Stony Brook University

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. 

Stock photo

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.

Stony Brook, NY; Stony Brook University: Graduates visited campus to have photographs taken wearing their caps and gowns.

The usual sea of red caps and gowns were missing from Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook University on graduation day, but the milestone did not go by without a celebration of sorts.

On May 22, the university presented its 2020 Virtual Degree Conferral Celebration in a live stream event that students and families could view. The event included 7,100 graduates, who were awarded a total of 7,190 degrees and certificate completions. The students ranged in age from 18 to 71 and represented 65 countries and 40 states, according to a press release from Stony Brook University.

Michael Bernstein, interim university president, addressed the students during the virtual ceremony.

“You are about to become graduates of one of the most prestigious public universities in the world,” he said. “Graduation is a bittersweet milestone in the best of circumstances, with a pivotal life-chapter ending and an uncertain journey beginning. The strong emotions that inevitably come with this rite of passage are of course uniquely amplified in the midst of the historic upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Julianna Casella, who graduated with a bachelor of science in biology and psychology with a minor in writing and rhetoric, was selected as the Class of 2020 student speaker and was able to address the students during the live stream event.

“I am confident that any other class of Seawolves would have responded the same way [to the pandemic] because that is what we do here at Stony Brook,” Casella said. “Even though much has been lost during this crisis, at the end of the day, two feelings prevail — hope and gratitude. I will always be thankful for the memories and opportunities Stony Brook has given me and if our response to this pandemic has been proof enough, I think we should all be hopeful for what the future holds.”

The decision to hold a virtual ceremony was made in April with Bernstein calling the decision a difficult one that was made “in a deliberate and careful way.” Input from medical experts and the current guidelines from Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State governor’s office were taken into consideration. During the April announcement, Bernstein added that the decision was made to ensure “the well-being of our community and loved ones.”

Back in April, student Muhammad Fithra Yoga started a petition on www.change.org asking SBU to not cancel but postpone the spring commencement ceremony to the summer after the pandemic has passed. More than 1,600 signed the online petition.coron

Eddie Alfano stars in the upcoming short, Internet Gangsters, on May 24. Photo from Staller Center

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts is sharing a selection of award-winning short films from previous Stony Brook Film Festivals to watch at home. The shorts, which debuted on May 5,  will be available for free online and will be screened twice a week through June. The films are announced on a weekly basis at www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com/shorts.

“We receive numerous requests every week from our patrons and followers asking for more content to be available at home during this crisis. These shorts are a great way to give them a taste of what the Stony Brook Film Festival is, and it shows what kind of films we premiere,” said Staller Center and Stony Brook Film Festival Director Alan Inkles. 

The series includes introductions from Festival co-programmer, Kent Marks, and Q&A footage from previous festivals.

 “We are excited to see all of our patrons soon, but until then, be safe and stay healthy, and we hope you enjoy this selection of shorts from the Stony Brook Film Festival,” said Inkles. 

Upcoming shorts include Internet Gangsters, a film by Sam Friedlander and starring Deer Park native Eddie Alfano, on Sunday, May 24 at noon; Hunter Gatherer, a film by Ashley Grace on Tuesday, May 26 at noon; and Across the Line, a film by Nadav Shlomo Giladi (in Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles) on Tuesday, June 2 at noon.

To gain access to the films, visitors can subscribe online at www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com or by visiting www.stallercenter.com/athome. 

On Zoom screen, clockwise from top left, Committee member Hoi-Chung Leung; Committee Member Matthew Lerner; Eve Rosen; Committee Member Nicholas Eaton; Tamara Rosen; graduate student Cara Keifer; and Shira Yudkoff.

By Daniel Dunaief

On April 17, Tamara Rosen did something she had been anticipating for six years: she defended her graduate thesis.

Working in the lab of Matthew Lerner, who is an Associate Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry & Pediatrics in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, Rosen had focused her efforts on the symptoms people with autism exhibit when they are anxious or depressed.

While the questions in her graduate thesis defense followed a pattern she anticipated, with professors asking her about the way she compiled her data and the conclusions she drew, the format wasn’t what she had expected.

Like so many other gatherings that had formerly been public events, Rosen’s thesis defense was broadcast by Zoom. The downside was that she wasn’t in the room with everyone, where she could have a discussion one on one. The upside was that her friends and family could tune in as easily as they do to work calls or other family gatherings. Indeed, Rosen’s mother, Marna; her step-mother Eve; and her father Dennis, all of whom share an appreciation for the work Tammy did for her thesis, watched the defense from start to finish, exulting in a landmark achievement.

“This was a really important day in our family’s history,” Dennis Rosen told his daughter, sharing the pride he felt for her.

“I always knew you were smart, but now I know you are brilliant,” her mother beamed.

After the call, Rosen saw her mother and stepmother overwhelmed with emotions, shedding tears for an achievement she sometimes needs to reassure herself really happened.

Rosen’s work focused on how anxiety and depression, two conditions that mental health professionals are concerned are becoming more prevalent amid the viral pandemic, have different symptoms in the population of people with autism spectrum disorder than they do for those who are not on the spectrum.

Based on prior research, Rosen wanted to account for the different symptoms in her follow-up analysis.

Prior studies have found that the traditional models of anxiety and depression do not adequately fit youth with autism. Others had suggested, but not tested, the notion that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual model of these symptoms provides an ineffective model of anxiety and/or depression symptoms because of the influence of autism symptoms.

That is why Rosen specifically examined the influence of autism on these conditions in one of her analyses.

Among other findings, Rosen said that autism influences anxiety and depression. The prevalence of anxiety and depression is higher compared to the general population.

There are a range of clinical implications for her work, Rosen said.

Her work validates what clinicians are doing, which is to take the profile of autism into account when they treat anxiety.

Rosen moved to Colorado last July to start her internship year at JFK Partners at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where she is also starting her post-doctoral clinical fellowship. She is treating clients with autism and anxiety and depression, which she said is in her “wheel house” of expertise.

Rosen is grateful for the support she received from Lerner and the program at Stony Brook. “It was great training,” she said.

Matthew Lerner. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Though hampered by the pandemic in their direct contact with people who have autism, the founder of The Autism Initiative and research director Matthew Lerner along with the Head of Autism Clinical Education Jennifer Keluskar at Stony Brook University are managing to continue to reach out to members of the community through remote efforts. In a two-part series, Times Beacon Record News Media will feature Lerner’s efforts this week and Keluskar’s work next week.

Through several approaches, including improvisational theater, Matthew Lerner works with people who are on and off the autism spectrum on ways to improve social competence, including by being flexible in their approach to life.

In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, he has had to apply the same approach to his own work.

Lerner, who is an Associate Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry & Pediatrics in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, recognizes that it’s difficult to continue a project called SENSE ® Theatre (for Social Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology), where the whole function of the process is to provide in-person social intervention.

The SENSE Theater study is a multisite National Institute of Mental Health-funded project focused on assessing and improving interventions to improve social competence among adolescents with autism. The core involves in person intervention through group social interaction.

Matthew Lerner with his sons Everett,6, and Sawyer,2. Photo by Chelsea Finn

That, however, is not where the effort ends.“There are arms of that study that are more educational and didactic,” Lerner said. “We’re starting to think about how we could capitalize on that.”

In the ongoing SENSE effort, Lerner is coordinating with Vanderbilt University, which is the lead site for the study, and the University of Alabama.

Stony Brook is in active contact with the families who are participating in that effort, making sure they know “we are doing our best to get things up and running as quickly as possible,” Lerner said.

The staff is reaching out to local school districts as well, including the Three Village School District, with whom Lerner is collaborating on the project, to ensure that people know the effort will restart as soon as it’s “safe to be together again.”

Lerner is also the founder and Research Director of The Autism Initiative at SBU, which launched last year before the pandemic altered the possibilities for in-person contact and forced many people to remain at or close to home for much of the time. The initiative provides programs and services for the community to support research, social and recreational activities and other therapeutic efforts.

The Stony Brook effort initially involved video game nights, adult socials and book clubs. The organizers and participants in the initiative, however, have “stepped up in a huge way and have created, in a couple of weeks, an entirely new set of programming,” Lerner said.

This includes a homework support club, guidance, webinars and support from clinicians for parents, which address fundamental questions about how to support and adapt programs for people with autism. The group is keeping the book club active. The initiative at least doubled if not tripled the number of offerings, Lerner suggested.

Additionally, SBU has two grants to study a single session intervention adapted for teens with autism. The project has been running for about nine months. Lerner said they are looking to adapt it for online applications. For many families, such remote therapy would be a “real boon to have access to free treatment remotely,” he said.

Lerner had been preparing to conduct a study of social connections versus loneliness in teens or young adults with autism. Since COVID-19 hit, “we have reformulated that and are just about to launch” a longitudinal a study that explores the effects of the lockdown on well-being and stress for people who have autism and their families.

Lerner is looking at how the pandemic has enhanced the importance of resilience. He said these kinds of studies can perhaps “give us some insight when we return to something like normalcy about how to best help and support” people in the autism community. “We can learn” from the stresses for the community of people with autism during the pandemic.

To be sure, the pandemic and the lockdown through New York Pause that followed hasn’t affected the entire community of people with autism the same way. Indeed, for some people, the new norms are more consistent with their behavioral patterns.  “Some autistic teens and young adults have said things to me like, ‘I was social distancing before it was cool,’” Lerner said.

Another teenager Lerner interacted with regularly went to the bathroom several times to wash his hands. When Lerner checked in on him to see how he was doing amid the pandemic, he said, “I was made for this.”

Lerner also said people who aren’t on the spectrum may also gain greater empathy through the changes and challenges of their new routines. People find the zoom calls that involve looking at boxes of people on a full screen exhausting. After hours of shifting our attention from one box to another, some people develop “zoom fatigue.”

Lerner said someone with autism noted that this experience “may be giving the rest of us a taste of what it’s like for folks on the spectrum,” which could provide insights “we might not otherwise have.”

Even though some people with autism may feel like the rest of the world is mirroring their behavioral patterns, many people in and outside the autism community have struggled with the stresses of the public health crisis and with the interruption in the familiar structure of life.

The loss of that structure for many with autism is “really profound,” which is the much more frequent response, Lerner said. “More kids are telling us they are stressed out, while parents are saying the same thing.” In some sense, the crisis has revealed the urgency of work in the mental health field for people who are on and off the spectrum, Lerner said.

The studies in autism and other mental health fields that come out of an analysis of the challenges people face and the possible mental health solutions will likely include the equivalent of an asterisk, to capture a modern reality that differs so markedly from conditions prior to the pandemic. There may be a new reporting requirement in which researchers break down their studies by gender, age, race, ethnicity, income and “another variable we put in there: recruited during social isolation.”

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Image from CDC

By Leah Chiappino

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

The physical, emotional and financial strains that COVID-19 has thrust into our lives has left the average person physically and emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed. There has been a plethora of information for the public to absorb, and it can be bemusing. Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, answered some general questions about the spread of COVID-19, the future of the pandemic and how we can all stay safe as restrictions are lifted.

Can you explain how COVID-19 spreads?

COVID-19, like other respiratory viruses, spreads from respiratory secretions. However, it also spreads by touching things that are recently contaminated with respiratory secretions and then touching your face. So, if you sneeze on your hand and touch the doorknob, and if I come by and touch that doorknob and then touch my face, I will spread infection. If you touch the doorknob and don’t touch your face, because say you were wearing gloves and disposed of the gloves, it is unlikely that you will pass infection from your hand, which is clean, by touching the doorknob.

Most of us, when we are around someone sick, think opening a window or being outside with them will help to prevent us from being infected. However, the general public has been told to wear masks or to social distance even when outside. Why is this?

The idea behind social distancing and wearing masks is cutting down on how much virus theoretically could pass from somebody talking, sneezing or breathing onto another person. The idea of being outside is that there is good air exchanged. You’re not in a closed room, and by keeping 6 feet distance, even if I’m talking loudly and I am getting some virus in my breath, and it’s passing out of my mouth, it’s not getting close enough to you. It’s important to realize there are measures for the population with the idea being, we don’t know who was infected, who is at risk for getting severe disease or has underlying issues. It’s the blanket protection for everybody.

There have been some conflicting reports on whether or not the virus can be spread in fresh air after the virus was found in stool stamples. Say somebody is walking down the street and sneezes and the next person is walking down the same street. Are they at risk? Do you believe that the virus is airborne?

We know the virus is a respiratory pathogen. What you’re referring to is some people have looked at studies of stool and found pieces of virus in stool. How did it get there? Was it a virus that you swallowed? Was it a virus that went into your GI [gastrointestinal] tract and excreted out from your stool? There are lots of different hypotheses. No one is saying that the virus that they found in stool is replicating virus. No one is saying that when they took that virus and put it into a viral media, it grew.

PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing is testing for snippets of the virus’ DNA, or in this case RNA [ribonucleic acid]. It’s a good way of saying there was virus there, but it doesn’t translate into “that virus is contagious.”

Can you explain how a facial mask helps to slow the spread of the coronavirus?

A facial mask is a great barrier between you and the next person. If I’m wearing a mask, and I am infectious and I breathe into my mask, the facial mask is a barrier to prevent the virus from getting past the mask to the next guy. If I am infectious and wearing a mask and you are wearing a mask, the virus is [in theory] not passing my mask. If potentially, the virus is passing my mask, but you are wearing a mask and standing 6 feet away, none of the virus gets from the air to you and from the mask into you. This gives multiple layers of protection. One layer is I have the mask on, the second is we’re standing 6 feet apart, and the third is you’re also wearing your mask.

Why is the recommended distance 6 feet?

There are lots of interesting studies that have looked at how far these size droplets can spread. Every virus has a storybook to it. A viral particle that is a little heavier, spreads a shorter distance. A viral particle that’s a little lighter can spread out in the airwaves even further. The measles, for instance, can spread up to 60 feet away, and even after you go out of a room, it is still floating around in the room a couple of hours later. This virus is a bit of a heavier a particle, so it drops down quickly and doesn’t stay in the air.

Can you explain how someone who is asymptomatic can spread COVID-19?

Symptoms and having virus in your nose are not a one-to-one relationship. For example, let’s say I have the flu. I may have a little bit of a runny nose, or nothing, but I go to work and give all of my colleagues, who I’m breathing close to, the flu. They don’t know where they got it from because they look at me and say, “You had no symptoms, of course you came to work.” COVID-19 is the exact same scenario. We have lots and lots of people who have been infected by the virus and have no idea that they were infected because they are in fact well. This is true for children, as well as adults. More often children are asymptomatic, but we have seen quite a few adults that we’re getting positive testing for that say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I feel fine. I never lost my taste of sense of smell and taste. I never had a runny nose. I never had a cough, and I certainly never had a fever. Asymptomatic just says to you, “Good news, you got this infection and it’s sitting in your nose,” but it does not correlate with how sick you are.

What is the extent that you think the number of deaths would have been higher if stay-at-home and social-distancing orders weren’t put into place and why?

I can’t calculate that, but I can tell you it would have been extreme based on the number of people who came into the hospital who had no underlying immune issues, and they had no reason to think they would ever get hospitalized. Those numbers were high. We expect to see patients that have multiple comorbidities [additional conditions]. When they get a respiratory illness, we’re not so surprised. We did see more of them then I would have expected, but what we also saw is absolutely young, healthy adults, who in their lives have never been to a hospital. They take no medication. They are perfectly well, and they also got COVID and came in. I’m scared to think of how much worse this could have been because it was really pretty bad.

Do researchers believe this is the type of virus that once you get it or are given a vaccine you’ll be immune, or will it be like a herpes virus that it hides in the body and can be triggered in the future? Or will this be like the flu where it will be advised to get a new vaccine every year?

The answer is that I don’t know. Anything I say would be complete guesswork because I really don’t know. It’s more important to say, “I don’t know” then to put out ideas that I don’t have a basis to stand on right now. I think that we need the time. We need to put the work in, and then we need to look back and ask, “What did that change? What changed? How did it change?” I’d prefer to be cautious.

We hear about viruses mutating and sometimes they can reappear and infect people worse than before. What are your feelings on a second wave of the virus? Is it possible to mutate and be weaker than before?

We need the time to find out. These are just guesses. Do I think there will be a second wave? I’m certainly cautious that there might be a second wave. When will it hit? I don’t know. What are the background demographics of who will get it and how sick they will be? Again, we don’t know. We have to think about it. We have to be looking for it. We have to be in close observation of populations across the country for it. We need to be prepared for what we are going to do if it does happen.

Many historical accounts suggest that after the 1918-19 Spanish flu, society permanently altered. Do you foresee permanent societal changes, such as eliminating handshaking, post-COVID-19?

Every year society changes. It’s both big and little things, from cellphones to pandemics. I think this will have a big impact, but we are still too close to understand what it will be.

As the warmer weather hits and restrictions are lifted, people will be eager to get out. Is it safe to go to the beach or a friend’s house?

With warmer weather, it will be nice to be out. I hope people do continue to maintain social distancing. I think over the summer some families may decide to cohort together, after they are tested to prove that their behaviors are acceptable. Getting tested would be the gold standard, but we also need to think about ongoing risks like going shopping vs. staying isolated for the days and weeks before mingling. A fourteen-day isolation period would be keeping in line with the guidance that is out there.

How does a virus like COVID-19 change into an inflammatory syndrome that has been seen in some children? What symptoms should parents be aware of regarding their children? Are there any extra precautions parents should take to protect their children?

I think that the book of what that syndrome is has not been written. I think we’re all cautious. The best first line of defense is if a parent thinks their child has unusual signs and symptoms, they should start with their pediatrician or family doctor. They can say exactly what is going on with their child, how they are looking, and then step further. I think running to the emergency room when all [the child] has is a fever or no symptoms is probably not appropriate at this time. We don’t know. Is this syndrome only with COVID-19? Is it after getting better from COVID-19? There are too many unknowns. People, including the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, are looking at these cases. I think we’ll have more information in the next month. We are thinking about it, we are working [on it], and we are very cautious with these children, because they are quite sick. However, the vast majority of kids who have had COVID-19 have been asymptomatic or had a mild illness that is nothing like this inflammatory illness. I think the inflammatory disease strikes the very, very few. We don’t know why. We’re trying to understand exactly when it hits, who it hits and why it does so.

Along Nicolls Road, where dozens of people held signs thanking the hospital workers both leaving and arriving at Stony Brook University Hospital, another truck, one bearing a large screen and speakers, rumbled down the road bearing another kind of thank you to the folks on the front lines.

Christian Guardino, a Patchogue resident, came down to the hospital late on Thursday, May 22 to serenade the workers just after their 8 p.m. shift change. The singer, a America’s Got Talent’s Golden Buzzer and Apollo Theater Competition Grand Prize Winner, sang three songs to a crowd gathered in front of the children’s hospital. Others watched from the windows above, even waving lighters from a dark room as Guardino finished a rendition of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

He said he too has been stuck at home because of the pandemic, unable to perform because practically all venues have been shut down. First performing at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, he came to Stony Brook to make sure those workers knew they were top in people’s hearts and minds.  

“The one thing I want to say and for them to get out of this is just thank you, how grateful we are for everything they’re doing for us,” Guardino said. “They’re on the front lines taking care of the people who are sick, risking getting the disease and I just want to thank them.”

Nicole Rossol, the chief patient experience officer at SBUH, said Empire Entertainment, a New York City-based event management company, reached out to Stony Brook looking to do a late show. At the same time, the patchogue singer also made mention he wanted to give back to the hospital. Guardino’s mother, Beth, had worked as a nurse at the hospital previously for nearly a decade.

“We thought if we could do it together, it would be a very beautiful thing for our staff,” Rossol said. “I think the staff has been looking for things to keep them upbeat and help them through this time. Every piece of support from the community really makes a difference.

Empire Entertainment, with their Illuminate Our Heroes tour has brought crews from the city, to New Jersey, and now out to Long Island. Alyssa Bernstein, a senior producer for empire entertainment is herself a Setauket native, and she said she made it a point to come back and support her hometown during the ongoing pandemic.

“We decided, what is a way that we can give back and say thank you, and that’s putting on a little show, that’s what we do best,” Bernstein said. “The work that they’re doing means that we’ll get back to work.”

 

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s not exactly a Rembrandt hidden in the basement until someone discovers it in a garage sale, but it’s pretty close.

More than two decades ago, a Malagasy graduate student named Augustin Rabarison spotted crocodile bones in northwestern Madagascar, so he and a colleague encased them in a plaster jacket for further study.

David Krause, who was then a Professor at Stony Brook University and is now the Senior Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, didn’t think the crocodile was particularly significant, so he didn’t open the jacket until three years later, in 2002.

When he unwrapped it, however, he immediately recognized a mammalian elbow joint further down in the encased block of rock. That elbow bone, as it turned out, was connected to a new species that is a singular evolutionary masterpiece that has taken close to 18 years to explore. 

Recently, Krause, James Rossie (an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University) and 11 other scientists published the results of their extensive analysis in the journal Nature.

The creature, which they have named Adalatherium hui, has numerous distinctive features, including an inexplicable and unique hole on the top of its snout, and an unusually large body for a mammal of its era. The fossil is the most complete for any Mesozoic mammal discovered in the southern hemisphere.

“The fossil record from the northern continents, called Laurasia, is about an order of magnitude better than that from Gondwana,” which is an ancient supercontinent in the south that included Africa, South America, Australia and Antarctica, Krause explained in an email. “We know precious little about the evolution of early mammals in the southern hemisphere.”

This finding provides a missing piece to the puzzle of mammalian evolution in southern continents during the Mesozoic Era, Krause wrote.

The Adalatherium, whose name means “crazy beast” from a combination of words in Malagasy and Greek, helps to broaden the understanding of early mammals called gondwanatherians, which had been known from isolated teeth and lower jaws and from the cranium of a new genus and species, Vintana sertichi, that Krause also described in 2014.

The closest living relatives of gondwanatherians were a group that is well known from the northern hemisphere, called multituberculates, Krause explained.

The body of Adalatherium resembled a badger, although its trunk was likely longer, suggested Krause, who is a Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at Stony Brook. 

Krause called its teeth “bizarre,” as the molars are constructed differently from any other known mammal, living or extinct. The front teeth were likely used for gnawing, while the back teeth likely sliced up vegetation, which made probably made this unique species a herbivore.

The fossil, which probably died before it became an adult, had powerful hind limbs and a short, stubby tail, which meant it was probably a digger and might have made burrows.

Rossie, who is an expert in studying the inside of the face of fossils with the help of CT scans, explored this unusually large hole in the snout. “We didn’t know what to make of it,” he said. “We can’t find any living mammal that has one.”

Indeed, the interpretation of fossils involves the search for structural and functional analogs that might suggest more about how it functions in a living system. The challenge with this hole, however, is that no living mammal has it.

Gathering together with other cranial fossil experts, Rossie said they agreed that the presence of the hole doesn’t necessarily indicate that there was an opening between the inside of the nose and the outside world. It was likely plugged up by cartilage or other soft tissue or skin.

“If we had to guess conservatively, it would probably be an enlarged hole that allowed the passage of a cluster of nerves and blood vessels,” Rossie said. 

That begs the question: why would the animal need that?

Rossie suggests that there might have been a soft tissue structure on the outside of the nose but, at this point, it’s impossible to say the nature of that structure.

The Associate Professor, who has been a part of the research team exploring this particular fossil since 2012, described the excitement as being akin to opening up a Christmas present.

“You’re excited to see what’s in there,” he said. “Sometimes, you open up the box and see what you were hoping for. Other times, you open the box and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know what to say about this [or] I don’t know what I’m looking at.’”

For Rossie, one of the biggest surprises from exploring this fossil was seeing the position of the maxillary sinus, which is in a space that is similar across all mammals except this one. When he first saw the maxillary sinus, he believed he was looking at a certain part of the nasal cavity, where it usually resides. When he studied it more carefully, he realized it was in a different place.

“All cars have some things in common,” said Rossie, who is interested in old cars and likes to fix them. The common structural elements of cars include front and back seats, a steering wheel, and dashboard. With the maxillary sinus “what we found is that the steering wheel was in the back seat instead of the front.” 

A native of upstate Canton, which is on the border with Canada, Rossie enjoyed camping growing up, which was one of the initial appeals of paleontology. Another was that he saw an overlap between the structures nature had included in anatomy with the ones people put together in cars.

A resident of Centerport, Rossie lives with his wife Helen Cullyer, who is the Executive Director of the Society for Classical Studies, and their seven-year-old son.

As for the Adalatherium, it would have had to avoid a wide range of predators, Krause explained, which would have included two meat-eating theropod dinosaurs, two or three large crocodiles and a 20-foot-long constrictor snake.

Andrew Harris’ therapy dog Ransey helped Stony Brook health care workers with a gymnastics routine, shown to nurses and doctors via video call. Photos by Andrew Harris

By Andrew Harris

Ramsey and I look forward to our Tuesday evening visits at Stony Brook University Hospital. We visit the Child Psychiatry Unit and try our best to bring smiles to the young children who may be going through difficult times. We are part of their Volunteer Pet Therapy program and Ramsey is a trained therapy dog certified through Therapy Dogs International. 

 

“Pet Facilitated Therapy has been a practice at SBUH hospital for many years  and has brought joy and peace to staff and patients during stressful times,” said Rosemaria York, the recreational therapy supervisor at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Ramsey knows when Tuesday comes around and looks forward to visiting. He gets so excited once he sees we are on the campus, and he absolutely adores interacting with the children who love him. Ramsey is used to working — especially with children. He can be seen at the Comsewogue school district often comforting and giving lots of love during stressful times like Regents exams and other high anxiety situations.

The first time that we could not visit the hospital due to the Coronavirus situation, Ramsey was in a sullen mood. I took him for a long walk in the woods instead, but it wasn’t the same. He missed going to the hospital and the adoration from the children and staff members. We always get stopped on our way to the unit by staff members, patients, and family members who want to interact with the dog. Once, we had a special request to go visit a staff member’s friend in the cancer unit. I was amazed by how much joy it brought to her and how great he was nuzzling up to the bed and cuddling with her. What I also saw was how so many staff members came by to say hello. One doctor told us that it was a particularly hard day in that unit so she needed some cuddles too, which Ramsey gladly provided.

“Recently, the Stony Brook Medicine Department of Volunteer Services in conjunction with the Recreation Therapy Department worked together with pet therapy volunteer Andy Harris and therapy dog Ramsey to bring Virtual Pet Therapy to de-stress staff on the units,” said York.

The next thing I knew we got a phone call from the folks at Stony Brook asking if we could possibly do a virtual pet therapy visit — this time for all the nurses, doctors and medical staff at the hospital. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but we were certainly willing to give it our best try to contribute to those fine people on the front line. York told us,  “Volunteer Services and Recreation therapy staff thought why not try Virtual Pet Therapy if we couldn’t have the usual visits? Stony Brook Hospital felt that because their employees were all working so hard and long, and in such a stressful situation, that perhaps a virtual visit might help in the same way that our actual visits benefitted the kids and staff. 

A Stony Brook Hospital worker watches Ramsey do stunts via video stream. Photo from Andrew Harris

“Due to the coronavirus pandemic when the hospital was unable to continue business as usual many practices became virtual, telehealth, etc,” York added. “So volunteer Services and recreation therapy staff thought why not virtual pet therapy if we couldn’t have the usual visits?” 

I knew it would be much different then our normal in-person visits and had to come up with some new ideas because we would be doing our thing from the backyard of our house. Simultaneously, the folks at Stony Brook would be working extra hard walking all over the hospital from unit to unit donned in full PPE gear. 

Normally with the kids, we sit down, chat or read a book and just let the kids cuddle with the dog. We demonstrate how Ramsey has learned not to take food from people or off the floor unless he is given permission. We show how he sits, waits patiently and knows all the different commands. As a therapy dog he has learned not to “shake hands” because this and jumping up on them could compromise people with vulnerable skin conditions. He is not allowed to eat any food because this could be a problem too if there are crumbs in the bed or on someone’s gown in a hospital or nursing home setting.

Sometimes the kids like to see the dog “work” and do some finds. They hide some articles of clothing like a glove or hat somewhere in the room as the dog patiently waits outside the room. As soon as he enters he sniffs it out and finds all the articles. Of course he always gets a reward each time he does a good job.

Since my yard is set up with plenty of things to do with the dog, we were ready to not only provide some therapy for the workers, but to entertain and show them what the dog could do. York said, “… so some recreation therapists armed with an iPad with Mr. Harris and Ramsey streaming live brought Ramsey and his athletic agility abilities along with a bark and a close up camera ‘social distanced’ kiss to the staff.”

Andrew Harris’ therapy dog Ransey helped Stony Brook health care workers with a gymnastics routine, shown to nurses and doctors via video call. Photos by Andrew Harris

First I had him doing the normal stuff, retrieve a ball and relayed the typical commands most people are familiar with. As I pointed the camera on my phone at him, I could hear some nurses getting a kick out of it all — so we decided to step it up a bit. The “ooo’s” and “ahhs” were noticeable especially when he climbed up the ladder to our playhouse and went down the slide. He then showed how he could run up the slide. His final performance, and the most difficult, was walking across a twenty foot ladder propped horizontally raised a few feet off the ground. For that he got a round of applause. When we went back inside he was very exhausted, lay down and took a long nap. We were happy to put a little smile to the wonderful staff at Stony Brook. 

York said, “staff stated that they were happy for the opportunity to interact with the therapy dog even if it was brief and virtual as it brought a smile to their day.”

Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue school district.