Times of Smithtown

Photo from Sweetbriar

Visit Sweetbriar Nature Center, 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown for a special Creatures of the Night fundraiser program on Friday, July 17 from 7 to 8 p.m. Meet some nocturnal animals and embark on a walk into the darkness to enjoy the night and maybe call in an owl or two. Bug spray is highly recommended, bring a flashlight, and bring a mask for when you can’t physically distance more than 6 feet. The hike will be self guided and the trails will be lit with lanterns. Adults and teens only. Cost is $10 per person. To purchase tickets, visit www.sweetbriarnc.org. For more information, call 631-979-6344.

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On his daily update with reporters July 14, an exacerbated-sounding Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had a rather simple message: “Wear a mask, wear a face covering, there’s too much at stake for you not to.”

This comes on the heels of new virus data for Suffolk County, which says the positive test rate broke 2 percent today as the number of new positive tests rose by 102 to a total of 42,214 in Suffolk County. The number even beats the positive test rate for New York City, which is sitting at 1.4 percent as of reporting. The overall New York State positive rate is 1.5 percent.

“This is the first time the number of new positives has risen since May 31,” Bellone said. “The numbers are moving in the wrong direction.”

While the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 remained relatively the same at 41, along with 14 people in ICU beds, the county executive said the number of increasing cases is due to young people, especially those 30 years or younger. Since June 24, 42 percent of positive cases have come from this age group, Bellone said. 

This news also comes on the heels of a release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo who cited a Fourth of July weekend party in Holtsville as an example of how new infections are being spread. While the governor’s office put the number at 35 percent testing positive, the county put the number at 4, meaning 22 percent of partygoers were confirmed with the virus. The county did not issue any citations for the party as the number of people was under the 25 required limit for gatherings. The county executive said police did not respond to this particular gathering in Holtsville, and he did not reveal

“It’s an example of why it’s critically important that we remain vigilant,” Bellone said. “If you attended a Fourth of July gathering, you should be extremely sensitive to how you’re feeling, and when in doubt go get tested.”

Bellone added they have been doing contract tracing for events tracing back to the Fourth of July weekend, but did not have other examples of other gatherings where people have tested positive. If the county has to, Bellone said police will step up enforcement about gatherings. 

“If that number climbs to 5 percent we’re not going to be able to reopen our schools, and that will be terrible for kids and parents,” he said.

The county executive said 10 lifeguards employed by Suffolk County have been confirmed with COVID-19, but officials said they were not confirmed with the virus from being on the beach during the holiday, and more likely were infected during gatherings with fellow lifeguards. All 10 are now in quarantine.

On the positive end, however, Tuesday also marked a third day in a row where no new people have died due to complications with COVID-19.

On the state side, Cuomo added another four states to the list of places people must quarantine after coming in to include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. 

 

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While Suffolk County remains well below the level of positive tests for the country as a whole and for states like Florida and Texas, the percentage of positive tests in the area has crept higher than it’s been in recent weeks.

Among 4,517 tests, 84 people tested positive for the coronavirus, which is a 1.9% positive test rate, The positive tests have been tracking closer to 1 percent for the last several days.

“If you attended a party last weekend on July 4 or a larger gathering, be sensitive to how you are feeling,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his almost daily conference call with reporters. “You may want to reconsider visiting friends and family who are vulnerable.”

Given the large number of tests throughout the country, the wait time to get results has increased to five to 10 days, Bellone said.

Additionally, Saheda Iftikhar, the Deputy Commissioner for Department of Health Services, said the time between exposure and a positive test is usually at least 48 hours. That means a person attending a gathering on a Sunday when he or she might have been exposed to someone with the virus should wait until Wednesday before taking a test, to avoid a likely false negative.

The 84 positive results from the July 12 data likely came from tests administered days or even a week earlier, which means that these tests could indicate any increase due to gatherings around Independence Day.

To be sure, Bellone said he doesn’t put too much stock in any one day’s numbers. Nonetheless, he said the county will remain vigilant about monitoring the infection rate over the next few days.

“Be smart,” Bellone urged. “If you attend a gathering in which social distancing or the guidelines may not be strictly adhered to, be very conscious of any symptoms you may have,” Bellone said.

Bellone also urged people to be responsive to calls from the Department of Health, as contact tracers gather confidential information designed to contain any possible spread of the virus.

The other numbers for residents were encouraging.

The number of residents in the hospital was 40, which is a decline from 54 on Friday. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds was 14, which is up from 10 from Friday.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 70 percent, while ICU occupancy was at 61 percent.

Hospitals discharged 13 people who had suffered with symptoms related to the virus.

For the last 48 hours, the number of fatalities has been zero. The total number of people who have died from complications related to the coronavirus is 1,993.

Bellone highlighted a financial report from New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, titled “Under Pressure.” The report indicated that, statewide, local sales tax collections declined by 24 percent in April and 32 percent in May.

“Local governments are only beginning to feel the impacts of COVID-19 on their revenue,” Bellone said. Reductions in state aid are still possible, which puts counties cities and less wealthy school districts in an “especially tenuous position.”

Local governments will need to take drastic measures to fill enormous budget gaps. That includes Suffolk County, which may have a deficit as large as $839 million this year.

Separately, as school districts try to figure out how to balance between in-person and remote learning, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) issued guidelines today designed to provide specific targets.

Schools in districts that have reached Phase 4 of the reopening, which includes Suffolk County and where the infection rate is below 5 percent, can reopen. When the positive testing percentage on a rolling 7-day basis exceeds 9 percent should close, Cuomo advised.

School districts will make their decisions about opening between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7.

The governor also announced a new requirement that people traveling into New York from 19 states with rising rates like Florida, California, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas will have to give the state contact information before leaving the airport. Those who fail to do this will receive a summons and face a $2,000 fine

Long Beach, Smithtown: Visitors to Smithtown’s Long Beach, a narrow land spit, will find an artificial berm to keep stormwater out during the winter. Many of the private roads slightly east of the town beach experience flooding when it’s high tide. Larry Swanson, interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the cause of the problem is the disruption of sediment due to a combination of rising sea levels and homeowners building sea walls to protect their property. “Long Beach is a spit that needs sediment supplied from the erosion of the bluffs of Nissequogue,” he said. “There are places where the supply is somewhat diminished to maintain sufficient elevation, perhaps where currents are stronger than elsewhere water can overflow.” Photo by Rita J. Egan

With Tropical Storm Fay heading towards Long Island, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said Long Island was expecting rainfall through 3 a.m.

Bellone urged residents to “stay alert” and “secure any loose objects to prevent damage.” He also suggested that people avoid travel and not to attempt to drive over a flooded road.

Residents who want to report outages can text OUT to 773454 (or PSEGLI). Those who can get online can report the outage to PSEGLINY.com or call (800) 490-0075.

The viral numbers continued to remain within the range of their recent low-infection pattern.

Among 6,245 residents who received tests, 62 of them tested positive, for a rate of 1 percent. That brings the total for the county who have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic to 41,711.

The county had 20,301 residents who tested positive for the antibody but who hadn’t had a prior test for the virus.

Hospitalizations rose by two to 54, while the number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds declined by 1 to 10.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 70 percent overall and at 60 percent for ICU beds.

One person died in the last day, increasing the total of losses for families, neighbors and communities to 1,992.

A dozen people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

Next week, residents can pre-register for antibody tests at three locations. They need to call (833) 433-7369.

Bellone urged the legislature to allow voters to consider two ballot measures that would allow the county to use up to $50 million of funds to plug the budgetary shortfall created by the economic collapse triggered by the lockdown.

“To address this fiscal crisis, we should do everything we possibly can to avoid two things: laying off essential workers and adding significant new tax burdens on our homeowners during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters.

While some environmental groups have opposed the moves, Bellone said neither measure would “take a dime away from existing environmental programs” and suggested that they were “common sense measures” designed to avoid increasing taxes or laying off essential employees.

The county has to create a budget, which Bellone hopes includes financial help at the federal level, to close a gap that could be as high as $839 million by September.

Luke Muratore

By Leah Chiappino

Each year, students who earn a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 or higher choose a representative to speak at graduation. This year Luke Muratore received the honor.

Muratore earned a final GPA of 4.52 and will attend University of Maryland, College Park, in the College Park Scholars program. He plans to major in computer science with a minor in business and hopes to work as a software engineer or program manager in New York City one day.

Throughout high school, Muratore served as president of the National Honor Society and as captain of varsity cross-country and varsity track. He was also the public relations officer for the Math Honor Society, Relay for Life team captain and was involved in Athletes Helping Athletes and DECA. Muratore says his favorite high school memory was competing in the Business Olympics.

“It was such an exciting moment to smile and present my team’s idea in front of a crowd of friends, family and teachers,” he said. “Later on in the night when it was announced that we won, I felt such a massive rush of energy.”

The honor speaker said he has his parents to thank for helping him succeed.

“My parents have always been comforting, helpful and inspiring and are a huge reason why I push myself to work hard in everything I do,” he said.

He added that he is grateful for the education he received at Smithtown West.

“I’ve never had a ‘bad teacher’ at Smithtown West,” he said. “Every teacher, coach and club adviser I have met has impacted the way I think in a unique and positive way.”

He added that the district’s efforts to try to “normalize” senior year helped him stay positive in the wake of having events canceled due to COVID-19.

Muratore encourages next year’s seniors to stay positive and to savor their time in high school.

“Make sure to smile, laugh and make the best out of every moment of high school,” he said. “Keep a positive mentality and don’t let the bad moments ruin your year. While we may be having more bad days in coming months, we must focus on the best parts of our lives rather than dwell on the worst. Achieving happiness means brushing off negativity and striving to do well as a person and community.”

Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Odeya Rosenband 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Funds are being raised for St. James Dry Cleaners which has suffered financially during the pandemic. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Leah Chiappino

St. James Dry Cleaners, like most businesses, is struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Melanie Bassi, the manager of the cleaners, said that during the past few months sales have dropped from around $16,000 per month to around $600 per month, a decrease of approximately 96 percent. Deemed an essential service by New York State, dry cleaners were able to stay open during the pandemic.

Looking for a way to save the dry cleaning service, Bassi started multiple online fundraisers. The community came through. A GoFundMe page, organized by the owner’s daughter, has since been deleted due to the fees the fundraising service charges, but raised $845. A Facebook fundraiser has raised another $228, so far. Bassi said that she has received $1,000 in donations from longtime customers and community members coming into the store to show their support.

The cleaners has been open for eight years and is owned by Peter Marinelli, who Bassi describes as an “old school” tailor, who has more than 50 years of experience.

“[Marinellii] is one of the most talented and selfless tailors there is,” Bassi said. “He’s just the nicest man. Everyone in the community loves him.”

To add to the business’ struggles, Marinelli has been in and out of the hospital, making the business’ daily operation even more difficult to manage.

“It’s just me and three part-time kids trying to keep this place afloat,” Bassi said.

Because they didn’t have updated bookkeeping to prove income, the cleaners did not qualify for government assistance or a payment protection program loan. Due to a dispute with Verizon, they were also forced to shut down their credit card machine and can only accept checks, cash or Venmo payments, adding to the business’ struggles. If the current sales stay the way they are, Bassi said she does not foresee the business being able to operate past the fall. They are looking to raise $10,000 in order to fully get back on their feet.

“From the bottom of our hearts, we are so grateful to the community,” Bassi said.

In the coming weeks, the dry cleaners is planning on having an outdoor fundraiser sponsored by a customer and several local businesses.

From left: Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and former Congressman Steve Israel. Photo from Bellone’s office

During the first two months of the pandemic, Long Island lost jobs at a faster rate than New York City, New York State or anywhere else in the nation, according to a new report from Nassau and Suffolk Counties with city-based consulting firm HR&A Advisors.

Long Islanders suffered the twin blows of the public health impact, with close to 2,000 people dying from the virus, and the economic destruction.

Long Island lost 270,000 jobs, or 21.9 percent of non-farm payroll employment, compared with a rate of 20.1 percent for New York City.

“This pandemic has caused hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders to lose their jobs, shuttered businesses, and turned our local economy upside down,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. He and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) held a press conference today in Melville where they cited this report. “This report makes it clear that federal aid from Congress is necessary if our region is going to rebound and recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

The impact was particularly brutal for people with low-paying jobs, lower levels of education and among the Hispanic population.

The worst, however, is not over, as total job losses on Long Island are expected to reach 375,000 compared to pre-COVID levels. Net job losses are expected to continue through 2021 as well, albeit at a slower pace.

More than two out of three jobs lost (or 68 percent) were in sectors that pay less than the regional average annual wage of $61,600.

The area that lost the highest number of jobs, across Suffolk and Nassau County, was hospitality, which shed 82,000 jobs. Health care and social assistance lost 59,000 jobs and retail lost 52,000.

The job decline in hospitality was especially problematic for Hispanic workers, who are disproportionately represented in those businesses. Hispanic workers represent 27 percent of the hospitality field, while they are a smaller 17 percent of the overall Long Island workforce.

While workers with a high school diploma or below constitute 62 percent of the workforce, they represented 73 percent of the viral-related job losses, reflecting the disparate effect of the virus.

The overall effect of these job losses will result in a decline of $21 billion in earnings for Long Island workers and $61 billion in economic activity throughout the area.

The report suggested that economic recovery would occur in several waves, with some industries showing an increase in jobs much more rapidly than others. Finance and insurance, management of companies and enterprises, professional and technical services, government and information jobs will likely see 95 percent of jobs return within six months, by the first quarter of next year.

The second wave includes jobs in real estate, retail, administrative and waste services, construction and utilities, education, health care and social assistance, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and other services. Within a full year, 85 percent of those jobs will return.

The third wave will take the longest and will bring back the fewest jobs. Accommodation and food services, transportation and warehousing, and arts, entertainment and recreation will take two years to restore 75 percent of the jobs on Long Island that predated COVID-19.

Half of all businesses in Suffolk County closed temporarily during the virus. An estimated 1 percent of those businesses closed permanently.

One third of businesses on Long Island are at risk of closing.

The report also projects that earning and spending losses may be even higher in 2021 from a slow recovery within some sectors and from expiring unemployment benefits.

The report and the county executives urged the federal government to pass the HEROES Act, which provides $375 billion in budgetary relief for local governments. The act passed the house, but the Senate has yet to address it.

The report also urged an extension of benefits for workers and businesses and an increase in federal infrastructure funds. The report also sought federal relief for small businesses, while supporting new business development and helping businesses recover. Finally, it seeks assistance for states and counties for workforce development, job training and equity initiatives.

A sign of the times outside Smithtown Town Hall. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Library

The Smithtown Library’s Long Island Room, located in the lower level of the  library’s main branch at 1 North Country Road in Smithtown, invites the community to participate in an important project.

Over the course of the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdowns have had a dramatic impact on the entire world and our own community. As challenging as these times are, however, it is important to recognize and document the historical significance of this period so that future generations may learn from it.

Ways you can participate include collecting relevant items, keeping a journal reflecting on your experiences and sharing photos and/or videos of the way your life or surroundings have changed.

For more information about this project and collecting examples, please visit https://smithlib.org/documenting​. If you are interested in donating materials to this collection or have any questions, please contact the Long Island Room via email at [email protected] Please do not bring any materials to the library at this time or before contacting the Long Island Room. For further information, please call 631-360-2480.

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station in 2018. Photo by Kyle Barr

For the past month or so, the sounds of fireworks have rang throughout the night in many parts of Long Island. Despite fireworks being banned in New York State for decades, Suffolk and Nassau officials have acknowledged seeing an increase in the number of complaints to police departments about illegal fireworks. 

The increase could be attributed to the lack of official Fourth of July firework display due to the coronavirus pandemic, or simply boredom. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone held a media briefing with Suffolk Police Chief Stuart Cameron prior to July 4 to warn residents about the dangers of using illegal fireworks. During the event, they showcased the dangers and destruction of fireworks by igniting a collection of pyrotechnics in a camper. 

This past holiday weekend there have been several firework injury incidents in Suffolk County. A man in Port Jefferson Station was injured when he attempted to light a firework that explored and injured one of his eyes. Additionally, a 29-year old man in Central Islip was severely wounded in the hand from an exploding firework. The man was at home on Tamarack Street when the injury occurred around 9:10 p.m. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.

Facebook community groups have also taken notice of the increase in illegal fireworks, People on community Facebook pages have made a number of posts throughout the past couple of months with complaints over fireworks. People not only recognized the negative effect it had on animals, but others mentioned a child with special needs constantly being woken by the loud bangs outside. 

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 230 people a year are treated in emergency rooms because of injuries caused by fireworks. In 2017, sparklers caused 1,200 injuries.

“Every year, we do these reminders and talk about the dangers of fireworks,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during a call with media after the holiday weekend. 

Suffolk County Police Department Chief Stuart Cameron said the county did have a higher incidence of fireworks-related calls, due to the limitations on large crowds at the usual fireworks shows.