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Suffolk Republicans Put Onus on County Exec over Police Cuts

Steve Bellone, along with Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Police Chief Stu Cameron, said Sept. 18 that without federal funds, they would need to cut the next police academy class entirely. Photo by Kyle Barr

*Update* This story has been updated to include a response from county Republicans.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said Friday that this year’s budget will cut about $20 million from police spending, which includes the loss of an entire police recruitment class of about 200 officers. 

Legislator Rob Trotta, a retired Suffolk County Police detective, claimed the police budget should be relatively stable due to its independent line on resident’s tax bills. Photo by Kyle Barr

During a press conference held at the Police Academy located on the Suffolk County Community College Brentwood campus, Bellone reiterated his plea for the federal government to pass additional aid for local governments. The cut to the police class is expected to save approximately $1.5 million and will shutter the academy for what amounts to a year and a half. 

“Six months into this pandemic, the federal has failed to deliver disaster assistance to state and local governments,” Bellone said. “My message to Washington is simple: ‘Don’t defund the police — don’t defund suburbia by your inaction.’”

The county executive used language very reminiscent of President Donald Trump (R), who has previously asserted that if Democrats win in November they will “destroy the beautiful suburbs.” While Bellone indicated he does not agree with the defund-the-police movement — which aims to take funds away from traditional law enforcement and put them toward other social services or create new, nonpolice response units — he said that is “essentially what the federal government is doing” by not passing any new aid bills.

Bellone added the county budget, which is expected to be revealed in the next two weeks, will also include cuts to the student resource officer program that has trained cops for work in schools. Those officers will be reassigned. 

Additional cuts include the community support unit, suspending promotions, and cuts in county aid to independent East End police departments. These cuts, and potential further cuts hinted in the upcoming budget, could mean less officers and patrols on county streets, according to the county exec, though by how much he did not say.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said during the press conference that the loss of the SROs and other specialized officers would be a great loss to the public. 

“They are instrumental in intervening, intervening and addressing gang violence, opioid addiction and active shooter threats, while serving as a visual deterrent to illegal and dangerous activity,” she said. 

Though Suffolk County received $257 million in CARES Act funding back in April, which Bellone said is used as part of the response to the pandemic, a financial report issued by Suffolk earlier this year estimated the county could be as much as $1.5 billion in the hole over the next three years. 

In response to Bellone’s thrust that the federal government has not given enough, Republicans from the county Legislature stood in front of the Police Academy Sept. 22, instead claiming Bellone has not been transparent on Suffolk County finances.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), along with other Republican legislators, swore there was a way to keep the trainee cops program rolling, insisting that police are funded by a separate line on people’s taxes, and that unspent CARES Act funds can help cover the cost.

“What it’s like is a guy who has a credit card and he’s maxed out and he owes millions of dollars, then all of a sudden the coronavirus happens, and what does he do?” Trotta said. “He pays a little bit off and now he wants more money to make up for what he did before anybody heard about this.” 

Legislator Steve Flotteron (R-Brightwaters), a member of the Budget & Finance Committee, said he and other legislators have asked the exec’s office to make a presentation to them about the county’s financial state but a person from Bellone’s office never showed.

Trotta insisted the county has only spent a relatively small amount of the funding it received from the federal government, and that the money should go to pay law enforcement payroll. Suffolk County has previously reported most of that money has already been allocated or spent. When asked where Republicans are getting their data, Flotteron said he and others have seen it in reports from places like the county comptroller’s office, but could not point to anything specific.

Republicans have consistently gone after Bellone on county finances, making it a cornerstone of then-candidate and current Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr.’s (R) run against the Democratic incumbent in 2019. Their assertion now is that Suffolk had long been in financial trouble even before the pandemic hit, citing the county’s Wall Street bond rating downgrades over the past several years. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) called Suffolk, with Nassau, the most fiscally stressed counties in the state last year. 

Other Long Island municipalities have also begged the federal government to send aid. On Sept. 14, federal reps from both parties stood beside several town supervisors to call for a bipartisan municipal aid bill. The Town of Brookhaven, for example, is requesting close to $12 million, as it had not been an original recipient of the original CARES Act funding.

At that press conference, Kennedy said the county is financially “on the verge of utter collapse.”

Suffolk, Bellone said, would need a $400 million windfall to stave off these massive cuts, and potentially up to $650 million to aid with economic hardship next year. 

“We have seen death and devastation … and we are moving forward, but we know we face years of recovery.” he said.

Doctor Says People Can Be Impacted by Califorinia Fires as Far as Long Island

Stock photo

Scenes of the ash and smog from wildfires in the West Coast not only trigger sympathy for those with friends and family living in a paradise under siege, but also are a cause for concern for doctors who specialize in the lungs.

Dr. Norman Edelman. Photo from SBU

While doctors don’t know how far and wide the effects of these fires might be for those who are already struggling with their breathing, such as people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or chronic bronchitis, physicians said the effect could spread well beyond the areas battling these blazes.

The danger is “not just at the site of the fire,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, a professor of medicine at Stony Brook University and a core member of the program in public health at Stony Brook. “I’m sure [the effect of the fire] is pretty wide.”

Indeed, at some point down the road, the small and large particles that are aerosolized during the fire could reach as far away as Long Island.

“We know quite firmly that air pollution from coal burning generator plants [in the Midwest] emits pollution that makes its way all the way to the East Coast,” Edelman said.

The current use of masks may offer some protection for residents on the West Coast.

Particulates, which are aerosolized particles that can get in people’s lungs and affect their breathing, come in various sizes. The larger ones tend to get lodged in people’s noses, throat and eyes and can cause coughing, hacking, and watery eyes. An ordinary mask can filter some of those out, although masks are not completely effective for these bigger particles.

The smaller ones are more dangerous, Edelman said. They can get further into the lungs and can exacerbate asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. They can even contribute to increased incidence of heart attacks.

“Nobody really knows” why these smaller particles contribute to heart attacks, Edelman said. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a reduction in pollution improves the health of a population.

When New York banned smoking in all public places, the level of heart attacks dropped by 15 to 20 percent.

“This level of pollution is nothing like what we’re seeing in the area of the wildfires,” Edelman said.

Additionally, lower pollution can improve the health of people with lung problems.

At the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, officials put in alternate day driving restrictions, which allowed people to drive every other day. By cutting down the pollution from traffic, doctors noticed a 25% reduction in admission to the emergency room for asthma.

If he were a doctor on the West Coast, Edelman said he would make sure his patients had all their medications renewed and available. He would also check in with his patients to make sure they had emergency instructions in case they need to boost the amount of any pharmacological agents.

The effect of the pollutants on people with asthma or other lung issues can be more severe if they are already dealing with an inflamed airway.

“The effects of various irritants are probably synergistic,” Edelman said. “If this is your allergy season, you become much more susceptible to the inflammatory effects of air pollution.”

COVID and the Lungs

As for the pandemic, Edelman said he didn’t come to the emergency room to work at the Intensive Care Unit during the pandemic.

His colleagues did, however, ask him to take care of patients who didn’t have to come in by telehealth. He’s continued to see many patients over the last three or four months.

One surprise from the data he’s seen related to the pandemic is that asthma does not seem to exacerbate the effects of COVID-19.

People with asthma “are not dying with COVID at any greater rate than the general population,” Edelman said.

He hasn’t yet seen the data for people with chronic bronchitis or COPD.

Stony Brook has set up a fund that helps students attend while dealing with small financial hurdles. File photo by Kyle Barr

Like so many other plans this year, the goal for Stony Brook University’s Student Emergency Support Fund has changed.

SBU students like Rijuta Mukim have relied on funds from the university’s emergency fund for their studies at home. Photo by Mukim

The fund, which SBU’s Dean of Students Richard Gatteau launched in January, was originally planned as an endowed source of funds that would help students in need. Amid the ongoing financial dislocation caused by the pandemic, the fund has now provided everything from money for car repairs, which some students need to get to campus, to books, iPads, or even rent.

Through July, the emergency fund provided about $935,000 in support to 1,194 students, according to the dean of students.

“Once COVID hit, we realized in March and April, the need was overwhelming,” he said. The school put in a new strategy to raise more money to expand the focus to include basic life essentials, like paying the electric bill or groceries. The university “didn’t want this circumstance to force someone to drop out.”

For some students, the financial need, especially in the current economic environment amid job losses and higher unemployment, exceeds the resources that financial aid, grants and loans can offer.

“We’re working with students on the margin,” Gatteau said. The parents of many students don’t have the financial ability to support them, either.

Many of the students who initially received money from the emergency fund  were remote learners who needed internet access or other remote support.

That included SBU junior Rijuta Mukim, who was working from her home in southern India when her computer broke down and her internet connection was unstable.

Taking classes and studying during the night and sleeping during the day to continue her education amid the time difference, Mukim was kicked off her Zoom calls for her classes within five minutes.

“I had a lot of trouble attending class,” Mukim said.

Without a fix for her computer and a better connection, Mukim, who is majoring in biology and psychology and hopes to attend medical school after she graduates, would have had to withdraw during the spring.

After she heard about the emergency fund on Reddit, she applied. Within a few hours, she received an email indicating that the school was trying to reach her by phone to make sure she was all right. She revealed her needs and received $1,000 within a week.

In the meantime, the support team explained her situation to her professors, who gave her extra time to complete her assignments.

Mukim had originally planned to work this summer at the Staller Center, but she was appreciative of the university and the donors who contributed to the fund for financial assistance, even as she worked from home several continents away.

“A thousand dollars might sound like a small amount but it helped me to ride through the spring and summer classes,” Mukim said. Having this kind of support “during a crisis is wonderful. It is satisfying to know there is a community helping you and looking out for you.”

Gatteau said other students also appreciated the calls soon after they made their requests.

Students “want an opportunity to tell their story, [to hear] a friendly voice on the other end of the call, to hear what’s going on,” he said. “Many students have faced challenging situations, with job losses and deaths related to COVID.”

A call from the emergency fund team can be as much about financial support as it is a counseling session with a student that helps them know how much the university cares about them.

As the fall semester started, the fund recently relaunched and has received between 130 and 150 applications for economic support.

The fund, which received a $75,000 donation from SBU President Maurie McInnis and is soliciting additional donations, is trying to rebuild after the earlier disbursements. 

The call for donations has just gone out to community members, prior donors, alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

“We’ve done a full marketing campaign across all of the stakeholders who donated [previously] and then we try to reach out to new people,” Gatteau said.

The dean of students said the school is collecting donations of any size.

“Small amounts have made a big difference collectively,” he said.

The school estimates that $100 supports Wi-Fi access and other online learning costs; $200 contributes to lab fees and books; and $500 helps with groceries and rent.

The fund doesn’t currently allow donors to earmark their contributions for any specific purpose. Gatteau said the top priority with any student is for academic needs.

Despite the financial hardship caused by COVID and higher unemployment, officials said Stony Brook has not had many students drop out for financial reasons.

Amid concerns nationally about students ignoring social distancing or mask-wearing rules, Gatteau endorsed the way students have complied with rules. 

“We’re very lucky,” he said. Students are motivated to prevent closures. “They want [the school] to stay open,”

Students whose financial need exceeds whatever the emergency fund can provide may be able to update their Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — forms, to see if they are eligible for additional financial assistance.

Meanwhile, students can apply to the Student Support Team at www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/studentaffairs/studentsupport. Students provide basic information and discuss their specific issues and challenges on a call.

Local legislators joined U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) at a press conference Sept. 14 in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) invited elected officials from across Suffolk County and from all levels of government to join him Monday, Sept. 14, on the front steps of Town Hall to send a plea for help to the capital as Congress members prepare to negotiate the next federal COVID-19 package.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On hand was U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who along with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY19) introduced the Direct Support for Communities Act in the House of Representatives. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D).

Wehrheim said the legislators are calling on Congress for direct coronavirus funding while their municipalities face historic financial shortfalls. He thanked Zeldin for working across the aisle and advocating for a bipartisan proposal for the funding that local governments could use for essential services and to offset lost revenues during the ongoing pandemic.

Zeldin said while there has been legislation to provide relief for families, small businesses and for state and local governments under the CARES Act, there was still more that needed to be done.

He gave the example of the Town of Brookhaven, which was excluded from the last relief package. The congressman said for a town to receive CARES Act funding directly it needed a population of more than 500,000. Brookhaven has just under that number. The town had requested $12 million from the federal government, according to Zeldin.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here.”

— Lee Zeldin

“The formula of how that CARES Act money was distributed was very strict to ensure that the money could only be used for COVID-19 related expenses,” he said. “It’s important for there not only to be more funding for state and local governments, but also more flexibility in how that money is spent.”

The legislation introduced recently by Zeldin would allow a new formula to disperse relief funding based on population. Under the new guidelines, if the act is passed, Brookhaven could potentially receive the $12 million.

Zeldin said with the new formula half the money would go to the counties based on population and the other half to towns, cities and villages.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here,” the congressman said.

During his speech, four protesters jeered Zeldin as he spoke and held up signs, one of which read, “Lazy Lee Must Go! CD1 Deserves Better!” 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also spoke at the press conference. He said the pandemic has shut down the economy and the effects will reverberate for the next 100 years. He thanked Zeldin for his help with what he called “a rescue bill.”

“Government is no different than the average family,” he said. “Our revenues are down, and we still must provide services. We need some help. We need some leadership.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said since the middle of March towns have provided much needed essential services such as senior centers providing meals for those in need, garbage pickup and public safety agencies patrolling the beaches and parks, which he said may have seen more visitors in the last few months than in the last 15 years. He added that the continuity of services continued without federal assistance and it’s important to remember that the future is unknown with COVID-19.

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on every aspect of county and local government functions.

“We are on the verge of utter collapse, and without intervention and swift intervention from the federal government, our county government and local governments will no longer exist as we know them here,” the comptroller said. “And guess what? We deserve better. We deserve better from Washington. We deserve a government that is going to actually be receptive to this crisis.”

New York State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R- Fort Salonga), plus Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (R), Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (D) and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) also spoke at the event to show their support for the bipartisan bill.

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State Dashboard Shows Comsewogue HS With Two Positive Tests, But District Says Not to Worry

PJSD said the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School has been temporarily closed and all students moved online after on student was tested positive. Photo from Google maps

*Update* The night of Sept. 16, Port Jeff Superintendent Jessica Schmettan released a follow up letter about the student who was confirmed positive. She said the elementary school was “thoroughly” cleaned after the district received the news. The New York State Department of Health interviewed the family and district, and has since advised the district that classrooms are cleared to reopen, saying the student was not infectious while on school grounds.

Students who had close contact with the student have been contacted, and contact tracing is underway. 

“The situation today is a reminder about the importance of social distancing, the use of masks, and proper hygiene,” Schmettan said in the letter. “The community needs to remain vigilant in order to avoid closures in the future.”

Original story:

Parents in the Port Jefferson School District received a message Wednesday morning saying a student was tested positive for COVID-19 and that the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School would be closed for the meantime.

“This morning the Port Jefferson School District was notified that a student at the elementary school tested positive for COVID-19,” Superintendent Jessica Schmettan wrote in a message to district parents shared with TBR News Media. “Following our procedures and protocols and guidance from the [New York State] Department of Health, the elementary school is closed today for distance learning.”

The district added they will be conducting contact tracing and disinfecting the elementary school. Parents will be updated as the situation develops.

As of Sept. 15, Comsewogue High School has been listed by the New York State dashboard as having two positive cases in the Comsewogue High School. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn described the situation as two siblings who had tested positive for COVID in another country, though she said the name of the country was not released for fear of the students being outed to their peers. They were cleared by the New York State Department of Health to come back to school, though while in school another test taken in the states came back positive.

Quinn said the Department of Health was aware of the situation, and health officials told the district the two students were likely positive because of the viral load still in the body, though they were not infectious. Both students have volunteered to stay home in the mean time.

 

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Camp councilors stood with 100 young people who participated in this year’s Summer Buddies camp, where NSYC officials said there were no recorded cases of COVID. Photo from NSYC

By Liam Cooper

The North Shore Youth Council, located in Rocky Point, recently finished their Summer Buddies five-week-long summer camp, which started July 13 and ended Aug. 14. 

And as students reenter schools for the first time since March, it could be small but pertinent example of how to host young people in a single place while halting the spread of COVID-19.

At the camp, kids participated in gym activities, movies, outdoor activities, games, arts and crafts, and playground activities. Despite having activities that required close contact, the camp was able to keep its doors open, even during the pandemic. The camp ran for three hours Monday through Friday for children ranging from kindergarten to seventh grade. 

During these difficult times, NSYC officials said they successfully executed the camp program, hosting over 100 kids with a total of zero COVID cases. 

“It was a tremendous success,” said Stephanie Ruales, the Director of Communications and Public Relations of the NSYC. “At first we had some parents that were hesitant and only signed their kids up for one week at a time. But then they signed up for more weeks, saying that their kids really enjoyed the camp.”

The camp made sure everything was according to New York State guidelines. Although the kids didn’t wear masks, they remained socially distant. All camp counselors and staff wore masks. 

All the participating children had to complete a daily COVID-19 health screening before entering along with daily temperature checks. To reduce contact between the kids, the campers would travel to different activities in smaller groups. Time indoors was also limited.

Camp counselors were also in charge of cleaning everything the kids touched.

“There were lots of hand sanitizers going around,” Ruales said. “It was important to us that everyone felt safe and important. We wanted parents to know exactly what was going on in the camp and that they could trust us with their kids for 3 hours.” 

NSYC officials also wanted to thank camp directors Nick Mitchko and Alexa Setaro for organizing everything and displaying that recreational activities, with regulations, can still potentially be enjoyed even during the pandemic.

Shoreham-Wading River senior mid-fielder Elizabeth Shields out maneuvers a defender at home against John Glenn. The SWR Wildcats would win their first title crown last year, but won't have another chance to play until January, 2021. File photo by Bill Landon

In a reversal from a decision made just a few weeks ago, Section XI, which manages Suffolk County high school sports, announced it would be delaying the start of all sports until Jan. 4, 2021. 

The decision, made after a Section XI athletic council vote this week, postpones the fall season and condenses all three seasons to run from January through June. In a post announcing the decision, Section XI said it will run three complete seasons for the varsity, junior varsity and modified levels. Each season will culminate in a championship event.

“While this was a difficult decision, we feel it was the best move for the health and safety of everyone involved,” said Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs in a statement to its website. “We still have a lot of hard work ahead in planning and executing on the three seasons across six months in 2021, but we look forward to the challenge and collaboration with our member schools and providing an impactful experience for our student-athletes and coaches.”

The decision was made based on what Section XI’s Athletic Council, County Athletic Directors, Safety Committee and Suffolk County Executive Board said was “the potential for increased positive cases of COVID-19, the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, officials and staff members, a reduced number of spectators, a lack of locker room and facility use, increased costs in transportation and security for school districts and equity among all school districts.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he was allowing schools to certain sports deemed low to medium risk to start in September. Sports that were originally excluded from a fall start included football and volleyball, though cross country, track, or soccer would have been given the green light. Section XI originally said it would start with those lower-risk sports Sept. 21.

Nassau County school officials and Section VIII, which handles Nassau high school sports, have already made the decision this week to postpone all sports until the start of 2021. Some Nassau sports players have reportedly already protested having their seasons postponed. One school district, Massapequa, has already announced it is suing Section VIII to get sports back for Fall.

The seasons will run as follows:

Varsity and JV

  • Season 1 (Winter), Jan. 4 – Feb. 27
  • Season 2 (Fall), March 1 – May 1
  • Season 3 (Spring), April 26- June 19

Modified sports

  • Season 1 (Winter), Jan. 4 – Feb. 6
  • Season 2 (Late Winter), Feb. 8 – March 20
  • Season 3 (Fall), March 22 – May 8
  • Season 4 (Spring), May 10 – June 12

 

Suffolk County Community College officials said they will potentially suspend students who don’t adhere to social distancing and mask guidelines. File photo

Suffolk County Community College’s unions and the non-union professional staff have agreed to salary cuts and benefit deferments to help offset mounting costs from the coronavirus pandemic. The college’s president announced the news in a letter to the SCCC community last week where he thanked employees for their help and cooperation in overcoming an unprecedented economic downturn.

The majority of the college’s budget is driven by salaries and benefits, Interim College President Louis Petrizzo wrote, and that SCCC must now adjust this area in order to sustain its financial foundation.

“The College continues to employ a very aggressive strategy to ensure that it continues to meet its financial obligations,” he said in a statement, also pointing out that the college has not received 20% of its 4th quarter aid payment from the New York State and is unsure if it will. SCCC stated that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said that if no federal stimulus money comes to the states, the college can expect a minimum 20 percent cut in state aid for the 2020 -2021 academic year. Suffolk County has continued to meet its obligations to the college for the 2019-2020 Operating Budget.

Members of the Faculty Association, he wrote, will defer retroactive payments from their February 2020 full-time salary increase until the end of the contract term. The members of the Guild of Administrative Officers will take a reduction to their biweekly salaries for one year and longevity payments for both units will be deferred to a future date or upon retirement.

Exempt employees’ biweekly salary are reduced by 5% for one year, and 2021 longevity payments deferred. The Association of Municipal Employees previously agreed to defer longevity payment.

“It isn’t easy for a union president to ask members to take a salary reduction,” said Guild President Sean Tvelia in a statement. “Especially when many have been working nonstop to support our faculty and assist students. But guild members understand the college’s fiscal challenges and, more importantly, they understand that a Suffolk County Community College education is a bridge to a better life for our community.”

Interim President Petrizzo thanked Faculty Association President Dante Morelli, Guild President Sean Tvelia, Suffolk AME President Dan Levler and the schools faculty, senior leadership and administrators for their help and cooperation and said these agreements will save approximately $2 million and enable the college to better manage its expenses and cash flow.

“These savings are important because our budget remains a work in progress,” Petrizzo said. “We still face financial stress and will need to pay continued attention to our revenue and spending as operations move forward. However, these salary adjustments will enable us to keep full time employees on payroll and covered for their health insurance and in the middle of a pandemic, that is very important.”

File photo
Free admission offered for the rest of the year

After being temporarily closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Long Island Museum (LIM), 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook has announced it will begin to welcome back current museum members on Saturday, Sept. 12 and the general public on Friday, Sept. 25. As a gift to the community, the LIM is offering free admission for the remainder of the year.

“Closing our doors to our community over five months ago was a difficult moment,” said Neil Watson, Executive Director of the Long Island Museum. “The Long Island Museum thrives on bringing music, art and history to our surrounding neighbors and we have missed sharing and connecting with our schools and visitors. While we are excited to welcome back our community, we do so with the utmost caution, safety and responsibility.”

Visitors are welcome to explore the state of the art Carriage Museum which includes eight renovated galleries that tell the story of transportation before the automobile and can also explore the Art Museum on the hill where the exhibition Off the Rack: Building and Preserving LIM’s Art Treasures is on display. This exhibition features highlights from the Museum’s art collection which consists of more than 500 paintings and 2,000 works on paper. The History Museum, however, will remain closed for now.

To help ensure public safety and limited capacity, the LIM will require timed ticket registration. Visitors must register for museum admission online in advance. Timed admission will be available for Friday to Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m.

Physical distancing will be required and all visitors and staff must wear face masks at all times while on site. The LIM follows CDC-prescribed cleaning protocols for all buildings and will clean bathrooms and high-touch surfaces after each visitation session. To register for a timed admission, visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Many seniors are embracing digital technology in this new world of social distancing.

By Linda Kolakowski

Linda Kolakowski

In the wake of the pandemic, many people who had formerly expected to move to a life plan retirement community, assisted living or other type of senior residence now have questions about whether a senior living community is still the right choice for them.

While it’s natural to have a level of uncertainty, even in the best of times, getting educated about the various living options available, what precautions are permanently in place, and what it was like to live in these communities during shelter in place times will help in the decision making process.

People are aging for a much longer period than years ago. In 2030, the expectation is that there will be twice as many 85-year-olds and three times as many people over 100 years of age than there are today, and they’re more active than previous generations. Trends indicate that more people want to be in communities with their friends, who become more like family members, as relatives may live far away. Retirement communities help people hold on to the community relationships we need in order to thrive at every age. Will these trends continue as we cope with the likes of COVID-19?

The Need for Community

One common experience across generations during COVID has been the need to have a community of sorts. Whether they found it through regular Zoom or Facetime calls with family, friends or work colleagues, the majority moved quickly to fill the void from social distancing measures and embraced digital technology. As the weather warmed, outdoor socially distant gatherings — fitness and other classes, bring your own sandwich picnics and other no touch activities became the norm in senior living communities.

While this certainly happened at all manners of senior living communities, it was not necessarily the case for seniors living on their own. Some seniors were able to enjoy the company and comforts of living with family members or had more mobile neighbors and friends to shop for them and otherwise help out. Others who were already isolated had neither the equipment nor technical know-how to connect with family and friends digitally.

Fear of infection closed down many senior centers, limited ride services and at home visits, and made trips to the supermarket and drug store overwhelming, if not impossible. Home maintenance also became a significant issue.

Residents of senior living communities like Jefferson’s Ferry had to curtail their activities, just like the rest of the population, but because of the array of services that come with living in a retirement community, they were able to get takeout meals, groceries, household items, laundry service, and even cocktails to go on the premises. 

Staying Healthy

While there were health concerns, residents of many senior living communities also had ready access to the most up to date health information, as well as greater access to health care. Healthy residents overall remained healthy, thanks to senior living communities’ strict adherence to protocols and directives from local, state, and federal agencies that promote resident and employee safety and reduce the chance of exposure or transmission. 

Feeling Good by Giving Back

Senior community residents across Long Island also came together in the spirit of giving back to make the best of a difficult situation.  At Jefferson’s Ferry, the residents spearheaded fundraisers and made donations to provide free meals to the hardworking staff and otherwise demonstrated their gratitude with thank you notes and small gifts. Some residents made masks for their neighbors; others reached out to fellow residents with phone calls, or left treats and notes outside the doors of their neighbors to lift their spirits.

One Jefferson’s Ferry resident related her experience. “I can’t imagine having lived anywhere else during the ‘life during social distancing’ period. While most of my day is spent in my apartment, I converse regularly with friends by phone. I can have meals delivered, but often take the outdoor route to the Community Center. I’ll meet some masked neighbors along the way, pick up my mail and my takeout dinner in the café. If there is any kind of emergency or special need, I can just ‘push the button’ and a staff member will help me out.”

Another said, “It’s interesting and inspiring how Jefferson’s Ferry has continued to be a caring community, even in the midst of social distancing. We can still laugh at each other’s masks and hairdos, encourage one another when we get down, and remind each other that all the fun things we do together will resume someday.”

It’s Your Choice

At every stage of life, we all want to be able to exercise control and make choices.  Equally important is making sure that access to services and health care remains viable and affordable as needs change over time. Talk to your friends, visit the senior communities in your area and ask a lot of questions. There are many terrific options out there. You will find the one that’s right for you.  

Author Linda Kolakowski is the Vice President of Resident Life at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket.