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As the number of people infected with the new coronavirus climbs in China and countries limit travel to the beleaguered country, the incidence of infection in the United States remains low, with 11 people carrying the respiratory virus as of earlier this week.

“While the risk to New Yorkers is still low, we urge everyone to remain vigilant.”

— Gov. Andrew. Cuomo

American officials stepped up their policies designed to keep the virus, which so far has about a 2 percent mortality rate, at bay in the last week. For the first time in over half a century, the government established a mandatory two-week quarantine for people entering from China’s Hubei Province, which is where the outbreak began. The United States also said it would prevent foreign nationals who are not immediate family members of American citizens from entering within two weeks of visiting China.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the viral outbreak an “unprecedented situation” and suggested that the American government has taken “aggressive measures” amid the largely expanding outbreak.

The actions, Messonnier said on a conference call earlier this week, were designed to “slow this down before it gets into the United States. If we act now, we do have an opportunity to provide additional protection.”

The number of deaths from coronavirus, which has reached almost 500, now exceeds the number for the sudden acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003. The number of infected patients worldwide has reached above 25,000, triggering concerns about a pandemic. More than 1,000 have recovered from the virus.

The CDC, which has been coordinating the American response to the virus, has been testing potential cases of the disease. Symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

In New York, 17 samples have been sent to the CDC for testing, with 11 coming back negative and six pending. New York created a hotline, 888-364-3065, in which experts from the Department of Health can answer questions about the virus. The DOH also has a website as a resource for residents, at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus.

“While the risk to New Yorkers is still low, we urge everyone to remain vigilant,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement.

The CDC sent an Emergency Use Authorization to the Food & Drug Administration to allow more local testing during medical emergencies. Such an effort could expedite the way emergency rooms respond to patients who they might otherwise need to isolate for longer periods of time while they await a definitive diagnosis.

By speeding up the evaluation period, the CDC would help hospitals like Stony Brook University Hospital maintain the necessary number of isolation beds, rather than prolonging the wait period in the middle of flu season to determine the cause of the illness.

As for the university, according to its website,  approximately 40 students have contacted the school indicating they are restricted from returning to the U.S. With university approval, the students will not be penalized academically for being out or for taking a leave of absence.

“The most important thing is to keep your hands clean.”

— Bettina Fries

Testing for the new coronavirus, which is still tentatively called 2019-nCoV, would miss a positive case if the virus mutated. In an RNA virus like this one, mutations can and do occur, although most of these changes result in a less virulent form.

The CDC, whose website www.cdc.gov, provides considerable information about this new virus, is “watching for that,” said Bettina Fries, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. At this point, there “doesn’t seem to be much mutation yet.”

In the SARS outbreak, a mutation made the virus less virulent.

Fries added that the “feeling with SARS was that you weren’t infectious until were you symptomatic. The feeling with this one is that you are potentially infectious” before demonstrating any of the typical symptoms.

Fries assessed the threat from contracting the virus in the United States as “low,” while adding that the danger from the flu, which has resulted in over 10,000 deaths during the 2019-20 flu season, is much higher.

In the hospital, Fries said the health care staff puts masks on people who are coughing to reduce the potential spread of whatever is affecting their respiratory systems.

While Fries doesn’t believe it’s necessary to wear a mask to class, she said it’s not “unreasonable” in densely populated areas like airports and airplanes to wear one.

Masks don’t offer complete protection from the flu or coronavirus, in part because people touch the outside of the masks, where viruses condense, and then touch parts of their face. Even with the mask on, people touch their eyes.

“The most important thing is to keep your hands clean,” Fries suggested.

Fries believes the 14-day quarantine period for people coming from an area where coronavirus is prevalent is “probably on the generous side.” Scientists come up with this time period to establish guidelines for health care providers throughout the country.

Fries suggested that the only way these precautions are going to work is if they are aggressive and done early enough.

“Once the genie is out of the bottle” and an epidemic spreads to other countries, it becomes much more difficult to contain, Fries said.

The best-case scenario is that this virus becomes a contained problem in China. If it doesn’t spread outside the country, it could follow the same pattern as SARS, which abated within about eight months.

While there is no treatment for this new coronavirus, companies and governments are working on a possible vaccine. This, Fries estimated, could take about a year to create.

Looking out across the calendar, Fries wondered what would happen with the Olympics this year, which are scheduled for July 24 through Aug. 9 in Tokyo. Athletes who have been training for years certainly hope the virus is contained by then. A similar concern preceded the 2016 Olympics, when Zika virus threatened to derail the games in Brazil.

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While the risk from the new deadly coronavirus that has closed cities in China remains low in New York, Long Island hospitals, including Stony Brook, are working with the New York Department of Health to prepare in case it makes its way to the New York area.

The respiratory virus, which originated at a seafood market in Wuhan Province in China during contact between humans and an animal that reportedly could have been a snake, has claimed the lives of 132 people as of Jan. 29. The virus has spread to three states, with single cases in Seattle, Washington, and Chicago, Illinois, and two cases in California.

The reported deaths from the virus are all in China, although people have also tested positive for coronavirus in countries including Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Vietnam, among others.

As of earlier this week, New York State had sent samples for nine people to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. Four samples tested negative, while the state is awaiting results for the other five.

A Q&A with  Susan Donelan, Medical Director of Health Care Epidemiology, Stony Brook University Hospital, About the New Coronavirus

1. Is the outbreak plan for this new coronavirus any different than the plan for SARS or MERS at Stony Brook?

The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person to person, shares a lot of similarities to other coronaviruses we have seen such as SARS and MERS-CoV. At Stony Brook Medicine, our teams are incorporating best practices from the Pandemic Influenza Plan. These practices are especially important during the flu season.

2. Is everyone in the emergency room taking a history on admission, particularly for people presenting with respiratory infections and a fever, that includes questions about travel to China?

As a matter of standard practice for many years, the hospital has asked all patients with any influenza-like illness [ILI] about recent travel history and is well versed in obtaining this information. Additionally, regardless of the presence or absence of travel, any patient presenting with an ILI immediately will be given a surgical mask to place over the nose and mouth, in order to limit the spread of any respiratory pathogen they may be harboring.

3. How much space could Stony Brook make available if the hospital needed to isolate people who might have this virus?

Stony Brook Medicine has already performed a walk-through of our facility to identify where patients could be cohorted if there were suspicions for this illness, and should they need hospitalization. As per the [CDC], people confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV infection, who do not need to be hospitalized, can receive care at home.

4. What is the current recommended treatment plan if someone either has or is suspected to have this virus?

Currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against 2019-nCoV and no specific antiviral treatment is recommended for the infection. People infected with 2019-nCoV should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms.

“These five individuals remain in isolation as their samples are tested at CDC,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. “While the risk for New Yorkers is currently low, we are still working to keep everyone informed, prepared and safe.”

China has been working to contain the virus by enforcing lockdowns in cities like Wuhan. Indeed, an unnamed Stony Brook scientist, who was visiting his family, has been unable to leave China to return to Long Island. Through a spokeswoman, Stony Brook said it is grateful for the help of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the State Department and the university community in trying to bring him home.

When he returns to the United States, the professor will remain in quarantine until he could no longer be a carrier for the virus. 

Area hospitals, meanwhile, are watching carefully for any signs of coronavirus.

“There are procedure plans in place in every hospital,” said Dr. Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. “There is always a concern when these outbreaks are announced.”

At this point, however, the World Health Organization has not declared the outbreak an emergency. The CDC has classified the new coronavirus threat level as “low.”

The coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, is in the same family as sudden acute respiratory syndrome and the Middle East respiratory syndrome. The initial mortality rate from the current coronavirus is lower than the 10 percent rate for SARS, which spread in 2002, or the 30 to 35 percent rate from MERS, which started in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

The timing of the virus is challenging because the symptoms are similar to those for the flu, which has become more prevalent in New York and around the country this winter. Coronavirus symptoms, according to the CDC, include coughing, fever and shortness of breath.

While airports like John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens are screening people who arrive from Wuhan, efforts to determine whether they may be carrying the virus could be limited, in part because the incubation period could be as long as two weeks, during which time an infected person could be contagious.

Infectious disease experts suggested practicing the kind of hygiene that would reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu. This includes: washing hands for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer and maintaining a distance of about 3 feet from anyone who has the sniffles or appears to be battling a cold. Infectious disease experts also suggest cutting back on handshakes, especially with people who appear to be battling a cold.

“If you have immunocompromised people, they should be extra careful,” Fries said, adding that the CDC, which has been regularly updating its web page, www.cdc.gov, has been working tirelessly with national and state health officials to coordinate a response to this virus, wherever it hits.

“The New York State Department of Health and the CDC need to be praised for all the work” they are doing, she said. “They have a task force that doesn’t do anything else but prepare for patients coming from outbreak areas.”

Scientists around the world have also been working to develop a vaccine for this new virus. According to a recent report in The Washington Post, researchers anticipate developing such a vaccine in as little as three months, which is considerably shorter than the 20 months it took to develop a vaccine for the SARS virus. The Post, however, suggested that the development of a vaccine would require testing before it received approval.

Fries said the concern about the coronavirus comes less with the current death toll than it does with the effect as it continues to spread.

“It’s important to see how far it spreads and what the real mortality is,” which is tough to track because the outbreak is still at the beginning and scientists and public health officials are still processing new information, she added.

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Port Jefferson Middle School English teacher Allison Giannusa shared her class lesson with educators from the Anhui province, China. Photo from PJSD

By David Luces 

It was a case of east meets west as a delegation of Chinese educators visited the Port Jefferson School district Jan. 15 to experience and learn about the American education system. 

Port Jefferson School District was one of two school district chosen to be toured by the Chinese educators. The trip, organized in part by Stony Brook University, had the delegation from the Anhui province in China take a tour of the district and witness interactive lessons inside its classrooms. 

Chinese educators visited the Port Jefferson School District buildings. Photo from PJSD

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for educators from another country to come in and see how we do things here,” Christine Austen, the Principal of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School said “This is unique because of the size of the school and the scope of our educational program.” 

The Chinese educators, accompanied by three Mandarin translators, were welcomed to the school with the school’s orchestra playing Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” On a tour of the high school the group visited a chorus classroom where they caught a glimpse of students beginning to warm up their vocal cords, then later took a tour of the high school gym facilities. In between spots the educators were able to ask some students about their experiences in the Port Jeff school district. 

Austen said the educators may have seen things that they haven’t observed in other school districts. 

“We take a lot of pride in the school district,” Austen said. “We want to show our students that we are open to having these conservations and we are welcoming to everyone.” 

Superintendent Paul Casciano said the district had an important responsibility when it came to showcasing American education to the delegation. 

“Their impression of the American education system will be based on what they’ve seen and learned [here],” Casciano said. 

In September, the district joined in an Educational Leadership Program with Stony Brook with some high school teachers. The program offers courses to prepare educators for advancement in position such as superintendent and principal. 

Craig Markson, the director of the Educational Leadership Program at Stony Brook University said the Office of Global Affairs has a collaborative relationship with principals of schools in the Anhui province of China. The educators wanted to visit the United States to see how the American educational system works.  

The superintendent said the district set up the date and time with the Chinese delegation back in December.

“It forced us to be introspective and I think that’s really healthy.”

— Paul Casciano

“We already had a relationship and connection with the university,” Casciano said. “Markson contacted me about the planned trip and they were looking for schools to visit.” 

The superintendent said for two weeks before the visit they asked themselves what made the school district so special and what the
students and teachers might learn from the experience.

“It forced us to be introspective and I think that’s really healthy,” the superintendent said. “It’s a small snapshot — only a couple of hours — we only get to see the short-term impacts of something like this. We don’t even know what the long-term effects will be.” 

Though the two districts have cultural differences, Markson said they both share a common goal. 

“One thing that we all have in common is trying to prepare our children to meet the demands of a 21st century economy,” Markson said. “So we are learning from each other.” 

Austen said she’s excited to learn later how the delegation used what they learned in Port Jeff back in Anhui province.

“I can’t wait to hear what they have to say — I’ve never been to a school in another country, so this is an opportunity to gain knowledge on how they do things,” Austen said. “Everyone can learn from one another.” 

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

It’s a rubbish time to be involved in the recycling industry.

The Town of Brookhaven’s recycling plant is grappling with unprecedented mounds of bottles, used paper goods and trash. Ever since China implemented its “National Sword” policy in January banning the import of various nonindustrial plastics, paper and other solid wastes, Brookhaven’s had a hard time selling off collected recyclable materials. As China was one of the top buyers of U.S. recyclables according to NPR, this move has left many Suffolk townships unsure what to do with their residents’ recycled garbage.

To recycle or not: Tips  on handling your trash

By Kyle Barr

Operators of the Brookhaven recycling plant deal with a lot of junk. Not the good kind of junk, however, as many household items that residents assume can be recycled can cause havoc in the machinery.

In the four years since the town invested in single-stream recycling,  Erich Weltsek, a recycling coordination aid for Brookhaven, said there has been increased resident participation in the recycling program. But it has also led to some residents chucking in items that have no business being recycled.

We’ve gotten chunks of concrete, and you even get sports balls — like soccer balls, footballs — constantly,” he said. “A lot of what we call ‘wish cycling,’ where people think they’re doing the right thing and when in doubt they throw it in a recycle bin instead of the right receptacle.”

Weltsek said people have tried to recycle Coleman outdoor stoves and propane tanks, which is extremely dangerous and could result in an explosion at the facility.

The most pervasively disruptive items are plastic bags and other items that Weltsek called “tanglers,” such as Christmas tree lights, pool liners and garden hoses. The recycling facility operates on a number of conveyor belts that first feed into a device called a star screen, a number of rotating cylinders with feet that separate recyclable fibers from other items. These items either wrap around the wheels on the conveyor belt or star screen, either letting fibers through the wrong end or stopping the machine entirely.

Suffolk residents should clean out any plastic bottles or cans before putting them in the recycling. Any low-quality paper products or grease-stained cardboard such as used pizza boxes, should not be recycled because they affect the sellable quality of the entire recycling bundle.

Andrade said all plastic bags should be recycled at a local supermarket, which are mandated by New York State law to have a receptacle for all shopping bags.

The plant often has to turn away other nonrecyclable material, such as plastic utensils, bottle caps and Styrofoam. All of these are considered contaminants, either because they cannot be recycled properly, or they
dilute the quality of the material.

“While it hasn’t stopped it, China’s new policies have significantly slowed down the ability of recyclers to move material to market,” said  Christopher Andrade, commissioner of Brookhaven Town’s waste management department. “There are domestic mills and domestic markets [but] the thing is just finding them, negotiating them and moving the material.”

That is easier said than done, according to Andrade, as many recycling plants across the nation now have fewer options of where to sell their collected goods. China has publicly claimed the decision has to do with the quality of the materials, as low-quality newspaper print or thin PVC plastics are not considered valuable enough for reuse. There’s also the problem of recyclables being mixed with other, nonreusable garbage.

In 2014, Brookhaven moved from dual-stream to single-stream recycling, a system that allows residents to put out all their recyclables in a single can to be sorted out at the town’s facilities instead of bringing out a different material — plastic, papers or metal — every other week. This increased overall participation in the recycling program, Andrade said, but has led to some confusion.

The loss of the Chinese market has severely interrupted the Brookhaven-owned Green Stream Recycling facility’s outflow. Green Stream Recycling LLC, a company that contracts with the town and operates the town’s facility in Yaphank, made good use of China’s market. While the facility continues to operate without a definitive answer to where else the company can move its materials, some of it is now going back into the landfill, according to Andrade.

This crisis is not only affecting the Town of Brookhaven, but other municipalities on Long Island which sell their collected recyclables to Suffolk County’s largest township. In 2014, the Town of Smithtown formed a five-year contract with Brookhaven to send 12,000 tons of garbage to the Green Stream facility,  in return for $180,000 per year. While Brookhaven continues to honor the agreements with its partnered municipalities, the lack of market availability for recyclables has some members of Smithtown Town Board concerned.

At a Sept. 4 work session, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) showed board members a photo taken by a drone in May showing recyclables piled in heaps just outside Brookhaven’s facility. The picture made Wehrheim and other board members question what might become of the town’s current recycling agreement.

“At one point, we’re going to come to some decision what to do with [Brookhaven Town,] Wehrheim said. “It could be a potential problem … in the short term.”

Andrade said that excess dumping on the facility’s land came from the “shock” of China’s National Sword policy being implemented earlier this year, though he said the situation has since been brought under control. Despite these international issues, Andrade said Brookhaven remains committed to recycling.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) “and the board believe very strongly in recycling, and we’ll bounce back from this,” he said.

The markets are being overwhelmed; the people taking the material can be picky on what they accept. We’re going to have to respond by being better at only putting out the things that people can actually reuse.”

— Russell Barnett

Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director in the Department of Environment and Waterways, said he is working on a solution with Brookhaven, including a regional approach comprising Smithtown, Huntington, Southold and several other communities that are partnered with Brookhaven.

Smithtown had its own dual-stream facility that was closed before it started sending its materials to Brookhaven in 2014, though reopening it could be costly.

“We’re assessing our equipment — seeing what’s operational, what’s not, what repairs need to be made and what upgrades need to be made if the occasion comes up that we want to go that route,” Barnett said.

In the meantime, he said residents need to be more discriminating when it comes to deciding what items to recycle. Otherwise, it will be much harder in the future to find a buyer for the world’s recyclable garbage.

“When they talk about the standard, they’re not just talking about nonrecyclable material
but the right kind of recyclable material.” Barnett said. “The markets are being overwhelmed; the people taking the material can be picky on what they accept. We’re going to have to respond by being better at only putting out the things that people can actually reuse.”

For those of us who remember the savage Korean War (1950-53) and the various attempts at a peace treaty over the years, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un’s pirouette from warmonger to statesman is astonishing. All of us remember the test missiles that were fired from North Korea, some over Japan, into the sea as recently as last year.

We also remember the bellicose rhetoric about being able to reach the continental United States from North Korea with those missiles.

What happened?

First there was President Donald Trump’s equally bellicose rhetoric, some of it personally aimed at North Korea’s leader, referred to as “Little Rocket Man.” Trump was severely criticized at the time for sounding like a schoolyard bully rather than a diplomatic leader. The world watched in horror, wondering if we were on the edge of nuclear war. All the while North Korea’s ongoing tests were apparently successful. Probably the most concerned was South Korea’s new leader, Moon Jae-in.

Next came the Winter Olympics serendipitously and President Moon’s invitation to the North Koreans to participate under one flag. This too was unprecedented. Kim accepted and perhaps more tellingly sent his sister as his representative. She seems to be one family member he trusts. We all witnessed the diplomatic success at the Olympics.

In retrospect, something seems to have changed after that. Was it a new perspective for the two Koreas as a result of the games? Or did it have some connection to the subsequent visit Kim made to China in the middle of one night? I believe that was Kim’s first trip out of his country, and of course it is significant that he chose to visit Premier Xi Jinping. Was Kim invited or did he request the meeting? What advice was he given by the powerful Chinese leader, who seems to have established a rapport with Trump? What will the Chinese, with their long-term view, want to happen now?

At this point, Kim has been counseled, Moon has been galvanized and the tenor of the Korean debate begins to shift. Kim invites Trump to meet with him, and over the objections of our diplomats, Trump immediately accepts. There is no doubt that Trump is partially responsible for this shift.

The two Korean leaders then enter into a diplomatic choreography with lots of positive dialogue that plays well for the people of both Koreas, and the rest of the world for that matter, who want peace. In war, it is humankind that suffers terribly, and the people can only hope and pray for their leaders to keep the peace.

So what does North Korea want, as far as we can tell? Certainly Kim wants to stay in power as the No. 1 priority. So far his most visible achievement is his development of nuclear missiles. He also professes to want an improved economy. In fact, he was surprisingly forthright about the woeful condition of his roads and infrastructure in talking with Moon. When North Koreans went to the Olympics, they were apparently impressed by the South’s trains — and probably everything else that attests to a good economy.

The South wants to eliminate the threat of nuclear war and confrontation. And perhaps it wishes to invest in the economic recovery of the North, where there will be money to be made. The Chinese would like to see the United States leave the Korean Peninsula. I would be keenly interested in what else China expert Henry Kissinger thinks the Chinese want. Undoubtedly the South would also like to see us go if peace is
somehow assured. There are some 30,000 American troops still stationed in South Korea.

And what would we like? We would first like the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea and finally a formal peace treaty ending the 65-year conflict.

Those goals have seemed irreconcilable until now but perhaps what we will get is a prolonged peace.

Where is the Invisible Hand of China in the Current Korean Dance?

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At some point along my ancestral chain, I must have been Italian. Or Chinese. How do I know? I have an unbelievable passion for pasta. That’s not a carbohydrate lust. While I have never met a carb I don’t like, I can take or leave rice or bread and the many other forms in which carbohydrates can be found. But my soul soars for pasta.

It was World Pasta Day Oct. 25, and that got me to thinking about my love affair with pasta. I suppose it started in my early childhood, as almost everything does. SpaghettiOs came in a can, and my mother occasionally served it to us as part of a meal. However, the story is not that straightforward. She felt the sauce was a bit sharp, and so she sprinkled the spaghetti with a little sugar. Now this is enough to make any self-respecting Italian restaurateur gag. Many did, as I would ask, “Can I have some sugar please?” of my waiter as I was served a bowl of steaming pasta. “Sugar? You mean Parmesan cheese?” he would ask. “No sugar, thank you, granulated sugar,” I would patiently explain. Then he would watch in fascination as I topped off my dish accordingly.

It wasn’t until I visited Italy for the first time that I understood the miracle of pasta. The secret is in the sauce, which decidedly is not improved with the addition of sugar. Somehow the pasta itself tastes different there too, the same way water does depending on where it comes from. I remember that first trip very well, as I fell in love with the beauty of the country, the kindness of the people, the richness of its art. But what I remember best is the pasta, which I will tell you that I came to eat there three times a day. And it never tasted the same way twice because all chefs proudly make their own secret sauces. The high point occurred in Amalfi, in a small restaurant on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea. We were with a tour but unscheduled for lunch, and we wandered around the town looking for a likely eatery. They are all charming, you know, but one in particular attracted us and we went in to find that the luncheon special consisted of six different kinds of pasta.

Six! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The chef, who spoke no English and needed none, came out to explain that we should start with the mildest pasta on the huge plate, then work our way around much as an artist does with his paint palette, to the one with the strongest flavored sauce. The six pastas were each different and the experience was, as you can tell, exquisitely memorable.

Although some think pasta was invented in Italy, others believe Marco Polo brought it back from his travels to China, where he supposedly tasted it at the court of Kublai Khan. There is record of the Chinese eating noodles as early as 5000 B.C. and, in fact, the Etruscans from western Italy seem to have made pasta in 400 B.C. There are bas-relief carvings in a cave 30 miles north of Rome depicting instruments for making pasta: a rolling-out table, pastry wheel and flour bin, according to the National Pasta Association. Anyway in the 13th century, the pope set quality standards for pasta. Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a macaroni dish he tasted in Naples while serving as ambassador to France and promptly ordered crates of the pasta, along with the pasta-making machine, sent back to the United States. Indeed, he may have been the one to introduce macaroni to this country. Cortez brought tomatoes back from Mexico in 1519, but it took two centuries before the marriage with pasta was consummated.

There have been many imitation pastas, meaning not made from wheat, that have come along, but only one makes the grade with me, and I give it a shameless plug here for those who can’t or won’t eat the real thing. Manufactured by Tolerant, it is made of beans and called Organic Red Lentil Pasta.

Buon appetito!

Visitors express their enthusiasm for Stony Brook. Photo by Donna Newman

Stony Brook was on display as a destination on a global scale this past weekend.

A group of travel product developers — those who design tours for the luxury market in mainland China — visited the Village Oct. 22 as part of a “familiarization (or fam) tour” of Long Island.

“We don’t have time to showcase the entire island, so we choose some places that are special,” Joan LaRosa, director of sales for the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau said of the visit. Evidently Stony Brook is one of those.

The tours encourage designers to add Long Island stops to their itineraries. She said five “fam” tours are going on right now, hosted by United Airlines, which provided the plane tickets.

A second entity participating in this travel sales pitch is the New York State Division of Tourism via its I Love NY campaign.

Anna Klapper, a manager for global trade development for Washington, D.C.-based Brand USA, is one of the guides accompanying the group on their journey.

“They flew into New York Oct. 19 and have been visiting places on Long Island,” she said. “Tomorrow morning we’ll ferry to Connecticut and make stops in New Haven, Mystic [Seaport] and Mohegan Sun.”

Visitors enjoy craft beer at Brew Cheese in Stony Brook Village. Photo by Donna Newman
Visitors enjoy craft beer at Brew Cheese in Stony Brook Village. Photo by Donna Newman

Klapper pointed out that she and colleague Philip Joseph have noticed that their guests are constantly online posting everything on social media — adding value to their sales efforts.

Brand USA is an organization that markets the United States as a destination to travel product developers worldwide. Its goal is to increase international tourist visits, thereby fueling the nation’s economy and enhancing its image abroad, as stated on the organization’s website.

The website further states it is “the nation’s first public-private partnership to spearhead a globally coordinated marketing effort to promote the United States as a premier travel destination and communicate U.S. entry policies. Its operations are supported by a combination of contributions from destinations, travel brands, and private-sector organizations, plus matching funds collected by the U.S. government from international visitors who visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.”

The visitors from China are also accompanied by Tina Yao, Brand USA’s Shanghai office director.

Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, made the arrangements for the visitors and was on hand to greet them.

“The LI Convention and Visitors Bureau picked Stony Brook for this visit,” she said. When asked if she knew why, she speculated, “perhaps because we have a 21st century, world-class university and a picturesque, historic village on the water?”

Rocchio invited Yu-wan Wang, associate dean of international admissions at Stony Brook University, to meet the group, talk about the university and answer any questions they had about it. She also served as an interpreter, and when she asked William Wang of Shanghai to tell what he liked best about Stony Brook, she translated:

“I love the fresh air and to be so close to the ocean.”

Following a sampling of lavender and espresso cheese and craft beers, the party of 16 made their way across the street to The Jazz Loft for a musical evening.

Congressman Steve Israel speaks on the dangers of hoverboards at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

One of this year’s hot holiday items might be a little too hot.

Hoverboards have been flying off the shelves this holiday season, but recent safety issues, including multiple cases of boards catching fire or exploding, have given some shoppers pause. That’s why U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D) gathered with members of the Commack Fire Department Tuesday and urged consumers against buying hoverboards specifically made in China, because he said the type of batteries used in them may ignite.

“Hoverboards may be the hot holiday gift, but they are literally catching on fire and igniting questions about their safety and the safety of lithium-ion batteries,” Israel said. “New Yorkers should remain hesitant before purchasing these hoverboards and stay vigilant while using and charging them.”

Hoverboards are self-balancing and electronic two-wheeled devices on which people can travel from place to place. When riding one, a person may appear to be levitating, or hovering, similarly to those on the hoverboards featured in the film “Back to the Future II.”

Israel stood beside a photo display of several fires that the Commack department had already responded to where hoverboards caused combustion inside someone’s home, destroying property and, sometimes, entire rooms.

Hoverboards shipped from overseas use lithium ion batteries, which can combust if heated or overcharged due to their limited voltage range. Israel called for more research from the U.S. Department of Energy on the safety of using lithium ion batteries in hoverboards.

The congressman also noted that airports already task their security personnel to remove all lithium ion batteries from checked bags for the same reason.

“Well if we know that those lithium ion batteries could be a hazard to the plane, and we know a hover board with a lithium ion battery could be hazardous to our homes, that says we need to do a little bit more research,” Israel said.

Commack Fire Marshal Joe Digiose flanked the congressman on Tuesday and said he urged residents to be careful when buying hoverboards until more research is completed. He said there is no research that shows the American-made products are not working well, but the ones from overseas pose more of a danger and are being shipped at a very high rate to the United States.

“We recommend you don’t buy them but if you do, buy an American-made one,” he said.

Don Talka speaks on research of lithium ion batteries at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Don Talka speaks on research of lithium ion batteries at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Don Talka, senior vice president and chief engineer at Underwriters Laboratories has been involved in research on lithium ion batteries for years, starting back when they were involved with similar issues in laptops. He said the major problem is the mating of the battery with the rest of the electronics used in the hoverboards.

“What we’ve learned through our research … is that the combination and how these pieces interact causes the issues,” Talka said. “And how the batteries are charged and discharged are all items which need further investigation.”

At the press conference, Israel inspected the box that a hoverboard came in, and said that despite all the instructions and caution labels about the product, there is nothing to be said about the battery.

“That has been established as one of the single greatest threats to property and potentially lives when they’re coming from China,” Israel said. “That’s why we want to comply with the energy chair to fully research this and make sure that people aren’t being exposed to greater risk and threat by lithium ion batteries.”