Times of Huntington-Northport

The Modell's Sporting Goods store in Miller Place closed earlier this year during the height of the first wave of the pandemic. Officials are looking to stave off even more closures during the coronavirus' second wave. Photo by Kyle Barr

The second punch from the resurgent virus, which has already caused an increase in positive tests in Suffolk County, may soon also connect with small businesses.

Determined to help the economic engine of many communities throughout the county survive through the winter months when people may be stuck indoors, an initiative started in the spring called Suffolk Forward is expanding.

With financial support from Bank of America, the effort, which started with consulting, technology and think tank ideas, will expand to 200 to 300 companies in the coming months.

Suffolk Forward taps into the expertise of Dave Calone, Chief Executive Officer of Jove Equity Partners, Dr. Manuel London, the Dean of the College of Business at Stony Brook University, Tom Moebus of the Shift Group and Bob Isakson, Long Island Market President for Bank of America.

“This time, right now, when our Suffolk County businesses and Long Island businesses are at their most vulnerable spot, with the failure of the federal government to come up with legislation that would help small businesses” said Calone on a conference call with reporters. Without a federal Paycheck Protection Program to fall back on, efforts like Suffolk Forward become increasingly important, he added.

Suffolk Forward has a job board, a virtual expert network that is staffed by professors at the Stony Brook University College of Business and a gift card platform that helps support local businesses.

“People would spend a lot of money to get consulting like this,” Calone said. “Local businesses have the opportunity for free to tap into these experts.”

Calone said he is “excited to expand the pandemic shift workshop” from the few dozen companies so far to a few hundred in the coming months.

Moebus of the Shift Group said some of the breakout sessions in these work groups include four, 90-minute interactions.

“Business owners are very clever [but] they run out of ideas for themselves,” Moebus said. In these interactions, they “work together and create new ideas and develop creative solutions for each other.”

These efforts help “rebuild Main Street through one of these zoom groups at a time,” Moebus added.

The sessions also are available to chambers of commerce, which help them operate differently, particularly in a challenging, fluid and changing setting.

Interested business owners can sign up for workshops through shiftgroup.com/pandemic-shift or at the Stony Brook College of Business web site, College of Business Programs Offered | College of Business.

County Exeutive Steve Bellone (D) thanked the participants for their efforts and highlighted the importance of these sessions for business owners and for the future economic survival of the county.

“We want to continue the incredible progress we’ve made from the time when we were at the epicenter of this epidemic to where we are today,” Bellone said. “As these numbers continue to surge, we put at risk not only public health, but our economic recovery.”

Huntington Hospital, will soon be home to a new caregiver program center due to a philanthropic gift from Charles and Helen Reichert. Photo from Northwell Health

Thanks to Charles and Helen Reichert, a center for a new caregiver program at Huntington Hospital, part of Northwell Health, will be ready by the first quarter of next year.

To be named the Reichert Family Caregiver Center, the philanthropic gift came this month to give the new program a space to help patients, their families and the community.

“The program was designed to support the family caregiver — the people taking care of their own loved ones that carry with them the stress, possible burden, the need for information and resources or emotional support,” said Cheryl Miranda, the hospital’s director of patient and customer experience. “For them, it’s almost like CPR for the family.”

She said the families dealing with their loved ones who are in the hospital are known as the silent patients.

“They do an amazing job to try to take care of their family members,” she added.

The caregiver program was implemented before COVID as a pilot, which is made up of different components, all to connect those caring for the chronically ill with programs and resources that can relieve their burden. The center will work within the hospital to help families with ongoing care after discharge.

“Once we have the new center, we’ll have the ability to give people space in real time,” Miranda said. “Someone will be there to be with them, hold their hands and let them cry.”

From emotional support to other resources like food delivery options, the center plans on walking the family through whatever they need when they leave the hospital.

“Our social workers and case managers, as great a job as they do with the patients and their families, it’s a short time they’re with them,” Miranda said. “This allows us to be connected with them and bring continual support throughout this community.”

And because of the Reichert family, the hospital can now fund the center and a full-salaried social worker to help out. Known for their philanthropy throughout the community, the Reicherts have been instrumental in implementing new technologies and services throughout Northwell Health.

Previously the Reicherts donated to  Northwell Health Reichert Family Imaging at Huntington in Greenlawn and the reception area of the Huntington Hospital Emergency Department, as well as supporting the hospital’s Center for Mothers and Babies. The Reichert family’s donations also funded the purchase of the hospital’s first 3D mammography machine.

“The Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation is committed to building stronger and healthier communities,” Charles Reichert said. “We are proud to partner with Huntington Hospital to create this much-needed program that will provide support, assistance and respite. You don’t realize how important a caregiver is until you become one.”

Stock photo

As the percentage of positive tests throughout the county continues its rapid climb to about 3.5% from around 1% in the last 10 days, Suffolk County has started its first school-based testing in Hampton Bays and Riverhead.

Those two school districts, where county and school officials are testing students who have received permission from their parents, recently started testing students for COVID-19 in an effort to monitor and reduce the spread of the virus.

Hampton Bays has a 6.5% positive testing rate over the last five days, while Riverhead has a 5.6% positive rate for that same period, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

About 400 tests for students, teachers and faculty in Hampton Bays, which started on Thursday, Nov. 19, will be administered before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Four employees from Suffolk County are on site to administer the rapid tests, which provide results within 15 minutes.

“The goal in launching this free school-based testing program is to be proactive in an effort to get control of these numbers in the county,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. More testing will help the county locate the potential source of community spread, helping to enable schools and businesses to remain open.

The school testing is part of a “comprehensive effort to get our arms around these nubmers and stop the surge in the county,” Bellone said.

The Riverhead tests will start on Friday, Nov. 20. The county hasn’t determined how many tests it will administer at that location. The Riverhead and Hampton Bays testing kits came from New York State.

Additional pop up testing will occur in the Hamptons Bays that Stony Brook South Shore Hospital will administer over the next two weeks, which will continue on an as-needed basis.

Bellone said the spread of positive tests is occurring throughout the county and isn’t localized in any one region.

“What we’re seeing is the spread is happening everywhere across the county,” Bellone said. “The announcement today is part of a larger, comprehensive effort to get community spread under control.”

While schools in Manhattan have closed in response to a rise in positive tests, Bellone said concerted efforts in the county may prevent the eastern part of Long Island from the same fate.

These efforts include increasing the number of contact tracers to 150 today from just 30 before this surge began. The Suffolk County Police Department is also increasing enforcement around the holiday about social host laws and gathering limits below 10 people. The Suffolk County Department of Health is also working through social media to remind residents about their public health responsibilities.

Bellone reiterated that some of the increase in cases in the county came from gatherings around Halloween. With Thanksgiving next week, which typically brings multiple generations of families together, the result from these gatherings could continue to increase the number of positive tests.

Bellone said the county would continue to follow local data. If other communities also have positive test rates above the average in the county over a long enough period of time, the county will “engage with those school districts” as it has with Hampton Bays and Riverhead, Bellone said.

At this point, the county has no plans to conduct additional testing after Thanksgiving.

“We’re not seeing the spread happening inside the school,” Bellone said. “The effort we are engaged in today is part of a larger, comprehensive effort trying to get a handle on this in the county. It’s not, per se, an issue about the schools. We are looking at certain communities” where the positive rate is above the average for the community.

The county executive said he would provide data about the school-based testing once it was collected.

Suffolk County Legislator William "Doc" Spencer. File photo

A Suffolk County legislator has asked for the removal of one of his colleagues from the three committees he serves on in the Legislature.

Legislator Rob Trotta

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) requested that Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) be removed from the Public Safety, Health and Ways & Means committees, during the Nov. 12 Public Safety committee meeting, according to a press release from Trotta’s office.

The request comes after the Oct. 20 arrest of Spencer, 53. According to police, the legislator was in a county-issued vehicle when officers arrested him. Police said he allegedly planned to meet a prostitute in the parking lot of a Goodwill store in Elwood to trade sex for the pills, which were reportedly oxycodone, a legal form of an opioid. The arrest was part of an undercover operation.

Spencer also serves on the county’s opioid task force.

“It is not about my personal feelings for Doc Spencer, but it is about upholding the integrity of the office of a legislator and the perception the taxpayers have of him and the office,” Trotta said.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office said Spencer had a handgun on him when he was arrested and had a permit for the gun. He handed it over after his arraignment. Trotta said such an action could have put police in danger.

“Spencer’s illegal behavior could have jeopardized the safety of the officers involved, given the fact he was carrying a handgun,” he said. “Officers have a split second in which to make a decision when they come upon a scene with a gun involved. It could have ended very differently.”

The decision to remove a legislator from a committee is up to presiding officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). Calarco said at this point in time there are two legislators who are facing felony charges. Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic Beach) is also facing charges after being indicted in July 2019 for alleged perjury, ethics violations and other offenses in connection with his work as the former district manager of the Centereach Fire District that continued after he became legislator in 2018.

The presiding officer said both legislators believe their charges are not appropriate. Just like he hasn’t removed Sunderman from his committees, he said, he will not be removing Spencer.

“I think it’s important for me to treat every legislator equally,” Calarco said. “So, I have not and will not be removing Legislator Spencer from his committee assignments for the remainder of the year.”

He said it was important for both men to have the opportunity to make their cases in court and have the judicial process unfold. However, Calarco said while Spencer remains on the committees, he is no longer chair of the Health committee. He also no longer serves as vice chair of the Ways & Means committee.

The DA has charged Spencer with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, a class B felony, and criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, a class B felony. He was arraigned Oct. 21 at the John P. Cohalan Jr. Courthouse in Central Islip. Spencer is due back in court on Feb. 26. If convicted of the top count, he could face a maximum of up to nine years in prison.

In addition to his legislative duties, Spencer runs a private practice, Long Island Otolaryngology & Pediatric Airway in Huntington. After his arrests, Huntington Hospital temporarily suspended his privileges pending further investigation.

Spencer is not required to step down as legislator, according to county law. A representative from Spencer’s office did not return requests for statements about his arrest and Trotta’s announcement.

Erica Forman, of Hauppauge, shares her story to be a voice for the transgender community. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Her name was always Erica. 

Erica Forman, of Hauppauge, began to transition her gender from male to female in her late 20s. In 2012, she officially changed her name to Erica, one of two names her mother loved before she knew the sex of her baby 51 years ago. 

“This would have been my name,” Forman said. “Back then, you had to choose two names, so Erica was the name that was planned.”

Forman chose to share her story to commemorate Transgender Awareness Month. November has been dedicated to the transgender community across the country in hopes of bringing awareness to a community that rarely has a voice. Nov. 20 is dedicated to solemnly remember the lives lost to anti-trans violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance. 

‘I’m lucky I live here. There are parts of the country that I might go to, where I wouldn’t wear this shirt.’

—Erica Forman

According to GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ media force, TDOR was started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was brutally killed in 1998 as a hate crime. The vigil, to take place Nov. 20, commemorates all the transgender people lost to violence since Hester’s death, something now called the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. 

This year, more than 30 transgender people were killed in acts of violence as of Oct. 6, according to the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign. The campaign reported it has not seen such a level of violence at this point of the year since it began tracking that data in 2013. 

Forman said she knew something was different as a child. At around age 12, she began experimenting when her mother wasn’t home. 

“I never really understood why I identified with girls’ things growing up, but I couldn’t really be open about it,” she said. “I spent a good amount of my time pre-transition trying to fit in.”

In college she was in a fraternity. “I love those guys,” she said. “They’re my brothers and I’m their sister now.” 

David Kilmnick, president and chief executive officer of Long Island’s LGBT Network, said acknowledging this month is important because it sheds light to issues that are rarely talked about. 

“We’re bringing visibility and awareness about the trans community and the issues our trans community faces,” he said. “We join together as one community to stop hate against all groups, particularly the issues of violence against trans women and women of color that are kept in the closet.”

Kilmnick said the names of those who perished from hate crimes are rarely ever said.

“This brings together our community to speak out and say whatever is on your mind — say what you want to see happen,” he said. “Say the names of those who were murdered by hate violence, so we don’t have to say another name ever again.”

Transgender people often experience harassment in the day to day, such as in the workplace.

After more than a decade presenting as male at work, Forman decided to transition full-time in 2008.  

“At my job, I experienced a whole a lot of resistance,” she said. “HR confronted me and said, ‘You know, we hired a man.’”

She said the job forced her to wear a tag with the male name she was assigned at birth, because she was still going through the lengthy and arduous process to legally become Erica on paper.

“It was awful,” she said. “Eventually I was able to hold on to it, and transition at the job, but it was a fight. There was a fight almost all the way. It’s one of those very difficult things that we face, finding work as our authentic selves — there’s just a lot of bias, and people will find other reasons not to hire you.”

Forman said she shared her story as an advocate to the trans community to let people out there know that things will be okay. 

“Would you rather be happy, or would you rather be miserable?” she said. “My days are filled with me wanting to be alive and wanting to do things, and now I’m able to interact with the world, like I never did before.”

Along with the LGBT Network, The Transgender Resource Center of Long Island, based in Manorville, is a relatively new nonprofit established by members of the transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming community, their families, partners and allies. 

“We’ve helped hundreds of people,” said Ursula Nigro, the director of operations for the center. “Whether it’s a call for a resource, support groups, hooking people up together to go and rent spaces — we have a lot of homelessness in the trans community and it’s super difficult.”

Nigro helped found the group four years ago when her wife started transitioning. Their goal was to create a space that will help the local transgender community, while educating businesses, schools and offices on inclusivity training. 

“Trans folks want to be treated with respect and dignity just like everyone else,” she said. “I think there’s a fear that needs to be extinguished, and people need to be aware that quite a large population of the world is trans. It’s not a choice and it’s not a mental illness.” 

The month of November, especially this week ending Nov. 20, has become a time for the trans community to communicate tolerance.

“You’ve met somebody who’s trans in your life,” Forman said. “And did it hurt? Did that encounter hurt you? No, it doesn’t hurt anybody. The worst it does is wounds somebody’s heart and their memory of you.”

Being transgender means something different to each and every person. 

“The best way to think about is people need to be comfortable in their bodies and their identity and that looks different for lots of people,” Forman said. “That’s why identity is something in your soul. Only you know what feels right, what fits right and what sounds right.”

On Friday, Nov. 20, The LGBT Network will be hosting Transgender Day of Remembrance: Speak Out, a free virtual event to share stories to remember the lives lost this year to transphobic violence. 

“Speak Out is for everyone to join,” Kilmnick said. “It’s not just for the trans community — We have to join together to stop hate and violence.”

Stock photo

Despite Election Day being Nov. 3, local races have a week or more to settle on the final count.

Suffolk County Republican Board of Elections commissioner, Nick LaLota, said via email they hope counting will be finished before Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, though there is no way to know when everything will be finalized.

Republican candidates took leads in every local state and congressional race based on in-person ballots as the BOE started its absentee ballot count Nov. 16. Election experts have repeatedly said on average more Democrats used absentee ballots than Republicans did, though races will largely depend on unaffiliated voters. 

With that said, it will still be hard going for many Democrats in a few of the most hotly contested races. The U.S. Congressional District 1 race between U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and his Democratic opponent Nancy Goroff still remains out, though Zeldin currently holds a 65,120-vote lead. There are still over 89,000 absentee ballots left in that race, but Goroff would need to reportedly take all non-GOP registered votes in order to gain the upper hand.

A similar challenge is there in the New York State Senate District 1 race for Democrat Laura Ahearn, who has a steep uphill climb against her challenger, current Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). Ahearn is down by 18,736 from in-person polling, and there are over 42,000 absentee ballots left to count, and she will need many votes outside the two main parties to gain the seat.

The race for State Senate District 2 between Republican Mario Mattera and Democrat Mike Siderakis is heavily favoring red, as there is a 35,109 difference in votes favoring Mattera with less than 43,000 votes to count. 

The State Assembly District 2 race between Democrat Laura Jens-Smith and Republican Jodi Giglio is likely to go in favor of the GOP. With a 14,355 difference and just under 17,000 absentee ballots to count, Giglio has all but cinched her new position. Jens-Smith has previously told TBR News Media she knows she has very little chance of victory.

Some elections are closer than others, such as State Assembly District 4. Many residents reported surprise in messages to TBR News Media at longtime Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s (D-Setauket) deficit of votes compared to his Republican opponent Michael Ross of 1,966. That race currently has 17,909 absentee ballots left to count.

However, there are a few confirmed elections. State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), with his lead of 23,419 with in-person ballots, is so far ahead of his young Democratic opponent Dylan Rice even the over-17,000 absentee ballots could not make a dent in the District 8 race.

On Nov, 17, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) said his opponent George Santos called him to concede. In a statement, Santos credited grassroots supporters and donors for the close race.

“I am proud that we gained the support of every PBA and first responder organization that endorsed this cycle,” Santos said.

Santos said there may be more announcements in the near future regarding his next steps.

“I would like to congratulate Congressman Tom Suozzi,” Santos said. “We wish him well going forward for the benefit of our district and constituents.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) declared victory Nov. 18 against his Republican opponent Ed Smyth. This came after votes absentee votes already counted in both Nassau and Suffolk put him over the edge.

“I am humbled to be reelected by the residents of the 5th Senate District and I thank them for their support,” Gaughran said in a statement. “During my first term in office, I worked tirelessly on behalf of Long Islanders and I am proud to have delivered real results — from a permanent property tax cap to support for small businesses navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. I will keep fighting for my constituents, for Long Island, and for all of New York State and I thank the voters for giving me the opportunity to continue to serve them.”

Above, is a breakdown of where each race stands with in-person votes as at Nov. 18 plus the number of absentee ballots left as last reported on Nov. 16 (from the Suffolk County Board of Elections).

Current vote totals are as of the morning of Nov. 18

Congress

NY1

Lee Zeldin (R): 176,323 Votes – 61.31%

Nancy Goroff (D): 111,203 Votes – 38.67%

Absentee Ballots: 89,401

NY3

Tom Suozzi (D): 46,112 Votes – 46.65%

George Santos (R): 52,117 Votes – 52.72%

Absentee Ballots: 34,902

New York State Senate

SD1

Laura Ahearn (D): 55,557 Votes – 42.78%

Anthony Palumbo (R): 74,293 Votes – 57.20%

Absentee Ballots: 42,550

SD2

Mario Mattera (R): 79,762 Votes – 64.10%

Mike Siderakis (D): 44,653 Votes – 35.88%

Absentee Ballots: 42,781

SD5

Jim Gaughran (D): 27,132 Votes – 43.51%

Ed Smyth (R): 34,575 Votes – 55.44%

Absentee Ballots: 21,276

New York State Assembly

AD2

Jodi Giglio (R): 34,290 Votes – 62.39%

Laura Jens-Smith (D): 19,935 Votes – 36.27%

Absentee Ballots: 16,979

AD4

Michael Ross (R): 22,966 Votes – 51.88%

Steve Englebright (D): 21,000 Votes – 47.44%

Absentee Ballots: 17,909

AD8

Mike Fitzpatrick (R): 39,937 Votes – 70.73%

Dylan Rice (D): 16,518 Votes – 29.26%

Absentee Ballots: 17,227

AD10

Steve Stern (D): 24,141 Votes – 49.93%

Jamie Silvestri (R): 24,197 Votes – 50.05%

Absentee Ballots: 18,529

AD12

Keith Brown (R): 30,638 Votes – 57.20%

Michael Marcantonio (D): 22,908 Votes – 42.77%

Absentee Ballots: 15,906

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

On the night before Thanksgiving, high school and college students typically come together to reconnect, share stories and share a drink.

This year, as COVID-19 cases climb throughout the U.S., including in Suffolk County, County Executive Steve Bellone (D), along with the Suffolk County Police Department and local enforcement offices, are discouraging gatherings that might cause further spread of the virus.

Enforcement efforts will using social host laws, which fine residents for allowing underage drinking, and state-mandated gathering restrictions, which combined, could lead to “serious consequences,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters Nov. 17.

“No matter where you are or what you are doing, social distancing and mask guidelines must be followed,” Bellone said. “We’ve come too far to go back now.”

With new state restrictions that limit the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. through bars and restaurants, Bellone said enforcement efforts would be on the look out for gatherings at private residences. Some of these viral spreading events have occurred during smaller gatherings.

“The spread of COVID-19 at these types of parties is very, very real,” Bellone said. “We’ve seen it countless times. We all need to take personal responsibility,” which includes parents who need to comply with social host laws and the state’s gathering limits in homes.

Bellone announced a partnership between the Suffolk County Department of Health and the nonprofit Partners in Prevention, which is starting a social media campaign to inform the community about social host laws. Bellone called this information “critical” leading up to Thanksgiving celebrations.

While Suffolk County enforcement efforts will respond to calls about larger group gatherings, Bellone said police would use “common sense” and would not be “going door to door to check on the number of individuals in a house.”

As for the infection rates, the numbers continue to rise, returning to levels not seen in months.

“We expect our numbers [of positive tests] to be around 400 today,” Bellone said. The positivity rate is about 3.4 percent, while the number of people hospitalized with symptoms related to the virus approaching 100.

“We have not been above 100 since June 18,” Bellone said. In the last 24 hours, the number of people who have required hospitalization from the virus increased by 16.

While the virus has exhausted people physically and mentally, the county cannot “jeopardize our continued economic recovery” and the health of the population by stepping back from measures such as social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing that proved so effective in reducing the spread earlier this year, Bellone said.

“Now is the time to double down on common sense measures that work,” he added.

Some of the positive tests are coming from people in nursing homes, who are among the most vulnerable population.

“With the nursing homes, that is obviously a big concern,” Bellone said. The county is “making sure they have the PPE [personal protective equipment] they need.”

The Department of Health is staying in close contact with these facilities as cases continue to climb.

Bellone urged residents who dined at a Friendly’s restaurant in Riverhead on Nov. 5 or 6 to monitor their symptoms for the next two weeks. Six adults who worked at the restaurant have tested positive for the virus.

Anyone who is exhibiting symptoms of the virus, which include fever, a runny nose, lost of taste or smell, fatigue, shortness of breath, can find a testing site at suffolkcountyny.gov/covid19.

Separately, when asked about the possibility of schools closing in response to the increasing incidence of positive tests, Bellone urged schools to remain open at this testing level.

“We are not seeing the spread happening in the schools,” Bellone said. “The protocols being put in place and the execution in the schools has really worked.”

The head of pediatrics at Stony Brook Children's Hospital said current restrictions on daily life has not meant young people have not been exposed to normal childhood diseases. Stock photo

The school and day care mixing bowl of bacterial and viral illnesses has changed. As schools, day-care centers, clubs, sports teams and other organizations change the way they manage group gatherings amid the pandemic, the game of illness tag children seem to play has slowed.

“We are seeing potentially less viral illnesses thus far in the sense that we have not seen an increase yet in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV,” said Christy Beneri, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Program Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “We are still waiting to see what happens with the flu.”

The chance of children contracting some of those illnesses would likely be less this year amid the infection control measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease responsible for the pandemic.

Beneri said children are getting somewhat fewer infections, although doctors are still seeing strep throat, ear infections and pneumonia.

Viral-induced asthma visits have declined at Stony Brook. Children who have asthma are still seeking medical attention, particularly if their condition doesn’t have a viral trigger.

At the same time, the effects of social isolation, uncertainty about the future, and household anxiety has triggered an additional mental health burden, particularly for adolescents.

Pediatricians are “asking patients more about those issues,” she said. “We maybe didn’t ask as much as we should have in the past.”

Even though children generally have less contact with their contemporaries this year, they are still developing illnesses, as their immune system receives challenges from microbes through dirt, pet saliva and other sources.

The dynamic is “slightly different in terms of getting some of these viruses from other people, [but] there are still pathogens in their environment,” she said.

In the current environment, with positive tests for COVID-19 setting new national daily records, Beneri said it is important to practice infection control measures in certain settings, which will impact what children are exposed to over time.

The cultural shift from sending children who might have mild symptoms to school to keeping children home for the good of their fellow students and staff has helped reduce the spread of COVID and other potential infections.

“We’ve taken a step back from what makes sense not just for my child, but for others my child might be exposing,” Beneri said. The decision about whether to send a child who might be battling an illness, cold or minor discomfort to school “is not just about us. It’s about those in our communities and, hopefully, there’s a better recognition” about the impact an infected child can have.

Some of the infection control measures, such as hand hygiene and staying home when children are sick should continue even after companies start providing a COVID-19 vaccine.

At this point, with the virus still prevalent in the community and country, she said acute care visits are declining, as parents are managing at home and are watching and waiting to see how their children recover from any infection.

As a parent, Beneri is dealing with the disappointment and disruption of life in the pandemic for her seven-year-old daughter. Twice, the family has had to cancel a trip to Disney World and has scheduled it for a third time.

Once the worst of the pandemic passes and children get back together again, the pediatric program director said there might be an increase in certain infections, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the county will see horrific outbreaks.

With the approach of Thanksgiving and the December holidays, Beneri urges families to be creative about gatherings. She suggested that smaller groups might want to get together over two weekends, rather than all gathering at the same time.

As for advice to schools, Beneri urges people to remain mindful of their activities outside of school.

“It’d be a shame to have to close schools,” Beneri said.

Beneri added people can celebrate milestones like turning 16, but they should not have a 40-person event in the current environment.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Just as many areas in the rest of the country are experiencing a rise in positive tests for the coroanvirus, Suffolk County has now completed a week in which the numbers have climbed quickly.

The seven-day moving average of new cases is over 300, compared with an average of 119 the prior week.

“For a full week, we’ve seen an alarming spike in new COVID-19 cases,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has issued new guidelines starting this evening for restaurants, bars and fitness centers. Starting at 10 pm, each of those businesses is required to close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Restaurants are allowed to offer curbside dining for pick up only after 10 p.m., but they can’t serve alcohol after that time.

At the same time, gatherings are limited to 10 people, in part because smaller collections of people have contributed to the rise in positive tests.

Starting today, the county will also deploy six teams, consisting of one fire marshal and one staff member from consumer affairs to boost ongoing compliance.

These teams will speak with businesses about new restrictions. The first focus will be on gaining compliance and informing and educating the public. These new teams will have the authority to issue citations if they “detect or observe egregious violations,” Bellone said.

These new restrictions are the first in the county since the spring.

“We don’t want to see new restrictions take effect that will slow the recovery more,” Bellone said. “That will all be dependent on what we do in the next couple of weeks.”

The county has a “short window” in which to get these numbers under control, the county executive continued.

The county has activated 200 additional case investigators and has 1,000 contact traces following up on positive tests within the county.

The goal is to get index cases as quickly as possible within a 24-hour period, Bellone added, to reduce the spread of the virus.

Bellone urged people to avoid gatherings this weekend to the greatest extent possible.

“We are entering a dangerous period for this virus,” Bellone said. “We have long talked about the possibility of a second wave in the fall. It very much feels like that’s where we are.”

With two weeks left until Thanksgiving, Bellone reminded residents that the time to quarantine is limited.

People need to follow best practices, which includes social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizing, even as the weather gets colder and residents spend more time indoors.

“No one wants their Thanksgiving gathering to be the next super spreader event,” Bellone said.

Though Election Day may have passed, local psychologists said the strain partisanship is still causing undue stress and anxiety. Stock photo

Though this year’s election arguably lasted far longer than any other in recent history, the way even the presidential election has lingered in the news has not slowed the amount of stress people are feeling in its wake.

A study conducted by market research firm The Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association, released Oct. 7, said 76% of Democrats, 67% of Republicans and 64% of Independent voters said the election was a major stressor in their lives. 

“Many people are isolated, and in such a politically charged environment, there’s just a lot of uncertainty about the future.”

— Dr. Donna Friedman

Local psychologists have witnessed the general anxiety from their patients and the 2020 election’s impact on mental health. Dr. Donna Friedman said among her clients who go to her in her East Setauket practice, she would agree with the APA’s study. And with the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and protests all around the country over law enforcement, the level of election stress is something she has never before seen in her near 35 years in private practice. Worse, lingering questions of a peaceful transfer of power and absentee ballot counts have made this period of heightened tension last.

Though people may not have the same political viewpoints, many of them share similar feelings of stress. Every person is different, and among the many issues of an issue-filled age, individuals have a much bigger opportunity to feel anxious. The APA study points out those with chronic health conditions are significantly more likely to say the election is a very significant source of stress for them.

“For some people the issue is Trump and how he treats women, for another person it might be issues with police, how law enforcement has affected them — it depends,” Friedman said. “It’s not across the board everyone feels the same way.”

What people are feeling stressed and anxious about also depends on different demographics. For people of color, the election was even more of a stressor than previous years, such as with Black people at 71% in 2020 compared to just 46% in 2016, according to the APA study. 

Dr. Chris Kearney, a fellow East Setauket-based psychologist, said with all the external factors, this current election has heightened stress further than he’s seen before from any other election.

Kearney, who works with both adolescents and adults, said young people are afraid of what this pandemic and election mean for them right now, whether it will impact their ability to go to college or get a job. Adults are more stuck on where they are, he said, and it’s more difficult for them to open up. 

“For the teens, it’s what’s going to happen in the immediate right now, for the adults they’re very unrelenting — once they have an opinion, it’s hard to interject another rationale,” he said.  

As a therapist, his role is to stay neutral even when his patients talk about their personal political views, though he said for adults it’s important to know such animosity to the other side can become imprinted on younger children. 

Friedman said people being cut off from their social contacts because of the ongoing pandemic has only helped exacerbate the issue, and this stress is much more apparent with older than younger folks. Older people are more afraid of getting sick, or even being alone and getting sick. Younger people speak less about fear of getting sick, but more so how they will be impacted by the election.

“I think that volatility just continues in our everyday life and behaviors, and that’s why that stress level is increased.”

— Dr. Chris Kearney

“Many people are isolated, and in such a politically charged environment, there’s just a lot of uncertainty about the future,” she said. “People are divided from each other when they really do need to feel connected.”

With more people seeking or coming back to therapy, local psychologists said this charged political time has truly damaged relationships among both family and friends. The APA has suggested people need to break habits of ruminating on the worst-case scenario and instead focus on things one can control and engage in meaningful activities.

Friedman said people need to practice good self-care. Part of that includes limiting time one might spend hooked into the 24-hour news cycle. News can become “addicting,” she said, and it might be best to limit oneself to specific points in the day where you can read or watch to catch oneself up. She added people need to focus on maintaining social connections as best as one can, and should also try to distract oneself from the surrounding negativity through hobbies or other interests, anything from gardening to taking walks. 

Kearney said it’s important to not let a difference of opinion between you, your family, friends or even coworkers become volatile.

“I think that volatility just continues in our everyday life and behaviors, and that’s why that stress level is increased and gets even higher,” he said. “If we work together and help each other, we can maybe reduce that volatility in our relationships.”