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coronavirus

Klaus Mueller (third from left) with Akai Kaeru co-founder Eric Papenhausen (right) and interns Shenghui Cheng (second from left), on whose PhD thesis the software was based and Darius Coelho, who earned his PhD in Mueller’s lab. Photo courtesy of Akai Kaeru

By Daniel Dunaief

About 40 percent of the counties in the United States are at high risk for COVID-19 and related death rates, according to a new computer program created by Stony Brook University Computer Science Professor Klaus Mueller.

Putting together data from the over 3,000 counties throughout the United States, Mueller used a computer program he created with a start up company he co-founded, called Akai Kaeru LLC, to search for counties that present factors that would put them at greater risk for an increase in COVID-19 deaths.

Analyzing data from 500 factors, the scientists found that death rates increased in communities with a combination of traits that are catalytic for the spread and fatality rate of the virus. These include sparsely populated counties with a poor and aging population; counties with sleep-deprived, low-educated, low-insured residents; and wealthy counties with high home ownership and increasing housing debt, among other factors.

Many of the counties are in the southern United States. In June, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia had the highest density of high-risk counties at a coverage of 80 to 90 percent.

Mueller said he considered this approach in late April. When the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came online, the group did its first test run on May 10th, which ended on June 10th.

When he looked at the June 10th mortality rates throughout the country, he was amazed at how effectively the patterns based on the conditions from the computer algorithm predicted increases.

To be sure, not all of the counties that fit one or more of these sets of conditions had high death rates in May, but others that were similar had. The preconditions existed, but the spark to cause those deaths hadn’t occurred, Mueller said.

“In June, some of these so far untouched counties caught the virus and they flared up like a tinderbox,” Mueller explained in an email. “This phenomenon continued in July for other counties that had escaped it so far but had the critical condition sets.”

In June, some of the counties that had characteristics that made them vulnerable caught the virus, Mueller explained.

Mueller anticipates a rapid increase in August in counties in Florida and Texas, in which the virus has spread and the conditions for increased mortality are prevalent.

“There are counties in these states that from the socio-economic perspective look a lot like those that already experienced great tragedy,” he wrote.

Mueller explained that people in many counties think they’re not at risk even if their neighbors are. The danger, however, comes from a spark, such as a visit by someone carrying the virus, that increases the infection, hospital and mortality rates.

Indeed, in wealthy counties where residents are stretched thin by the costs needed to maintain their homes, the incidence of illness and death is also higher. In part, that reflects how some of the people in these communities cut corners in terms of health insurance.

Mueller said Akai Kaeru, which means “red frog” in Japanese, is working on a dashboard that will be accessible from a web browser where users can click on a map of counties and see the risk and the patterns that define it. The staff at Akai Kaeru, which includes three principals and four interns, have virtual team meetings each weekday at 11 am. The dashboard they create can help residents see the other counties that share similar characteristics. Users can also compare the death rate in these counties to the average death rate in the United States.

While the observations of trends linking characteristics of a county with COVID-related health challenges could be useful for county and state planners, Mueller acknowledged that these observations are “just a start. Now, you know where to look, which is way better than before.”

The data could be useful for policy and law makers as well as for actuaries at life insurance companies.

Mueller believes this artificial intelligence tool acts like a magnet that pulls out the proverbial needle from the data haystack.  Local leaders can use the dashboard to see the critical conditions for their counties. They can try to find solutions to remove those conditions.

Demonstrating how the health care system in similar areas became overwhelmed can increase compliance with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

Mueller added that the predictions from the model are only as good as the data he used to analyze trends across the country. He and his team aren’t making these observations or collecting this information themselves.

He said some counties have a lower likelihood than the average of developing a wider contagion. While the entire state doesn’t have the same lower probability of the disease spreading, areas like Montana and Indiana have fewer of the variables that typically combine to create conditions that favor the spread of the virus.

Mueller suggests that the risks from COVID-19 are tied to compliance with policies that reduce the spread of the disease and to the development of a vaccine.

Despite the high infection rate through April and May and the deaths during those unprecedented months, Suffolk County isn’t at the same level of risk as some regions in the south. “Suffolk is much better than those counties in the South and even Westchester, Rockland and adjacent counties in Connecticut and New Jersey,” Mueller said. “But it is not without risk.”

Prior to developing a program to analyze epidemiological trends with COVID, Mueller worked with medical visualization, which included the three-dimensional data of human parts that were generated through computed tomography, or CT.

In his work, the Computer Science professor seeks to find ways to communicate high-dimensional data to the lay population. He has routinely worked on clustering and has partnered with Pacific Northwest, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and health care companies.

Mueller has been at Stony Brook University since 1999. He earned his PhD from Ohio State University. Originally from Germany, he has done considerable work online, including teaching.

He and his wife Akiko, who works on marketing for his company, have an eight-year-old daughter named Nico.

Readers interested in learning more about his research with COVID can find information at the following link: https://akaikaeru.com/covid-19-1.

METRO photo

Schools have been releasing their reopening plans — ranging from students attending full time to hybrid models — and many parents and teachers are buzzing with concerns.

We’re disappointed that some of our local districts did not reveal their reopening plans until the state deadline of July 31. We understand the massive undertaking it was to craft these plans and the number of people on committees involved to see it through, but many districts’ reopening data is long and convoluted. More effort can be made to present this reopening data in a digestible way.

It’s no surprise that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has not yet created a blanket school reopening plan across the state. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for our school districts during a pandemic. Each one varies in size and number of students, teachers and space available. All this, of course, with an ax hanging over schools heads with state aid potentially being cut later this year.

The same is true for within a school district. Each student’s family is different. There are those who legitimately fear catching the coronavirus to the degree that it has kept them in lockdown even after some restrictions have been lifted. And while some have the luxury of having at least one parent being able to stay home if the local district offers a hybrid model, other families will be unable to provide the supervision their child needs.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that schools across the country reopen as long as they put safety first. Cuomo, after reviewing the districts’ reopening plans, will be making a final decision later this week.  The governor has said that as long as infection rate averages over a two-week period stay below 5 percent, schools will be able to reopen to some capacity. Suffolk County currently hovers at around 1 percent. There is no guarantee that figure won’t increase in the future, especially considering the current case with states like California, which was heading in the same promising direction as New York until cases spiked to a current total of more than 525,000.

Here is the thing we have to understand, none of us will be happy. Nobody will get everything they want from current plans. In a normal year, every kid would be learning in school, desks spaced only inches from each other and halls crowded with kids.

A parent who relies on schools to watch their children while a parent or guardian is at work may not be able to afford a different kind of day care. Families that rely on school reduced cost or free lunches won’t have that option without a kid in school. Hybrid models only help with a portion of those issues, but it’s better than nothing.

Some parents ask why the district can’t provide learning options for students who stay home 24/7 while the rest go into their full-time or hybrid schedules. Districts are already hurting financially due to the pandemic. Many are taking from their fund balances just to afford the additional staff and resources needed to have some students in the classroom. Asking them to put further resources into the extra time it takes to help students at home may not be feasible for so many districts.

We are now in a situation where each family needs to look at their school’s plan and then adjust it to their reality. Districts should do all they can to keep residents in the loop on a consistent basis. Parents, for their part, must acknowledge no plan will be perfect. It will take both parties and compromise to get the best outcome for students while keeping the virus under control.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We will undoubtedly run into times in the next few weeks and months when our kids can’t stay in school. Yes, sure, I understand how and why people want their children in school. Most of the time, they can and will learn more in a conventional classroom setting than they will sitting in their beds in a collared shirt with pajama bottoms, texting friends all over the country with their phones while they pretend to be taking notes.

I also understand the need for schools to provide a structured schedule for each day, offering parents a chance to finish assignments for their jobs, pay bills without a well-intentioned child turning the checks into a coloring pad, or have a few moments when they don’t need to clean up the mess on another floor.

And yet, we aren’t that much further along than we were in March, when schools closed for the first time, in protecting the health of teachers, students, and everyone else who enters or lives with someone in an academic setting.

Sure, the hospitals may have better treatments than they did when they didn’t know about the likely progression of the disease, but there is no cure and most of us don’t have any immunity.

So, given that we’re not likely to do much traveling and our kids are likely to spend some time at home, we can and should develop Plans B, C and D.

Plan B could be a fallback into the kinds of learning our children did in March, when school administrators and teachers tried to educate our children with modified, distance-based lesson plans. Certainly, schools have spent considerable time preparing for either a blended version of in-class and remote learning or an all-remote experience.

Those lessons and the material covered will hopefully be thorough enough to match what they would have learned in the customary in-person setting.

Plan C, however, may involve some supplemental educating and, perhaps, education-driven day care, depending on the age of our children. Where can we find that? In every community, children of all ages may be home. For older teenagers, this may be an opportunity to provide guidance to younger counterparts whom they might drive by on their way to school, soccer practice or a group gathering.

Parents of younger children may want to connect with parents of high school children, either directly or through their schools. After all, these high school students are much closer to learning modern math than parents who may be decades from the same material that was taught in a different way in an earlier era.

Through a voluntary and distance-based teens-to-tots tutoring, younger students can find mentors, tutors and friends in teenagers who can, perhaps earlier than they anticipated, give back to the communities that supported them.

With more time on their hands because so many extracurriculars might be canceled, these teenagers can become an important resource in an educational system, supplementing what the younger students learn in class.

A neighbor recently told me about a family exchange he and his brother managed. His 20-something son became frustrated living and working at home, while his brother’s 20-something daughter shared the same sentiment. He sent his son to live with his brother, while he hosted his niece. The change of scenery has proven healthy for everyone, giving them all a chance to exhale amid the uncertainty.

Disruptions over the next several months to a year seem inevitable. If we come up with creative ways to plan for them, we might contribute to our communities and enjoy the time while we wait for the viral all-clear signal.

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O'Brien. File photo from Scott O'Brien

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Monday, Aug. 10 in a release that 107 school districts have not yet submitted their reopening plans to the state and have a Friday deadline to submit or face no in-person learning this fall. However, local districts claim they had already filed their plans and that the state had confirmed receipt.

The governor’s release stated that multiple school districts, including Rocky Point, Mount Sinai, Comsewogue, Longwood and Middle Country had not sent their reopening plans yet. This is despite these districts having already presented plans on their websites for residents to peruse. 

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O’Brien said in a letter to parents that the district had indeed submitted its plan before the original deadline of July 31, and the state had confirmed receipt.

“We have contacted the New York State Department of Education regarding this matter and are working to ensure our district’s plans are in good standing, as was previously indicated, and that Rocky Point UFSD is removed from the list,” O’Brien said in the letter.

Comsewogue had already put its reopening information on its website before the July 31 deadline. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Jennifer Quinn confirmed they already had an email in-hand confirming the state received their plan. Quinn also said they asked that the state remove them from the list of 107 schools.

“We have contacted the New York State Education Department regarding this matter and resubmitted our district’s plans along with the original submission receipt,” the Comsewogue superintendent said.

In a statement, Senior Advisor to the Governor Rich Azzopardi said districts had not sent plans to the state Department of Health.

“The list of districts that didn’t file a plan with the state Department of Health is accurate,” Azzopardi said. “Despite clear guidance provided to these schools, which included a link to the DOH portal, some districts in follow-up calls said they filed with the State Education Department — which is not an executive agency — but didn’t file with DOH. Others filled out an affirmation certifying that they would be abiding by the state’s reopening guidance, but didn’t actually submit their plan, something many of these districts are now rectifying.”

Yet other district officials said it was still the state’s mistake. Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said in an email that “the Department of Health made the error. We confirmed.”

“Like Rocky Point we received an email from the New York State Department Of Education confirming our submission on July 31,” Brosdal added. “This error unnecessarily upset the community. I immediately received concerned phone calls.”

As of Monday evening, New York State has not updated the list on its website.

Cuomo again restated that reopening plans depend on the willingness of both parents and teachers in communication with schools.

“The main arbiter here of whether a school district has an intelligent plan to reopen and whether people have confidence in that district’s plan — It’s going to be the parents and it’s going to be the teachers, and that requires discussion, and that’s going to be a dialogue,” the governor said in the release.

This comes amongst a host of questions that residents have flooded their districts about reopening plans. Parents in Rocky Point have started a Change.org petition for Rocky Point to create a distance learning option for parents who do not want their children in school. 

On Mount Sinai’s website, the district has released a short Q&A with Brosdal which said the school’s board of education “has agreed to provide remote learning to those parents who are reluctant to send their children to school at this time.” The district is asking all parents to submit to the district whether their child will be attending in September. The district will be putting up a new Q&A every week, according to its website.

“Parents should be aware that if they choose to opt-out their child from attending in September, the window for returning to school would open in January, the beginning of the second semester,” the superintendent said in the Q&A. “Although remote instruction will be provided, we still believe that nothing replaces in person instruction and interaction with a teacher.”

 

The storm uprooted a tree in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Town of Brookhaven will conduct a one-time only bulk collection of storm debris on Monday, Aug. 10. All debris must be placed at the curb by the evening of Sunday, Aug. 9.

Branches, leaves and other vegetative debris from the storm should be brought curbside for bulk collection by town crews utilizing heavy equipment.

The town asked that residents do not put any non-vegetative debris out. Storm debris mixed with household garbage or construction debris will not be picked up.

Officials also asked that people keep fire hydrants and mailboxes clear of any debris that is brought to the curb. Any storm debris brought to the curb after Sunday, Aug. 9 won’t be picked up as part of this one-time
bulk collection and will be subject to ordinary yard waste rules requiring branches to be cut in four-foot sections and bundled for collection.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) addressed those gathered about his goals for the 2019 Legislative session. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the morning of Aug. 7 that all regions in New York are given the green light to reopen in the fall.

The governor said he based the decision off of the infection rate in each region in the state. Much of New York has been hovering around a 1 percent infection rate for the past several weeks. 

Cuomo previously said if the infection rate in any region breaches 5 percent the state would immediately order schools’ closure.

“You look at the infection rate — we are probably in the best situation in the country,” Cuomo said during a media call Friday. 

Most school districts submitted reopening plans by the deadline of July 31. Some, like South Huntington and Northport-East Northport, submitted their plans after being granted an extension. Many have come forward with hybrid plans at at least some grade levels, meaning students will spend a few days in school and then the rest of the week learning from home. Some parents have criticized districts like Three Village for deciding on a full-time schedule for all grade levels. Other parents in districts like Smithtown have rallied for children to be back in school full time.

Still, Cuomo has said multiple times that each school district’s reopening plan is dependent on the district officials in communion with parents and teachers, saying “this is not a bureaucratic decision, this is a parental decision.” 

However, there were still many questions left open over what policies districts can hold, especially regarding the safety of teachers. Yesterday, Aug. 6, teachers union New York State United Teachers put out a news release calling for any school to close if any one individual in a school that tests positive should mean an immediate 14-day closure. The release also requested specific answers to how districts should conduct quarantining of potential cases and contact tracing.

The governor largely left the questions of those two elements up to individual school districts, though state Department of Health guidelines do mandate school districts conduct testing of symptomatic students. They also mandate people to wear masks when they are unable to socially distance at six feet, and if a student does not have a mask, the district is mandated to provide one.

“I can’t fashion a plan that would work in every school district because the circumstances are too different,” he said during the media call.“

Though school districts are mandated to take the temperature of every student that comes through its doors, the fear of asymptomatic spread, of the virus infecting people from carriers, is still a big concern. Cuomo called that a continuing “conversation.”

The tenor of the governor’s announcement revolved around the notion that parents, teachers and districts all had to agree to the plans. The next few weeks, Cuomo said, should be spent in even more discussion amongst the community to try and reach more common ground.

“I believe in New Yorkers, and New Yorkers will do it and they can decide how they will do it,” he said.

 

Stock photo

People are using too much hand sanitizer. That’s one of several observations from Sharon Nachman, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Sharon Nachman of SBU’s pediatrics department. Photo from SBU

Nachman suggests that sanitizer requires only a small amount on people’s hands. If, after applying it, someone has wet and sticky hands, they have overdone it.

“When I see people using hand sanitizer, they glop it on,” Nachman said in an interview. She recommends not using more than the standard volume, even amidst a return to school during the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a wide-ranging conversation about the health of students who are returning to campus, Nachman urged students to pay closer attention to their health, to keep themselves and their classmates safe.

Students can tell if they’re too close to each other if they both reach out and can touch each other’s fingers.

The signs of COVID-19 in older teenagers and young 20-somethings are similar to the ones that occur in adults. They include fever, fatigue, feeling ill, loss of taste, and dry coughs. College students also have a high rate of being asymptomatic, which makes it difficult to find and isolate sick students.

While multi-symptom inflammatory disease in children, or MSI-C, cropped up during the worst of the pandemic in Suffolk County, the overall numbers of cases and infection rate on Long Island have fallen enough to reduce the likelihood of this COVID-related illness among children.

“Its all about how big the hit is in the community,” she said. “If you go to Texas or Florida, they are clearly seeing it. On Long Island, we aren’t seeing it” because of the way residents have helped flatten the infection curve among the population.

Nachman urged college students to be responsible when a contact tracer reaches out to them. In college campuses throughout the country, contact tracing will help mitigate the spread of the infection by quarantining people who might have been exposed to an active form of the virus. Isolating people will keep the spread of the virus in check.

Students, faculty and university administrators are well aware of the possibility that schools will need to return to an all-remote education model if infections reach a high enough level. Indeed, Nachman urged students to develop a plan for what they would pack and take home and where they would go if campuses closed. By being prepared for change, students can react to altered circumstances. High school students also need such preparation, in case any school that open need to close to protect students, faculty and staff.

As for the potential overlap of the flu and COVID, Nachman suggested students should get the flu shot by October, before the flu season begins.

Nachman is an advocate for masks.

“The smartest thing people can do is really wearing their masks,” she said. “Come to college prepared with enough masks that you can wash and wear them.”

The ideal number of masks is nothing fewer than two per day. She likes the washable ones, which are easy to put in the laundry and wash with the rest of a student’s clothing. The two play cloth masks work well and can be “personalized to reflect someone’s mood, to match clothing or to make a statement.”

Masks are important not only to protect other members of the student body, but also to protect the wearer.

“This idea that I’m wearing it to protect you is half right,” she said. “It’s protection for both of us.”

Colby Rowe and Roseanna Ryan making a delivery of over 100 iPads for patient-family communication. Photo by Scott Lamarsh

While Stony Brook University Hospital staff were taking care of the sickest residents in the midst of the pandemic in Suffolk County, residents did what they could to return the favor.

Colby Rowe’s truck is filled with 3M N95 masks. Photo by Colby Rowe

In addition to cheering for health care workers, first responders and essential employees each night at 7 p.m., numerous residents and businesses made donations of everything from lifesaving N95 masks to food to comfort care.

After 10 weeks of accepting donations from March through early June, Stony Brook had collected nearly one million pieces of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and head and food coverings, 33,500 comfort care items such as snacks, hand lotion, puzzles and coloring books, 18,000 meal donations, 575 video messages of support and 435 iPads for telemedicine.

These donations bolstered the spirits of the staff and provided vital comfort during everything from the process of conducting COVID-19 tests in the South P Lot to the recharging breaks doctors, nurses and hospital staff took after caring for patients.

“The comfort piece was a bit more striking for the patients and the staff,” said Roseanna Ryan, director of Patient Advocacy & Language Assistance Services at SBU Hospital. “The need for the staff to have a respite area to recharge during this extremely challenging time was something that we might not have initially anticipated. The donations we were able to use went such a long way.”

Indeed, even some of the smaller items helped the masked men and women health care heroes throughout the hospital system.

During testing, some of the medical professionals worked 12-hour shifts, administering test after test for reeling residents. Items such as breath mints, ChapStick and even eye coverings that would help health care workers take a nap in their car before returning for the next shift proved incredibly helpful, said Colby Rowe, Trauma Center Education & Prehospital outreach coordinator. Rowe worked with the emergency management team at the university, primarily coordinating the donation center.

“I received lots of text messages from people on the receiving end saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ They felt appreciated by the community, Rowe said.

Rowe added that the hospital performed ably in ensuring that the staff had sufficient PPE equipment to help them with their dangerous but important work.

The university took a wide range of assistance. Some donations, like snack food, found a home in the break room. Others, however, wound up helping people in different locations.

Stony Brook received more than 400 Easter baskets. Rowe was on the phone with a civilian friend from the U.S. Department of Defense, who told him that Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn had to postpone an Easter event.

Rowe loaded up his truck and drove the Easter baskets to Brooklyn. That’s not where the community spirit stopped. On the way, several baskets blew out of his truck on Route 347.

Snacks from the hospital break room at SBUH. Photo from Stony Brook University.

“I had about four cars pull over to help me” retrieve the boxes, Rowe said. “That’s a sign of the times.”
None of the boxes, which were donated to the children of soldiers, sustained any damage.

Rowe also said the university worked to make sure support staff, including housekeeping and the people moving the carts to usher patients around the hospital, benefited from these gifts.

The most consistent donated items were the three-dimensional printed face shields and hand sanitizer, which faculty who stayed to help frontline workers made on campus. In total, the university received more than 14,000 face shields and 509 gallons of hand sanitizer.

Ryan and Rowe said the hospital was grateful and humbled by each donation they received.
Several groups offered consistent gifts. The Three Village Coronavirus Forum Facebook group, which Three Village resident Michael Ehrlich led, raised hundreds each week through membership donations. They shopped at Target and Walmart to buy comfort care items.

Frito-Lay donated a couple of truckloads of chips to stock the respite room, while the Three Village Dads Foundation raised money to feed frontline workers.

The donations helped fill in some gaps during the year as well. National Nurses Week and National EMS week both occurred in May. While the hospital typically honors these professionals with gifts to show their appreciation, the response to COVID-19 was the priority during those times. The donations, however, provided material for care packages.

The pandemic triggered needs the hospital never had before, Ryan said.

“We had to identify different ways to allow our patients to communicate with their loved ones, while there was no visitation or limited visitation,” Ryan said. The hospital redeployed nursing staff into family liaison roles to provide friends and family with updates.

Rowe delivers Easter baskets to the families of soldiers at Fort Hamilton. Photo by Colby Rowe.

For the patients, the hospital put together comfort bags, which included activities like word searches, crossword puzzles, stress balls, aroma therapy, eye masks, and dry erase boards to allow patients who were able to write to communicate with nurses outside a door, which helped preserve PPE.

At this point, the university has some supplies left over, which it will likely use during the current, planned reopening of the university side of Stony Brook.

In addition to receiving donations from the community, Stony Brook also benefited from donations from people in other countries, including China, Korea and Germany.

“People sent really moving and emotional notes,” Rowe said. “We saw a lot of good in people” during a difficult time.

Ryan was also grateful for all the support from the university.

“The planning and preparation from senior leadership put us in a position where we were able to be successful in getting to the other side of this,” Ryan said. “Leadership at the state level also helped tremendously with that.”

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

The Three Village Central School District is considering additional feedback from parents on how the new school year will look.

In a letter dated Aug. 2, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said while recommended plans submitted to the state July 31 called for Three Village schools to open in-person Monday through Friday, after feedback from parents it was decided that a new parent survey would be offered “to gain a benchmark understanding of how many families would be interested in a potential remote learning option for students.” The option would be in addition to the proposed plan and would be subject to the approval of the New York State Education Department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

The first reopening survey sent to parents and guardians was fielded between July 10 and 17. The district received 2,328 responses, which is a 66 percent response rate. Out of the 2,328 anonymous respondents who represent 3,734 students, 22 percent said they would be extremely comfortable with students returning to schools, 30 percent comfortable, 19 percent neither, 17 percent uncomfortable and 12 percent extremely uncomfortable. The survey also asked parents other questions including how they felt their children handled remote learning the last few months of the 2019-20 academic year, how they were doing emotionally and if parents worked in or out of the home. Out of the families who responded, 49 percent said all caregivers work outside of the home, 34 percent responded at least one person worked from home and at least 17 percent indicated that one will be home and not working.

“As has been said throughout this process, there is no one-sized-fits-all plan to resume instruction this fall and many uncertainties still remain, as the ultimate decision on how, when, and, if schools reopen in September will be rendered by Governor Cuomo this week,” Pedisich wrote in the Aug. 2 letter.

She added in the letter the goal of the proposed reopening plan was to develop one “that is both educationally sound and safe for our families and staff — and that process continues to be a fluid one, as there are many external factors that will contribute to our ability to resume full in-person instruction as planned.”

Pedisich recognized that families face different circumstances as far as their comfort level with students returning to school, especially for those with immunocompromised family members

When the recommended reopening plan, that would require students, teachers and staff to report to school Monday through Friday was unveiled July 31, the district, which has almost 6,000 students, received criticism from a large number of parents.

Those opposed to a five-day, in-person plan created the Facebook page 3V in Support of Remote Learning. At press time, the group had nearly 300 members. Some have suggested asynchronous learning where teachers record lessons for students to watch when they can. Others have pointed toward neighboring school district, Smithtown Central, where a hybrid model is being proposed where 50 percent of students will attend school Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and alternate Wednesdays. There is also a remote option being offered at Smithtown.

Parents have also expressed concern that while facial coverings will be recommended at Three Village schools they will not be mandatory in the classrooms whenever there is six-foot distancing.

To come up with the proposed plan, the Three Village Board of Education commissioned a Governance School Reopening Task Force and affiliates subcommittees, which included 107 individuals, and in addition to parent/guardian surveys also sent one out to staff members.

Among the changes to be made for the new school year are classroom layouts that allow a minimum of 6 feet distancing; classrooms and other spaces being cleared of any additional items to allow for greater distancing; markers and signage being used for visual distancing cues; and plastic separators for use in cafeterias, speech pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Steps are also being taken to instruct staff members on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the virus and what to do to isolate a person if it’s believed they are sick.

“The district will proceed with the understanding that planning for schools to reopen is not a one-time event,” the reopening plan read. “We will continuously monitor the situation and provide updated guidance, policies and regulatory changes as the situation requires.”

The school district’s reopening plan can be viewed at www.threevillagecsd.org.

A tree falls on a mail carrier truck on Old Post Road in Setauket. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sustained winds of over 40 miles per hour, with gusts of over 65 miles per hour from Tropical Storm Isaias, knocked out power to over 440,000 customers, according to PSEG.

The storm uprooted a tree in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

As of 9:45 am on Thursday, fewer than 140,000 customers were still without power, as PSEG said it had restored power to about 300,000 customers.

The utility expects to restore power to 85% of its customers by the end of the day on Friday, while the remaining percentage should have power by the end of the day on Saturday. PSEG tree crews and contracts have cleared 500 locations.

Customers of PSE&G were so frustrated with their inability to get through to the power company duringt the storm that they flooded the 911 phone lines, causing an increase of 400% in the volume of calls.

“That is related to communication issues that were experienced by PSE&G, where customers had a difficult time getting through or were unable to get through to report outages,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during a press conference on Wednesday to provide an update after the storm.

Bellone suggested it was “too early to diagnose what the problem was” at PSE&G, but that is it “critical that we determine that for storms moving forward.”

Other New York officials, such as State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) have called for an investigation of the public utility. Just a day after the storm, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he was directing the state Department of Public Service to launch an investigation in PSEG Long Island, along with other utility companies in New York on what went wrong with service restoration.

While Bellone stopped short of urging an investigation into the communication problems for customers, he urged an “analysis and understanding of what happened. This was a major problem. Communications in a storm is critical. We need to understand why it happened.”

PSEG insisted that the challenges with its communication systems didn’t impact the company’s efforts to restore power. Crews have been able to assess the damage and send teams to affected neighborhoods.

“We have overcome many of the issues with Verizon that affected our call center operations yesterday,” Daniel Eichhorn, president and chief operating officer of PSEG said in a statement. “We understand how critical it is to share accurate and timely information with our customers and we continue working diligently to fully resolve these issues.”

PSEG indicated it understood the importance of sharing accurate and timely information and is seeing improvements in call center operations.

The company is “working diligently to improve all of our systems to fully resolve these issues,” and urges customers to use the automated voice response system, if possible, at (800) 490-0075.

PSEG is opening four customer outreach centers, starting at 10 am on Wednesday, which is providing free water and ice in a drive-through service. The locations are at 175 East Old Country Road in Hicksville, 250 Willis Avenue in Roslyn, 288 Pulaski Road in Greenlawn and 1650 Islip Avenue in Brentwood.

A tree lies across Old Post Road East in Mount Sinai after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

The company has sent out 2,000 crews, including workers from New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Alabama, Kansas and Missouri. The crews will work 16-hour shifts around the clock until they have restored power. The teams will restore critical facilities first, then outages that affect the most people and then outages that affect smaller numbers or individual customers.

PSEG reminded customers that downed wires should always be considered live. A safe distance is at least 30 feet away. Customers who see downed wires should call 911. The company also reminded residents not to drive over or stand near downed power lines. Large pools of standing water could be dangerous because wires could be hidden in them. PSEG urged people to stop, back up and take another path if they see downed wires.

The county received 250 calls for downed trees and limbs on county roadways. Most of those were cleared by the early morning. As of mid-morning on Wednesday, five roads, including four in Huntington and one in Islip, remained partially closed. These are routes 17, 67, 86, 35 and 9.

Bellone said PSEG is aware of the outages and is working to restore power throughout the county.

Despite the calm after the storm, the county facilities, including golf courses, remained closed around midday Wednesday.

“We’re hoping to have those back online [Wednesday] afternoon,” Bellone said.

Smith Point County Park is also closed for swimming, as the outage has cut power to bathroom facilities.

Brookhaven Town’s Holtsville Pool is closed. Brookhaven’s town beaches are open, but Davis Park, Great Gun and Ho Hum beaches all have red flag conditions, which prevents swimming and limits water access to knee-deep wading.

Access to West Meadow Beach is also limited because of fallen trees in the area.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) urged residents to report fallen trees, damage from town roadside trees, flooding or other storm damage to call 631-451- TOWN or go to BrookhavenNy.gov/StormDamage.