of disinfecting such masks.

Though a union representative could not be reached by press time, nurse representatives have spoken to other news outlets saying that both hospitals lacked PPE supplies, and that unlike systems, nurses in St. Charles and St. Catherine were made to wear gowns for an entire shift that are meant to be disposed of after one patient encounter.

McIntee said at the start of the pandemic, things were confused with PPE, with the CDC changing its guidelines constantly. Regarding gowns, she said hospital workers have a choice, they can either spray down reusable gowns with a cleaning solution in between patients, use disposable blue/plastic gowns, or the so-called bunny suits, the full-body white suits with a hood. With face shields, there are no other choices than rinsing it with solution.

Now, McIntee said if a worker wears an N95 mask continuously throughout the day in a 12-hour shift, they can discard them. If they wear them intermittently throughout the day, then they are bagged and sent to be sterilized at night. Sterilized masks then can be worn intermittently three more days before they are discarded.

“Not once have I ever had an issue with the N95 masks being told ‘no, you can’t have one,’” she said. “I’ve always been able to have access to any PPE I wanted … Now I think we have a system down, and it’s less anxiety.”

St. Catherine April 22 accepted a donation of gowns and masks from the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, and Morales said the bevy of donations they have received have truly helped in the fight against COVID-19. The hospital has received donations of tie back and bunny suits.

Regarding St. Catherine staff reusing gowns, Morales said “We are giving out supplies for the staff to utilize and they have what they need in order to take care of their patients.”

O’Connor said the hospitals have been doing multiple things to aid the front line workers, including bringing in agency staff and repurposing staff from outpatient to inpatient services to add more hands on deck. The hospitals have developed quiet rooms for staff to catch their breath, and Silverman said St. Catherine has a service where staff can purchase basic items, they have little time to get from working long days during the pandemic. 

“It would be very foolish for us to not keep our staff safe,” O’Connor said. “Why would we possibly not be doing anything we can to keep them safe?”