Port Times Record

County Executive Steve Bellone, center, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, right. File photo

With protests and violence rocking several cities, including New York City, after the videotaped killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called the officer’s actions a type of racism.

“Perhaps the most disturbing thing” about the way now-fired officer Derek Chauvin, who is now in jail on charges of third-degree murder, acted is the “lack of concern that this officer showed in knowing that he was being videotaped,” said Bellone on his daily conference call with reporters. “That suggests this officer felt that there was no accountability.”

In calling the actions of Chauvin structural racism, Bellone pointed to a Newsday investigation that revealed a similar type of racism and discrimination in the housing industry on Long Island.

While Suffolk County has made “an incredible amount of progress, we clearly have much more work to do,” Bellone said.

The county executive said he understood the protests that have taken place in response to videos that showed Chauvin kneeling on the neck of the handcuffed Floyd, whose pleas that he couldn’t breathe went unheeded.

Bellone, however, said overrunning a police station “can not happen” and expressed his support for the vast majority of police officers who are “hard working, dedicated professionals who are putting their own safety on the line to protect us.”

In a statement she read during the media call, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Floyd’s death was “an outrage” and was “unacceptable.” She condemned the tragic killing, while adding that she holds the officers of the Suffolk County Police Department to the “highest standards.”

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron, who has been on the force for over 35 years, described how he has been in situations where people resisted his efforts to arrest them.

Force is a “last resort,” Cameron said. Officers are trained to “use the bare minimum force necessary to get someone into custody.”

Cameron has never put a knee to another person’s neck and said he had never seen another police officer in the SCPD use a similar tactic during his career. Officers have not received training to pin a suspect to the ground with a knee to a handcuffed person’s neck.

Pinning someone to the ground could cause positional asphyxia, spinal damage, or can cause damage to the airway.

Cameron said he believes his officers will step in and intervene if another officer is using unnecessary or excessive force.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the state would be getting the attorney general to review procedures following the demonstrations which turned violent on Friday, with multiple instances of recorder violence against protesters and violent actions against police.

Viral Numbers

As for the COVID-19 numbers, the county has had an additional 87 positive tests, bringing the total to 38,582. That doesn’t include 13,733 people who have tested positive for the antibody.

Hospitalizations have declined by 16 to 275 as of May 28. At the same time, the number of residents with COVID-19 in ICU beds has fallen by 5 to 80.

Hospital capacity was at 65 percent for overall beds and 62 percent for ICU beds.

The number of people who have been discharged from the hospital in the last day was 27.

An additional 13 people have died from complications related to the coronavirus. The total number of deaths has reached 1,892.

Separately, the county reopened its camping reservation system yesterday at 4 p.m. Residents made 4,739 reservations for 25,608 reservation days.

“That shows the demand we have and the desire for people to get out and enjoy summer,” Bellone said. “We are going to be able to have a summer here in Suffolk County.”

Beaches, meanwhile, remain open for residents only.

Current school boards of Port Jefferson, top, and Comsewogue, bottom. Photos from school districts

It very well could be a challenging next few years for school districts all across Long Island, let alone the North Shore. Districts await with bated breath any announcement from New York State regarding any new mandates, let alone the announcement for when schools could potentially let students back into buildings. Not to mention, the potential drastic cuts in state aid due to major state budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set up committees headed by billionaire Bill Gates and others to look at “reimagining” education, though what that will mean down the line could have major impacts on school district operations.

With that, only two of four local school districts have contested elections, but all still face similar issues. Given these challenges, The Port Times Record has given all board candidates the chance to say what challenges they see ahead for their districts.

For more information about districts’ 2020-21 budgets, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com/tag/school-budgets

Comsewogue 

With two seats up on the Comsewogue School District board of education, two incumbents were the only ones to throw their names in the race. 

Alexandra Gordon

Alexandra Gordon was first elected in 2011 and has served three terms on the board. A caseworker for the Suffolk County Office for the Aging, she said her knowledge of issues facing the elderly helps frame board decisions in a wider community lens. She currently serves as the boards vice president.

“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for a long time,” she said. “I anticipate significant challenges in state funding, which will result in the need for creative planning and perhaps difficult decisions.”

With three children having already graduated from the district, and one rising senior at Comsewogue High School, she said despite having to create distance learning programs on the fly, the district has seen a 90 percent participation rate, “which I believe speaks volumes,” she added. 

“Nothing can ever replace the connection between teachers and students in person — but our teachers are trying very hard to stay connected,” Gordon said.

The board VP said she anticipates significant challenges with state funding, with which the district will need to plan creatively and perhaps make difficult decisions. With New York potentially slashing funding by 20 percent across the board, she said it would be “devastating” to Comsewogue. The governor also has the ability to modify funding at different points throughout the school year. 

“This poses its own challenge — we plan a budget based on funding the state tells us we will receive,” Gordon said. “Changes to that number mid-year could present problems.”

She said she is working as the chair of the Legislative Advocacy Committee to contact federal legislators about giving aid to the state in its time of need. She added the district will need to vociferously advocate for funding at the state level from state legislators.

“We cannot be passive when faced with these challenges,” Gordon said. 

James Sanchez

A 27-year resident of the district, James Sanchez is running again for his seat on the board. He was first elected in 2011 and works as a dockmaster for the Port Jefferson ferry.

Sanchez did not respond to requests to answer a set of emailed questions by press time.

Port Jefferson

Port Jefferson has two seats open, with one incumbent and one newcomer running for the open spots. Current trustee Ryan Biedenkapp will not be running again to retain his seat.

David Keegan

Two-term trustee David Keegan is again running for school board, having originally been elected to the position in 2017.

Keegan’s day job is as a vice president of sales for Presidio Networked Solutions, a technology services and consulting firm. He said he decided to run again because, “I believe public education is critical and fundamental to enabling the success of our people and our nation.” “Port Jefferson has a rich history of success and it is gratifying to help continue and enhance that, particularly in these times, with both the unprecedented virus and the implications of the LIPA settlement.”

Both those issues are weighing heavily on board members and administrators’ minds. The current budget has had to account with the loss of property tax revenue from the LIPA-owned Port Jefferson Power Station, as well as potential significant reductions in state aid. 

Keegan said the pandemic has forced the district to reconsider everything about how Port Jefferson delivers services.  

“We will continue to be creative, leverage the myriad resources and examples that exist from our peers, and we remain focused on delivering the high-quality education that we expect and deserve for our children,” he said. “I am confident we can do that, but there remains much to do as things evolve.”

Depsite the consistent and expected drops in LIPA revenue, he said the district “could not likely be better positioned to weather this process at this time.” With the question of state aid losses hanging over every New York school, Port Jefferson is in a better position than most, Keegan said. Still, it could mean having to evaluate potential scenarios and seek community engagement if and when alterations to our programs become necessary.

In terms of distance learning, the trustee said there is always room for improvement. 

“Children are clearly being robbed of some special milestone experiences, and a less than optimal educational experience today,” he said. “But we have no choice but to adapt, and I am proud to be able to help this community do so in a way that best serves our students.”

Ravi Singh

Ravi Singh, a 10-year resident of the district from the Belle Terre area, is coming onto the board at a very interesting and anxiety-filled time, yet he said he feels it’s his time to give back “to the place that’s helped raise my children.”

Singh, a gastroenterologist who works in the Patchogue area, has two children in the district, both at the high school level. Though he’s new to much of the financial happenings within the district, he said he’s ready to get in there and start processing it. He understands the potential loss in state aid revenue could have a major impact on programming. 

“We have to look at some innovative ways to deal with it, and what are our options on the revenue side,” he said. “That will be one of the first I look at when I get in.”

In terms of distance learning, he has watched his two sons make the transition, and said he thought the district has done “a decent job, considering how it fell into their laps,” though there is easily room for improvement. He appreciates the fact the program has some structure beyond having students simply complete coursework on their own time, but he said the district should look to making the program more interactive with both their work and with teachers. 

“I’m looking forward to getting started,” he said. 

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After technical difficulties when Suffolk County tried to open up its camping reservation system, the county is starting the process again at 4 pm today.

Interested residents can make camping reservations for June 15 or later.

“We know that there will be many people trying to get online,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily COVID-19 conference call with reporters. “Hopefully, that’s going to work.”

As for the numbers related to the virus, an additional 86 people tested positive over the last day, bringing the total to 39,445. That doesn’t include the 13,406 people who tested positive for the antibody.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped 10, bringing the total to 291, which is a “milestone,” Bellone said. Suffolk County hasn’t had a number below 300 since the third week of March.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit also declined by seven to 85.

COVID-19 patients represented 68 percent of hospital capacity and 61 percent of ICU bed capacity, which are below the metrics the state had put out for a reopening that started on Wednesday.

The number of people who died from complications related to the virus increased by eight to 1,879.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) indicated that frontline workers who died from the virus would received death benefits, Bellone said his office had indicated to the unions that anyone who died from COVID-19 would be considered a death in the line of duty.

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Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus, says hello to churchgoers Sunday, May 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though those of many different faiths and houses of worship readily await the time when congregations can meet again after the pandemic finally slows down, one Port Jefferson church has found a way to give its hundreds of parishioners the sort of connectivity they’ve lacked since the start of the crisis.

Rev. Rolando Ticllasuca gives drivers the blessed sacrement. Photo by Kyle Barr

Volunteers and staff from the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson directed traffic along Main Street in front of the driveway to the parish. It’s a Sunday morning, May 24, and hundreds of vehicles pull up the ramp into the church’s parking lot. Some Sundays, the line stretches all the way up the road to the PJ Lobster House at the corner of Main Street and North Country Road. It’s a mix of old and young, big SUVs and compacts, but nearly all smile as they say “hello” to their pastors and receive a drive-through version of the Blessed Sacrament from the Rev. Rolando Ticllasuca. 

The scene has largely remained the same every Sunday for the six weeks since Easter. It offers that small bit of community connection for the parishioners living in the area, so many of whom have been cooped up at home, working through the anxieties of the ongoing pandemic.

The Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus, knows nearly every person in each vehicle on sight, even through their face coverings and masks. He said church members, of whom the total families number close to 5,000, find that the event helps them reconnect with their community.

“It shows support for them during these unprecedented times,” Riegger said. “For the last six weeks, this is where the community has been, here at Infant Jesus.”

New Infant Jesus seminarian Jonathan Pham helps direct traffic into Infant Jesus R.C. Church’s drive-through Sunday service. Photo by Kyle Barr

He said the weekly event started when church members Peter and Karen Helfrich suggested they host some kind of event for Easter to allow members to participate in some way on the holiday. Performing the event the following Sunday, parish staff were surprised by just how many continued to come out. Week after week, 300, 400 or even 500 vehicles show up from all over the local area in the three-hour period the service is hosted. It may not be the same people every single week, but many have returned once or twice over the span of the service. With the fact that cars often contain families, members estimated they likely receive over 1,000 people a week.

Michael Dyroff, a commissioner with the Terryville Fire Department and lifelong church member, came to the drive-through service with his wife Debbie and said they are “blessed” to have the religious staff willing to perform the service.

“It’s a way of connecting with folks,” Dyroff said. “It’s a wonderful idea.”

The church relies on staff and volunteers, including from the local Knights of Columbus, to help direct traffic up from Main Street and around through the parking lot. Members in their cars keep a distance from the clergy and receive the Blessed Sacrament from afar. 

Corrine Addiss, the head of religious education for the church, stood outside helping to direct traffic. She said the number of cars coming through really starts to pick up after 9:30 a.m. She thanked the volunteers who “could be in bed, sleeping,” but are instead helping their parish. 

Cars line up the driveway for the Infant Jesus Chruch’s drive through church services. Photo by Kyle Barr

Of course, it will not make up for a real service hosted inside a church, but it may be several more weeks or even months before that can begin. Perhaps most important for Riegger is the act of communion, which hasn’t been hosted since the church was closed to anything but private prayer back in March. 

Even when churches open, it may be very different than what churchgoers are used to. The Archdiocese of New York released a five-phase reopening plan May 21 that included first opening for private prayer and confessions, before moving on to attendee-limited baptisms and marriages, distributing Holy Communion outside of Mass, then hosting limited daily or funeral services before finally allowing Sunday services at a maximum of 25 percent the usual occupancy. 

Riegger said they would be following New York State’s and the Archdiocese of New York’s guidelines. 

Still, Infant Jesus plans to keep the drive-through church service alive as long as the pandemic and shutdown order mandates people keep apart. That might include pews marked with tape to keep people from sitting too close, or communion being done wearing gloves and a mask.

“When you have a crisis like this, where everything’s closed down, how do you give them that sense of community, that sense of assurance that God is with them?” said Dominik Wegiel, a seminarian at Infant Jesus. “This is our sort of our way of connecting them to the parish, connecting them to the community, but more importantly connecting them in that God is with us even in these times.”

The new front entrance of the emergency room. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

With the decision of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to lift the elective surgeries ban in Suffolk on May 16, area hospitals will be able to resume an important aspect of their day-to-day operations. 

Hospital officials have praised the news because elective and emergency procedures are seen as a vital source of revenue for these facilities. 

James O’Connor, president of St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson and chief administrative officer of St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown, said it’s good news that both facilities can resume these important procedures. 

“It’s a public health issue, you have these patients that were holding off on these urgent and vital surgeries,” he said. “Those needs didn’t go away because of COVID-19.”

O’Connor said between them the two hospitals perform around 750-800 surgeries a month. Orthopedic, bariatric, spine and general surgeries are the most common. The hospitals have already started to bring back staff and furloughed workers have been contacted and will report back to work. 

Elective/urgent surgeries have been put on hold for nearly two months, in an effort to ensure there were sufficient hospital beds and medical staff available to handle the surge in COVID-19 cases.

The St. Charles president said that he expects the hospitals to be back “at full volume” in performing surgeries by sometime next month.

“After week one, we will be ramping up the percentage of surgeries that will be done,” he said. “The first week will be at 25 percent and then we’ll keep going forward.”

Stony Brook University Hospital has begun bringing back personnel to the Ambulatory Surgery Center, main operating room and other areas. 

“The hospital is looking forward to rescheduling cases to provide the care necessary for its patients and addressing their surgical needs as soon as possible,” said Carol Gomes, chief executive officer at Stony Brook University Hospital. 

On average, approximately 100-120 cases daily are performed at the hospital. Those include general surgery, orthopedics, neurosurgery, surgical oncology, cardiac surgery, trauma, kidney transplants, urologic procedures and gynecologic surgery. 

The return of these services will help hospitals who are in the midst of financial hardship from the ongoing coronavirus crisis.  

According to a report from the American Hospital Association, U.S. hospitals and health systems have lost around $50 billion per month on average during the COVID-19 crisis. From March 1 to June 30, the association estimates a total of $202.6 billion in losses. 

“Hospitals and health systems face catastrophic financial challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the AHA said in the report. 

The association also predicted more financial hardship as millions of people could be left unemployed and lose health insurance. It could lead to increased uncompensated care at hospitals. 

O’Connor said without those services health care systems would cease to function. 

At Huntington Hospital, a member of Northwell Health, officials have started to implement a daily symptom screening policy for all staff and developed a non-COVID care pathway for all elective/urgent procedures — from parking and presurgical testing to discharge. For the last eight weeks the hospital has been performing surgery on emergency cases. 

“I am confident we are prepared to safely take the next step with elective surgeries,” said Dr. David Buchin, director of Bariatric Surgery at Huntington Hospital.

Stony Brook University Hospital will also implement a number of safeguards in preparation for elective surgery patients. In addition to expanding on the use of telehealth, it will test all patients prior to surgery and have them self-isolate prior to operations. 

For St. Charles and St. Catherine hospitals, O’Connor said all patients will be required to undergo a COVID-19 test 72 hours before a planned procedure. 

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Long Island started its reopening process Wednesday, May 27, with construction projects like Overbay getting back to work immediately. Photo by Kyle Barr

With construction sites in Port Jeff put on pause due to the pandemic, Main Street has seen and heard a significant lack of hammers and power tools. But as Long Island begins the reopening process, with Phase 1 allowing for construction to start again, local projects are planning their restarts, though this time with additional precautions.

With its skeleton left exposed for the past two months, the Overbay Apartment Complex is now once again set for continued construction. Located along West Broadway next to the Shipyard complex, Overbay started its construction again Wednesday morning.

Overbay LLC, a subsidiary of Hauppauge-based The Northwind Group, has been in front of the project since the land was first purchased in 2013 for $1.8 million. 

Jim Tsunis, managing member of Northwind, said there are no site plan changes from what was finalized several months ago, though it will be some time before he can relate the new timeline for when construction will finish and for people to start moving in.

“It feels great to be back up and running — I’m hoping all other businesses will reopen soon,” Tsunis said. “It’s been an extremely tough time for all residents over the last couple of months.”

Otherwise, in terms of safety, he said his office has received reopening affirmation from the state and workers would adhere to the New York COVID-19 construction safety guidelines, where construction workers try to maintain some distance during operations.

The 54,000-square-foot “nautical style” apartment building will be on the now-vacant site of the former Islander Boat Center building, which was demolished in 2017. 

The complex is set to consist of 52 rentals with each expected to be 1,000 square feet each. Amenities include an 800-square-foot common room and a fitness facility. The complex will also contain an office area. 

Parking will consist of 83 parking stalls for residents of Overbay and their guests. Parking is expected to be located on the exterior of the facility to the side and rear. The property borders a small creek on its southern end.

Another site, the Brockport apartments, is going where once sat Cappy’s Carpets. The area has remained cleared for weeks despite the original building being demolished and pilings already installed. 

Brooks Partners LLC, the company name attached to the project, is a subsidiary of Port Jefferson-based The Gitto Group. Rob Gitto, vice president of the group, did not respond to email and phone requests for comment by press time.

The apartment complex will include 46 units and a set of retail shops underneath. Designs intend it to fit in amongst surrounding stores including the neighboring CVS, whose property is also owned by The Gitto Group. The project is set to have 78 spaces of parking for its residents and for those working in the retail stores. 

Both apartment complexes have received a payment in lieu of tax agreement from the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency. 

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With phase one of an economic restart in its second day, leaders in Suffolk County are considering ways to enable restaurants that provide outdoor seating to open soon.

Outdoor dining is “an activity that we believe can be done safely,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “We are hopeful that this is one of the areas we could see accelerated.”

Bellone said he would provide an order to grant automatic county approval to restaurants to expand their seating into creative outdoor spaces, which could include sidewalks, in the back of a restaurant, or in tents.

“There will be no delay in that process,” the county executive said.

While Bellone didn’t provide a specific time table, he added that “you could see certain activities that are moved up and outdoor dining is clearly one of those with the right protocols in place.”

As for the numbers related to COVID-19, an additional 101 residents tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to 39,359 people. That doesn’t include the 12,956 people who have tested positive for the antibody.

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus has declined by four to 301. The number of people in ICU beds declined by two to 92. These numbers are through May 26.

Over the last day, 12 people left the hospital.

In that same period, 10 people died from complications related to COVID-19. The virus has now played a role in the deaths of 1,871 Suffolk County residents.

The County Executive’s office distributed another 39,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day.

On Friday, the courts on Long Island will reopen, with judges and their staff returning. The courts will have safety measures in place.

Bellone shared his shock at the video he has seen of the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, who died after he told police officers he couldn’t breathe when he was on the ground and one of them put a knee to his neck during an arrest. Four police officers were fired in connection with Floyd’s death. Calling the video “horrific,” Bellone said he is “hopeful that we are going to see justice as quickly as possible.”

SBU Viral Research

Meanwhile, Stony Brook University announced researchers from all different schools on campus have started over 180 COVID-19 studies since the pandemic reached Long Island in March. Scientists are exploring the impacts of the virus from numerous perspectives and across the university.

Researchers are conducting 52 clinical trials on prevention, treatment and care of patients.

In the Renaissance School of Medicine, scientists have started 75 studies across 20 departments. These include exploring the benefit of convalescent plasma, using dry heat to disinfect N95 masks, using Artificial Intelligence to detect the virus and predict outcomes, determining physician health, and many others.

In the College of Arts and Sciences in the School of Medicine, one group of researchers are focusing on exchanging lipids in the viral coat, while another is examining COVID-19 proteins in plants for scaled-up production of antigens.

In the College of Arts and Sciences, over half of the 40 studies are in the Department of Psychology and are exploring the impact of isolation on well-being. Another study is looking at trainee experiences with online teaching and learning.

Scientists in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Medicine are conducting 10 studies. One investigates the use of Artificial Intelligence to help with drug discovery of antiviral candidates, the effects of the virus on clotting, and the development of informatics solutions for viral imaging.

Six studies are progressing in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences on decision support for cancer treatment, tracking levels of community distress, vaccine designs for unknown targets and a diagnostic tool for rapid COVID-19 infection detection.

In the School of Social Welfare, scientists are determining the impact of social distancing on mental health and substance abuse, the impact of isolation on older adults during the COVID-19 crisis, the impact of the crisis on first-generation college students, and an examination of family violence.

The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences is tracking disease prevalence in New York State communities by monitoring novel coronavirus in sewage.

The College of Business is looking at the impact of the socioeconomic status in the context of virus-related decisions.

The School of Nursing is exploring the effect of the pandemic on student nurses, while the school of Health Technology and Management is studying the impact of the virus on occupational participation and life satisfaction.

Owners of Huner’s Fitness Advantage in Port Jefferson said they believe they should be considered essential for the work they do helping people remain active and healthy. Photo from Huner’s Fitness Advantage website

The effects of COVID-19 will no doubt change how businesses and customers interact. For gyms and fitness centers that could be challenging. Drastic measures may have to be taken in these facilities normally filled with people, sweat and germs. 

And with Long Island finally having started Phase 1 of the reopening process, gyms will have to wait longer than most to get back to some semblance of normality.

Anthony Amen, owner of Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai, didn’t have much time to react to the news of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) shutdown order in March. He was busy training with a few clients. 

“We found out that morning and we were forced to close on the spot at 8 p.m.,” he said. 

Initially, Amen and other gym owners thought they would only be closed for a couple weeks, but that hope quickly faded as the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic became evident. 

“It was tough, I was like, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’” Amen said. 

The gym lost 80 percent of its clients due to the shutdown. In an effort to keep some of them on his books, the Mount Sinai gym owner had to get creative and began offering virtual fitness classes. 

“We had to adapt to the times,” Amen said. “We try to keep them on track with their goals and work with them as much as we can virtually.”

Amen said the industry had been evolving toward incorporating more online training even before the pandemic. 

“The shift toward online personal training has been coming, COVID-19 just sped it up,” he said. “The next phase will be an online/in-person training hybrid model.”

That shift and subsequent social distancing guidelines could cause several issues for larger gyms that thrive on constant foot traffic and by offering a plethora of gym equipment and machines. These facilities are used to cramming equipment side by side and will most likely have to spread out equipment, which in turn could lead to reduced capacity. 

In Hong Kong, some gyms have installed plexiglass barriers to give exercisers space and to keep any potential virus from spreading. In the U.S., larger gyms are poised to offer touchless entry, and increased cleaning, among other things. Retro Fitness, which has close to 10 locations on Long Island, has said it will scrub down equipment using hospital-grade cleaner throughout the entire gym, according to a press release.

Amen said for smaller gyms/studios like his, that process will be much easier. 

“We can definitely make more space by moving equipment — we can easily have one or two people come in and be able to be 6 feet apart,” he said. 

The Mount Sinai gym owner is hoping he can acquire some new clients, saying he could see some people not being comfortable going to their old crowded gym and wanting to be around less people in general. 

The question of when will gyms reopen still looms large. If you look at the state’s four-phase reopening process, gyms are in Phase 3. Given how Suffolk County finally reached Phase 1 reopening this week, it’s not a stretch that it could take several more weeks or even longer until gyms get the OK to open its door again. 

Nanci Huner, who runs Huners Fitness Advantage in Port Jefferson along with her husband Eric, said she believes they are an essential business and should be allowed to be open. 

Huners Fitness provides personal training, nutrition counseling and private and small group training. Their clients are mostly individuals in their 60s through 70s who rely on their services to stay active and remain healthy. 

“A lot of these people that come to us have diabetes, high blood pressure and other problems,” Nanci Huner said. “Exercising makes a big difference.”

Huner said it is essential for those clients to get structured exercise, as in some cases it increases their mobility and it makes it less likely that they could lose their balance and fall. 

“For a few of them it’s about keeping them from getting hurt and with us being closed, they are negatively affected by the lack of exercise,” she said. 

While they wait to reopen, Huner is optimistic that they can adapt to the potential new business climate. At most, there are four clients at their group sessions and even less personal one-on-one classes. 

Equipment spacing shouldn’t be a problem either, according to Huner. Before COVID-19 struck, the duo had moved in its fitness center to a warehouse space on North Country Road. Prior to that, for 15 years, they ran their business from their own home. 

The move happened so close to the shutdown that Huner said they didn’t even have time to put up their new sign in front of the building. 

“We’re hoping we can reopen as soon as possible,” she said. 

The sign hung above the Roger’s Friage ice cream and candy shop May 26 was spray painted by an unknown person the day after it was hung. Photo by Roger Rutherford

A new banner was installed above Roger’s Frigate candy and ice cream shop in Port Jeff Tuesday, May 26. While previous politically minded banners above the candy shop expressed support for President Donald Trump (R), the latest one now reads “Impeach Cuomo.” 

A woman that Rutherford said had trespassed on the property to deface the banner. Photo by Roger Rutherford

Roger Rutherford, the general manager of Roger’s Frigate, reiterated he has no control over signs being put up because longtime Port Jefferson shop owner George Wallis owns the building. Rutherford did however support Wallis’ right to free speech. 

“He has a strong belief in protesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and his reopening plan,” the general manager said. “George is frustrated that he can’t reopen and believes that he can run business safely.”

Sometime around midday Wednesday, May 27, a person reportedly trespassed upstairs on the frigate’s property and defaced the banner with spray paint. Rutherford said the banner was temporarily removed, but was back up by the end of the day Wednesday.

“The police were called and they are currently looking for this woman who vandalized our property,” Rutherford said.

Back in February, Wallis installed a pro-Trump banner above of the frigate. Village officials said that it violated village code and fined the business owner $2,000 a day for the time it had not been taken down. 

Mayor Margot Garant said the banner is an illegal sign. 

“The sign was just put up yesterday late afternoon and our legal department is handling the situation,” she said.

Steam Room Receives Distancing Complaints Memorial Day Weekend

The East Broadway seafood restaurant was on the receiving end of a social distancing complaint earlier this week, with Suffolk County police responded to the 311 call. George Wallis is also the owner of the restaurant space. 

Rutherford didn’t know the nature of the call but said the complaint was the result of the outside dining on the restaurant’s premises. 

“They thought they were being safe by having tables six to 10 feet apart,” he said. 

Multiple posts to social media included pictures of the Steam Room’s dining area, which is enclosed but exposed to the outside, packed with sit down diners Memorial Day weekend, despite current mandates that all restaurants be restricted to takeout or pickup operations.

SCPD warned the restaurant owners that they couldn’t operate outside dining and said it could face further fines and penalties if it continued, according to Rutherford. 

Suffolk County Police confirmed the restaurant was visited a total of three times Sunday and Monday for noncompliance complaints. The restaurant removed seating after the first complaint to comply with the New York on PAUSE order, police said. They found the restaurant to be in compliance the second and third time they were called.

Garant was adamant restaurants needed to comply with the PAUSE order.

“Restaurants cannot have outside dining,” the mayor said. “We are not in Phase 3 yet, they can only do take-out [at this time] … I think what happened was unfortunate.”

The Mayor also added that the village and the Business Improvement District have given owners specific guidelines on what they’re able to do during this time. 

“We want them to operate responsibly, but we have to continue to follow these mandates if we want to get to the other side and stay open,” she said.

It was a muggy Saturday morning at Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in Mount Sinai, May 23. Across lawns dotted with inset grave markers, small flags were listless in the stagnant air. There, while COVID-19 has meant many could not participate in the large, standout flag planting ceremonies normally seen the weekend before Memorial Day, families, friends, Boy Scouts and active service members still found ways to honor those who are buried there.

Adam Morris, bottom right, helps his family and friends, clockwise from bottom, Bailee Morris, Skye Sherrard and Jocelynn Morris plant flags. Photo Kyle Barr

Riverhead residents Bill Merker and his son Zach visited the grave of Glen “Doc” Moody Jr., an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who had passed away April 8. His grave was still packed with fresh dirt and had not yet even received the stone marking his name on his grave. 

“He was a very big inspiration for us,” said the younger Merker, a member of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets program who said Moody would teach them about medical procedures.

Moody, of Miller Place, had been featured in a previous article in TBR News Media papers. The marine veteran had been active helping his fellow veterans adjust to life outside the military and had been active with the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, which helps provide service and therapy dogs to veterans. Moody, who passed at the age of 39, had his own service dog, a red fox Labrador named Independence, who never left his side.

Scattered around the park were others helping to plant flags. Ray Langert, one of the groundskeepers at the cemetery, helped one group of folks looking to plant flags at veterans’ graves. 

Adam and Melora Morris, of Mount Sinai, joined with their children and friends to come out to Washington Memorial to plant flags. They said while they regularly attend the flag planting ceremonies at Calverton National Cemetery, federal orders to ban large gatherings at the cemeteries put a squash to those plans. 

Ray Langert, who works at Washington Memorial Cemetery, looks over his parent’s grave. Photo by Kyle Barr

It was a sentiment shared all across the North Shore with people trying to offer memorials to those passed. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who had petitioned the federal government to allow the large-scale flag planting events at places like Calverton, still offered condolences and remarks. Bellone also thanked the health care and essential employees continuing to work through the Memorial Day weekend.

“This day is unlike any other we have seen in modern times,” Bellone said. “We could not gather the way we normally do … But we did come together today to recognize, make sure we are honoring those really precious individuals in our community who have served and sacrificed.”

Some still managed to go to the Calverton cemetery to offer what services they could. Members of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 went down that Saturday morning to place flags and host small services. 

On Memorial Day, May 25, the VFW hosted a small ceremony in the park behind Tilda’s Bakery in Rocky Point. In Sound Beach, community leaders placed a wreath at their own vets memorial on New York Avenue.

Despite restrictions and the need for distancing, it’s still hard to estimate how positive the impact is in memorializing those who’ve passed. Langert’s own father and mother, Robert and Elsie, are buried in the mausoleum on the grounds of the Washington Memorial Cemetery. Robert was a U.S. Army veteran who passed in 2005. The Morris family and friends offered to place a flag by his father’s stone in the mausoleum. 

“He would have loved to see that,” Langert said, sitting in his lawnmower’s seat with a smile. “He would have been ecstatic.”