Health

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The numbers of people infected and affected by the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to climb.

This afternoon, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who himself was finally out of a two-week home quarantine, reported a climb of 753 in the number of people who have tested positive for the virus. The total number stands at 4,138 people, which is more than the entire country of Australia, according to a tracking site at Johns Hopkins University.

The virus also continues to affect the Suffolk County Police Department, with 23 officers testing positive.

Suffolk County health care providers continue to test more residents, as over 12,000 people have been screened. Of those, Stony Brook University’s mobile testing site has administered about 5,000 tests.

“Our major concern and focus has been on the vulnerable population,” Bellone said on his daily media call with reporters. Indeed, 16 percent of the positive tests were among people who were over 65 years old.

Hospitalizations also continued to climb. The number of people in hospitals throughout the county stood at 409, which includes 139 in the Intensive Care Unit.

For the 10th consecutive day, Bellone reported additional fatalities associated with the virus. Seven people died who had the virus, bringing the total to 37 for the county. Those who passed away were: a man in his 60’s who died in his home on March 24, a woman in her 90’s who died at Good Samaritan Hospital March 26, a man in his 70’s who died at Long Island Community Hospital on March 22, a man in his 50’s, who died at St. Catherine’s Hospital March 23, a man in his 60’s who died at Southampton Hospital yesterday, a woman in her 90’s who died at Eastern Long Island Hospital, and a man in his 90’s who died at Mather Hospital on March 26. Underlying medical conditions continue to contribute to most of the deaths.

The police have responded to 140 reports of violations of social distancing. In the last day, there were 28 new reports and the officers found that four of the businesses were non compliant. That includes a vape shop, a hair salon, and a house party.

“All of the individuals involved complied voluntarily when the police and county officers were there,” Bellone said.

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Kingstone and Miles Fowler practice distance learning. Photo from Kristina Fowler

During challenging times like these, the Comsewogue School District reacted to be fully prepared to not only provide and keep its classes and academic standards at a high level but also to keep the students’ social and emotional well-being stable despite no longer being in the school buildings.

The administration, staff, students and community saw fit to have educational packets and more in place while the upper grades were provided with Chromebooks and resources online available before school was closed. The technology department was in close contact and continues to be communicating with everyone on a daily basis with updates and more.

“I was happy to receive additional training available up to the very last day,” said Camie Zale, a special education teacher.

“Teachers and students are comfortable with using technology and communicating with various websites and apps on a normal basis,” said Andrew Harris, a teacher at the middle and high school. “Unfortunately, I’m nowhere as savvy as most of these students who have grown up with this technology. If I ever have any problem, I can ask any of my students who usually solve it in a matter of seconds … they are amazing.”

Don Heberer, district administrator for instructional technology, said the 1:1 take-home Chromebook program in the high school and classroom carts at John F. Kennedy Middle School had allowed students and teachers to become comfortable with using the technology for education.

Melissa McMullan, a sixth-grade teacher in the middle school, said the school did a great job getting Chromebooks into kids’ hands. The process, she said, has been tricky to find what works and what doesn’t on an online space.

“The kids and I will solve the need for distance learning together like we always do,” she said.

Students in the elementary schools have grade-level packets posted online along with hard copies sent home. The district is also providing support to both teachers and parents remotely on using the technology.

”Comsewogue has always prided itself on being innovative and willing to try something new,” Heberer said. “We know that it will be a challenging change for everyone; however, Comsewogue staff has worked hard to provide the students, teachers and community resources during this period.”

The Comsewogue district has taken to online as well for interteacher-related processes. Harris said teachers received a message from the Pupil Personnel Services department that they will hold upcoming annual meetings on Google Hangouts as part of their annual review process. It has taken time and effort but he feels he has become comfortable and “up to speed” with the various programs.

“For me, I am learning as I go,” Harris said. “The first day I mostly communicated the way I was most familiar with — I picked up the phone and called most parents to let them know what was going on with their child’s education. From there I switched to text messages, and finally have been using Google Classroom and more as I get better.”

After checking in with several of the students, Harris said many teachers realized they were perhaps giving too much work. One parent communicated that her daughter was working from early morning until about 5 p.m. on her assignments and starting to stress out.

“I think many of the teachers didn’t want the students to feel like they were on vacation and get complacent,” said Joe Caltagirone, a teacher at the high school.

Harris said he wanted his very first assignment to be something light and be beneficial to his students and their families. He posted a YouTube video on how to do Box Breathing, a technique of taking slow, deep breaths to relieve some stress and help concentrate.

“I know people are highly stressed so I asked that the student watch this video first,” Harris said. “I also requested that they teach members of their family how to do it. I know from experience when you teach others you become very proficient at what you’re teaching. I asked them all to comment on how it made them feel.”

Harris, also a yoga instructor, said that breath work is easy to learn and perhaps the best thing people can do in these stressful situations.

Having said all of this, there are many in the Comsewogue community that may not be as comfortable as students are with technology, though there are many people willing to help distribute food and other resources to our senior citizens.

“The problem is that they may not know that there is help out there. Where many of us can easily access social media sites, many of these seniors don’t have the ability to do so,” said Ed Garboski of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.

“Currently, I’m trying to find a way to bridge that gap,” said Harris. “We are trying to put together an electronic way to have our students write letters to the senior citizens who are being quarantined at local facilities. If we have to, we will have the letters printed and distributed to those seniors directly or through the facility’s printer, so they are not compromised.”

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn stated that the whole staff is committed to doing whatever is necessary to make sure the students continue to get everything they need to have a great education, and much more.

Information and quotes provided by Andrew Harris

Comsewogue Won’t Be Stopped by COVID-19

By Deniz Yildirim

Like the rest of New York, Comsewogue School District is facing unprecedented challenges with courage and teamwork. Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) orders, all six of the district’s schools were closed on Monday, March 16, for a tentative two-week period. Administrators and teachers worked hard to create packets and uploaded countless resources onto the district’s website so students can continue their education at home.

Preparing work for over 5,000 students with numerous and distinct needs such as learning disabilities and language barriers could only be completed with hard work and collaboration. Reading teachers, English as second language teachers, teaching assistants and even special area teachers like music teacher Ellen Rios came together to create comprehensive packets that were sent home with students on Friday, March 13. Parents could come in person to pick them up if their child wasn’t in school to get it themselves.

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn has been regularly calling parents with updates and also informed families that the district is even willing to lend out its Chromebooks to students who couldn’t otherwise access the online learning tools.

“This is a scary time for everyone and our students’ health comes first. We want to share what we have to make them feel safe and help them continue to learn,” said Quinn. “Families are advised to call the district so they can prepare the appropriate materials and ensure a smooth and sanitary pick up.

In addition to student work, Comsewogue is continuously posting statements on its website (in English and Spanish) in order to keep families informed. One such notice comes from Robert Pearl, the district’s new administrator for Pupil Personnel Services and Micheala Finlay-Essig, the assistant director of PPS; they have been rescheduling important meetings regarding student services that will now be “teleconferencing” meetings through Google Meet. The instructional technology department led by Don Heberer has never been more critical and everyone can testify to the key role they are playing.

“We’re here to help our students, teachers and community,” Heberer said. “We have been supporting our teachers through technology professional development, so the teachers can support our students’ learning. We are updating the district website and mobile app daily to keep our community informed and provide vital resources.”

Comsewogue graduate, parent and now teacher Kristina Fowler said she’s never been prouder of her community. Fowler has a unique perspective because she’s been in everyone’s shoes, so it’s particularly meaningful to hear her say that Comsewogue is going above and beyond her expectations. She supports her two sons, fourth-grader Kingston and second-grader Miles and lets them “play” with their friends via FaceTime. Most recently, Kingston and Kristina helped classmate Liam Schneph with a question he had about his new hamster.

“It’s so important to stay connected and let kids be kids,” she said. “Comsewogue won’t be stopped by COVID-19.”

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School

Suffolk County Police commissioner Geraldine Hart alongside Steve Bellone. TBR News Media file photo

Without the usual fanfare, 60 cadets graduated from the police academy today and have become sworn members of the Suffolk County Police Department.

The officers, which include six people who are fluent in Spanish, will be a part of a group called Together Ensuring Compliance, or TEC, according to police officials. They will be “visible on the street” and will have increased foot patrols and will be in parks and shopping centers to ensure that businesses that are supposed to be closed, while making sure they educate the population about maintaining social distancing. Geraldine Hart, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, made the announcement on County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) daily call with reporters.

At the same time, Bellone announced the launch of the Suffolk Childcare Consortium, which is a free childcare program for first responders, medical professionals transit workers and, where space permits, other essential workers. The program will be open Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and enrollment for those battling the coronavirus outbreak will be on a first come, first served basis and will be limited based on space and staff.

Residents with questions about he consortium should call 311.

The new childcare program is available to the following districts:
  • Babylon School District — Babylon Elementary School
  • Commack School District — Sawmill Intermediate School
  • Connetquot School District – Cherokee Street Elementary School
  • Deer Park School District – John F. Kennedy Intermediate School  
  • Harborfields School Districts – Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School
  • Hauppauge School District — Pines Elementary School
  • Huntington School District — Jefferson Primary School
  • Lindenhurst School District — Albany Avenue Elementary School
  • Middle Country School District – Jericho Elementary School
  • Miller Place School District — Andrew Muller Primary School
  • Northport School District — Pulaski Road Elementary School
  • Sachem School District– Nokomis School Elementary School

To qualify for the program, children must be between pre-K and sixth grade. Students in the program can work on their school’s long distance learning requirements during the day. The program is run by SCOPE education services and will have trained childcare. The staff will check on the health of the children regularly. Anyone with a fever or who demonstrates any sign of illness will not be allowed in the program.

Parents can register their children through www.scopeonline.us.

Meanwhile, the numbers of cases of the virus, hospitalization for it, and fatalities associated with it continues to climb. There are 3,385 cases, which is up by 650 in the last 24 hours. As of this morning, there were also 331 hospitalizations of people with the virus, with 119 in the Intensive Care Unit.

For the ninth straight day, Bellone reported fatalities connected with the virus. Eight people, all of whom had underlying medical condition, passed away. Those who died were: a man in his 80’s at Stony Brook Hospital, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital, a woman in her 90’s at St. Catherine’s hospital, a man in his late 40’s at LIJ, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital this morning, a man in his 60’s at Stony Brook University Hospital, and a woman in her 80’s at Good Samaritan Hospital.

The total number of people who have died from coronavirus related issues in the county is now 30.

Bellone shared his thoughts and prayers with the families.

“This drives home the point of why we have to do this, why all of us have an important role to play in helping to reduce that number,” Bellone said. “Our actions will determine how high that number goes.”

The county executive said the governor’s office, which requires the closure of non essential businesses, provided new guidance on construction work. He said non-essential construction must now cease. Everything except emergency construction, like bridges and transit and hospitals or that protects the health and safety, will stop.

Stony Brook Trauma Center staff member Colby Rowe and Wang Center Building Manager Scott LaMarsh accept donations for the COVID-19 Donation Center. Photo from SBU

Grateful for donations ranging from chapstick to gum to tissues and coveted personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and goggles, Stony Brook University is asking for residents to donate iPads, which they plan to repurpose to provide more telehealth services to the community.

Stony Brook Trauma Center staff member Colby Rowe and Wang Center Building Manager Scott LaMarsh accept donations for the COVID-19 Donation Center. Photo from SBU

The university asked for donations starting on Sunday and has received a constant stream of email requests to deliver goods to help the medical staff that are offering vital comfort and care during the coronavirus crisis. Interested donors can contact Joan Dickinson, the Stony Brook University Community Relations Director at COVID19donations@stonybrookmedicine.edu or call (631) 219-0603.

Stony Brook is asking donors to clean the device, reset it and place it in a ziplock bag with a usable power chord.

Telehealth medical services will “reduce the need for personal protective equipment,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson has requested that interested donors make an appointment before bringing any items to support the busy medical community. Community members can make donations between 10 am and 1 pm.

“Even though we’re asking the public to respond, we are very diligent about social distancing and everyone’s safety,” Dickinson said.

For anyone who might get the urge to make a home cooked meal or bring in cookies made from scratch, Dickinson said the school appreciates the gesture but can’t accept any such personalized dishes, as they seek to protect staff. The school can is accepting pre-packaged food.

People who don’t have access to medical supplies or comfort items they can donate can send in video messages. Indeed, numerous community members have shared messages of thanks.

The variety of home-made donations has delighted and surprised Dickinson. People have sent in knitted stress balls and crocheted blankets, as well as hand-made masks.

“All the donations are evaluated by folks from environmental health and safety,” Dickinson said. A mask that’s “not surgical grade wouldn’t make it into an operating room, but there are other uses.”

The donation channel started because community leaders eager to help reached out to Dickinson, whose job in community relations has put her in touch with these groups over the years.

“We decided we better put a process in place so everybody stays safe and we know what’s coming in,” Dickinson said.

Donors can bring their contributions into the assigned building or can leave it in the parking lot if they want to minimize contact or don’t want to enter a building.

When Dickinson logs off each night, she comes back to her computer the next morning to find over 100 requests for donation times in her email.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

The Three Village Civic Association and numerous Facebook groups have reached out to her on a regular basis to see what else she might need.

Dickinson said one of the many people who reached out to her expressed her appreciation for how Stony Brook reacted when she had an issue with the university. The resident was frustrated with equipment on campus that was causing a humming noise in her house.

“We were able to modify how much sound came out” of the equipment, Dickinson said. As the university manages through a crisis that strains their staff and resources, the resident said she wanted to return the favor.

The resident told Dickinson, “you were so helpful to me. Now, we want to help you,” Dickinson said.

PJS/Terryville Civic Association vice president Ed Garboski gives blood to the NYBC donor center at 1010 Route 112. Photo from Garboski

As national nonprofits and local hospitals are encouraging residents to donate blood as the coronavirus crisis has not only strained health care facilities but also caused a depletion of the region’s blood supply. 

The American Red Cross said they are facing a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 2,700 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled, and in the eastern New York region 23 blood drives have been canceled. 

In total, cancellations have resulted in 86,000 fewer blood donations. More than 80 percent of the blood the Red Cross collects comes from blood drives, according to the organization. 

The shortage has prompted concerns about how hospitals will treat medical emergencies. According to the Red Cross, a single blood donation can be used to save multiple lives and about one in seven hospital admissions requires a blood transfusion. 

“Unfortunately, when people stop donating blood, it forces doctors to make hard choices about patient care, which is why we need those who are healthy and well to roll up a sleeve and give the gift of life.” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, in a statement. 

Similarly, The New York Blood Center is urging healthy donors to donate. In addition, they are extending open hours at their donor centers. NYBC operates 19 donor centers across New York and New Jersey. Its Port Jefferson Station Donor Center, located at 1010 Route 112, works closely with St. Charles Hospital. 

NYBC officials said these steps have maintained the blood supply for now but stressed that blood is perishable and the supply must be continually replenished to avoid a shortage. 

NYBC said they are taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and advise people who are experiencing a cold, sore throat, respiratory infection or flu-like symptoms to avoid donor centers. 

Stony Brook University Hospital is currently accepting blood donations as well. 

Hospital officials said they are constantly monitoring the blood supply situation at its facilities and assured residents that donating blood is safe. Donors are health screened at the hospital entrance, and the donor room is not crowded. The screening process includes completing a form regarding recent travel history and potential acute respiratory symptoms and COVID-19 exposure.

The hospital is accepting blood donations from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. People can call 631-444-2626 to make an appointment.

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The need for hospital beds to manage the ongoing coronavirus crisis continues to build each day. Earlier today, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) reported 103 people were in the Intensive Care Unit with the Covid-19 virus, which is more than double the number in the ICU in the last two days.

“We know hospitals are working on innovative solutions,” Bellone said on a daily conference call with reporters. “Those will continue to happen as we seek to get equipment and supplies to fight the virus.”

At the same time, more people are seeking food assistance, as the number of people applying to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program reached 222 yesterday, which is up from an average of about 75 before the pandemic reached the county.

Bellone said he has heard mixed information from financial institutions as they have responded to businesses that are in various levels of distress amid New York Pause, which closed non essential businesses and slowed the economy.

The county exec said his office will be speaking with representatives from the financial services industry, adding, “we will be working to align what is being done with respect to business loans and mortgages, fines and penalties.”

Across the county, the number of positive tests for the virus is up to 2,735, as over 9,600 people have received tests. Stony Brook Hospital’s mobile site has conducted about 4,000 of those tests.

Including the ICU patients, the number of people hospitalized with the respiratory virus stands at 287.

For the 8th straight day, the number of deaths also climbed. Two people passed away with complications related to the virus. A man in his late 80’s died at Southampton Hospital yesterday and a man in his late 80’s died at Eastern Long Island Hospital on Monday. The total number of deaths connected to the virus in Suffolk County stands at 22.

With an expected surge in the numbers of people infected and the demands on the health care system expected to increase dramatically in the next two to three weeks, Bellone urged the public to follow social distancing and isolate themselves as much as they can.

Bellone himself has been in quarantine for almost two weeks, as he was in contact with Pete Scully, a Deputy Suffolk County executive who tested positive for the virus. Bellone’s quarantine ends Sunday.

For parents and their school-age children, Bellone believed that the date when schools would reopen would likely be after April 1.

“The expectation people should have is that that is going to be extended,” Bellone said. The increase in positive tests, hospital and ICU bed use, and the ongoing rise in virus-related mortalities are all “indications that we are in the thick of this. This wouldn’t be a time when you would be reopening schools.”

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Police Department has had 46 checks to date of businesses that might be violating the social isolation order or that were non-essential and remained open. The police officers have found that six of the businesses were non-compliant.

Inside the Long Island Cares food bank. Photo by Donna Deddy

By Leah Chiappino

In the wake of COVID-19, local food banks and pantries are struggling to keep up with increased demands, and in some cases decreasing volunteers and inventory.

For instance, Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares, a food bank that operates six distribution centers and has several mobile distribution events, has seen the closure of 44 out of the 349 food pantries to which it distributes. While their donations are down 23 percent, LIC holds more than a million pounds of food in inventory, and anticipates receiving an additional 375,000 pounds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Long Island Cares CEO, Paule Pachter, said the problem does not stem from lack of inventory, but public hysteria. 

“With having to limit volunteers, it becomes hard for us to do mass distribution events when you have people in a panic yelling at our volunteers and staff demanding more food.”

— Paule Pachter

“People are starting to panic,” he said. “When you have people hoarding toilet paper, and coming to multiple distribution events, it becomes hard to handle. There are [some] 300 food pantries open that people can access. With having to limit volunteers, it becomes hard for us to do mass distribution events when you have people in a panic yelling at our volunteers and staff demanding more food.” 

He added he is confident that school districts mostly have the resources to provide meals themselves, and only need limited help from outside sources. The food bank has responded to almost 650 COVID-19 related calls, and is operating a 24/7 hotline for those in need of assistance. LIC is continuing mobile distributions while practicing social distancing and leaving home delivery donations outside people’s doors.

Island Harvest Food Bank, also from Hauppauge, is seeing a dramatic influx of need, too, due to COVID-19, with donations down about 40 percent, according to Randi Shubin Dresner, the organization’s president and CEO.

The food bank started an emergency response plan about two weeks ago, while trying to still deliver food to local food pantries and community organizations. As more and more places closed, Dresner said the organization began to pursue other avenues to ensure those who are in need still have access to food. 

“We have a long list of people waiting to get food from us,” Dresner said. “Every day there is hunger on Long Island, even in normal times. When you couple that with a pandemic, things become very difficult.” 

Normally 90 percent of Island Harvest’s inventory is donated, but recently it had to make a $450,000 purchase of food supplies, an amount Dresner said is likely to double in the future. A large portion of the purchases are “family boxes” of food, enough to feed a family of four for four days. Others are individual meals and meals for seniors. 

“There are tens of thousands of people that are homebound, and we can’t get to them all,” Dresner said. “We’re going to do as much as we can, and hopefully some of our partner organizations will be able to accomplish what we can’t. These are uncertain times and unchartered waters that we’re dealing with. People are scared, and we want to be responsive to as many people as we can, which is what we always do.”

A food pantry donation. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The organization is working to deliver food to homebound seniors and veterans. It is also partnering with school districts such as William Floyd, Copiague, Brentwood and Wyandanch to help supplement the meals the districts are providing and ensure there is enough to bring home to entire families, not just children. 

Dresner said Island Harvest is committed to keeping safe practices. Employees are rotating working from home and going into the office, and field and office workers are separated.

The organization also employs what it calls community resource navigators, to help people apply for food stamps or referrals to other services. Dietitians are on staff to help with nutrition needs. 

Dresner said the food bank has not had a problem attracting volunteers, as people who have to stay at home want to find a way to help out. 

The CEO added Island Harvest is accepting prepared and unprepared food from various restaurants, caterers and country clubs.

The organization prefers monetary donations over food donations, as the organization specifically can buy bulk food at a discounted price. Monetary donations can be made on the organization’s website at www.islandharvest.org/covid. Those in need should email info@islandharvest.org or call the headquarters at 516-294-8528.28

Some local food pantries seem to be operating at a reduced level. The Ecumenical Lay Council Pantry in Northport, whose staple is allowing people to come in and feel as though they are shopping, is still operating during normal hours but by a drive-through process. 

The Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, which normally operates from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. five days a week, is only open Tuesday through Thursday this week, and is leaving bags of supplies at the rear entrance for people to pick up, according to its voicemail. It asks that only one person at a time goes into the location, completely eliminating contact. The pantry will continue to update its policies as time progresses.

Lighthouse Mission, a faith-based mobile food pantry, is also suffering from dwindling volunteers and donations. 

“People are afraid,” Pastor Jim Ryan, president of the mission, said. “People are uncertain about their own future and are not thinking about donating. They are making an effort to practice social distancing by keeping people 8 feet away from each other at outreaches and are looking to pre-bag food to limit contact.”

Still, twice a day, Lighthouse Mission’s box trucks cart food, clothing and basic necessities for volunteers to set up in public parking lots, including in Port Jefferson Station and Rocky Point, and give to those in need. For those who choose to listen, a volunteer will give a gospel message and pray with the attendees who ask. The organization, which was started 28 years ago, serves 10 different locations throughout
Suffolk County.

Ryan, who was a 2012 Times Beacon Record Person of the Year, has now begun a program in which volunteers will deliver food to elderly residents at their homes. 

“These are people who always come out,” Ryan said. “They may be in a wheelchair or holding an oxygen mask, but they are always there. Now they just can’t come out because they cannot get this virus.” The pastor added that volunteers will leave the items at the door to mitigate contact.

“We will keep operating as long as there’s food to give.”

— Jim Ryan

The mission, which is not publicly funded and runs solely on donations, is urgently in need of food, clothing and supplies. According to its website, it accepts nonperishable food items (canned goods, pasta, cereal, bottled water, etc.); meats (hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, turkeys, etc.); dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables. It does not take cooked meals. 

Ryan said that paper items, especially plastic bags, would be helpful. Donations can be dropped off at Lighthouse Mission’s office at 1543 Montauk Highway in Bellport. Monetary donations would be appreciated, as the organization recently had a truck break down and is lacking the funds to fix it. 

“I am confident God will send blessings our way,” Ryan said. “We will keep operating as long as there’s food to give.”

Those in need can attend Lighthouse Mission outreaches on Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 499 Main St., Port Jefferson Station, in the commuter parking lot at the corner of Hallock Road and Route 112; on Wednesdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 683 Route 25A in Rocky Point at the Knights of Columbus front parking lot; or on Fridays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 2150 Middle Country Road, Centereach in the parking lot near Ocean State Job Lot, on the south side of Route 25.

Those that are elderly and would like food delivered to their homes, as well as people looking to volunteer to deliver the food, can call the office at 631-758-7584. 

Bob and MaryLou Whitcomb at their house in Old Field cutting up fabric for the homemade masks. Their neighbor Christine Matthews, along with her children, finishes the job by sewing them. Photo from MaryLou Whitcomb

As hospitals experience a significant lack of protective masks during the growing coronavirus pandemic, locals are looking for ways to assist, using on-hand materials and their own equipment. 

Christine Matthews, along with her children, helps create masks for healthcare workers at her house in Old Field. Photo from MaryLou Whitcomb

Rebecca Kassay, who co-owns the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, started a Facebook group, Suffolk County Creators of COVID19 Medical Supplies, to not only get the word out that there’s a need for homemade supplies but also to make sure locals are crafting these items the right way.

Kassay said there has been a growing demand for aid, and with so many people home from work and school, many are looking for ways they can help out.

“That’s what the group is aiming to do — to focus all of that information into one place,” she said.

Groups like Kassay’s have popped up all across the country as news of this lack of personal protective equipment grows. A national Facebook group called Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies has put forward a countrywide initiative to crowdsource more of these protective items. This mainly includes gloves, gowns and masks.

The Suffolk group is just getting its legs but have already confirmed donations are accepted in several local places, including the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, Pax Christi homeless shelter in Port Jeff, Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff and Stony Brook University Hospital.

Kassay said the point of her group is to make sure people are making masks to a rigorous standard, following instructions provided by multiple sites including www.project-cloth-masks.com as well as documents provided by the OSCMS.

Angela Clayton, a historical costume designer from Manorville, said she started making masks because she had both the material and the skillset, and knew she needed to put them to use.

“I’m lucky to be financially stable and healthy, I wanted to help in any way I could,” she said. 

The costume designer has been making masks from 100 percent cotton fabric, which can be used as a mask or as a cover for the more sought after N95 medical masks. She got her designs from www.makemasks2020.org, which not only gives designs but partners with groups around the country to get specifically requested designs from the makers to those who need them. 

People all over Long Island have caught onto this trend. Old Field residents Bob and MaryLou Whitcomb, along with their neighbor Christine Matthews and her children Nicole and Connor, have been crafting handmade masks since Friday, March 20. MaryLou said the idea came after a phone call with her sister in Boston, with the person on the other end upset of her own close family members working in the health care field while severely lacking supplies of masks.

So far, the neighborhood team has made around 200 masks, which were mailed to Whitcomb’s sister. They have made masks for doctors in the Old Field area and also have plans to ship more to NYU Langone hospital.

“I thought to myself, we’re all sitting around — why don’t we do something?” MaryLou said. 

There are some issues, including accessing supplies, particularly in terms of elastic, which has proved hard to come by. The Suffolk County Creators group has been trying to crowdsource materials from people who have it, especially the elastic bands. Though now there are more and more examples of people making ties from fabric instead.

Angela Clayton, a historical costume designer from Manorville, has been designing masks for healthcare workers. Photo from Clayton’s instagram

Though area hospitals are loath to admit it, officials have said there is a general lack of PPE material in nearly every medical sector. Some of this is due to people hoarding such devices since the start of the outbreak. As cases ramp up, hospital workers have been dealing with the shortage. There are reported cases of hospital workers using masks meant for just a single encounter for over a week. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said there are some facilities, including nursing homes, first responders as well as hospitals, that have been reduced to a pittance of the preventative garb and devices.

Though Stony Brook University Hospital officials have said they “have supplies, but need more,” they have started accepting PPE donations. 

“It’s amazing how people can come together to support one another in a time of crisis,” said Stony Brook University Hospital CEO Carol Gomes in an email statement. “We are grateful for the community’s willingness to help one another. We’re all in this together.”

A Stony Brook spokesperson said the hospital is “open to accepting all kinds of donations at this time. They will then be sorted and distributed appropriately.”

Despite this, Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said in a phone call with reporters that masks need to be certified if they are to be of any use. Making masks at home is “not advised — we’re looking for masks that can help filter out the virus,” he said. “They need to be certified and tested.”

Kassay said she agrees these masks are not replacements for the professionally made and certified items normally used in the health care sector. At the same time, while other health care providers may have better access to the high filtering top-of-the-line N95 masks, people who work for food pantries, food banks or even just in retail do not have the same access to the high-grade PPE items. Not to mention, there are several designs for masks that can go over the N95 types, potentially allowing them to last longer without being soiled.

For those looking to get into making masks, Clayton said its best to order materials remotely and not threaten the spread of the virus. Use the resources available and try and contact groups that may need masks but are not in the medical field, such as shelters, clinics or senior centers to see what they may need as well.

Kassay said these homemade masks, at the very least, help remind people not to touch their nose or mouth, which experts have recommended people restrict themselves from doing.

“Something is better than nothing,” Kassay said. “We’re all living in this unprecedented time, we’re all wondering what we can do. You want to make sure you’re doing something in the best way possible.” 

County Solicits PPE Supplies from Local Companies

In calls to reporters, Bellone said they simply do not have enough beds and other supplies for what still could be a ballooning of the number of coronavirus cases. Hospitals, officials warned, could be overwhelmed as we head toward a peak number of cases. 

The county announced a donation drive for medical supplies. They are looking for donations of N95 masks, ear loop face masks, gowns and gloves from the construction industry, building trades and others in organized labor, as they are supplies that are often used on work sites. Additionally, the county is soliciting donations of ear loop masks and gloves from the personal service industry.

By the end of Monday, the first day of the drive, Bellone said they have already received “an incredible amount of outpouring and support.” This included 40,000 gloves of various sizes, 3,000 N95 masks, 1,500 gowns and over 3,000 ear loop masks.

Donations can be delivered to the Suffolk County Fire Academy located at 102 East Ave. in Yaphank between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays. Residents can email FRESfinance@suffolkcountyny.gov regarding a large donation of supplies or a potential vendor of opportunity.

“You cannot continue to do these supplies on an ad hoc basis.”

— Andrew Cuomo

As of Monday, Long Island is set to receive 33,976 N95 masks, 86,170 surgical masks, 35,350 gloves, 14,512 gowns and 19,709 face shields. Cuomo admitted that even with these supplies, hospitals will need more especially in the long term.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has said New York hospitals would need to increase the number of intensive care unit beds by approximately 18,000 to 37,000 in total to deal with the peak of the pandemic in New York. The governor put out an executive order saying hospitals must increase the number of beds by at least 50 percent.

Companies like 3M, which manufactures the N95 masks, would be shipping half a million masks to New York and Seattle.

But Cuomo said even such beneficial acts by a few companies belies the need for all such companies to step up to the plate. He has urged the Donald Trump (R) administration to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow them to order manufacturers to increase production of much-needed PPE items. The president has signed an executive order invoking the act but has yet to make a single order. Cuomo said those companies would be “paid handsomely” for the effort, but that it was needed more than ever.

“You can’t run this operation that way — it can’t just be based on ‘we’re waiting for people to come forward with offers,’” he said at the Monday press conference. “You cannot continue to do these supplies on an ad hoc basis.” 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has called on residents to donate PPE for health care workers and first responders. File photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has received so many offers for potential sites of hospital beds to combat the ongoing surge of residents who require hospitalization that he has developed a submission form on his website.

A real estate team from economic development will do the initial vetting. Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services will consider those submissions that pass through the initial screening.

“We have had tremendous outreach,” Bellone said on his daily COVID-19 briefing with reporters.

At the same time, Bellone’s office has opened up two additional sites to collect donations of personal protective equipment, which is in high demand for first responders, emergency services and health care workers.

In addition to delivering donations to the site in Yaphank, donors can bring masks, lab coats, and gloves to 150 Old Riverhead Road in Westhampton, as well as to 97 Crooked Hill Road in Commack. Thus far, the county executive has collected 282,000 pieces of personal protective equipment, although most of that was collected on the first day.

Bellone urged people who have “a stock of PPE to donate it” to help all those on the front lines fighting the virus.

Amid the pause mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for the state of New York, Bellone urged people to designate a specific shopper, so that the trip to the supermarket doesn’t become an outing.

Bellone also thanked the superintendents of schools, who are working to provide grab and go meals for children.

As the days continue to drag on when people remain in their homes and limit their activities, Bellone said he understood the ongoing mental health impact that triggers. He urged people to contact 311 in Suffolk County if they need assistance.

Meanwhile, the number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus continues to climb to 2,260. The number of residents in hospitals with coronavirus has also risen, with 206 people in the hospital and 67 in the intensive care unit.

Of the 67 people in the ICU, 55 currently need ventilators, highlighting the urgency of bringing additional ventilators to the county.

The county currently has 286 ventilators, a number that is “going to need to dramatically increase as the beds increase,” Bellone said.

The coronavirus also continues to affect the Suffolk County Police Department. Twelve sworn officers have tested positive and one civilian who is part of the department, according to Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.

The police department continues to try to ensure that the public complies with social distancing regulations and with New York Pause, Hart said.

“Where we’re receiving information where there’s noncompliance, we go out to those locations and take an educational approach,” Hart said.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Water Authority reassured residents that water service would not be interrupted because of the virus. Officials at the water authority said stocking up on bottled water is unnecessary.

“Water provided by the Suffolk County Water Authority is and will remain perfectly safe to drink during the COVID-19 pandemic,” SCWA Chief Executive Officer Jeff Szabo, said in a statement. “Pathogens such as COVID-19 would not survive the chlorine disinfection process that occurs at our pumping stations prior to drinking water being delivered to our 1.2 million customers.”

Separately, St. Charles Hospital’s dental clinic has suspended all non-emergency care for three weeks. Patients with standard care appointments will receive calls to reschedule. Patients with emergencies will be contacted a day before their procedures for health screening.

Cathrine Duffy, the Director of Healthier U at Stony Brook University. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University has taken numerous steps to protect the mental and physical health of the many health care and hospital workers who are helping the growing number of people suffering through the coronavirus pandemic.

Indeed, this past Monday, the university launched HealthierU, an employee wellness program, which streams 30-minute sessions Monday through Friday at 3 p.m.

“A lot of us are thinking about staff on the hospital side who are really being tested in an unprecedented way,” said Cathrine Duffy, the director of HealthierU. “I feel especially humbled and moved to be able to help in any small way given their vast efforts.”

The sessions will cover themes such as feeling connected during social distancing, self-care, our common humanity, worries, anxieties and fears and finding meaning in difficult times.

The sessions are interactive, encouraging viewers to comment, ask questions and give feedback for use in later programs. The focus of the sessions will include guided imagery meditation, drawing and writing, stress reduction and nutrition. The programming will run through at least April 10 and possibly longer. After the live session, the videos will be available on Stony Brook’s HealthierU web site.

The first session had almost 300 views and Stony Brook just posted its second session on the web site. Both are available on Facebook and will be posted to hospital channels.

HealthierU is looking at more long-term topics such as financial wellness and even the possibility of bereavement support.

The audience for this can include members of the community, as the sessions will not be password protected. Those participating in the program can provide commentary, which Duffy will moderate while mental health expert Joshua Hendrickson, who is an integrative mental health and an alumnus of Stony Brook, will facilitate the program.

At this point, Duffy has not reached out to experts to see if they are available or interested in leading future classes, although Stony Brook staff and community members have contacted her about the programming.

Indeed, on Monday, the staff at the Mindful Turtle yoga studio, which was founded and is owned by Danielle Goldstein, offered free streaming zoom yoga to Stony Brook employees for 20 classes each week.

“We are able to offer the classes for free because of the support we have received from the community,” Goldstein wrote in an email. “Students are continuing to pay their memberships which allows me to continue to pay the yoga teachers for the online classes.”

The notion of helping the Stony Brook community originated through group discussions among teachers. The group which includes Stacy Plaske who had run Balance Yoga, which Goldstein now runs, wanted to help healthcare workers. A nursing school student, Plaske reached out to her Stony Brook contacts.

Stony Brook employees can also access a virtual employee assistance program through the web site StonyBrook.Edu/EAP.

Health care workers throughout the country can also access Headspace, a mindfulness and guided meditation app, and 10percenthappier, a meditation app, for free.

Stony Brook started a virtual support group yesterday through Microsoft Teams at 8 a.m., noon, and 8 p.m. every Monday through Friday. These groups are open to anyone at Stony Brook who is part of the health care team.

Stony Brook started a virtual support group specifically for residents, according to Adam Gonzalez, the Director of Behavioral Health at Stony Brook Medicine.

Stony Brook is working on creating an email where employees can write to request individual virtual sessions as well. To request a virtual one on one session, faculty can contact the faculty/ staff care team by phone and/or email.

Another initiative Stony Brook developed is called Not All Superheroes Wear Capes. The community has sent pictures, handmade cards, and video messages that the university shares with its hospital staff. People have sent in pictures as well as children singing “God Bless America” or holding up thank you signs, which are “a great motivator for the doctors and nurses on the front lines,” as well as a show of appreciation and support, said Gonzalez, who has worked on the mental health of first responders to the World Trade Center disaster and responders to Hurricane Sandy. He is also working with NASA on ways to provide mental health care to astronauts during long duration space missions.

People can send these supportive cards and messages to stonybookwellness@gmail.com.

The whole organization is encouraged to download Microsoft teams on their phones and laptops and home computers, according to Gonzalez. Employees can click on the app and click into the wellness channel to see these messages. They can view messages and support resources on the Wellness Champions channel, which is for Stony Brook Medicine employees. They can also access the virtual support groups through the app.

Duffy, who is a 10 percent Employee Assistance Program counselor and is on a group with the Wellness Champions channel, which Gonzalez runs, said the channel is for Stony Brook Medicine employees, who are mainly hospital staff. Stony Brook is sharing links widely through internal channels such as the hospital Pulse page.

Gonzalez suggested the traumatic situation of the pandemic and the quarantine response creates a normal stress reaction. That includes being anxious and hyper vigilant and worried, struggling to sleep, and feeling run down and scared.

Practicing mindfulness, which means being in the present moment, can help people stay grounded, Gonzalez said. Mindfulness can include practicing meditation exercises, paying attention to your breathe, listening to music, connecting to family and friends, or focusing on a pleasant activity like watching a movie.

“Having hope that this isn’t going to last forever” also helps, Gonzalez added.

The Wellness Champions channel has different resources for supporting mental health, including recommendations from the CDC and the World Health Organization, access to free meditation apps, and virtual substance abuse recovery resources like Alcoholics Anonymous and other programs.

Gonzalez works through his own stress by connecting with family through a group text message, using Facetime with his niece and nephew, and calling friends and colleagues.

Duffy expressed her goal to see these efforts contribute to life for those dealing with significant challenges and changes.

“I truly hope this work provides some peace and comfort to everyone working on the frontlines, from health care providers to faculty transitioning courses to online, to staff transitioning their services online, to our IT department keeping us all connected,” Duffy said in an email.