Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Odeya Rosenband 

Stony Brook University’s newest class of medical residents began their careers head first, graduating early to take on the fight with COVID-19.  Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU led a virtual graduation ceremony that took place two months ahead of schedule, in early April. 

SBU Vice Dean for Graduate Medical Education Dr. William Wertheim. Photo from SBUH

In line with other medical schools such as Hofstra University in Hempstead and New York University, SBU resolved to graduate their medical students in early spring in order to readily transition them into the workforce. This decision was “definitely a natural step,” said Dr. William Wertheim, vice dean for Graduate Medical Education at Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) “took away a lot of roadblocks in helping us utilize the staff that were capable of doing this, so that was really helpful.” 

Starting in April, 52 residents began volunteering at SBU Hospital and predominantly focused on emergency COVID-19 cases, rather than their specialties. While resident education typically consists of 80-hour work weeks, the Renaissance School adopted a shift schedule that included five days off following every five days working, given the heightened emotional difficulty residents were facing. 

Beginning July, Stony Brook Medicine welcomed over 300 medical residents across SBU, Stony Brook Southampton and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island hospitals. This number included the residents who had been volunteering with COVID-19 patients.

“Residents are interesting in that they both are doctors taking care of patients, and they are learners in an educational program,” Wertheim said. Aside from in-person training in personal protective equipment, the residents learned other essential information such as employee benefits and payroll over virtual modules. 

“Top to bottom it’s a different place than we were in one year ago,” the vice dean said.

The continued focus on education was also felt by the new residents. Dr. Kelly Ieong, a urology resident and 2020 graduate of the medical school, said, “Going into my residency, I had the expectation that I’m just going to work, not learn much, and just help out as much as possible. But all of the teams did carve out time for our education and we had virtual meetings over Zoom, even during lunch. I felt very safe during my entire shift, unlike my friends who worked in other hospitals.” Additionally, she said residents were each assigned a specific mentor who provided the residents with an extra layer of support. 

After feeling helpless when some of her family were diagnosed with the virus earlier this year,  Ieong knew she wanted to be a volunteer when given the opportunity. 

“I definitely think volunteering was a helpful experience because a lot of the difficult conversations that I was having with my patients and their family members are something that you can’t learn in the books,” she said. “You don’t learn it in medical school, it’s something you have to learn through experience.” 

Although Wertheim said “everything is a bit slower when you can only put two people in an elevator,” he added that SBU was quick to adapt and optimize their eager students. Online platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams helped meet the demands for educational conferences, especially as residents may be on rotation at other hospitals. It’s clear that these platforms are here to stay, according to him. 

“Medicine in general tends to adopt things slowly unless we have to… and we really had to,” he said.

In thinking about the possibility of a second surge in coronavirus cases, Wertheim noted, “now that we’ve been through this experience once, as hard as it was, it is going to be easier to swiftly redeploy all of those residents as well as all of the other doctors.” Regardless of the future of the coronavirus, there have been benefits for the medical residents, according to the vice dean.  

 “I think the fact that all of these residents from different specialties had to work together to the same end, even though it was an arduous task, gives them a sense of mission that you don’t always get when everyone’s doing their own thing,” Wertheim said. “And I think that that’s definitely a positive that comes out of all of this.”

Felicia Allard

By Daniel Dunaief

Stony Brook University recently added a wife and husband team to its Pathology Department. Felicia Allard and Eric Yee are joining SBU from the University of Arkansas.

Allard and Yee will “replace an individual who had moved to a leadership position at another institution and to meet increased caseloads in surgical pathology and cytopathology,” Ken Shroyer, the chairman of the Pathology Department, explained in an email.

Times Beacon Record News Media will profile Allard and Yee over the next two weeks.

Felicia Allard

Eric Yee and Felicia Allard. Photo by Joshua Valencia

A self-described “mountain girl” from Colorado, where she attended medical school and met her husband Eric Yee, Felicia Allard had only been to Long Island three times before accepting a job at Stony Brook.

She came once when she was interviewing for a residency and twice during the interview process.

Allard and Yee accepted the jobs in the middle of February and weren’t able to look at potential homes during the height of the lockdown caused by COVID-19.

For now, the couple have moved into temporary housing in Port Jefferson Station, as they look for longer term living options.

Allard, who will be an Associate Professor at SBU, said the move started with Pathology Department Chair Ken Shroyer, who was looking to fill two positions and reached out to Yee.

Shroyer was involved in a type of cancer work that interested her.

“The active pancreatic cancer research group was a big draw for me as I am hoping to expand my research career,” Allard explained in an email.

Allard said she was particularly interested in pancreatic cancer, in large part because of its intractability and the poor prognosis for most patients.

“It was clear to me that this is one of the areas where we had a lot of work to do in terms of being able to offer any type of meaningful treatment to patients,” she said.

Allard said she, like so many others in the medical community, entered the field because she wanted to make a difference. She searched for areas where the “greatest good could be done, and pancreatic cancer is still one of those.”

In her initial research, she studied the pancreatic neoplasm, exploring how cells went from pre-invasive to invasive to metastatic conditions. She is interested in how the tumor interacts with the patient’s immune system.

While Allard will continue to provide clinical services, she plans to collaborate with Shroyer in his lab. “I’m hoping naturally to be integrating into Dr. Shroyer’s group,” Allard said.

Shroyer welcomed Allard to the department and to his research team.

Allard is “a highly-qualified surgical pathologist with subspecialty expertise in GI tract pathology,” Shroyer wrote in an email. “She has a specific interest in pancreatic cancer, which will also complement our translational research program,” he said.

Shroyer expects that Allard will be integrated into several cancer research programs and he is “looking forward to having her join my team that is focused on the validation of prognostic and predictive biomarkers for pancreatic cancer.”

Shroyer’s lab, which includes Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology, will work with Allard to advance the translational aspects of keratin 17 research, building on earlier work to understand the mechanisms through which K17 causes tumor aggression, he explained.

As for her clinical work, Allard said she analyzes biopsies and resections from the esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, and pancreas. She has also used cytopathology to look at pap smears and to analyze salivary tumor aspirations.

The time to consider any of these slides varies broadly. Sometimes, she receives a slide and the diagnosis is unequivocal within 30 seconds. Other times, a biopsy from a six-month old patient with diarrhea, for example, can have an extensive list of differentials. In that case, the diagnosis can take considerably longer, as a baby could be sick because of an autoimmune disorder, inflammatory bowel disease or an infection.

She said she can “perseverate for hours or even days” over the subtle clues that may help with a diagnosis.

Allard likened the diagnostic process to reading a detective novel, in which the reader might figure out the perpetrator on page three, while other times, the culprit isn’t discovered until page 300.

Allard said she and her husband have a similar clinical background.

Yee is “more of a tech geek than I am,” she said. “He understands artificial intelligence, computer science and bioinformatics more than I do. He is also interested in administrative and leadership to a greater degree.”

Allard said she and Yee may have professional overlaps, but they have unique interests, backgrounds and perspectives that they bring to work that give them each different strengths.

Allard said she knew she wanted to go into medicine in her junior year of high school. When Doctors Without Borders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, she recalls being impressed with that distinction.

In medical school, she said the field of pathology appealed to her because she appreciated the marriage of clinical care and basic science in the field.

She and Yee started dating just before medical school started for her. Yee was two years ahead in school. They continued their relationship from a distance while he did his residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School. While she was a resident, Allard said Yee had the “distinct pleasure of trying to train me.”

She likes to explore the boundaries of diagnosis to understand the nuances and all the data that factor into interpretations, to tease the art from the science.

Outside of her work, Allard enjoys reading and calls her Kindle one of her favorite possessions. She hopes to learn how to sail while a resident of Long Island.

Allard is excited to start working at Stony Brook. Shroyer was “very persistent and once he got us up to New York to interview, he was persuasive with respect to the type of career growth we could both potentially have,” she said.

Goroff, center, won out amongst this year's slate of Democratic contenders to run against Lee Zeldin in November. Photo from Three Village Democratic Club

By Kyle Barr and David Luces

After nearly two weeks of anticipation since ballots were first cast, Stony Brook University scientist Nancy Goroff has come out on top of a slate of Democratic contenders running for the 1st Congressional District. She will run against U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) in November.

With votes still to be certified, officials at the Suffolk County Board of Elections confirmed Goroff won by a margin of 630 with 17,905 votes, after all absentee ballots were finished counting Thursday, July 9. Last year’s Democratic contender Perry Gershon came out with 17,275 while Bridget Fleming, a Suffolk County legislator from Sag Harbor, finished with 13,696. Gregory Fisher had 773 total votes.

Goroff congratulated both Gershon and Fleming for the race, and extolled this year’s turnout of being nearly double that of 2018.

In her message to voters, Goroff also said that Zeldin had put “hyperpartisan spin over science and over the needs of our community.”

Gershon, on Twitter, congratulated Goroff on her winning the primary, adding, “I am confident that Nancy will offer real solutions.”

“It was an honor working to be your representative in Congress and I am very sorry I will not be our party’s torchbearer in November,” Gershon wrote on his campaign Facebook page. “I will be
honored to do whatever I can to assure Nancy’s victory.”

Goroff, 52, has been chair of SBU’s chemistry department until taking a leave of absence to campaign. She is also President of Gallery North’s board of trustees and lives in Stony Brook.

This post will be updated when comments from Zeldin and Fleming become available.

Stock photo
Susan V. Donelan, MD, FSHEA

Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony Brook University Hospital, spoke by phone with TBR News Media about reopening schools, the importance of face coverings and host of other issues related to COVID-19. Here are her thoughts on the pandemic and the virus.

TBR: At what point would the spread of the virus be contained?

Donelan: Let’s look at it this way: If you accept the concept that even if the virus doesn’t change or change so significantly that any exposure before will be useless going forward, if it remains static and doesn’t morph or mutate, you need 70 percent of persons to be infected in such a way that the vast majority don’t get repeatedly infected. That’s a whole different story. It takes time for the world population to reach that 70 percent.

TBR: How do you get to that level?

Donelan: You can get to that 70 percent, being a relatively typical cutoff [for herd immunity], by one of two ways: by natural infection, or you can get it from a successful vaccine. 

TBR: How does the process of distributing the vaccine work?

Donelan: Having enough is not the same as having it equitably distributed throughout the world. Ideally, [it would be] given to all of those who have reliably never been exposed. [There are a] lot of logistics: Having enough and having it distributed well and having it distributed equitably are different parameters. While this all gets figured out, the virus will hop along and continue to spread to the extent we give it the opportunity to spread. 

TBR: Are people who get the virus getting reinfected? Are some antibodies not providing resistance?

Donelan: That is not clear. There are different kinds of antibodies. With a neutralizing antibody, you get infected or you get vaccinated, the antibody you develop neutralizes the virus when it comes calling again, or when it comes calling for the first time. There are antibodies that are just kind of bumper stickers in your immune system. They show that you’ve been exposed. This is early in the pandemic, It’s really not clear at this point what types of antibodies most people are going to develop and how helpful they will be when the virus comes knocking at their door. 

TBR: Anecdotally, we’ve heard that some people may be less susceptible to the worst of the viral symptoms, if they have a certain blood type, for example. Do you know if any of that is true?

Donelan: I’ve seen tidbits here and there — you can be willy-nilly and not careful. I would caution anyone who picks up these reports to not assess their own individual risk in such a way that would make them less likely to follow the basics of trying to avoid getting sick or transmitting it.

TBR: Would a second wave be milder than the first because more people would have some resistance?

Donelan: I’m hesitant to declare if we had a milder second wave it’s the virus as opposed to other factors. In the 1918 [Spanish flu] versus the 1919 wave, the 1919 wave was bigger.

TBR: How did the protests affect infections?

Donelan: The protests are one of many, many instances of people with lacking social distancing, perhaps not wearing masks or wearing masks incorrectly. It’s maybe the most public one, not the only one. Every time I go out, I see people being noncompliant. As I understand from recent data, New York has an R0 [the average number of people who will get a disease from a single infected person] of under 1. We know that there’s going to be a slow creep in the infection. We’re right up against 1. That’s clearly less than the R0 of 2 or more that was early in the pandemic. By the time we see a bump in hospitalizations, a bump in positive cases, the protests are going to be muddled in with the graduations, the beach parties, the bars and the restaurants. 

TBR: What don’t people know about the disease?

Donelan: The biggest misconception about utilization of face coverings, is that the face covering is for me. I think it must be really be emphasized. I wear my face covering to protect you. You wear it to protect me. 

TBR: What do you think of the risks in youth sports, which are starting up again?

Donelan: There’s no uniform understanding of what’s right or wrong. There are other countries that have been ahead of us in terms of the pandemic and then are now easing themselves back into a more normal society. I think that those of us who are interested in what happens in sports, might keep a clear eye on what’s going on in those countries. Any time you interact, it’s not a zero-risk concept.

TBR: What do you think about schools?

Donelan: I’m working with the state and the campus and my own local school district on what school will look like. I have two kids that are heading to college, another one heading for a Ph.D. program. I have a particular interest in what’s going on. I think the schools have been working hard to optimize social distancing, with mouth and face coverings to the extent that each student at different levels is able to. I told them a couple of months ago, at the state and local level, I don’t see how schools cannot plan on having a hybrid learning platform [one that includes a mix of in-person and remote classes]. 

TBR: What advice would you give schools?

Donelan: The most important thing is to make sure however school looks like for the next two or three semesters, [that there is] a hybrid learning platform, with the ability to pivot quickly to a full-distance learning plan.

TBR: How do you think this will play out for colleges?

Donelan: [Many schools will] start in August. Come Thanksgiving, kids will go home and don’t come back [until the next year as influenza-like illness starts to circulate.] Thanksgiving is the first great cross-pollinator event in the winter season, with people traveling, coming back, picking up whatever is going on wherever they traveled to. I wouldn’t want students coming back to school after Thanksgiving recess, then cross-pollinating more. If there’s anything that people should be encouraged to do, it’s get a flu shot — and get it early.

Michael Bernstein on the Stony Brook University campus. Photo from Stony Brook University

As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, Stony Brook University’s recent interim president is returning to familiar territory.

Michael Bernstein will remain at SBU, even though his last day as interim president was June 30. On July 1 he returned to his former position as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. Last August, Bernstein took on the role of interim president after the departure of former president, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

Bernstein said he decided to stay after a request from new university president, Maurie McInnis, who was appointed in March, and added that a search for his replacement may take up to a year. He plans to move to California in the future.

“I’m in a position, I think, to help Maurie as she transitions in as the new president,” he said. “Obviously, we’re very much challenged with planning through this COVID emergency and figuring out how we’re going to manage the fall semester, not to mention the whole academic year.”

While the pandemic got in the way of working on some SBU goals such as strategic revisioning, strengthening a few of the business practices and revitalization of the computer system, he’s confident that McInnis, with whom he has been in constant contact since her appointment, will be prepared to take on the challenges once the 2020 fall semester can begin.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which required colleges and universities to switch to online learning and hold events virtually since March, Bernstein said he enjoyed his time as interim president overall.

“I was surrounded by a superb senior leadership team,” he said. “We were getting a lot done in terms of managing university affairs.”

Bernstein said he realized the importance of taking precautions early on once the number of COVID-19 cases started rising in the U.S.

“My sense was that we were in the midst of an emerging crisis that was going to accelerate pretty quickly and pretty dramatically,” he said. “We made a decision to shut down and start canceling major campus events pretty quickly.”

He said that the campus nearly closed earlier than it did but the school had to wait for directions from the State University of New York administration to coordinate with the broader school network. Bernstein said the last major event at the campus was the 2020 gala held at the Staller Center March 7.

“I had said at that point that we will have no more major campus events, and we were a little early when we made that decision,” he said.

While he received some pushback, he’s glad he made the decision.

“I think within a couple of weeks people were circling back to me saying, ‘That was the right decision, thank you for making it as quickly as you did.’ I think it became clear to people that we had to shut everything down.”

He added that shortly after the university cut back on public events, students were asked to head home, and spring break was extended to two weeks so the university could prepare for online learning.

He said at the last in-person university council meeting, it was realized they were all in the midst of a critical moment in their careers and that everyone would be defined by what decisions were made. While he said it was a challenging time, he remained positive.

“There’s the old saying, ‘Calm seas and blue skies do not make good sea captains,’” he said. “You’re not in a leadership position to work when things are calm. When things are calm and fine, you don’t need leaders.”

Marci Lobel. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Pregnant women with access to the outdoors are less stressed during the pandemic.

In fact, according to an unpublished finding that isn’t yet peer reviewed, pregnant women who had outdoor access were 67 percent less likely to worry about contracting the virus and 63 percent less likely to feel stress about being unprepared for the birth.

Lobel with a recent doctoral student, Jennifer Nicolo-SantaBarbara.

Stony Brook University recently awarded a project led by Dr. Heidi Preis in the Department of Psychology, with co-Principal Investigators Dr. Marci Lobel in the Department of Psychology and Dr. Brittain Mahaffey in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health that explored the link between stress and pregnancy. The researchers are hoping to identify what helps pregnant women and what may make them more vulnerable to the impacts of stress.

Stony Brook provided a total of $398,200 in seed funding to 17 research projects in response to the pandemic. Researchers at Stony Brook had put together 63 submissions, using a peer review process to choose the projects to fund, including the COVID-19 Pregnancy Experiences (or COPE) Study. The funding, which is for one year, is designed to provide the kind of seed funding that will lead to further research and that other funding agencies will support.

The COPE study tapped into a global network of collaborators that Lobel, who is the Director of the Stress and Reproduction Lab at SBU, established over the past 30 years to compare the different factors that mitigate or exacerbate stress for pregnant women in Spain, Israel, Italy, Germany Poland and Switzerland.

“The biological impact of COVID-19 is getting the lion’s share of attention, as it should,” said Lobel. “We don’t yet know enough about how the psychological impact will affect vulnerable groups, like pregnant women.”

Indeed, Lobel has spent three decades studying the effect of stress and related psychological factors on pregnancy. In other studies, major stressors, such as earthquakes, ice storms, and periods of warfare, confirm the toxic impact of prenatal stress, particularly for preterm births and low birth weight, she said.

Lobel and her colleagues created a self-report instrument called the Pandemic-Related Pregnancy Stress Scale, or PREPS, in which women report their specific concerns or anxieties caused by COVID-19.

Throughout the United States, the team sought responses from about 4,500 women recruited through social media at the end of April and the beginning of May.

Marci Lobel with her family at Yosemite in 2016. The photo credit is: Photo courtesy of Marci Lobel.

Among the women in the study, just over half of them were pregnant with their first child. In many studies that predated the current work, including some from her own research group, Lobel said women pregnant with their first child had higher levels of stress.

In some preliminary findings, 21.7 percent of pregnant women in the study reported severe levels of anxiety. “I think that is higher than what we typically would find in a population study of pregnant women,” Lobel said.

Women with a history of interpersonal violence also reported higher levels of stress and those whose prenatal appointments were canceled or altered were 1.78 times more likely to experience high stress related to a lack of preparedness and 1.49 times more likely to experience high stress related to worries about perinatal infection.

Some women in the study have found ways to reduce the accumulating stress about the health care crisis. The techniques that work for some women, Lobel said, may not work for others, suggesting that stress relief is specific to the individual and is usually determined by the situation itself.

“I don’t recommend any particular way of coping,” Lobel said. “What works for one may not work for another. It’s good to have a tool kit with lots of ways of coping.”

Indeed, some of the techniques pregnant women have found helpful include meditation, prayer, and faith-based practices. Pregnant women have also benefited from social support, which is particularly important during the pandemic when some women may feel “literally and figuratively isolated from others,” Lobel said.

Of all the research Lobel has done, the one that has received the most attention and landed her in the bible for pregnant women, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” was a study on optimism. She found that women who were more optimistic had better birth outcomes due in part to the better are they took of their health during pregnancy.

Coping with stress by avoidance predicts increases in emotional distress, Lobel explained. This corroborates much research which shows that avoidance is usually an ineffective way to cope with stress, except in limited cases such as when a stressful situation is brief and uncontrollable.

When people avoid the things that bother them, they can do it cognitively or through alcohol, which is especially dangerous for pregnant women and their developing fetuses. Avoidance can also involve excessive sleeping, as pregnant women may decide they don’t want to deal with life and stay in bed all day.

The scientists plan to collect a second set of data from these women, who were recruited through social media and who represent a diverse socioeconomic background, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other factors, on July 15th.

Lobel said she already has some preliminary, unpublished findings from Poland, which are showing the same kinds of stressors and distress among pregnant women. Polish women have expressed stress related to worries about lack of preparation for birth during the pandemic and stress related to worries about infection.

Lobel said the researchers hope to explore a host of questions as they collect more information. They hope to look at obsessions and compulsions and would like to measure anger. They also will measure levels of depression and anxiety and will compare that to the norms for non-pregnant women.

On the other side of the stress meter, the group will study how being pregnant during the pandemic may help some women appreciate their pregnancy more. For some women, the pregnancy may give them strength to deal with the pandemic, as they focus on having a baby.

The researchers will also explore the level of control women feel over the outcome of their pregnancy and the health of their baby. Feeling in control can create a positive response associated with lower distress.

While Lobel and her colleagues won’t answer all these questions in a year, they hope their initial studies will lead to more funding and research. “Hopefully, we’ll get a [National Institutes of Health] grant to follow up these women for a couple of years to study them and their children to see if there are any developmental or mental or physical health effects” of the pandemic.

Photo from SBU

Pierce Gardner, MD, Professor Emeritus at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, is the recipient of the 2020 Dr. Charles Mérieux Award for Achievement in Vaccinology and Immunology from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID). The award honors individuals whose outstanding lifetime contributions and achievements in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases have led to significant improvement in public health.

Dr. Gardner’s career has centered on global health policy and training the next generation of public health providers to tackle health issues in low-resource countries. The Setauket resident has done extensive international work and has been a consultant for the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board (now the Defense Health Board). He served in many educational roles while at the Renaissance School of Medicine and remains instrumental in fostering students’ global health interests related to their career paths.

Previous recipients of this national award include luminaries in infectious diseases such as D.A. Henderson (who wiped out smallpox), Arnold Monto (a pioneer in influenza vaccine), and Kristin Nichol (a pioneer in pneumococcal vaccination).

Stony Brook University Hospital

By Carol Gomes

SBU Hospital CEO Carol Gomes. Photo from SBU Hospital

If you were in need of an elective surgery or procedure before COVID-19 and have been delaying it, I want to reassure you that Stony Brook University Hospital is fully operational. 

We have everything in place to ensure that safe and effective care is provided to every one of our patients to meet their healthcare needs — whether it’s for a simple outpatient procedure or a more complex inpatient surgery. We continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and New York State Department of Health (DOH) guidelines and universal precautions to provide the safest environment possible. 

You can also rest assured that the enhanced safety measures to protect our patients and hospital staff to prevent coronavirus spread also remain in place. Some of these safeguards include testing all patients prior to surgery, having patients self-isolate prior to surgery, and requiring all staff and patients to wear masks and be screened for symptoms. 

We also require all hospital personnel to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). And of course, we have hand sanitizer stations located throughout our facilities, and patients in the hospital who test positive for COVID are separated in a designated area to minimize risk from other patients.

At Stony Brook University Hospital, we perform, on average, 100 to 120 surgeries daily. This includes a diverse area of specialization, including general surgery, orthopaedics, neurosurgery, surgical oncology, cardiac surgery, trauma, kidney transplants, urological procedures, gynecologic surgery and several other specialties. 

From the time you schedule your surgery, to pre-op, and every phase through post-op and beyond, our goal is to ensure your safety every step of the way, while our surgical specialists and their teams provide the quality care you need to restore your health.

Carol A. Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ is the Chief Executive Officer at Stony Brook University Hospital.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order earlier today that will allow the state’s enforcement efforts to increase for businesses that aren’t following social distancing guidelines.

The state liquor authority can immediately suspend a business’s liquor license for violating rules. Bars and restaurants are not only responsible for ensuring these social distancing requirements inside their establishments, but are also required to enforce the area immediately outside their location, which includes the sidewalk and any expansion of their business into the street.

“Some of what we saw were people mingling and not seated,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. The county sent notifications from the Department of Health reminding the businesses of the guidance.

“We don’t want to be overly aggressive with businesses struggling to get back on their feet,” Bellone said, although he suggested that “egregious violations” have an appropriate mechanism in place to allow authorities to respond immediately.

Viral Numbers

The data from the county regarding the spread of the virus continues to be positive as Suffolk entered the second week of its Phase Two reopening.

An additional 40 people tested positive for the virus, bringing the total who have tested positive since the pandemic reached Long Island to 40,810. The rate of positive tests was 0.7 percent, which is well below the positive testing rate during the worst of the pandemic, which was above 30 percent.

Hospitalizations continue to hover around the same level, climbing one day and then falling the next. In the 24 hours ending June 16, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 was 125, which is a decline of four. That follows an increase from the day before of eight.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit with the virus remained the same, at 35.

An additional 15 people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

The number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 was three. Coronavirus has taken the lives of 1,961 residents of Suffolk County.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 66 percent, while the percent of ICU beds was at 62.

Earlier this week, the governor announced that hospital patients could receive visitors.

Stony Brook University Hospital received the updated guidelines to expand visitation with protocols for specific safety measures, health screenings and time limited visits, according to a Stony Brook Medicine official.

“We are currently reviewing these guidelines so that we can establish a safe process of visitation for our patients and their families while continuing to maintain a safe environment,” the SB official explained in an email. “We know visitors and loved ones play an essential role in the healing and recovery process of our patients and we look forward to welcoming them once again.”

The official didn’t indicate when the hospital might begin allowing visitors.

Summer Movies

At this point, the kick off to the summer film series at Smith Point County Park on Saturday, June 20 has sold out for the free showing of “Jaws” at 8:30 p.m. The date of the showing marks the 45th anniversary of the release of the film in which Richard Dreyfuss, playing Matt Hooper, proclaimed, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” when the shark attacked.

If those who have booked tickets do not arrive by 8:10 p.m., other residents can take their place, Bellone said.

The next movie in the summer film series is “Goonies,” which will be on June 24. Residents who would like to see the film can go to the web site suffolkcountyny.gov/driveinmovies to book their free tickets.

Other films on tap during the series include “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Elf”, and Harry Potter, although Bellone didn’t specify which of the eight films will be featured.

Main Street in Port Jefferson. Photo by Sapphire Perara

The Village of Port Jefferson approved a permit for protesters to march down Main Street June 18. 

Leaders of the protest filed an application for the protest earlier last week. Village officials said during their June 15 meeting that, originally, the protesters wished to organize by the basketball courts and make three laps of the downtown area. Considering the disruption this would cause, officials said they would allow the protesters to park in the Perry Street parking lot by the Port Jefferson train station, march down Main Street and eventually stop in front of Village Hall in order to make speeches. The protest is set to convene after 4 p.m, then start the march at 5 p.m. and end at 7 p.m.

Malachai Moloney, the speaker of the house for the Black Student Union at Stony Brook University, is at the head of facilitating and promoting the protest. He said the point of the march in PJ village is to give people more insight and perspective into how black communities feel on Long Island, especially in the wake of the deaths of black people nationwide before and after the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd while in police custody May 26.

While village officials were concerned that those gathered wouldn’t leave the area after the time the application and flyers denoted, during the village’s live broadcasted meeting on YouTube, multiple people who claimed they were organizers for the protest said they intended it to remain peaceful, and that they would disband after holding speeches at Village Hall.

Along with the application, there is a fee attached that Mayor Margot Garant said helps to offset costs for additional village code presence. Village Clerk Barbara Sakovich confirmed protesters dropped off a check for that application fee the morning of June 15.

“It’s in our best interest to let this group organize peacefully rather than not organize peacefully,” Garant said. “At that point we would have another kind of organized protest of a different tonality.”

She added that the safety of the community “is of the utmost importance, only secondary to following the law.”

Moloney said the group originally planned to host the rally Friday, June 19, otherwise known as Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when a U.S. general finally read out orders in Texas that all slaves were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. However, village officials emphasized to Moloney and other organizers it could not be hosted then. The airways have been abuzz due to the connotations of President Donald Trump (R) originally planning a rally on that date in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the Tulsa race massacre that took place June 1, 1921. 

Otherwise, the protest organizer said he felt the village was only protecting village commerce and could do better to respect the opinions of the protesters.

“They want us to protest in a manner that’s convenient for them,” he said. “A protest is not supposed to not be disruptive.”

Other protests in neighboring communities have not necessarily filed permits, but village trustees said the fact organizers did file an application shows a degree of willingness to cooperate.

“We certainly appreciate reaching out and filing a permit for the event application — it is a very good thing — it’s appreciated by the village and we appreciate their goodwill,” said village attorney Brian Egan.

Moloney said the group used GoFundMe to fundraise for the $400 in fees to the village. He said the protesters were willing to do that but added that groups of counterprotesters who have already said online they likely will show up in response to the march are not filing an application or paying the village to convene. Moloney said its unfair how the onus is on marchers to follow the proper procedure, while those looking to decry their message will not go through that same process.

The village has not recieved any applications to convene from counterprotesters, and officials said the village has not given any other groups permission to assemble on that day.

Police and code enforcement have been notified, officials said. Main Street will be closed while the protesters make their way down Main Street, similar to how the roads are blocked during events like the Easter parade when it makes its way down to Harborfront Park. 

The village also stipulated in the permit that masks must be worn, and on the protests’ flyer it also states everyone is expected to wear masks. 

Garant said the question of social distancing was up to state mandates, which already stipulated that masks must be worn when people are unable to socially distance themselves. 

According to Suffolk County officials, the county has already played host to around 100 protests. So far, police have said, nearly all protests have remained peaceful. 

This article has been amended June 17 to clarify no others groups have been authorized to assemble.