After returning from speaking with the Long Island’s bipartisan congressional delegation in Washington, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) again reiterated just how imperative it is that Congress sends relief to local governments desperately in need.
Bellone’s plea also comes off the back of horrific financial reports, including that the U.S. gross domesticproduct has suffered a 32.9 percent shrinkage in the second quarter of 2020. The deadline for the additional $600 added on to unemployment will run out by the end of this week. While a House of Representatives bill would restore that, among other pandemic benefits, the Senate has proposed a replacement $200 on top of unemployment checks. Senate Republicans have not yet proposed a comprehensive plan to update coronavirus relief, which includes money toward local governments hard hit by the pandemic.
Suffolk has already frozen salaries for management, embargoed funds from various departments and utilized resources from the tax stabilization reserve fund, which has resulted in $100 million in mitigation. The county executive said they are looking at other things they can do to cut costs at a local and state level.
The county executive said without such federal relief, Suffolk will need to start slashing several departments that many needy depend on and would result in higher taxes on already overburdened Long Islanders who have suffered months of job losses and belt tightening.
And as school districts release plans this week for reopening in the fall, many are still unsure if they will receive the state aid promised to them in this year’s New York State budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said state aid may need to be cut at a point toward the end of this year if they do not receive any federal disaster relief.
“Schools putting their plans in place, and they’re doing that in an environment if they don’t know they’ll have the funding to do everything they need to do for our kids,” Bellone said. “We need [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell (R)] to step forward and agree to a comprehensive plan here, give us the resources we need to get through this storm.”
Though the county files a budget in mid-September, Bellone said they can’t wait until then to get relief.
“Schools are weeks away from opening, we need a comprehensive package that faces all the challenges we face right now,” he said.
The pandemic has also created a crisis beyond the over 2,000 people dead from the virus in Suffolk County. Bellone said the number of suicide hotline calls are up 100 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. COVID-19 has meant a huge increase in demand for food-service based programs, such as Meals on Wheels which has seen a 60 percent increase in demand, according to the county exec.
The potential for another wave of COVID is still on the table, Bellone said, saying that Suffolk feels like it is “in the eye of the storm,” whereas the rest of the country has seen severe spikes in the number of coronavirus cases. If a second wave does hit the county, it could result in
“We’ve been hit as hard as you can get hit and still be standing,” Bellone said. “We know swirling all around us the storm is raging.”
Bellone said Suffolk will need to be communicating with school districts as “[COVID-19] cases inevitably happen in our schools.”
Suffolk County is currently looking at 43,170 positive cases overall, and in the last 24 hours the county has seen 86 new positive cases.. This is out of 6,247 tests conducted, putting the county at a 1.4 positive test rate. The positive test rate has fluctuated around 1 percent for the past few weeks.
19,127 people have tested positive for antibodies, meaning they had the virus.
Hospitalizations have hovered around the mid to low 40s over the past week, and over the past day it dipped to 38. Bellone said it was the first time since March that new hospitalizations were in the 30s.
Meanwhile, five more people have occupied ICU beds over the past day to a total of 15 in Suffolk. With 3,020 beds in Suffolk andwith 772 currently available, it makes Suffolk’s capacity at 74 percent. As far as ICU beds, the county has 395, with 147 available, meaning a 53 percent capacity.
Over the past four days, Suffolk has experienced no deaths related to COVID-19.
Bellone said while the percentage capacity of available beds is higher than the state’s goal of 70 percent, he is not worried as the number has fluctuated as more people have willingly entered the hospital for non-COVID related injuries or ailments.