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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

For my family and me, the pandemic-triggered life change started almost exactly 10 months ago, on March 13. How different is the life we lead now from the one we led way back in March? Comparing answers to the same questions then and now can offer a perspective on the time that’s passed and our current position.

Question: What do we do?

March 2020: Shut businesses down, encourage people to stay home and track everything. Talk about where we are “on the curve” and hope that we can “flatten the curve” and reach the other side, allowing us to return to the lives and habits we used to know.

January 2021: Try to keep infection rates down and take measured chances in public places, while hoping officials allow schools, restaurants and other businesses to remain open.

Question: What do we eat?

March 2020: Pick up take out food whenever we can. Go to the grocery store and cook. Baking rapidly became a release and relief for parents and children, who enjoyed the sweet smell of the house and the familiar, reassuring and restorative taste of cookies and cakes.

January 2021: In some places, we can eat indoors. Many people still order take out or cook their own food.

Question: What do we do with our children?

March 2020: Overburdened parents, who are conducting zoom calls, conference calls and staring for hours at computer screens, face the reality of needing to educate their children in subjects they either forgot or never learned.

January 2021: Many students continue to go to school, even as the threat of closing, particularly in hot spots, continues.

Question: What do we do for exercise?

March 2020: People take to the streets, order exercise equipment or circle the inside or outside of their house countless times, hoping to break free from their blinking, beeping and demanding electronic devices.

January 2021: Gyms have reopened, with some people heading to fitness centers and others continuing their own version of counting the number of times they’ve circled the neighborhood, with and without their dogs.

Question: What can we do about work?

March 2020: Many businesses close, asking employees to work from home.

January 2021: Many businesses are trying to stay open, even as others have continued to ask their employees to work from home, where they can talk on computer screens in mismatched outfits, with nice blouses and shirts on top and gym shorts or pajamas.

Question: What can we plan for?

March 2020: We cancel weddings, parties, family gatherings and all manner of events that involve crowds.

January 2021: We have learned not to make plans that are set in stone, because the calendar has become stone intolerant. We make plans and contingency plans.

Question: What do we do for entertainment?

March 2020: We secretly binge watch TV shows, although we don’t share our indulgences.

January 2021: After we ask how everyone is doing, we regularly interject questions about the latest TV shows or movies.

Question: What do we notice in the supermarkets?

March 2020: Toilet paper and paper towels are hard to find.

January 2021: Toilet paper and paper towels are generally available, but we may only be allowed to buy two packages. The cost of paper goods and other items seems to have risen.

Question: Do we let our children play sports?

March 2020: Almost every league in every sport shut down, following the lead of professional teams.

January 2021: Youth leagues have restarted.

Question: What’s a cause for optimism?

March 2020: We believe in flattening the curve.

January 2021: The vaccine offers hope for a return to a life we used to know.

METRO photo

Scammers are using a variety of methods tied to COVID-19 economic impact payments to target consumers

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) is alerting consumers on Jan. 6 about scammers taking advantage of COVID-19 economic stimulus payments. With another round of economic stimulus payments approved by Congress, scammers will be sending phishing emails, texts and phone calls and using social media to try to steal economic impact payments and your personal information. Consumers are reminded that it’s important to stay vigilant and aware of unsolicited communications asking for your personal or private information.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers have been hard at work trying to steal money from unsuspecting New Yorkers,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “With this latest round of stimulus funding on its way, I urge all New Yorkers to be extra diligent and follow simple steps to keep your money and personal identity safe.”

New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Michael Schmidt said, “We all must remain especially vigilant against scam artists trying to steal this latest round of stimulus funding from New Yorkers. We’re sharing valuable information so you can learn how to spot red flags and where to find reliable information so you won’t be caught off guard by con artists.”

New York State Office of Information Technology Services Chief Information Officer Angelo “Tony” Riddick said, “New Yorkers are being challenged like never before by a global pandemic, and to make matters worse, we’ve seen unscrupulous individuals use technology in a desperate and dishonest attempt to scam them out of their own money. Fortunately, New Yorkers can protect themselves against these COVID-related scams if they are armed with the right information. Always be wary of unsolicited phone calls, texts, emails, links or attachments, even if the sender appears to be known. And, never send your personal information via email or text.”

What You Need to Know about Economic Impact Payments
On December 27, 2020, the federal government passed a pandemic relief package. An important component of individual relief, Economic Impact Payments, will be issued to New Yorkers from the IRS.

You don’t need to take any action to automatically receive your stimulus payment if you:

  • filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return and are eligible; or
  • received one of these benefits (unless claiming a qualifying child under age 17):
      • – Social Security retirement benefits and survivor benefits
      • – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and survivor benefits
      • – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits
      • – Railroad Retirement and survivor benefits
      – Veterans Administration compensation (disability, death benefits etc.) or retirement benefits

While most people will receive their payment automatically, if you otherwise have not filed taxes recently, you may need to submit a simple Federal tax return to get your check. For more information on the Economic Impact Payments, New Yorkers should visit the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance at Economic Impact Payment information: what you need to know or the IRS at Economic Impact Payments.

Below are tips to help keep your economic impact payment and personal information safe from scammers:

  • Rely on trusted sites for information. Visit legitimate, government websites—for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Visit the IRS website directly for the latest information on the economic impact payments. Remember, the government will never call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number.
  • Delete emails asking you for personal information to receive an economic stimulus check. Government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money.
  • Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments. See Using Caution with Email Attachments and Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Scams for more information.
  • Don’t provide personal or banking information. Scammers may ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up your economic impact payment.
  • Do not agree to sign over your economic impact payment check. Scammers may ask you to sign over your stimulus payment check to them.
  • Be wary of bogus checks. Scammers may mail you a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
  • Do not cash unsolicited checks. Scammers use this tactic to get your bank account information, and you will incur fees when the check is found to be insufficient.
  • Be aware that scammers are also able to replicate a government agency’s name and phone number on caller ID. It’s important to remember that the IRS will never ask you for your personal information or threaten your benefits by phone call, email, text or social media.
  • Hang up on illegal robocallers. If you receive a call about economic impact payment scams, hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Notify the IRS if you are contacted by a potential scammer. If you receive an unsolicited email, text or social media attempt that appears to be from the IRS or an organization associated with the IRS, like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, notify the IRS at [email protected].
  • Verify a charity’s authenticity before making donations. Review the Federal Trade Commission’s page on Charity Scams for more information.
  • Review CISA Insights on Risk Management for COVID-19 for more information.

With assistance from ITS, the Department of Health continues to maintain up-to-date “Stay Cyber Safe” tips and active warnings at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/stay-cyber-safe.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm or visit the DCP website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.

-Information provided by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during a press conference in 2017 about the creation of a permanent panel to address the ever-growing opioid crisis. File photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County’s 2020 annual report on the lingering opioid crisis showed an increase in the number of overdoses from the previous year, with experts expressing concern for the impact the pandemic has had on addiction rates.

The Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel released its findings Dec. 29 showing there were 345 fatal overdoses in 2020, which includes pending analysis of some drug overdose cases, according to the county medical examiner’s office. While, on its face, that number did not increase over the past year, nonfatal overdoses climbed by 90 to 1,208, com-pared to 2019, according to Suffolk County police. This increase defies a general trending de-crease in nonfatal overdoses since 2017. Police also reported 910 opioid overdose-antidote na-loxone saves for individuals compared to 863 in 2019.

In some ways more worrying than overall overdose numbers has been the treatment situation on the ground, with professionals in the field reporting an increase in relapses during the pan-demic, according to the report.

Numbers released by police after a May inquiry from TBR News Media showed overdoses were up dramatically when comparing months before the start of the shutdown orders in March to the weeks directly afterward. Medical experts and elected officials all agreed that pandemic-related anxiety, plus the economic downturn and mandated isolation led to increased drug use overall. People in the treatment industry have also said the pandemic has pushed them toward utilizing telehealth.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the panel chair, said COVID-19 has led to challenges among all county governmental and community agencies, with “overwhelmed hospitals fighting on the frontline, addiction rates skyrocketing with limited resources and economic un-certainty due to business disruption.”

There have been 184 deaths related to opioids in 2020, according to the report, with 161 poten-tial drug overdoses still pending review. Among the North Shore towns, not accounting for those still in review, there were 18 deaths reported in Huntington, 13 in Smithtown and 69 in Brookhaven, the latter of which had the most opioid-related deaths of any Suffolk township. Police data also shows the 6th Precinct bore the brunt of the most overdoses and the most Narcan saves.

National data also bears a grim toll. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Pre-vention’s National Center for Health Statistics there has been a 10% increase in drug overdose deaths from March 2019 to March 2020. Approximately 19,416 died from overdoses in the U.S. in the first three months of 2020, compared to 16,682 in 2019. 

In addition to Suffolk’s report, the advisory panel has sent letters to state and federal reps ask-ing them not to cut any state funding for treatment and prevention and for the state to  sup-port provider reimbursement rates for telehealth and virtual care that are on par with face-to-face rates. They also requested that New York State waives the in-person meeting requirement for people to receive buprenorphine treatment, which can help aid in addiction to painkillers.

County legislators are also touting a new youth addiction panel, which is set to begin meeting in the new year. The county is also continuing its lawsuits against several pharmaceutical com-panies for their hand in starting the opioid epidemic. 

That’s not to say there haven’t been other setbacks in Suffolk’s efforts against opioids. Last Oc-tober, county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) was arrested for an alleged at-tempt to trade oxycodone for sex. Spencer was the one to initiate the creation of the youth panel. He has pleaded not guilty, though he has stepped down from his position on the panel, among other responsibilities.

There are currently 29 members on the opioid advisory panel, including representatives from the county Legislature, law enforcement, first responders, treatment centers and shelters.

While Anker thanked current members of the panel for their continued efforts, she said more work is needed.

“The opioid epidemic is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed continuously from all fronts,” she said.

St. Catherine Chief Nursing Officer Mary Jane Finnegan gives a flu shot during a free mobile clinic at the end of September. Photo from St. Catherine hospital

They lost patients, sleep and time with their families and yet, through some of the most difficult conditions in over a century, they persevered, brought together by the shared goal of saving lives threatened by the pandemic.

The Times Beacon Record Newspapers is pleased to honor the health care workers who put themselves in harm’s way to offer comfort, cures and solutions for COVID-19.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) described health care workers as “heroes beyond belief.” He added, “There are folks who have gotten sick and died, simply because they were just doing their jobs.”

Unusual Requests

Indeed, in some cases, these health care workers took on tasks that aren’t typically a part of their job description or training.

Tricia Coffey on the phone at Huntington Hospital. Photo from Coffey

Take Kristen Thomas, a registered nurse at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. A priest came up to her in the halls of the hospital to ask for an unusual favor. A person had died and the family, who couldn’t be by his side, asked for last rites. The priest knew he couldn’t enter the room.

He asked, “Would you mind taking holy water and anointing the patient?”

She approached the patient, made the sign of the cross and prayed, as the priest stood outside the door.

“A moment like that, you never really plan to do that,” Thomas said. “We tried to give the family a little bit of closure. They didn’t get to attend the normal [rituals].”

For the community and health care workers, normal took on new meaning, especially in the first few months of the pandemic, when Suffolk County became an epicenter of the virus.

With family unable to sit by the bedside, nurses often stepped up, holding up iPad and phones so the family could spend time together virtually.

Marilin Dilone, Emergency Department nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital, called the young family of one of her patients.

Marilin Dilone, emergency department nurse at SBUH decked in full PPE gear. Photo from SBUH

His wife “put the baby on the phone — the baby looked like he was maybe 10 months old. The baby was making noises. I swear [the patient] opened his eyes. The wife is crying. Such a moment, we take for granted. He could hear her say, ‘I love you.’ To be able to provide that was very humbling for me.”

Like Dilone and so many other nurses, Robert Collins, a nurse at Mather Hospital ,shared how he held an iPad up to patients whose conditions were deteriorating so they could say goodbye to their families.

He had to stay in the room because some of the patients couldn’t hold the iPad.

“You do that once or twice, it kind of sticks with you,” Collins said.

Deep Connections

The connections the medical staff made to the families of patients extended well beyond the typical interactions.

“We had patients for an extended period of time,” said Patricia Coffey, nurse manager of the Critical Care Unit at Huntington Hospital.

Coffey, who spent 11 weeks actively caring for patients as her managerial duties “went to the wayside,” said the staff talked to families for extended periods of time. She spoke with some families daily, spending as much as two-and-a-half hours each day on the phone.

The nurses felt like members of the family because the normal support system couldn’t provide bedside support.

“You were channeling the family to the patient,” Coffey said. The nurses were “rooting so hard” for the patients.

When one of those patients who was in the hospital died after a long battle, she said it was “unbelievably heartbreaking — you felt like one of your own family members had died.”

She still keeps in touch with family members.

Mather Nurse Robert Collins. Photo from Mather

Coffey said one of her neighbors was admitted to the hospital with COVID and was on her floor. Coffey’s children and her neighbor’s children grew up together and their daughters were friends.

She not only spoke with his wife every day during her 60-hour weeks, but she also called her coworkers over the weekend to ask how he was doing.

The conversations with the neighbor’s wife were “a little hard. I wanted to be honest with her. He was very critical. At the same time, I was trying to be hopeful. It was a hard balance.”

Coffey said he was “one of the lucky ones who survived.”

Dilone of SBUH described how the work was more physically demanding.

She would “try not to ask for people” as she didn’t want to expose others if it wasn’t necessary. “You are taking care of patients more by yourself, turning them and doing chest PT [physiotherapy] — it was physically more demanding,” Dilone said.

Dark Moments

Watching patients who died took its toll, even on people who have been in the medical profession for decades.

MaryJane Finnegan, chief nursing officer at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, described the unusually high number of people dying from the virus. The hospital was running out of space for the dead. The morgue was filled and an additional refrigeration truck outside also filled quickly.

Mather Nurse Kristen Thomas. Photo from Mather

“One day, eight people died — usually in a week, you can have eight people die, but not eight in a day,” Finnegan said.

Nikki Fiore-Lopez, chief nursing officer at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson said a nurse was present for the death of her mentor. Watching her die was “one of the darkest moments” for the nurse, Fiore-Lopez said.

Many medical professionals encouraged their patients to fight through the worst of the virus.

Stony Brook’s Dilone stayed with a patient whose blood oxygen level kept dropping. She wouldn’t let him fall asleep because she was worried he’d get intubated. She reminded him of his family and that he needed to help himself.

“I felt like Nurse Ratched,” Dilone said, referring to the dreaded nurse from the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Dilone spent hours with this patient. Later, a doctor told her keeping the man awake prevented him from getting intubated.

Unexpected Challenges

With a virus no one had battled before, health care workers had to be flexible, learning about everything from new protocols for admitting patients to the latest and best treatments.

Chief Nursing Officer at St. Charles hospital Nikki Fiore-Lopez delivers flowers to patients at Christmas with Foundation Board Chair member Doug Casimir in 2019. Photo from St. Charles

The staff had to confront the “speed with which everything changed,” said Dr. Eric Morley, associate professor and clinical director in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. “Every day, there were new protocols, new ways to deal with things.”

Hospitals had to create a forward triage system to deal with the flood of COVID patients amid all the other potential emergencies hospitals routinely have.

These efforts required hundreds of employees to “get on the same people to sort people out,” Morley said. Training staff to manage the flow of patients required constant communication.

Even some of the smaller elements of managing the crisis took Morley’s time, such as getting new traffic signs to direct people to an alternate site.

Hospital managers were continually confronted with numerous unexpected challenges.

Ken Roberts, president of Mather Hospital, said the hospital had to ensure the PPE was hospital grade and not counterfeit.

“There were a lot of suspicious and unscrupulous suppliers when supply and demand was unbalanced, and everyone was in crisis,” he explained in an email.

Health care workers tapped into their personal skills to connect with patients.

Angel Figueroa, a registered respiratory therapist at SBUH who grew up in New York City and learned Spanish thanks to his Puerto Rican heritage, walked into some rooms and spoke Spanish to patients.

When he greeted patients in Spanish, “I would see their eyes open up [and think], ‘Somebody understands me.’”

They would ask him numerous questions, particularly because the medical information came at them so quickly. 

Mather’s Collins described how the routine changed so dramatically the moment he arrived at work.

Mather President Ken Roberts holds a sign thanking health care workers. Photo from Mather

“Rapid response bells were going off as soon as you walked in,” he said. “You didn’t take your coat off” before patients needed attention. “People were not doing well. That was happening more frequently than before. That was an adjustment.”

On the other side of the struggle, health care workers felt a tremendous sense of relief when patients continued their recoveries at home.

“When people were discharged, the staff was thrilled,” St. Catherine’s Finnegan said. “We’d play the [Beatles] song, ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ A lot of hospitals did that. People would gather as many as possible to wish the person well as they were wheeled out.”

Teamwork

Through the difficulties, though, Morley appreciated the support from the community and the families, along with the teamwork and camaraderie from so many departments and staff that all pulled together.

Roberts expressed similar sentiments.

“I was extremely pleased at the teamwork displayed by all hospital staff during the height of the pandemic,” he said.

The Mather president was also grateful for the letters, cards, donated meals, handmade masks and donated PPE.

“The local communities we serve gave us and continue to give us tremendous support and encouragement,” Roberts said. “That has meant so much to the staff to know that the community was supporting them and recognizing their efforts.”

Stony Brook Respiratory Therapist Angel Figueroa wearing mask and shield. Photo from SBUH

Coffey, from Huntington Hospital, was impressed with how, even amid such extraordinary and challenging times, numerous groups collaborated.

“In many ways there were positive things — the community, the team, everyone working together,” she said. “Parts of it were so uplifting. As hard and as difficult and sad and heart wrenching [as it was], so many other parts, you just saw such humanity. It was amazing.” 

Lasting Thoughts

Finnegan said the staff was incredibly appreciative of all the food local restaurants donated.

In fact, some of them joke that they gained the “COVID-19,” referring to the weight they put on while they were working numerous shifts and benefiting from all the donated food.

Morley “rediscovered” Twinkies during COVID in the break room. He has since been able to lose the weight the snack cakes added.

While gyms were closed, Collins relieved stress by buying a 400-pound tractor-trailer tire that he flipped up and down along his driveway. He also took a sledgehammer and “beat on it.”

The exertion would make him tired enough that the stress would dissipate for the day.

Dr. Eric Morley from SBU participates in COVID testing. Photo from SBU

Ultimately, what made an ever-expanding job — that affected so many aspects of health care workers’ personal and professional lives — manageable was the shared sense of purpose and the inspiration people drew from each other.

“The fact that the staff was out there doing it” helped give her energy, St. Charles’ Fiore-Lopez said. “We had patients to care for, we had shifts. We had days and weeks and months to get through. They put one foot in front of the other and I needed to do the same.”

Morley appreciated the way the Stony Brook staff pulled together during an intense and challenging time.

“Although it was grueling, it was a special thing to go through with that group of people,” he said.

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Jennifer Sinz (middle) with two volunteers at her rescue before it closed. Photo from Sinz

By Chris Cumella

While pet services have managed to thrive during times of needed companionship, others have seen heavier tribulation due to the coronavirus crisis.

Reflecting on their beginning back in 2017, Jennifer Sinz, owner of AllAboutPets, a nonprofit animal rescue organization, and Kitten Kadoodle Coffee Café, prepares to close a chapter of her legacy.

“We had to close our affiliated cat café a few months ago at the beginning of November,” Sinz said. “I thought we could continue with the rescue, but my landlord changed his mind about lease prices and kept raising them.”

She and the organizations had to decide whether to stay or not before their landlord’s deadline in November — Sinz chose the latter.

Kitten Kadoodle and AllAboutPets subsist on volunteers only — there is no staff working for pay, but rather only for the animals’ affection and the reassurance of finding safety and homes for their furry friends.

The café offers an ambiance of several different cats roaming around the premises. The customers are encouraged to interact with them, as they enjoy lunches, coffee and other other flavored shakes such as cookies n’ cream, peanut butter, coffee, caramel, mint chocolate chip and classics, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

COVID-19’s expansive reach has dwindled the number of volunteers attending both services from dozens to only one or two a day, according to Sinz.

In preparation for closing, Sinz said AllAboutPets has managed to find homes for most of their animals. The bunnies, ducks and chickens have been adopted out, in addition to all the dogs in the fall. All that remains are a few of the kittens that Sinz said she plans to take if they cannot get them adopted.

Until next year, Sinz will return to foster-home-based sheltering and past and current volunteers of the organization.

She reflected a sense of resilience and hope in knowing that many rescues had to close their doors due to COVID. Still, they would not add themselves to the statistic yet.

Aside from finding chickens and roosters that were abandoned along the sides of roads during May and June, Sinz’s proudest moment was taking in five mother cats that were dumped in the same block. She brought all five cats and their litter back to the shelter at the same time.

“We never gave up with rescuing,” she said. “When so many other people struggled, we took them in.”

Customer Natalie Fronatic said it’s hard to pick a single fond memory of the rescue and of the café.

“Every moment I have spent at the cafe getting to know all the cats and the owners of the cafe have been wonderful and amazing,” she said. “Jennifer loves all the animals in her care, and she tries so hard to get them all their forever homes. She has done so much for them.”

April Zabinsky, a customer and volunteer, said so many animals were able to find incredible homes in the short time the cafe was open.

“Its closing will certainly leave a void in the community and in my life,” she said.

Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

In response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases on Long Island, Stony Brook University Hospital has reopened its “forward triage” site at the Ambulatory Care Pavilion. 

Patients who arrive at the emergency room between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. are asked to stay in their cars, where a member of the staff will determine the correct emergency care setting. Hospital staff will then direct patients to go to the main Emergency Department or to the coronavirus triage location. The site aims to limit patients with suspected COVID-19 from co-mingling with people coming to the hospital for other medical services. 

After seeing nearly 2,600 patients, Stony Brook Medicine closed its “forward triage” site back in May after a decline in patient visits. The site staffed with board-certified emergency medicine physicians and emergency medicine nurses was open from March 9 to May 4. 

The state drive-through testing site located in Stony Brook University’s South P Lot off Stony Brook Road remains open. Residents looking to get tested must make appointments in advance by phone at 888-364-3065 or online at www.coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-testing. Walk-ins are not accepted and will not be seen. The site is open seven days a week. Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

METRO photo

We want you to compare a few numbers. Look at these figures: 27 to 34; then 106 to 2,923.

The news is consistently stacked with such figures, but it’s all our job to prioritize them to make sure we’re doing the right thing.

On a call with reporters last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said people are dying at higher rates because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In just the first week of December, the county counted at least 34 dead. This means we can expect a horrific month, as just 35 people died from COVID-19-related issues in the entire month of November. 

When we look at national figures, on Thursday, Dec. 10, at least 2,923 Americans died from COVID-19. That is more deaths than all those who perished when the towers fell on 9/11, and it is happening on a daily basis. This is what our focus should be on. If we can get through the winter months, then hopefully we can see more broad use of the vaccine and then, if we stay focused, a return to where we were before March 2020.

Instead, another figure drags our attention to political irrationality. Only 27 of 249 Republican members of Congress were willing to say as at Dec. 5 that President-elect Joe Biden won the election in a Washington Post poll, despite the fact that all states’ voter rolls were already certified.

A total of 106 U.S. representatives signed onto the State of Texas’ attorney general’s plea to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ballots of four swing states that went to Biden. Of those pledging onto this strange and ill-conceived attempt to usurp the national election includes U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1). Last week, the Supreme Court threw out the plainly ridiculous Texas AG’s suit, but that original act by the GOP underlays a deepening resentment to the very foundations of our democracy.

In an article published last week in TBR papers, Suffolk Republican Committee Chairman Jesse Garcia spoke about how Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used the pandemic to “scare voters away from the polling places,” and used the crisis to hurt GOP primaries. It’s important to note that Suffolk Republicans only had one primary this year, while the rest of their candidates were appointed by party leadership. Democrats had four of their primaries delayed by these new rules in Suffolk alone. While more Dems voted by mail than Republicans, there was a significant number of absentee ballots sent by conservatives, as evidenced by the end total of votes compared to those shown on Nov. 3.

Giving little evidence of any real fraud, Garcia cited a case in which a Water Mill man, a Democrat, was indicted for allegedly requesting two mail-in ballots for his deceased mother back in October. He was indicted by Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini, a Democrat. If anything, this example shows that current efforts to account for fraud have worked, rather than the opposite.

Erroneously saying such fraud was widespread in Suffolk also discounts the work of the Suffolk County Board of Elections, of which there are two commissioners, one appointed by the Republicans and one by the Democrats. 

If there turns out to be real evidence of fraud, and not just partisan hyperbole, we expect it to be looked into through the proper channels, but anticipating illicit activity with no proof does little but reinforce a deepening partisan divide, something we clearly do not need right now.

Is this a distraction? Do we need to forget the more than 2,000 who have died in Suffolk County alone throughout this awful year? Which ones are numbers to be plotted in a spreadsheet and which ones should we apply real effort toward? Because keeping COVID numbers low means that hospitals can deal with the incoming patients. When hospitals become overloaded, more people die. It’s that simple. That is why we wear the masks and keep socially distanced. That is why we care for our neighbors and support those people on the front lines.

Those elected officials focusing on rewriting the outcome of the election need to look back to their folks at home and perhaps remind themselves which numbers are the ones that matter.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

What if James Bond had to wear a mask? What would it look like and would it become a fashion accessory and a multi-functional gadget at the same time?

It could be all black to match his dapper tuxedo. If he ever wore a bow tie that was a different color, he could coordinate the two items to keep the visual integrity of the ensemble.

Then again, maybe it’d be pink with a small ribbon, to show that he’s finally caught up to the times and, after all those years of leading ladies who fall in love with him at their own peril, he sees an opportunity to show his appreciation for women and the fight against breast cancer.

Maybe the mask would have a bright light built into it. He could use the light to interrogate someone, to shine it in someone’s eyes who was about to shoot him or to distract a vicious dog or lion that was about to eat him, but who followed the light around the room instead. He could also use the light in dark tunnels or underneath pyramids.

A problem with masks, even the ones we change each day, is that they don’t change what our faces do beneath them. It’s hard to sense the difference between a hidden smile and a smirk.

Remember those mood rings, which changed color depending on how we were feeling? A modern Bond could have a mood mask.

A James Bond mask wouldn’t simply be colorful. It would also be a communicator, akin to Maxwell Smart’s shoe in “Get Smart.” By tilting his head once to the right, Bond could speak with M or Q or any other one-letter person or, perhaps, another 00 like him, who would be able to speak with him through their mask. Tilting his head twice to the right would hang up the phone. He could dial by touching his tongue to a keypad in his mask.

By tilting his head to the left once, Bond could order a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, from the nearest bar.

In fact, keeping up with modern times, maybe Bond wouldn’t need to speak at all, but the mask could pick the ideas in his head, like, “hey, that woman over there looks intelligent. I can’t wait to speak with her about her hopes and aspirations. After we get to know each other well, we can establish a trusting relationship and then blow stuff up, kill some bad people, save the world and then spend some time undercover, if you know what I mean.”

A James Bond mask would also be the modern version of his all-purpose watch. Contoured to his face, he could whistle, causing the mask to break glass by releasing a supersonic sound. It could also shoot out a lifesaving dart or even provide oxygen for him if he were trapped underwater by a bad guy who didn’t realize that you can’t drown Bond while he’s wearing his mask.

Given the physical demands of the job, the mask would also come with a built-in coolant. Instead of sweating into the mask, the mask would be made of a dry-fit material while, on cue, it would release a comfortable and sweet-smelling coolant that would also cover up his bad breath.

Maybe he’d have a mask that played the theme song from his movies. Each time he bit down, he could sway and swagger to the familiar and engaging theme, annoying the evildoers with a song that almost always signals a Bond victory.

The Town of Brookhaven Town Hall. File photo

The Town of Brookhaven has entered into a $108,000 contract with a telehealth company for monitoring town employees’ health for COVID-related symptoms.

The town board unanimously agreed Dec. 3 to enter into a contract with Radish Health, Inc, a Manhattan based company that helps monitor employee health data using an app. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said there will be an app that employees will have to check in with every day. If anyone is feeling sick, there will be opportunities for videos with doctors or to get tested. The company will also handle all contact tracing. 

The agreement is good for six months, and will be used with 900 town employees.

“Radish gave us the best deal and the best agreement in terms of the safety of our employees,” Romaine said during the Dec. 3 meeting. “We have to do all we can to contain his virus.”

Town officials again complained that while Suffolk County has received around $260 million in federal CARES Act funding, towns like Brookhaven haven’t received “a dime” for government operations. 

“The town is doing this to protect our employees … we still have not received dollar one,” Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said. “This is what the money was intended for.”

Romaine said the pandemic has continued to hurt town finances, though this move is important as “a number of our employees have been inflicted with this virus.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said despite those infections, “government needs to continue to operate.”

METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

This year will truly be one to remember; not because of any extraordinary achievement, but rather it was a year when the world almost stopped and millions of people died around the world because of COVID-19.

In our country alone, more than 1/4 of a million people have senselessly lost their lives. Every day we are breaking a record for people dying from the coronavirus.

Thanksgiving was celebrated in ways that most of us never imagined. So many families had empty plates at their table representing loved ones that could not come home and loved ones who have passed because of the virus. Unfortunately, some people did not heed the recommendations for gathering on Thanksgiving to keep all of us safe. As we prepare for Christmas, the virus is surging.

Christmas time is supposed to be a season where we celebrate renewed hope and gratitude for all the many gifts and blessings we’ve received. We give thanks for all the people who have blessed our life. The Christmas season is always marked with an energy that is transformative.

This year Christmas is going to be very different. However, we really should take pause and give thanks in the midst of all the suffering and struggle for the countless gifts and blessings each of us have. It’s a time to stay focused and mindful of what we have in this present moment. It’s a time to give not out of our excess but out of our need. It’s a time to welcome the stranger as a friend and brother or sister. It’s a time for making peace, healing fractured relationships and building new bridges that cross over troubled waters.

This Christmas season provides us a powerful opportunity to join hands and give voice to the voiceless, to work for social justice and respect for all God’s people, no matter who they are or where they are. This time of year is an opportunity to support the dignity and respect of every human person.

In the midst of our fear and anxiety, this holiday season is a powerful moment to renew and affirm the people and relationships that are most important in our lives. It’s an opportunity to reach out to those that we’ve become distant from and reconnect.

This Christmas marks my 40th Christmas in Port Jefferson. So much has happened from my first days as a young parish priest at Infant Jesus. My life has been so blessed and enriched by the countless people I have been privileged to know and work with. The collaborative spirit and compassion in our village that transcends religious traditions and socioeconomic profiles has inspired me and helped me to stay the course all these years. The work that I’ve been able to do is in large measure thanks to the generosity and love from so many.

Thousands of broken young men are whole raising their own families, making positive contributions to our larger community and giving back in countless ways. All of that has happened and continues to happen because of your generosity, your courage and your power of example.

This Christmas I am grateful for the countless miracles I have witnessed every day for 40 years and for the collaborative spirit on the part of so many that have contributed to the transformation of so many wounded and broken people. Thank you for helping to renew my hope. I am forever grateful. Christmas blessings!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.