Times of Huntington-Northport

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With the well running dry for personal protective equipment from local resources as the viral pandemic spreads, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is receiving help from Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

After the two politicians discussed the need for more personal protective equipment such as masks, Zeldin connected Bellone to a vendor who is providing 150,000 N95 masks today to first responders and health care workers, among others, on the front lines in the battle against the coronavirus.

Zeldin has “worked with the White House and secured the commitment that the Suffolk County will have what we need in the next 30 days as we go through the crisis for our front line workers,” Bellone said.

Suffolk County has the support of officials at every level of government, Bellone said, with ongoing help from Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and the commitment Zeldin received from Jared Kushner, a senior adviser in the White House and President Donald Trump’s (R) son-in-law.

“It is a significant thing to know we have that commitment from the White House,” Bellone said.

“I want to thank [Congressman] Zeldin,” Bellone said. “We will continue to work together.”

The Suffolk County Fire Chief’s Association, meanwhile, will express its ongoing appreciation for the effort and sacrifice of health care workers throughout the county this evening at 7 pm. Throughout the county, Suffolk County fire trucks will sound their sirens in unison to “express their gratitude and support,” Bellone said.

The County Executive urged residents to step out on their porches, while maintaining social distancing from each other or anyone else who might be on nearby porches, at 7 p.m. this evening to listen to the sirens and know that “it’s another expression of support for the men and women” who are working tirelessly to save the lives of friends, neighbors and relatives in Suffolk , which has seen the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Indeed, the number of positive diagnoses has increased to 12,405 in Suffolk County, which is an increase of 1,035 over the previous 24 hours,.

At the same time, the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus increased to 1,435, which is a rise of 19 over the previous day. The increase is the second consecutive day when the number of hospitalizations has risen by a smaller amount.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced today there is hope that the number of new deaths is “nearly near the apex and we could be beyond the plateau right now,” he said during his daily press conference. Though he also cautioned it could be too soon to start shouting in triumph.

“We’re hopeful that is a trend that will continue,” Bellone said. “We hopeful,” but it’s too early to say that is the case. At this point, it’s too early to predict when the surge will reach its peak.

The number of patients in the Intensive Care Unit climbed by 113, which is a “huge jump,” Bellone said, bringing the total in the ICU to 540 people.

Additionally, the number of people who have died with the virus has now climbed to 175

On a positive note, the number of patients with Covid-19 who were released from the hospital increased to 107 over the last day.

In addressing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that people wear face coverings when they go out in public, Bellone urged people not to use the N95 surgical masks that the county is reserving for health care workers and others exposed to infected residents regularly as a part of their jobs. Instead, he suggested that people use cloth coverings.

On his Facebook page and social media sites, Bellone is sharing ways residents can make their own masks, which can include wrapping a tee shirt around their heads. The Facebook group Suffolk County Creators of COVID 19 Medical Supplies also has many tutorials on how people can make masks from fabric and elastic.

Bellone said he would be “wearing one when I am out in public. If I’m out anymore and I haven’t been going to the store much, I will wear a face covering in alignment with guidance from the CDC. We are modeling what we are asking county residents to do.”

Separately, the county is revising the limitations for cultural and artistic grants. Those organizations that have received those grants can use them to fund payroll and offer virtual programming. Bellone said the county “understands that may be a necessity for a while.”

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Suffolk County lost 28 more residents to the coronavirus, bringing the total in the county to 124, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The residents who succumbed to the disease Covid-19 ranged in age from their mid 30’s to their mid 90’s.

“We extend our heartfelt condolences,” said Bellone on his daily conference call with reporters. “We pray for all those who are in the hospital and are struggling without family and loved ones to be there for them.”

Bellone reminded residents that the reason for social distancing rules and for the pause in non essential businesses is to prevent the spread of the disease and to save lives.

Bellone also reported that the county has given out over 1.7 million pieces of personal protective equipment, which has become a critical need for health care workers and first responders who help the public. At this point, the county has emptied its entire cache of supplies and is working to continue to get donations and to purchase personal protective equipment from around the world.

Bellone thanks the Long Island Chinese American Association for donating 20,000 ear loop masks. The county will “make sure they get to emergency personnel and to places that need them.”

The county executive suggested several ways residents could contribute to the effort to combat the virus and the effects it has had on the community.

People who have recovered from Covid-19 can become a part of the solution for others who are battling against the virus. Anyone who has had a confirmed case of the disease and has recovered can donate plasma as a part of a treatment regime. Their antibodies, which helped them fight off the virus, could also prove effective in the molecular battle others are fighting.

Bellone encouraged everyone who has had the virus and recovered to reach out to the red cross, at redcrossblood.org to see if they are eligible to donate life-saving plasma.

Additionally, people can provide financial support to organizations that work tirelessly to feed people throughout Long Island by donating to Long Island Harvest and Long Island Cares at LIHarvest.org and LICares.org.

As for the number of cases of coronavirus, Suffolk County now has 11,370 people with the virus. That’s an increase of 1,216 people over a 24 hour period.

The number of people hospitalized increased by 118, which is “a little bit of good news,” Bellone said. “That is a lower number than we’ve seen in the last couple of days.”

Health care workers throughout the county are currently caring for 427 patients in Intensive Care Units, which is up 26 from yesterday. The number of available ICU beds, however, climbed to 72, which is up from 43 the day before.

Also on the positive side, 96 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 left the hospital over the last day.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged people to wear masks when they go out in public, Bellone said the Suffolk County Police Department has “had conversations” about officers wearing masks, but has not yet reached a decision on that.

The coronavirus has so far claimed seven lives in Suffolk County as of March 20. Image from CDC

A total of 93 confirmed coronavirus patients have been released from hospitals in Suffolk as County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said they have been cleared to go home. Meanwhile, however, Suffolk is trying to meet the hard task of staying ahead in the number of beds available before the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reaches its apex. 

Bellone said there are 648 hospital beds and 43 Intensive Care Unit beds available, and Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County’s health commissioner, said those were spread out among hospitals, though even still he admitted, “that’s not a lot of beds.”

As counties all across New York fight to stay ahead of the number of patients, all have seen a significant lack of personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks and gowns. Ventilators, which can be lifesaving to critically ill patients, have also been in extreme short supply. Stony Brook University Hospital, for instance, has been looking to detail plans and designs that could put two patients on a single ventilator at a time. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday morning he would be signing an executive order allowing the National Guard to go to facilities that are not currently using equipment like ventilators and bring them to places that need them.

“I understand they don’t want to give up their ventilators … the theory is if the government gets them they will never get that back, I understand that, but I don’t have an option,” Cuomo said. 

In that same press conference, the governor named several locations as COVID-19 “hotspots,” which included Stony Brook University Hospital. 

Cuomo added the city could start running out of ventilators by next week.

While Suffolk County has exhausted “all” its PPE equipment for health care facilities and has hosted equipment donation drives, Bellone said they have increasingly called on companies who were interested to retool any kind of production for purpose of making medical equipment. The first of these companies, Hauppauge-based 71 Visuals, a sign making company, has retooled its facility to making face shields for health care workers. So far the county has purchased 25,000 of said face shields. 

“When we can have local manufacturers, we can purchase which can be utilized in this fight to save lives,” Bellone said.

The county executive has called on any other company who is considering retooling their operations to reach out to them, saying those businesses will be worked with and compensated for their efforts.

The number of deaths due to the coronavirus continues to rise. There are now 10,149 confirmed cases, according to the county’s data tracking website. This past day saw nine new deaths, bringing the total fatalities in Suffolk to 93. 

Yesterday, The New York Times reported the navy ship USNS Comfort, which is docked inside New York Harbor, is not accepting coronavirus patients, instead being used as a place for overflow, non-COVID related patients. The vast majority of its 1,000 beds are currently unused, especially since non-coronavirus related sickness and injuries has severely decreased thanks to current stay-at-home orders.

Bellone criticized the fact the ship was not being used to field the flood of new daily coronavirus patients.

“Patients need to go where there is space available to help save lives,” Bellone said.

Julia Frangione, director of Huntington’s Senior Division, left, accepts care packages for seniors from Kristin O’Leary, Erin Whelan and Amanda McCrea. Photo from Huntington Hospital

During these days of self-quarantining and social distancing, three Huntington-area women are working together to ensure local seniors have what they need.

With health care professionals and elected officials recommending the elderly stay home during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Erin Whelan, Amanda McCrea and Kristin O’Leary decided they needed to do something for the community’s senior members. Whelan, a phlebotomist/accessioner at Huntington Hospital who lives in Northport, said during a phone interview she reached out to the Town of Huntington’s director of Senior Division, Julia Frangione, to see what was needed and offered to make care packages with her friends for those who receive services from the facility.

“We noticed a lot of elderly people looking very lost in the supermarkets with empty shelves and chaos,” Whelan said.

McCrea added that with shoppers needing to visit multiple stores to get everything on their lists, they realized shopping had become a chore for many.

In the last couple of weeks, the women have been busy creating care packages with essentials such as toilet paper, wipes, bread or English muffins, coffee or tea, oatmeal, cookies and more. They have even added things like crossword puzzles to keep recipients entertained.

“We attached a personal note on each one just to let them know their community is thinking of them,” Whelan said. “We’re all in this together.

Putting together essentials for those in need is nothing new for the three women, who for the last few years have worked together filling backpacks with school supplies and donating them to the Family Service League in Huntington.

McCrea, who also works in Huntington Hospital’s laboratory, said it was Whelan who came up with the idea.

“I can’t ever say ‘no’ to her ideas,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to do good things and feel good?”

The women said that in order to get the items together they had to visit multiple stores. One day they spent about seven hours hunting for items. The women have been balancing the endeavor with work, as Whelan and McCrea are considered essential employees, and O’Leary, who teaches in the Merrick school district, is working from home and teaching online.

McCrea said it’s been worthwhile making the time to pick up these essential items, despite all of them still working their full-time jobs.

“We’ve all kind of made the time, and it gives us something positive to focus on,” she said. 

Whelan and McCrea said they have received help from several friends, some of whom have given their time, while others have donated money.

“It just kind of snowballed with so many people wanting to help,” Whelan said.

McCrea said one day when they only had 30 rolls of toilet paper they posted their dilemma on Facebook, and a friend sent them a message saying where they could find some. Within an hour, with others helping them, they went from 30 rolls to more than 180.

So far, each care package has cost them around $17 dollars, and they have put together 55 packs and are planning to create more. On March 23, they were able to drop off the first of the packages that filled three cars at the Huntington Senior Center.

Frangione said the carloads were welcomed.

“We were happy to distribute these bonus items to our seniors,” she said. “We were amazed when 55 overflowing bags were delivered. It was so heartwarming, it brought tears to our eyes. The next day, the bags were distributed to our seniors who were truly touched by the thoughtfulness and caring of our friends in the community.”

Approximately 350 seniors receive meals from the center, which last Tuesday began delivering all five meals for the week in one day.

Whelan said that helping the seniors has taken stress and anxiety away.

“I’m a frontline person in the hospital,” she said. “It takes a toll on you, it’s stressful. There’s anxiety. I feel that we’re all helping these seniors, and we’re protecting the community from it spreading more, but we’re also helping ourselves because it’s something positive to focus on.”

To help with their endeavors, the women have set up a Facebook fundraiser page at www.facebook.com/donate/212883923126746/.

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Suffolk County has been managing to keep the number of beds available above the rate of hospitalizations due to the coronavirus pandemic, though cases continue to climb.

In his daily call with reporters April 2, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the number of cases in Suffolk County has breached 8,927, climbing well over 1,000 by yesterday’s count. This has been attributed to the greater amount of testing being done, with over 21,000 being completed to date in Suffolk alone.

Meanwhile, the county has been trying to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order to increase the number of available hospital beds by at least 50 percent, with the goal of reaching 100 percent increase. Bellone said Suffolk has increased its count of hospital beds to 2,831 beds countywide, with 438 Intensive Care Unit beds also available for the most severe cases. Currently, 472 hospital beds and 64 are vacant and available.

This is also while Cuomo said in this morning’s briefing he is becoming even more concerned with the limited number of ventilators for use during the crisis, now being down to about 2,200.

Healthcare workers on the front lines have struggled to deal with the number of cases now coming into hospitals. Bellone said the surge is still building, but the voices of health care workers are being heard.

“They’re operating in an incredibly difficult, stressful traumatic environment in which they are working overtime, double shifts, day after day after day, in a struggle to save peoples’ lives” Bellone said. “It is emotional, it is stressful and it is extraordinarily difficult.”

The number of deaths increased by 15 from the previous day. All had underlying health conditions. This includes eight individuals in their 80s, four in their 70s, and one in their 40s and 50s. One individual in his 60s died while in mandatory isolation at a local nursing home.

Currently, there are 1,323 cases in Brookhaven, 435 in Smithtown and 1,390 in Huntington townships. While close to 9,000 total cases are growing in Suffolk, New York State currently totals at more than 92,000.

The economic impact has also been felt far and wide, and Bellone said he is continuing to build out what the county can internally do to help businesses separately from the federal government’s response. So far, the county has been keeping a survey of businesses through their recently created Business Response Unit, and as of March 31, there were over 1,200 responses to said survey from businesses that employ more than 13,000 individuals, with over 7,000 responding they had lost their jobs or employment. The overall New York number, however, is much more staggering, with approximately 6.6 million filing for unemployment, a number not seen since the 1981 recession.

“Particularly our downtowns are facing tremendous hardships, and we will need a targeted effort there,” Bellone said. 

He added while some businesses have maintained some employees, “without assistance, they will not be able to keep that up much longer.”

The County Executive said he has spoken with financial institutions, who will be handling the disbursement of loans via the CARES Act, the federal financial assistance bill that promises loans to businesses to help keep people employed. The rollout of that has not been foolproof, however, with the federal Small Business Administration telling business owners they would need to reapply for their loans at https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/

Anybody who previously applied via email, fax or snail mail will have to reapply.

Bellone said any difficulties that said financial institutions may have must be overcome if the region is to see any kind of recovery by the time the crisis begins to ebb. 

“The public wasn’t expecting this, we weren’t expecting this, but we have to deal with it,” he said. “We were on call with financial institutions and continue to convene with them.”

Emma Larsen's mother, Megan, is heading up Troop 355 in Setauket. Photo from Troop 355
Audrey Larsen’s mother, Megan, has started Troop 355 in Setauket. Audrey is currently in Cub Scouts. Photo from Troop 355

It’s been more than a year since the Boy Scouts of America became Scouts BSA, inviting girls to join separate, gender-specific units and earn the Eagle Scout rank. Since then female troop units have been popping up along the North Shore.

In the Three Village area, Setauket mom Megan Larsen recently established Troop 355. She said the number is a nod to the famous Culper Spy Ring as “355” was the code for lady. It’s believed the spies used 355 in code to refer to Anna Strong Smith who reportedly hung clothes on a line to send signals to those in the spy ring.

“It’s just a nod to our district and to our local history,” the troop leader said.

Larsen’s 13-year-old daughter Emma belonged to BSA girl unit Troop 2019 in Sound Beach when the family lived in Mount Sinai. When they moved to Setauket at the end of June, they continued with the unit, but Larsen said it was difficult to keep up with the drive with schoolwork and other activities. 

Larsen said the BSA community is tight knit, and she has been receiving a lot of help from other troop leaders. Her husband, Eric, who grew up in Setauket, was involved with the local Boy Scout Troop 70 for years and was even a Venturing crew leader. He would take Emma to meetings, and when she was a toddler, she even had a Troop 70 T-shirt.

“It was sort of foreshadowing,” Megan Larsen said.

What does it take to start an all-girls BSA troop? The 355 troop leader said once a prospective leader goes to the BSA council to file paperwork and it’s approved, it’s then up to the leader to invite the community to join. On Feb. 23, she held an open house to introduce girls to the organization, and said they received a lot of help from Troop 70. Many local units, both boys and girls, also joined them in last year’s Three Village Electric Holiday Parade.

When her daughters, who include 8-year-old Audrey, showed an interest in the BSA, their mother decided to have them join. Her 10-year-old son Peter is a Cub Scout.

“I saw the positive impact that it had on my husband’s life,” she said, adding she was especially impressed with the friendships formed and public-speaking skills the boys gained.

Sound Beach Troop 2019 at a gathering earlier in the year. Photo from Troop 2019

While Emma has belonged to the Girl Scouts, Larsen said Scouts BSA was a better fit for her daughter who loves whittling, kayaking and camping.

Larsen said she can understand how teenage girls may be hesitant to join something until they see their peers are a part of it.

“It’s new, and I think a lot of times girls are a little hesitant because they don’t know it’s out there, or they want to see other girls doing it first,” she said.

Troop leader Ann Colletta from Sound Beach Troop 2019 said she was on board with the idea of girls in the Scouts since it was announced. She currently has 11 girls in her unit, and she sits on the committee in her district.

“I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “I had my reservations at first because I wasn’t sure how it would work out.”

She said once she learned more about it she realized it was what her daughter June had been wanting.

Colletta said while it may seem like a leap of faith to start up a girl unit, she agreed with Larsen that other leaders, as well as boy units, have been helpful. She added when her troop originally started, it was the boys in BSA who taught the girls different skills and were welcoming and helpful.

“My girls are learning from them, and when younger girls come in the girls can teach them,” Colletta said.

The mother of seven children, who has experience with both BSA and Girl Scouts of the USA, said her 12-year-old daughter, who is also a GSA member, wanted to do the same things as her 17-year-old brother Peter, who become an Eagle Scout. Colletta said she knows what BSA can do for children as her son was shy, and she has watched him blossom.

Kings Park Troop 539G will will celebrate its first anniversary this month. Photo from Troop 539G

“We’re outdoor oriented,” Colletta said. “She wanted to do the same thing as him, go to summer camps and go camping.”

Craig Rome, who heads up Troop 539G in Kings Park, said he’s always willing to help other troop leaders and has found many to be helpful in spreading the word about the female units.

His girl unit, which has 17 members, will celebrate its first anniversary April 15, even though a celebration is on hold until after the current COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Like Colletta, he has found that many of the girls enjoy the outdoor activities that BSA offers. He said in addition to outdoor events, the Scouts offer community service opportunities, first-aid skills, archery and more, as well as foster leadership. Meetings are led by the Scouts themselves, and he feels it’s great to have the girls exposed to the same leadership roles as the boys, adding that young women can be part of both the BSA and GSA like his daughter Emma who started in Girl Scouts.

Since she has joined BSA, he said he has noticed a difference in his daughter, watching her now  encouraged to take on leadership roles. 

“I think she enjoys leadership,” he said.

Rome said that, at first, they had four or five girls, siblings of boys already in the male unit. But after putting announcements out in the school, more girls joined, and he said he thinks there was a pent-up demand. Now after seeing the impact it’s had on these children, he said he wished the BSA had done it sooner, and when people ask him if he thinks BSA works for girls, he said he finds it does.

Troop 218G is based in Melville. Photo from Troop 218G

“The energy level that these girls have is incredible,” he said. “It really put a smile on your face when you saw them get together and form the troop.”

Tammy Campagnola-Levinsky has also had a positive experience as a troop leader. Since last year, 218G in Melville has grown from five to 13, and her 18-year-old daughter, Summer, who had wanted to become one since she was 7 years old is one of the Scouts.

Campagnola-Levinsky said one opportunity the girls have is an extension to become an Eagle Scout, which is also offered to the boys. Usually, a Scout must achieve the rank by 17 but an extension can be requested. 

Like many girls, her daughter has become involved in activities such as camping, meeting elected officials and traveling since joining BSA, something she may not have done outside of the organization. Her daughter has also become involved in BSA’s National Youth Leadership Training.

“It’s her passion,” the troop leader said. “It’s her driving force.”

Since there’s such a lack of these all-female troops, Troop 218G has members from Nassau County and the South Shore. Rome and Campagnola-Levinsky said every Scout, whether a boy or girl, should visit different units to see how they operate since each unit can have a different style or focus. Campagnola-Levinsky pointed out that sometimes members of a Cub Scout Pack may even go on to different units.

“Scouting to me is one of the life lessons that you will take all the way through adulthood and it just doesn’t apply to scouting but your life forward — family, friends, job,” Campagnola-Levinsky said. “So, the skills you learn are lifetime skills, and you want them to be comfortable in the environment they are in and like the unit they are with.”

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By Leah Chiappino

One of the most trying aspects of COVID-19 is the financial turmoil it has brought on both national and local business sectors. Financial adviser Michael Christodoulou of Edward Jones Investments in Stony Brook answered some commonly asked questions about how to secure investments and resources for small businesses, and the types of financial assistance offered through the recent stimulus package.

Q: What is your advice for people, especially those that are retired or nearing retirement, regarding their stocks and 401(k) plans?

A: For one thing, ask yourself this: When do you really need the money from your investment accounts, such as your IRA and your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan? These are retirement accounts, so, depending on your age, you may not need to tap into them for 20, 30 or even 40 years. If so, your losses may be “paper” ones only for now and aren’t subjecting you to imminent financial jeopardy. This isn’t to minimize the effect this downturn will have on you, of course — it always takes time to recover lost ground, and there are no guarantees with investing. However, although past performance does not guarantee future results, it is useful to note that, over its long history, the U.S. stock market has typically trended in one direction — up — despite serious and sometimes lengthy declines such as we saw in the Great Depression and, to a lesser extent, the bursting of the dot.com bubble of the early 2000s and the financial crisis of 2008-09.

Nonetheless, you may have shorter-term goals — a wedding, down payment on a home, overseas trip, etc. — for which you need to save. For these goals, though, you wouldn’t want to touch your IRA or 401(k), anyway, as you’d likely face taxes and penalties. Instead, you’ll want your money invested in liquid, low-risk accounts that will be minimally affected, if at all, by declines in the financial markets. These vehicles might include Certificates of Deposit (CDs), money market accounts and even good old-fashioned U.S. savings bonds, all of which offer the protection of principal and can pay higher rates than traditional bank savings accounts.

Q: Should people stop contributing to retirement during this time?

A: Every investor has a different time horizon and risk tolerance. Depending on their time horizon and risk tolerance there may be a number of different recommendations.

For example, if a client has a longer-time horizon until retirement it may make sense to continue investing periodically in their retirement plan. But for someone who is looking to retire relatively soon, they might want to stop contributions or start saving those assets in low-risk accounts.

I highly recommend they work with their financial adviser in order to have a personalized strategy designed based on their goals for retirement.

Q: How would you advise small businesses go about applying for governmental assistance, especially through the federal stimulus bill?

A: Small businesses should work with their tax professionals/CPA and financial adviser in order to review their individual situation. I recommend they start by logging onto www.sba.gov/disaster. During this time, they should also be very cautious about scams. 

Q: The economic effects of this virus are already enormous, and will get exponentially worse. How do you think people can financially cope if this crisis continues?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) offers help for investors and small businesses. As we go through the coronavirus crisis, we are all, first and foremost, concerned about the health of our loved ones and communities. But the economic implications of the virus have also weighed heavily on our minds. However, if you’re an investor or a business owner, you just got some help from Washington, and it could make a big difference, at least in the short term, for your financial future. Specifically, the passage of the $2 trillion CARES Act offers, among other provisions, the following:

  • Expanded unemployment benefits: The CARES Act provides $250 billion for extended unemployment insurance, expands eligibility and provides workers with an additional $600 per week for four months, in addition to what state programs pay. The package will also cover the self-employed, independent contractors and “gig economy” workers. Obviously, if your employment has been affected, these benefits can be a lifeline. Furthermore, the benefits could help you avoid liquidating some long-term investments you’ve earmarked for retirement just to meet your daily cash flow needs.
  • Direct payments: Individuals will receive a one-time payment of up to $1,200, although this amount is reduced for incomes over $75,000 and eliminated altogether at $99,000. Joint filers will receive up to $2,400, which will be reduced for incomes over $150,000 and eliminated at $198,000 for joint filers with no children. Plus, taxpayers with children will receive an extra $500 for each dependent child under the age of 17. If you don’t need this money for an immediate need, you might consider putting it into a low-risk, liquid account as part of an emergency fund.
  • No penalty on early withdrawals: Typically, you’d have to pay a 10 percent penalty on early withdrawals from IRAs, 401(k)s and similar retirement accounts. Under the CARES Act, this penalty will be waived for individuals who qualify for COVID-19 relief and/or in plans that allow COVID-19 distributions. Withdrawals will still be taxable, but the taxes can be spread out over three years. Still, you might want to avoid taking early withdrawals, as you’ll want to keep your retirement accounts intact as long as possible.
  • Suspension of required withdrawals: Once you turn 72, you’ll be required to take withdrawals from your traditional IRA and 401(k). The CARES Act waives these required minimum distributions for 2020. If you’re in this age group, but you don’t need the money, you can let your retirement accounts continue growing on a tax-deferred basis.
  • Increase of retirement plan loan limit: Retirement plan investors who qualify for COVID-19 relief can now borrow up to $100,000 from their accounts, up from $50,000, provided their plan allows loans. We recommend that you explore other options, such as the direct payments, to bridge the gap on current expenses and if you choose to take a plan loan work with your financial adviser to develop strategies to pay back these funds over time to reduce any long-term impact to your retirement goals.
  • Small business loans: The CARES Act provides $349 billion to help small businesses — those with fewer than 500 employees — retain workers and avoid closing up shop. A significant part of this small business relief is the Paycheck Protection Program. This initiative provides federally guaranteed loans to small businesses who maintain payroll during this emergency. Significantly, these loans may be forgiven if borrowers use the loans for payroll and other essential business expenses, such as mortgage interest, rent and utilities, and maintain their payroll during the crisis. Please visit sba.gov/disaster for more information.

We’ll be in a challenging economic environment for some time, but the CARES Act should give us a positive jolt — and brighten our outlook.

Q: Do you have any information on how residents will know the exact number on their stimulus check for those above the $75,000 income threshold?

A: I would advise individuals to contact their tax professional/CPA. They will be able to give more accurate guidance based on their clients’ taxable situation and possible qualifications for the CARES Act direct payment program.

Q: What is your advice for those that have recently lost jobs and need to prioritize their loans? How can people cut back, and are there any specific loans that should be paid over others?

A: In the unfortunate event that you or a family member loses your job there are some easy steps to follow to help you better prepare yourself for this event. The federal government has taken a big step in protecting renters by issuing a 120-day moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing and property with federally backed mortgage loans. Some states have barred evictions for a few weeks. Please check with your landlord and or mortgage company.

Q: With stocks dipping, is now a good time to buy?

A: Before investing we recommend that investors understand their time horizon with the asset they are thinking about investing. What will that money be used for in the future? At what point in the future will you need the money?

For investors with a long-term outlook and time horizon, we remain confident that a rebound will take shape. It may take a while longer to materialize, but we think it will be robust and fueled by a return of confidence in the post-virus outlook. Long-term investors don’t need to capitalize on the pullback all at once but should consider opportunities to benefit from this decline. Consider:

  1. Rebalancing: Trimming overweight allocations and filling gaps in underrepresented asset classes and sectors.
  2. Systematic investing: Taking advantage of the ongoing volatility by systematically investing at regular intervals, reducing the “timing” aspect as the selloff plays out.
  3. Look for good buying opportunities, because they are certainly out there. A well-managed company with a solid business plan that produces quality products and services is going to be that same company after the coronavirus and oil price panics subside and, right now, that company’s stock shares may literally be “on sale.”

We recommend you consult with a financial adviser in order to make sure you completely understand your level of risk and time horizon.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for a set amount people should have in savings in case of an emergency? What is the best way to do so?

A:  I believe everyone should have an emergency fund. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal dollar amount that applies for everyone.

If you don’t already have an emergency fund, take these first steps to prepare:

  1. Detail your current financial situation including your income, expenses, assets and debts and any money previously set aside for unexpected expenses.
  2. Create a detailed budget in order to figure out what your monthly and annual living expenses add up to.
  3. Consider saving between three and six months of living expenses if you are still working; 12 months or more if you are retired.

This is just a starting point. Depending on your age, your list may look considerably different. Your financial adviser can help you put together your cash flow analysis related to your financial goals and help you calculate how much cash you may need for your next unexpected event.

Q: How do you think people should go about negotiating with credit card companies and banks if they need relief?

A: If someone is facing some financial hardship, they should contact their credit card company or bank directly. In most cases these companies can provide guidance and options so the individual understands their options and can make a decision based on all the information provided to them.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R). Photo by Kyle Barr

Mario Mattera, a St. James resident, local union official and Suffolk County Water Authority board member, has been tapped by Suffolk County Republicans to run for the seat being vacated by state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

Mario Mattera

The announcement came five days after the longtime senator announced he won’t run for reelection after 18 years in the state Senate and 16 years in the state Assembly.

Mattera has been a member of Plumbers Local Union 200 for the past 25 years and is currently the business agent for the union. He said he is honored by the selection and is dedicated to fighting for the “working men and women of Long Island.” 

“I want to thank the GOP for having the confidence in me,” he said. “It is not going to be easy to fill John Flanagan’s shoes. I want to bring a commonsense voice to the Senate and be an advocate for Long Island families.”

The St. James resident said his focus right now is making sure the coronavirus is defeated on Long Island and making sure health care workers are well protected and equipped to fight the disease. 

If elected, Mattera said he would focus on a number of issues, one of them being bail reform. Republicans across the board have called for the law’s removal. Another issue would be creating jobs in the district and prevent young people from leaving.

The union official said he looks at construction jobs and blue-collar positions as the “backbone of the economy” and wants to make sure they can attain a livable wage and afford to live in the county. 

This will not be Mattera’s first attempt at elected office. In 2013, he ran unsuccessfully in the Republican Primary against current county Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman, Jesse Garcia, believes Mattera has the experience to follow “a great leader” like Flanagan. 

“Mario shares our fierce Long Island values,” Garcia said. “He will be a great candidate for the people of Suffolk County.”

In addition, the chairman said the St. James resident is a go-getter and will be able to work across the table with Democrats in the Senate. 

Garcia acknowledged that this race and the one for the vacated seat of Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) are important in the party’s quest to regain control of the Senate from the Democrats. He said getting Mattera and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), a state assemblyman who is running for LaValle’s seat, elected would help their chances. Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven Town supervisor, said he has great respect for Flanagan and is “saddened” that New York will not continue to have his leadership in Albany. But he thinks Mattera is the right choice for the seat.

“He has been in the union for many years, and he’s fought for the working people,” he said.

The Brookhaven supervisor said he is concerned about the Democratic majority in the Senate, saying he is worried that Long island will not have a strong voice. He added that up in Albany there has been a shift toward New York City interests, and it has gone away from a suburban interest. 

“If anyone can change them, it would be Mario,” Romaine said. “He’s got the energy and will get along with everyone.”

The race for the 2nd Senate District will slate Mattera against Democratic candidate Mike Siderakis, a retired state trooper from Setauket. 

Republicans lost control of the state Senate in 2018, dropping to a 40-23 minority. From 2015-18, Flanagan served as the majority leader of the Senate. 

Mattera said he has a good relationship with Flanagan and LaValle and called them both mentors to him. 

“Mario will fight back against one-party control in Albany and will be a driving force to help move our economy in the right direction,” Flanagan said in a statement. “I am proud to endorse Mario Mattera to represent the people of the 2nd Senate District.”

Dr. Bettina Fries and her neighbor Agjah Libohova holding new face shields that will soon be put into the PPE pipeline at Stony Brook Medicine and many metro area hospitals. Photo from SBU

By Kyle Barr and David Luces

In other years, the first day of April dawning would have been a time for celebration and maybe a few pranks. This year, during the coronavirus crisis, not many were up for such jubilation. 

In a daily call with reporters, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said as of today there were now 69 individual deaths from COVID-19 in Suffolk County. 25 of those individuals died in the past 48 hours and 16 in the past day. The vast majority of deaths were of people who had underlying medical issues.

“We are going to get through this but it is going to get worse before it gets better,” said County Executive Steve Bellone. “We all have the power to make this better by practicing social distancing. If you feel sick stay home.”
The total for all of New York was even more staggering, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announcing the morning of April 1 nearly 400 people have died in New York State in the span of 24 hours. 

Cuomo compared it to the movie “Groundhog Day,” where the main character keeps experiences the same day over and over.

“When does it end? how does it end? I don’t know,” he said during his morning press briefing.

In Suffolk, the current number of people confirmed with the virus is 7,605. Currently over 25,000 have been tested, including 5,400 from the Stony Brook site in the South P lot as of Wednesday morning, Bellone said. 

The County Executive also emphasized the 2020 Census, saying as we’re in the midst of this battle, we need to recognize the economic human service impacts. 

“If we don’t do what we need to do we will be experiencing shortfalls in aid for the next 10 years,” Bellone said. “We have to make sure we’re getting those census documents filled out.” 

The county executive added Child Protective Services continues to do house visits and they have done as many interviews as they can telephonically.

“The government does not close — we are here to deal with crises,” he said. “CPS is one of those they are continuing to operate.”

Stony Brook University Begins Drug Trials to Combat Coronavirus

In a COVID-19 briefing update, Stony Brook Medicine officials said that the hospital has begun a number of clinical trials designed to identify effective therapies for critically ill patients.

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed to treat two other RNA viruses, Ebola and Marburg, has been administered to two patients with severe coronavirus. The clinical trials on the drug are led by Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Officials said the drug has appeared to be effective in treating COVID-19 in both China and Washington State. 

Doctors will also be involved in a Regeneron-sponsored clinical trial on Sarilumab (Kevzara), a monoclonal antibody which blocks binding of interleukin-6 to its receptor. Sarilumab is already FDA approved for the treatment of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and more recently for the cytokine storm that accompanies the use of CAR-T cells for acute leukemia. The first Regeneron patient was recruited on March 30. 

Stony Brook Medicine will soon be launching a clinical trial of donated, post-convalescent plasma from COVID-19 patients “very soon,” based on the level of antibody titers to SARS-CoV2 in the donor plasma. Serum or plasma therapy for infectious diseases dates to the 1890s, when serum made from immunized animals provided the first effective treatment for Clostridium tetani and Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

In addition, SBU professor Lily Mujica-Parodi has been part of a national effort to employ a wearable technology device called Oura to collect sufficient physiological data, and use deep learning algorithms to predict the onset of SARS-CoV2 infection. This type of device would be most productive and predictive in hospitals where there is a large number of healthcare workers in high-risk-for-infection roles. 

 LI Company to Begin New Face Shield Production

Clear-Vu Lighting, a Central Islip-based design company, will begin manufacturing an order of 20,000 new face shields that will be deployed to Stony Brook University Hospital. Mass production  is expected to start by early April. Clear-Vu Lighting is gearing up with an expectation to produce 40,000 faceshields per day and approximately 1.2 million per month. Production of face shields to Stony Brook will include supplies for Stony Brook University Hospital and all affiliated hospitals on Long Island. 

Preventing a Possible Shortage of Ventilators

Due to the projections of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stony Brook University Hospital is suggesting it may be required to use a single ventilator for up to two patients in case there is a shortage once the number of patients is at its peak. In a Stony Brook Medicine research laboratory, medical professionals are working on a solution to ventilating multiple patients with one ventilator. Putting two patients on one ventilator requires matching patients with similar characteristics, such as sex, height, age and lung sizes, to avoid one patient being over ventilated and the other being under ventilated.

Stony Brook said researchers and doctors are examining the forces that cause unequal distribution of lung volumes and airway pressures, while using complex test models of diseased lungs. With this research, doctors are able to vary airway resistance and compliance and mimic acute respiratory distress syndrome-like conditions, which allows to test the use of inline valves and resistance devices to solve these problems. 

Addressing the Growing Need for Additional Staff

To address potential staff shortfalls, the medical school is preparing to allow graduating students to volunteer on the front lines of the epidemic while awaiting the eventual surge of patients.

The Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University is allowing senior medical students to graduate in early April so they can begin their professional career as a physician at Stony Brook University Hospital. They will be able to work under the supervision of residents, fellows and attending physicians to address the growing number and complexity of patients being admitted to our hospital, precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The graduates would then proceed to begin their residencies July 1.

 

Stony Brook University Hospital. File photo

The Army Corps. of Engineers has awarded a $50 million contract to New York-based Turner Construction Company to begin building a hospital extension to handle the expected surge in hospital demand in the next few weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With assistance from Suffolk County contractors and sub contractors, Turner will begin building the facility immediately and is expected to complete construction by April 18.

Stony Brook University Hospital and other area medical care facilities will use the hospital extension for patients who have come to the hospital for health care issues that don’t involve COVID-19, freeing up bed space in the main hospital and in other centers to treat patients with the virus.

The construction of the 1,000-bed facility is part of a Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) effort to double the number of hospital beds throughout the state within the next few weeks.

Construction on the hospital extension will start “right away,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1). The Army Corps. of Engineers has been “getting a running start on this project,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin was pleased that Anthony Ciorra, a senior program manager for the Army Corps. of Engineers, would be working closely on the project.

Ciorra is someone Zeldin has “interacted with very frequently, ” he said, adding the man is “intimately familiar with the First Congressional District. He has been a great resource throughout the years” and is able to cut through the red tape and get the job done.

Ciorra will be working under Col. Thomas Asbery, who is the commander for the New York District.

“Both of them have played an instrumental role in getting this to the point where it’s at right now,” Zeldin said.

The congressman said he expected local companies to contribute to the new construction.

“It would very much be my hope and expectation that Turner would be utilizing local businesses for supplies and labor to complete this project,” he said.

Separately, Stony Brook University said Batelle has added its Critical Care Decontamination System, which will allow the university to reuse N95 masks, among other personal protective equipment. The Batelle system will start decontaminating up to 80,000 masks per day by the end of this week. Before decontaminating the masks, people will inspect them to make sure masks with rips, tears, makeup, or other fluids don’t go through the process.