Port Times Record

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) addressed those gathered about his goals for the 2019 Legislative session. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the morning of Aug. 7 that all regions in New York are given the green light to reopen in the fall.

The governor said he based the decision off of the infection rate in each region in the state. Much of New York has been hovering around a 1 percent infection rate for the past several weeks. 

Cuomo previously said if the infection rate in any region breaches 5 percent the state would immediately order schools’ closure.

“You look at the infection rate — we are probably in the best situation in the country,” Cuomo said during a media call Friday. 

Most school districts submitted reopening plans by the deadline of July 31. Some, like South Huntington and Northport-East Northport, submitted their plans after being granted an extension. Many have come forward with hybrid plans at at least some grade levels, meaning students will spend a few days in school and then the rest of the week learning from home. Some parents have criticized districts like Three Village for deciding on a full-time schedule for all grade levels. Other parents in districts like Smithtown have rallied for children to be back in school full time.

Still, Cuomo has said multiple times that each school district’s reopening plan is dependent on the district officials in communion with parents and teachers, saying “this is not a bureaucratic decision, this is a parental decision.” 

However, there were still many questions left open over what policies districts can hold, especially regarding the safety of teachers. Yesterday, Aug. 6, teachers union New York State United Teachers put out a news release calling for any school to close if any one individual in a school that tests positive should mean an immediate 14-day closure. The release also requested specific answers to how districts should conduct quarantining of potential cases and contact tracing.

The governor largely left the questions of those two elements up to individual school districts, though state Department of Health guidelines do mandate school districts conduct testing of symptomatic students. They also mandate people to wear masks when they are unable to socially distance at six feet, and if a student does not have a mask, the district is mandated to provide one.

“I can’t fashion a plan that would work in every school district because the circumstances are too different,” he said during the media call.“

Though school districts are mandated to take the temperature of every student that comes through its doors, the fear of asymptomatic spread, of the virus infecting people from carriers, is still a big concern. Cuomo called that a continuing “conversation.”

The tenor of the governor’s announcement revolved around the notion that parents, teachers and districts all had to agree to the plans. The next few weeks, Cuomo said, should be spent in even more discussion amongst the community to try and reach more common ground.

“I believe in New Yorkers, and New Yorkers will do it and they can decide how they will do it,” he said.

 

Stock photo

People are using too much hand sanitizer. That’s one of several observations from Sharon Nachman, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Sharon Nachman of SBU’s pediatrics department. Photo from SBU

Nachman suggests that sanitizer requires only a small amount on people’s hands. If, after applying it, someone has wet and sticky hands, they have overdone it.

“When I see people using hand sanitizer, they glop it on,” Nachman said in an interview. She recommends not using more than the standard volume, even amidst a return to school during the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a wide-ranging conversation about the health of students who are returning to campus, Nachman urged students to pay closer attention to their health, to keep themselves and their classmates safe.

Students can tell if they’re too close to each other if they both reach out and can touch each other’s fingers.

The signs of COVID-19 in older teenagers and young 20-somethings are similar to the ones that occur in adults. They include fever, fatigue, feeling ill, loss of taste, and dry coughs. College students also have a high rate of being asymptomatic, which makes it difficult to find and isolate sick students.

While multi-symptom inflammatory disease in children, or MSI-C, cropped up during the worst of the pandemic in Suffolk County, the overall numbers of cases and infection rate on Long Island have fallen enough to reduce the likelihood of this COVID-related illness among children.

“Its all about how big the hit is in the community,” she said. “If you go to Texas or Florida, they are clearly seeing it. On Long Island, we aren’t seeing it” because of the way residents have helped flatten the infection curve among the population.

Nachman urged college students to be responsible when a contact tracer reaches out to them. In college campuses throughout the country, contact tracing will help mitigate the spread of the infection by quarantining people who might have been exposed to an active form of the virus. Isolating people will keep the spread of the virus in check.

Students, faculty and university administrators are well aware of the possibility that schools will need to return to an all-remote education model if infections reach a high enough level. Indeed, Nachman urged students to develop a plan for what they would pack and take home and where they would go if campuses closed. By being prepared for change, students can react to altered circumstances. High school students also need such preparation, in case any school that open need to close to protect students, faculty and staff.

As for the potential overlap of the flu and COVID, Nachman suggested students should get the flu shot by October, before the flu season begins.

Nachman is an advocate for masks.

“The smartest thing people can do is really wearing their masks,” she said. “Come to college prepared with enough masks that you can wash and wear them.”

The ideal number of masks is nothing fewer than two per day. She likes the washable ones, which are easy to put in the laundry and wash with the rest of a student’s clothing. The two play cloth masks work well and can be “personalized to reflect someone’s mood, to match clothing or to make a statement.”

Masks are important not only to protect other members of the student body, but also to protect the wearer.

“This idea that I’m wearing it to protect you is half right,” she said. “It’s protection for both of us.”

Colby Rowe and Roseanna Ryan making a delivery of over 100 iPads for patient-family communication. Photo by Scott Lamarsh

While Stony Brook University Hospital staff were taking care of the sickest residents in the midst of the pandemic in Suffolk County, residents did what they could to return the favor.

Colby Rowe’s truck is filled with 3M N95 masks. Photo by Colby Rowe

In addition to cheering for health care workers, first responders and essential employees each night at 7 p.m., numerous residents and businesses made donations of everything from lifesaving N95 masks to food to comfort care.

After 10 weeks of accepting donations from March through early June, Stony Brook had collected nearly one million pieces of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and head and food coverings, 33,500 comfort care items such as snacks, hand lotion, puzzles and coloring books, 18,000 meal donations, 575 video messages of support and 435 iPads for telemedicine.

These donations bolstered the spirits of the staff and provided vital comfort during everything from the process of conducting COVID-19 tests in the South P Lot to the recharging breaks doctors, nurses and hospital staff took after caring for patients.

“The comfort piece was a bit more striking for the patients and the staff,” said Roseanna Ryan, director of Patient Advocacy & Language Assistance Services at SBU Hospital. “The need for the staff to have a respite area to recharge during this extremely challenging time was something that we might not have initially anticipated. The donations we were able to use went such a long way.”

Indeed, even some of the smaller items helped the masked men and women health care heroes throughout the hospital system.

During testing, some of the medical professionals worked 12-hour shifts, administering test after test for reeling residents. Items such as breath mints, ChapStick and even eye coverings that would help health care workers take a nap in their car before returning for the next shift proved incredibly helpful, said Colby Rowe, Trauma Center Education & Prehospital outreach coordinator. Rowe worked with the emergency management team at the university, primarily coordinating the donation center.

“I received lots of text messages from people on the receiving end saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ They felt appreciated by the community, Rowe said.

Rowe added that the hospital performed ably in ensuring that the staff had sufficient PPE equipment to help them with their dangerous but important work.

The university took a wide range of assistance. Some donations, like snack food, found a home in the break room. Others, however, wound up helping people in different locations.

Stony Brook received more than 400 Easter baskets. Rowe was on the phone with a civilian friend from the U.S. Department of Defense, who told him that Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn had to postpone an Easter event.

Rowe loaded up his truck and drove the Easter baskets to Brooklyn. That’s not where the community spirit stopped. On the way, several baskets blew out of his truck on Route 347.

Snacks from the hospital break room at SBUH. Photo from Stony Brook University.

“I had about four cars pull over to help me” retrieve the boxes, Rowe said. “That’s a sign of the times.”
None of the boxes, which were donated to the children of soldiers, sustained any damage.

Rowe also said the university worked to make sure support staff, including housekeeping and the people moving the carts to usher patients around the hospital, benefited from these gifts.

The most consistent donated items were the three-dimensional printed face shields and hand sanitizer, which faculty who stayed to help frontline workers made on campus. In total, the university received more than 14,000 face shields and 509 gallons of hand sanitizer.

Ryan and Rowe said the hospital was grateful and humbled by each donation they received.
Several groups offered consistent gifts. The Three Village Coronavirus Forum Facebook group, which Three Village resident Michael Ehrlich led, raised hundreds each week through membership donations. They shopped at Target and Walmart to buy comfort care items.

Frito-Lay donated a couple of truckloads of chips to stock the respite room, while the Three Village Dads Foundation raised money to feed frontline workers.

The donations helped fill in some gaps during the year as well. National Nurses Week and National EMS week both occurred in May. While the hospital typically honors these professionals with gifts to show their appreciation, the response to COVID-19 was the priority during those times. The donations, however, provided material for care packages.

The pandemic triggered needs the hospital never had before, Ryan said.

“We had to identify different ways to allow our patients to communicate with their loved ones, while there was no visitation or limited visitation,” Ryan said. The hospital redeployed nursing staff into family liaison roles to provide friends and family with updates.

Rowe delivers Easter baskets to the families of soldiers at Fort Hamilton. Photo by Colby Rowe.

For the patients, the hospital put together comfort bags, which included activities like word searches, crossword puzzles, stress balls, aroma therapy, eye masks, and dry erase boards to allow patients who were able to write to communicate with nurses outside a door, which helped preserve PPE.

At this point, the university has some supplies left over, which it will likely use during the current, planned reopening of the university side of Stony Brook.

In addition to receiving donations from the community, Stony Brook also benefited from donations from people in other countries, including China, Korea and Germany.

“People sent really moving and emotional notes,” Rowe said. “We saw a lot of good in people” during a difficult time.

Ryan was also grateful for all the support from the university.

“The planning and preparation from senior leadership put us in a position where we were able to be successful in getting to the other side of this,” Ryan said. “Leadership at the state level also helped tremendously with that.”

As Federal Assistance Runs Out, Pantries/Soup Kitchens Anticipate Greater Need

Vicky Rybak, front, stands behind the many volunteers at Open Cupboard in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Liam Cooper

In front of what was the old nuns’ quarters of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, the volunteers of the church’s food pantry stand amongst bag after bag of food items. Inside, even more goods line the main hallway, all before they can be taken in and sorted. 

Alex Valentine and Sabrina Duan, of Mount Sinai, help with the Open Cupboard pantry’s back to school drive. Photo by Kyle Barr

In just a few hours on a Monday morning, a crowd of regular volunteers have brought in the new hoard. Even after they leave, several more local residents swing by the front door of the Open Cupboard food pantry, dropping off clothing items, food, toiletries — a machine of giving.

All of it will be needed, according to food pantry leaders and volunteers, as by the end of the month so much of that food will be gone. The pandemic has led to a massive increase in food insecurity. Open Cupboard now regularly serves 30 to 60 families that come to its doors, and now they arrive every two weeks instead of every month, compared to what it was before the pandemic. 

Though as the number of people needing assistance has increased during the pandemic, according to multiple local soup kitchens and food pantries, so has the number of volunteers hoping to make even the smallest difference.

Vicki Rybak, director of the Open Cupboard food pantry at Infant Jesus, has been on the job for the past 16 years. The pantry serves the surrounding area in Port Jeff, Port Jeff Station, Mount Sinai and parts of Coram and Setauket, and in her words, it serves “the working poor.”

“Now that the working poor aren’t working anymore, we’re servicing the people who aren’t getting anything — whether they’re undocumented and they’re not able to collect, or they’re essential like me and have been struggling,” she said.

During the worst months of the pandemic, the assembled group were Rybak’s “lifeline,” she said. People sent checks when she and others were limited on the number of certain foodstuffs and other essentials they could purchase.

People like Frank Davi, a retired NYPD officer who has been standing in front of the Miller Place Stop & Shop and Giunta’s Meat Farms in Port Jeff Station with his truck since March, asking people to donate food. He has given that food away to Open Cupboard and the pantry at St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Station. He says he gets a truckload a week from people willing to help out.

“I was in Stony Brook [hospital] for six days, had some complications, came out of it fine and wanted to give back,” Davi said. “Everyone’s really generous in the community.”

The Open Cupboard is also in the midst of its back-to-school drive, and one of the downstairs rooms is piled with school supplies such as backpacks, pencils, erasers. It normally services around 185 children for back to school. Open Cupboard volunteer  Jennifer Valentine, of Mount Sinai, said in a few weeks time, most of it will be gone.

Father Patrick Riegger of Infant Jesus RC Church next to bag after bag of donations. Photo by Kyle Barr

But the need will likely increase even more than that, as the pantry plans to work with local shelters as well to provide school supplies. Harder this year is so few schools have been posting what kinds of schools supplies students will need cover September. 

“Even if we don’t go back to school, they will still need the supplies at home,”
Valentine said.

The pantry does much more than just food donations. It helps people apply for mortgage and rental assistance, helps people muddle through social services applications, assists people whose insurance doesn’t cover a particular procedure, all of which have seen a renewed need because of the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

The Open Cupboard director has seen people with leases on nice cars pull up to seek aid, having lost their jobs and being on unemployment, having never before stepped foot into a food pantry in need of aid, whether it’s food or help getting their budgets in line.

“They’re lost, they’ve never done this before,” Rybak said. “People don’t even have the gas to come down here anymore — we’re doing a lot of deliveries.”

Now that a federal program that gave people an extra $600 on their unemployment checks has ended, she expects even more of a need. The hard part will be deciding what the organization is capable of doing, and what it can’t with the resources at hand.

“People are just really bad off, or they’re just barely making it with unemployment,” Rybak said. 

Needy Numbers Likely on the Rise

According to Newsday’s latest nextLI survey about the impact of coronavirus, of the 1,043 respondents, close to a third said their financial situation has been negatively impacted due to the pandemic. 

Things could get worse for the thousands still on unemployment. New York State statistics show Suffolk County had a 12.9 percent unemployment rate in June. Data for July is not yet available. 

Long Island Cares delivers a shipment of food to Island Heart Food Pantry in Mount Sinai. Director of the pantry Kathy Lahey said they have received a near doubling in clients since the start of the pandemic. Photo by Lahey

Paule Pachter, CEO of nonprofit Long Island Cares, said LIC has seen about 75,000 people coming for the very first time to the its distribution centers looking for emergency food since March 13. Most came after losing their jobs.

In normal times, the food bank operates six stationary and several mobile distribution centers. During the worst of the pandemic, the nonprofit saw the closure of close to one fifth of pantries it distributed to. Things have gotten better, and now they see only 31 closed. The rate of people LIC has seen seeking help has also dropped some small degree.

Still, Pachter has a strong suspicion that with the loss of benefits such as the unemployment funding will lead to a new wave of people seeking aid. He estimates another 50,000 will come in for food in the long run.

“The fact that people are laid off, furloughed, permanently terminated from their jobs and these are people who historically are living paycheck to paycheck … the whole unemployment scenario has been driving people to the food pantries or food distribution centers,” Pachter said. “If we don’t pass another stimulus bill or another extension on unemployment, that’s going to drive even more people to seek aid.”

Though as of the start of August, the federal program that put an extra $600 on top of people’s unemployment checks ended. Congressional leaders from the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-led Senate are locked in a debate over reinstating that relief, along with billions upon billions of dollars in other potential aid to people, businesses and local governments. The Senate is scheduled to take a recess, but it is unknown whether congressional leaders will leave such aid hanging. Republicans have balked at the idea of additional money on top of unemployment checks, saying it disincentivizes people to get back to work.

In the meantime, local pantries and soup kitchens expect the loss of those extra funds on unemployment checks could mean even more people needing assistance.

Lori Presser, the director of Trinity Friends Kitchen, a soup kitchen that operates out of the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point, said she has no doubt it will get more people coming in within the coming weeks. While the kitchen before the pandemic was serving the same recognizable faces every Thursday, a host of new people showed up at its doors every week to pick up a hot meal, some hearing it from the church’s food pantry that’s now open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Before the pandemic, the kitchen was serving 250 meals per month, but now she estimates it serves about 350 per month.

“The $600 really helped keep everybody in a good position, but without that you will see many more people looking to stretch whatever available funds they have,” Presser said. 

While the soup kitchen head said it is currently up to the task with current volunteers, she also worried about having to potentially bring more people into the kitchen should numbers pick up once again.

The Middle Island-based Island Heart Food Pantry, which hosts its food donations at the Mount Sinai Congregational Church on North Country Road, has felt the devastation of the pandemic. “It’s been the perfect storm,” director Kathy Lahey said.

The food pantry has experienced visibly longer lines since March, which is exacerbated by a decrease in volunteer staff. 

Legislator Sarah Anker joins the Island Heart Food Pantry, which operates out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, in a food drive. Photo from Anker’s office

“There is at least a 25 percent increase in customers,” Lahey said. “In a month we’ve fed about 500 to 600 families.” 

On an average Wednesday before the pandemic, the food pantry would feed around 35 families. Now, it feeds 62. Lahey expects these numbers to continue increasing. The pandemic has caused many more families to be in need of the pantry’s services. 

On top of its longer lines, Island Heart has also been trying to give more food to each family as well. With many kids doing online classes during this time, more families who depended on school food programs now need more food in the house during the day. 

“Because kids were home from school, we also tried to give more food,” Lahey said.

Although the lines are getting longer, the volunteer staff is decreasing. Many of Island Heart’s volunteers remain skeptical about coming in, considering that, although they wear masks, remaining socially distant at the food pantry is difficult. Numbers are down to a skeleton crew of just three a day. 

Between more patrons and less volunteers to work with, Island Heart was unsure if it was going to keep open. 

“We’re taking it day by day,” Lahey said. 

People Are Helping However They Can

What has surprised Rybak and others is just how much people have been willing to give, even while they too have been impacted by the global pandemic. While the Open Cupboard pantry normally has over 60 volunteers, even more people have put themselves out there to help since the start of the pandemic, a contrast with some of the difficulties Island Heart is dealing with.

“This is a 6,000 family parish, the volunteers really represent the heart of the parish, but we’ve noticed how more people have taken an interest since the pandemic,” said the Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus. 

Frank Davi, second from left, has filled up his truck every week to donate to local food pantries. Photo from Davi

Brain Hoerger, a trustee on the board of Theatre Three, and Doug Quattrock, a longtime actor with the company, have helped host two huge food collection drives with the theater in June and July, filling several carloads and the theater’s van “floor to ceiling” with items which they donated to Open Cupboard, enough to completely line the pantry’s main hallway, The theatre is now working on its third such drive for August.

“Now I come home and I find bags by my door, people just dropping stuff off,”
Hoerger said. 

Quattrock said he knows many of the people donating are still unemployed, yet they are still looking for ways to give back, “doing what they can,” he said.

Port Jefferson Rotary Club has also lent a hand in a big way the past few months, having been a regular supporter of the pantry for years. In addition to their Stuff-a-Van food collection events four times a year, fall food collection and their backpack packing event for back to school, Rotarians are also expected to bring in a specific product once a month.

The Selden Hills Warriors, an online group of runners based on Facebook, have also started hosting drives for eight pantries all over Long Island. There are currently four separate teams among the several hundred members buying food with a budget of about $100 each team per week.

“We’re just trying to keep it going, especially through the summer,” group leader Lou LaFleur said. “We have a generous group, and we want to do what we can because we saw the need.”

Despite its hardships, the Island Heart director said the pantry has experienced an increase in donations, both food and monetary. Many churchgoers at Mount Sinai Congregational have even been donating fresh produce from their own gardens, just so the food pantry can remain open. 

Selden Hills Warriors group head Lou Lafleur, right, next to members Bob and Barbara Haughn. They, among many others from the online running group, have donated to several local food pantries. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We’ve seen so many donations from people even outside of our church,” Lahey said. “People just want to help.”

Food pantries and soup kitchens are relying on each other to keep open during these difficult times. Island Heart has gotten a lot of its food items from stores and food banks. 

“Trader Joe’s, Long Island Cares and Island Harvest have been extremely helpful,” Lahey said. “We keep having to order more and more food.”

And as more needy people are potentially on the way, keeping those donations coming in could be make or break for a lot of shelters.

“We’re seeing a lot of new families coming in,” Open Cupboard’s Rybak said. “We had people who used to come to us, they were documented and they’re getting $600 a week, they’re buying us food. They’re giving back, so we know we’re doing the right thing, but the people who come in to us, they’re really getting hammered.”

A tree falls on a mail carrier truck on Old Post Road in Setauket. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sustained winds of over 40 miles per hour, with gusts of over 65 miles per hour from Tropical Storm Isaias, knocked out power to over 440,000 customers, according to PSEG.

The storm uprooted a tree in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

As of 9:45 am on Thursday, fewer than 140,000 customers were still without power, as PSEG said it had restored power to about 300,000 customers.

The utility expects to restore power to 85% of its customers by the end of the day on Friday, while the remaining percentage should have power by the end of the day on Saturday. PSEG tree crews and contracts have cleared 500 locations.

Customers of PSE&G were so frustrated with their inability to get through to the power company duringt the storm that they flooded the 911 phone lines, causing an increase of 400% in the volume of calls.

“That is related to communication issues that were experienced by PSE&G, where customers had a difficult time getting through or were unable to get through to report outages,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during a press conference on Wednesday to provide an update after the storm.

Bellone suggested it was “too early to diagnose what the problem was” at PSE&G, but that is it “critical that we determine that for storms moving forward.”

Other New York officials, such as State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) have called for an investigation of the public utility. Just a day after the storm, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he was directing the state Department of Public Service to launch an investigation in PSEG Long Island, along with other utility companies in New York on what went wrong with service restoration.

While Bellone stopped short of urging an investigation into the communication problems for customers, he urged an “analysis and understanding of what happened. This was a major problem. Communications in a storm is critical. We need to understand why it happened.”

PSEG insisted that the challenges with its communication systems didn’t impact the company’s efforts to restore power. Crews have been able to assess the damage and send teams to affected neighborhoods.

“We have overcome many of the issues with Verizon that affected our call center operations yesterday,” Daniel Eichhorn, president and chief operating officer of PSEG said in a statement. “We understand how critical it is to share accurate and timely information with our customers and we continue working diligently to fully resolve these issues.”

PSEG indicated it understood the importance of sharing accurate and timely information and is seeing improvements in call center operations.

The company is “working diligently to improve all of our systems to fully resolve these issues,” and urges customers to use the automated voice response system, if possible, at (800) 490-0075.

PSEG is opening four customer outreach centers, starting at 10 am on Wednesday, which is providing free water and ice in a drive-through service. The locations are at 175 East Old Country Road in Hicksville, 250 Willis Avenue in Roslyn, 288 Pulaski Road in Greenlawn and 1650 Islip Avenue in Brentwood.

A tree lies across Old Post Road East in Mount Sinai after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

The company has sent out 2,000 crews, including workers from New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Alabama, Kansas and Missouri. The crews will work 16-hour shifts around the clock until they have restored power. The teams will restore critical facilities first, then outages that affect the most people and then outages that affect smaller numbers or individual customers.

PSEG reminded customers that downed wires should always be considered live. A safe distance is at least 30 feet away. Customers who see downed wires should call 911. The company also reminded residents not to drive over or stand near downed power lines. Large pools of standing water could be dangerous because wires could be hidden in them. PSEG urged people to stop, back up and take another path if they see downed wires.

The county received 250 calls for downed trees and limbs on county roadways. Most of those were cleared by the early morning. As of mid-morning on Wednesday, five roads, including four in Huntington and one in Islip, remained partially closed. These are routes 17, 67, 86, 35 and 9.

Bellone said PSEG is aware of the outages and is working to restore power throughout the county.

Despite the calm after the storm, the county facilities, including golf courses, remained closed around midday Wednesday.

“We’re hoping to have those back online [Wednesday] afternoon,” Bellone said.

Smith Point County Park is also closed for swimming, as the outage has cut power to bathroom facilities.

Brookhaven Town’s Holtsville Pool is closed. Brookhaven’s town beaches are open, but Davis Park, Great Gun and Ho Hum beaches all have red flag conditions, which prevents swimming and limits water access to knee-deep wading.

Access to West Meadow Beach is also limited because of fallen trees in the area.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) urged residents to report fallen trees, damage from town roadside trees, flooding or other storm damage to call 631-451- TOWN or go to BrookhavenNy.gov/StormDamage.

by -
0 102
Port Jefferson Superintendent spoke at two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

Among three potential plans for reopening, the Port Jefferson School District has decided on a model that would have elementary students in full time and middle school and high school students splitting their week between in-class and online learning.

All school districts were required to release their reopening plans July 31 to New York State for review. Like all reopening plans, these are tentative based on a decision by the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make the final decision for districts, but has promised to do so by Aug. 7.

At its July 29 meeting, school officials and board members heard of the three options the 68-member reopening committee has been working on the past several weeks. The presentation, shown by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Christine Austen, included a fully online standardized learning experience, a hybrid model and a full-time in-person experience. 

What the district has tentatively settled on could mean increased costs to the small district on the Sound. Having grades K through five in class all the time will mean extra costs in redesigning the classrooms, hiring extra teaching assistants and other such costs associated with keeping students distanced. Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said it could be an approximate $230,000 addition out of this year’s $44,739,855 2020-21 budget. That money,  according to Schmettan, would come from the district’s reserve fund balance.

Otherwise, students in the middle and high schools will have days of the week split between two days in school, one day at home being taught over the internet live with their regular teachers and two days of what amounts to classwork, or so-called “asynchronous learning,” also over the internet.  

Students will be broken up into two groups to be put on alternating schedules, purple and gray for students with last names A through L and M through Z. District officials said they would work to make sure each group was balanced.

Though some on the board asked about students wishing to be in class together with friends, Schmettan said the biggest issue was making sure siblings were in the same group, so as to not add extra difficulty with parents taking children to school. 

A student’s grade level will determine how many hours of asynchronous learning for each student. The district has come out with a one-to-one Chromebook program, and officials also said it will work to make sure those lacking access to stable internet connections can access the online portions of their schooling.

At the same time, students in special education and in English as a New Language in the elementary school would also be there full time. However, special education and ENL, among other extra help groups in the middle and high schools, will spend four days in school and one day at home for asynchronous learning, as better to comprehend what’s expected with online learning in case schools shut down again.

In a survey sent home to parents, school officials said 12 percent of parents have said they do not plan to send their kid into school in the fall, while another 13 said they need more info before making a decision. Also in the survey, 45 percent of parents said they were comfortable with their kids taking the bus to school. The rest said they were uncomfortable or unsure about having their children take the bus. 

The district plans to send out further surveys after Cuomo releases final guidelines to confirm which parents will be sending kids to schools and which aren’t. Port Jeff also plans to survey staff to confirm who is in line for when school starts up again Sept. 8.

In the case that a student or staff member does get sick, Austen said the district will work with New York State or Suffolk County contact tracers, though it will also be incumbent on the district itself to identify who was close to the person confirmed with COVID-19.

A previous version of this post shared the wrong name of Port Jeff’s assistant superintendent. This version corrects this error.

By Melissa Arnold

After a long, eerily quiet spring that forced the majority of public places to close, life is getting back to normal on Long Island. Slowly but surely, area libraries are opening their doors to patrons eager to browse and borrow.

“At 10 a.m. on July 6 when the first person walked through our doors and said, ‘It’s good to be back,’ I felt wonderful,” said Carol Albano, director of the Harborfields Library in Greenlawn. “One of our regular patrons walked over to our new book area and put her arms out and said, ‘I just want to hug all the books.’”

It’s a sigh of relief shared by librarians around the Island, especially given that when they closed their doors in March, there was no telling how or when they’d be able to open them again.

“Closing the building during the New York State shutdown felt surreal; it was new territory for everyone involved,” recalled Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station. “The staff and I immediately set about establishing work-from-home stations so we could maintain strong services, programs, and communication with the public and with each other in our day-to-day operations.”

Throughout history, libraries have continually needed to broaden the scope of their services to keep up with the community’s habits and interests. For example, in addition to books and periodicals, libraries offer community programs, tutoring, music, movies, video games, museum passes, audiovisual equipment and much more.

During quarantine, many libraries made their first foray into the world of livestreaming and video conferencing. From read-alongs and book discussions to cooking demos, yoga hours and gardening lessons, library staff continued to bring people together in socially distant ways.

And while this technology will remain a part of the new normal — e-book borrowing numbers are higher than they’ve ever been in Suffolk County, and many events remain virtual for now — the libraries are thrilled to welcome patrons back to their brick-and-mortar homes.

Of course, things are going to look a little different, and local libraries have new rules and policies in place to keep everyone safe. Here’s a breakdown:

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket is the oldest library in Suffolk County to provide service from its original location. Managing a collection of more than 200,000 items isn’t easy, and director Ted Gutmann said they started planning for reopening almost immediately after the shutdown.

“It was quite an interesting time,” Gutmann said. “It was all I thought about for weeks — how we were going to reopen safely and what it might look like. The state had certain parameters that all public places had to follow, so we used that as a guide as we planned.”

So far, they’ve opted for a conservative approach, allowing patrons to browse and check out materials, but limit activities that promote lingering. Patrons are asked to limit their visit to under 30 minutes. Public seating, some of the computers and all toys in the children’s library have been temporarily removed. Visitors can move throughout the aisles between the book shelves, but should follow directional arrows on the floor similar to those in use at grocery stores. Staff will offer assistance from behind plastic shields.

“Right now, we don’t want to encourage people to spend an extended time here for their own safety,” Gutmann explained. “They are welcome to browse and borrow, then bring their things home to enjoy.”

At the Comsewogue Public Library, reopening has occurred in phases with extensive planning throughout. It’s all been worth it, Engelhardt said,

“Opening the doors again felt like great progress. It was exciting, a big step toward more normalcy,” she said. “Our experience in reopening the building was overwhelmingly positive. We worked hard on our reopening plan, which met all state safety requirements and was approved by the county.”

Curbside pickup of borrowed materials will continue, as it’s a convenient, preferred option for some, but Engelhardt noted the number of in-person visitors has grown in recent weeks.

“Most come in to pick up items they’ve requested, and many are excited to once again enjoy browsing the shelves. Other popular draws are our computers, copiers, and fax services,” she explained.

Some changes: The lounge and study area furniture isn’t available right now, and clear plastic dividers are in place at service desks.

“Other than that, we have the same great circulating collections in print and online, from the traditional (think hot summer bestsellers and movies) to the more innovative (hotspots, Take and Make crafts, Borrow and Bake cake pans),” Engelhardt added.

At Harborfields Public Library, reopening plans began back in April as the staff met for regular Zoom meetings with other area libraries. “Step one was to develop a building safety plan — we met with our head of maintenance and went over each aspect of the building, from the mechanical systems to the physical layout of the furniture and library materials, to ordering personal protective equipment for the staff,” Albano said.

At this time, there is only one chair at each table, every other computer has been removed, and toys and games were temporarily taken out of the children’s area. 

You’ll also find plastic shields at the service desks, and that public restrooms have been installed with automatic faucets and automatic flushing toilets, Albano said.

“All areas of the library are open to the public, including all library materials. The only exception is the public meeting rooms are closed, because at this time we are not holding any in-house programming or meetings,” she added. “Computers are still available in the adult, teen and children’s departments, and soft seating and tables are in each department as well.”

As for borrowed materials, there’s no need to worry about catching COVID-19 from a library book, DVD or CD. Once materials are returned, they are kept quarantined for 72 hours.  Research from the global scientific organization Battelle has shown the virus is undetectable on books and similar items after just one day.

So rejoice, bookworms, and browse to your heart’s content. Your local librarians are ready to welcome you back — masked up, of course.

Individual library policies, event schedules and hours of operation vary and are subject to change — contact your local branch for the most current information. For contact information, database access, and to borrow electronic media including ebooks and audiobooks, visit www.livebrary.com. Please remember to wear a mask and practice social distancing while visiting any library.

All photos by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson School District hosts two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

The members of the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s Class of 2020 received their diplomas in two separate, well-orchestrated ceremonies that signified the school’s 126th commencement exercises on Aug. 1.

The Pledge of Allegiance, led by Student Organization vice president Hana Ali, was followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by Rachel Park. Both high school principal Eric Haruthunian and Student Organization president Dylan Dugourd welcomed everyone to the two morning events.

Congratulatory remarks and words of praise and inspiration were presented by Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan and parent Richard Righi, father of graduating senior Katelynne Righi. Senior Class President James Marci presented the class gift fit for the current time and to honor the community: a donation to both Mather Hospital and St. Charles Hospital, noting that many of the students who grew up in the community were born at St. Charles.

The top two students, valedictorian Christine Iasso and salutatorian Kyle Onghai also addressed their fellow classmates, sharing memories, reflections on their primary education, grateful words to teachers and family members, and words of advice for their fellow graduates.

“We all have the power to make the changes needed to create the brightest future our generation can enjoy,” said Iasso, who encouraged her peers to appreciate the planet and one another as they will have the opportunity to affect the lives of all the people they will interact with in the future. The valedictorian will major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at the University of California, Davis and Onghai will attend UCLA to major in mathematics.

Haruthunian then presented the Class of 2020 to Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm before he called each student to the podium and, as is tradition, highlighted their high school careers and future plans. As they walked to the podium, they were handed their diplomas by Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier. The Class of 2020 then stood and tossed their caps in the air in celebration of becoming the newest graduates of the high school.

Text by the Port Jefferson School District and verified by reporter.

Current models show Tropical Storm Isaias will hit Long Island with the strongest winds of the storm. Photo from National Hurricane Center

As Tropical Storm Isaias climbs from the southeast coast towards Long Island, county officials are deploying resources in the event of any damage from the wind and rain and encouraging residents to track the storm and, if necessary, avoid travel tomorrow.

The worst of the storm, which could have winds of 39 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 65 miles per hour, may hit the island in the afternoon through the evening. Most of the county could get between two inches and three inches of rain, with one to two inches on the east end.

“When you consider the amount of rain we’re talking about, if we get hit with those numbers, that is a serious event,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a press conference today.

Bellone urged residents to secure loose objects or bring them inside on Monday to prevent any damage.

Residents who lose power can text OUT to PSE&G at 773454. Residents can also report an outage online, assuming they have the ability to connect online, through PSEGLINY.com, or they can call (800) 490-0075.

The storm surge could bring as much as 10 to 15 feet of breaking surf on Tuesday afternoon. The vulnerable shoreline could also have two to three feet of flooding with the high tide on Tuesday between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Suffolk County is prepared to handle evacuations, although Bellone said such actions aren’t expected.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) suggested in an email that customers remain in their homes while PSE&G crews are working nearby. If residents need to speak with representatives of the utility, PSE&G urged residents to practice social distancing and remain at least six feet away.

Hahn also suggested that residents keep their cell phones and tablets charged so they have a full battery. Lowering screen brightness and shutting down applications preserves battery life.

Bellone urged people to stay away from flooded streets. Cars that get trapped or that stall in flooded waters drain resources from the county, requiring rescue for the occupants of the vehicle.

The Emergency Operations Center, which has been active for months in the midst of the pandemic, is up and running and will have increased hours. The staffing at the center includes members of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, the Suffolk County Police Department, the Sheriff’s office, the Department of Public Works, the Red Cross, Long Island Railroad, the State Police and PSE&G.

The SCPD has deployed humvees to each of their precincts to prepare them for the storm. The Department of Public Works has also pre-deployed a number of resources, such as 62 chain saws, 13 full saw, 22 10-wheeled dump tracks, 35 debris clearance crews, among other machines and crews.

“All of that diverse equipment is pre-deployed and prepared to go in case we need to clear roads, address flooding or help evacuate individuals,” Bellone said.

Bellone urged residents to sign up for the Suffolk County code red emergency notification system, which provides customized messages to residents. People can sign up through the we site suffolkcountyny.gov/department/fres. The code red sign up is on the right side in blue.

Bellone urged residents to monitor the media for updates and to track the progress of the storm. Even if this storm doesn’t bring considerable damage, it may provide a dry run for what could be an active hurricane season, which will occur in the midst of the county’s ongoing efforts to recover from the pandemic caused by COVID-19.

This fall, in particular, could present numerous contemporaneous challenges, with the COVID threat, possible flu outbreaks, and the start of an uncertain school year.

Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) cuts the ribbon on the new resource center. Photo by David Luces

Providing former Suffolk County inmates with the tools they need to be productive members of society was the inspiration for the creation of a new facility in Yaphank. At a July 30 press event, sheriff officials said the facility will assist with jobs search, housing and other needs as they head back into the community.

Joel Anderson, of Mastic Beach, speaks at the Suffolk County jail’s resource center. Photo by David Luces

The Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Team Resource Center is poised to offer a range of “practical transitional services” for inmates leaving the county jail including employment assistance, connections to housing, treatment and mental health care, among other things. It is staffed by correction officers and human service volunteers from the nonprofit community.

The START Center had a soft launch in February, stayed open during the height of the pandemic and currently serves more than 100 clients. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, previously planned for early April had to be postponed. Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D), District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and other county officials were on hand for the event.

Toulon said creating the facility had been a dream of his. At the event he spoke about his experiences working in law enforcement for more than 30 years and a moment he shared with his father.
“When I was a young child, I asked my father, a warden on Rikers Island, what he did for a living. He said, ‘We rehabilitate people,’” Toulon said.

When inmates are discharged and come into the center, they will be interviewed by one of the resource workers where they identify his or her needs. For example, if an inmate has an addiction problem, the center will connect them with the appropriate nonprofits.

“Whether it be housing, employment, education, SNAP benefits or transportation, we try to start the process as soon as possible,” Deputy Vincenzo Barone said.

He added that all inmates at the Yaphank Correctional Facility know about the program, with the center being a short walk from the jail there. Those being discharged from Riverhead will be picked up and brought to the START Center, where they will begin the intake process.

Joel Anderson, of Mastic Beach, who was released from jail in April, spoke at the press event about how the resource center has helped him get his life back on track.

“I’ve been in and out of prison all my life,” he said. “If I wasn’t a part of this process, being benefited by the program and services I wouldn’t be here to speak today. I’m standing here today because of the men and women who run this program. … I’m glad I made that call.”

Anderson said he continues to better himself every day.

“Rehabilitation is a process and it happens on a daily basis,” he said. “Now I have people I can reach out to — it’s not always peaches and cream. That wisdom, even if it is a little drop, makes all the difference in the world.”