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County Executive Steve Bellone

Stony Brook's Mobile Stroke Unit is continuing operations despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Photo from SBUH

Amid the start of new coronavirus testing at hotspots including Wyandanch and North Amityville today, the number of residents testing positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 increased by 960 in the last 24 hours to 24,483.

At the same time, hospitalizations have declined by 45 patients to 1,585.

“That is the key number we have been watching,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit also fell by 25 to 537, while the number of people intubated also declined.

The drop in hospitalizations marks the third time in five days that the closely watched gauge has declined, while the increases in the previous two days were smaller than the weekly average in the prior week.

Bellone suggested that these numbers could suggest a “leveling off,” albeit at a high level.

Suffolk County continues to add hospital beds, increasing capacity by 39 to 3,425, with 744 ICU beds.

The number of beds available is now 655 overall, with 112 ICU beds.

The “good news,” Bellone said, is that 152 people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

At the same time, the county continues to suffer losses stemming from the virus. In the last 24 hours, 40 people have died, bringing the number of deaths to 693.

Earlier today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) extended New York Pause to May 15, which means that schools and non-essential businesses will remain shut through at least that period. Starting tomorrow, residents of New York will be required to wear face masks when they are in public places and they can’t maintain social distancing of at least six feet.

Bellone mentioned several initiatives the county has started to manage the economic and employment recovery.

He described the potential need to change the Suffolk County Tax Act, which is a law that’s been on the books for 100 years that blocks the county’s ability to access tax funds until the middle of the year.

“Because of that, the county has to borrow money to get through the first six months of the year,” Bellone said.

Bellone announced that the county has created a COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Panel, which will analyze the ways the virus is causing damage to the county’s finances. Emily Youssouf, who Bellone described as an “expert in private and public sector finance,” will chair that panel. Youssouf had been a board member for the New York City Housing Authority under the Bloomberg Administration.

Stony Brook Announcements

Stony Brook University said it will continue to operate its two Mobile Stroke Units. The specialized ambulances are available every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The units allow patient triage and treatment in the field. Clinicians aboard the ambulances can administer a medication that minimizes brain injury at any location and then, when necessary, can transport the patient to the closest facility.

With a stroke, time is critical to save brain cells, explained Dr. David Fiorella, Director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular Center and founder of the mobile stroke centers.

Separately, Stony Brook University Hospital recognizes the anxiety patients feel when each health care professional who comes into their rooms is wearing a mask and, often, a face shield that hides most of their face. In one unit of the hospital, care givers will begin wearing staff ID pictures on their gowns so patients can see the face of the staff member providing care. The idea may extend to other areas of the hospital after a pilot period.

The idea, called the Face Behind the Mask, came from Nurse Practitioner April Plank after she started working in a COVID unit

Signs outside the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook share thanks to the people working inside the vets home. Seven veterans have died as of April 8 due to complications caused by COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr, Leah Chiappino and David Luces

For the elders along the North Shore, those living in communities and places built for people living out their late or twilight years, the coronavirus has sewn both devastation and concern. State data now shows that the virus has made a huge impact on nursing homes, more so in Suffolk than most other New York counties.

Signs outside the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook share thanks to the people working inside the vets home. Seven veterans have died as of April 8 due to complications caused by COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

Data from New York State as of April 12 showed close to 20 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 came from nursing homes or other adult care facilities — 1,979 of a total of just over 10,000. An additional 459 deaths have come from adult care facilities.

Suffolk County has seen 141 deaths from people in nursing homes and 95 from those living in assisted living places. That is out of the 568 who had perished from the disease as of Monday. The latest number of deaths, as of press time Wednesday, April 15, was 653.

It’s a staggering number that displays Suffolk has a higher percentage of elder deaths compared to surrounding counties, such as Nassau which has a total of 261 fatalities out of 910 as of Monday.

This is also considering in late March, New York officials mandated nursing homes must accept stable or recently discharged-COVID-19 cases into their facilities, partially as an effort to not overload the health system and give these elders places to live when many have nowhere else to go.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said they had no clear information on why nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths were related to nursing homes or adult care facilities. County officials have said, upon analysis, these homes have implemented all state and county rules correctly.

The county executive added that upon review, the virus was shown to have been inside Suffolk before testing became ubiquitous and before all the calls for social distancing were in place. 

“If the virus was here, and people are going into nursing homes, workers coming in and out — you put those two things together and you’re going to have the kind of numbers that you see here,” he said. “It’s tragic and it’s devastating. This is one of those things why testing early on was important and could have helped to save lives.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also said he was concerned with the numbers released about nursing homes.

The Long Island State Veterans Home released a letter April 8 saying that, at that time, seven veterans have died due to the coronavirus as a comorbidity. Forty vets had tested positive for coronavirus, where 35 were still living in the home and another five were being treated at Stony Brook hospital. Fourteen employees also tested positive for the virus and were recuperating at home.

“Each of these veterans answered the call to serve our great nation with honor and dignity to protect the freedoms we all enjoy today as Americans,” the letter read. “Our staff is grieving the loss of these beloved members of the LISVH community.”

Peconic Landing, a nursing home in Riverhead, has already reported nine deaths as well.

Leisure Glen in Ridge, a 55-and-older gated community, have stopped virtually all community activities during the ongoing pandemic. The housing market has also drastically slowed in the community. Photo from Google maps

After numbers related to elder deaths during the pandemic were released, the AARP put out a release detailing questions people should put to nursing homes during the pandemic, including if the home is at full staff, and how many people have tested positive for COVID-19.

“New Yorkers need to communicate with their loved ones in nursing homes on a regular basis and to be aware if the virus is present in the facility.” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel in the release.

With so many nursing homes locked down during the pandemic, many were not willing to share much about the numbers of people in their facility, either staff or residents, who had become sick. Still, both Bristal Assisted Living, with locations around Long Island, and the 55+ community Vistas at Port Jefferson are offering virtual tours during the pandemic.

A representative from the Smithtown Center For Rehabilitation and Nursing Care said they have barred visitors since March 9, in compliance with state guidelines. In order to keep families connected, the facility sends out email blasts and has social workers and nursing staff call family members for updates. According to itswebsite, they are also scheduling times for residents to video chat with loved ones. 

It’s not only the nursing homes that are struggling. For communities who mainly house older residents, the virus has been just as disruptive, perhaps even more so than an average neighborhood.

The 646 homes in Leisure Glen, a 55-and-older gated community in Ridge, have also felt the pressure of the ongoing pandemic. Ed Marczak, the homeowner association president at Leisure Glen, said they have been complying with guidelines on social distancing and have cancelled all community events and activities, along with the clubhouse.

“My wife and I haven’t had much contact with neighbors or others,” Marczak said. “If it’s nice out we’ll see some people out, but everybody is trying to be 6 feet apart.”

The real estate sector of the community has also slowed down, with those in the middle of closing or selling homes now having to hold off until an unknown date arrives.

Laura Ruhnke, lead broker at Leisure Living Realty, said before the pandemic, they were experiencing a strong market, but not anymore. Virtual home tours are an option for the group,but it could be tricky as some clients may not be as tech savvy. 

”Business has drastically slowed down since the outbreak,” she said.

County Executive Steve Bellone, center, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, right. File photo

Starting tonight, members of the Suffolk County Police Department will be wearing masks in public to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Initially, officers will be wearing surgical masks. They will also have N95 masks when necessary when they are interacting more closely with the public.

Wearing masks in public will become more common for everyone, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that everyone will be required to wear a masks in three days when they can’t be at least six feet away from other people.

“That is part of the new normal,” said County Executive Steve Bellone (D) on his daily conference call with reporters. “The intent is to stop the spread of the virus.”

Amid recent positive signs in the number of hospitalizations, Bellone said the county is having discussions about an eventual reopening of the economy, but the county is “not there yet. The guidance [about social distancing and keeping non-essential businesses closed] will remain.”

Bellone also announced the death of Detective Sergeant John Kempf, a 32-year veteran of the force who died after a battle with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. A member of the First Precinct, Kempf, didn’t receive the typical funeral and in-person celebration of his life.

With Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Chief of Police Stuart Cameron, Bellone watched hundreds of officers line up in front of their vehicles and offer a hand salute as the family and motorcade drove to the cemetery.

The experience was “very different than what the experience would normally be for his police family,” Bellone said. Bellone asked county residents to keep the families of Sergeant Kempf and all the other families who have lost loved ones during this time in their thoughts.

After a two day decline in the number of hospitalizations, the numbers climbed again for a second straight day, albeit at a slower pace than last week.

The number of hospitalizations increased by 22 to 1,630. At the same time, the number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds rose by 31 to 562.

The county currently has 622 beds available, with 94 ICU beds.

The county also reported 832 new positive tests, which brings the total to 23,523. The county has tested over 53,000 residents at this point.

New testing sites will be available, by appointment only, starting tomorrow at Wyandanch and North Amityvlille.

“The good news we like to report is that 174 people have been discharged” over the last 24 hours, Bellone said. That’s the highest number the county executive has reported since residents started needing hospital care to fight off COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency passed a sales tax exemption for manufacturers, supplies and distributors who are switching processes to make personal protective equipment.

“We want to encourage” businesses to provide the necessary protection for health care workers and first responders, the county executive said. “We are grateful to businesses that have already stepped forward to change their operations and adjust to their new environment.”

East/West Industries is making face coverings for law enforcement officers in the county, which will replace the surgical masks.

“Our goal is to give [officers] fabric masks they can launder and reuse,” Cameron said.

By the time of the daily call, Bellone didn’t have any update on fatalities connected to coronavirus.

Separately, the date for the collection of data for the census has moved from August 15th to October 31st.

Bellone welcomed the extension and urged everyone to fill out the correct information because “every person that is not counted means we’ll get short changed on revenue coming back to our state in the form of different programs that are available.”

Residents can access the census through my2020census.gov.

Catholic Health Services Clinical Trials

Meanwhile, Catholic Health Services is enrolling patients for two clinical trials to develop treatments for COVID-19. The health services group is participating in a Mao Clinic trial to use convalescent plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients. Convalescent plasma treatments use antibodies from people who have fought off the virus to treat those who have been infected but haven’t yet mounted an immune defense.

Catholic Hospitals are offering convalescent plasma at six hospitals.

The second study will use remdesivir. Gilead Sciences created the drug to treat the Ebola virus. It has shown some efficacy in treating other coronaviruses including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. St. Francis Hospital, The Heart Center in Roslyn and Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip are all participating in the remdesivir trials.

Potential donors must be over 18 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds. Patients who are at a high risk of disease progression to severe or life-threatening will receive this treatment.

The remdesivir study will occur over 10 days. On the first day, patients receive 200 milligrams of the drug, and on the other days, they get 100 milligrams doses.

Interested donors, who must be symptom free and fully recovered, and anyone else seeking additional information can contact Catholic Health Services at (855) CHS-4500.

Stock photo

While the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 increased for the first time in three days, the increase is still smaller than it had been and suggests that Suffolk County may still be approaching a peak.

John Tsunis proposed Investors Bank give a donation to Stony Brook University Hospital. File photo.

An additional 13 people entered hospitals in the last day, bringing the total number of people battling the virus in Suffolk County facilities to 1,608.

“What that starts to look like is that we are flattening and maybe plateauing at this level,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters. “If a flattening is occurring, that is a good thing.”

Indeed, the number of people in Intensive Care Units declined by eight, to 531.

The capacity for hospital beds is at 3,379, with 607 beds currently available, including 98 ICU beds.

At the same time, 108 people who had been in the hospital have been discharged in the last day.

Fatalities continue to rise, with 40 people dying from the coronavirus over the past day, bringing the total for the county to 608.

After shutting down three testing sites yesterday because of heavy winds and rain, the county reopened three hotspot testing sites at Huntington Station, Riverhead and Brentwood. This Thursday, the county plans to open additional by-appointment mobile testing facilities at Wyandanch and North Amityville.

The county continues to look for supplies for health care workers. Bellone said his office procured more than 2,000 face shields, about 14,000 N95 masks and 810 gowns, which is “not nearly enough. We need more gowns,” he said.

The county also received 5,000 masks from All Hands and Heart, a group that addresses the immediate and long term needs of communities affected by natural disasters. Bellone thanked their principal, Adam Haber, who helped coordinate the delivery of those masks.

Suffolk County delivered masks to grocery workers today as well.

The county is participating in a campaign to thank transit workers on Thursday at 3 p.m. Bellone encouraged people who hear the sounds of train, bus, or ferry horns to go to social media to share what they hear, through #soundthehorn or #heroesmovingheroes.

Throughout New York State, over 88 percent of the 10,834 fatalities had at least one other underlying medical condition, which includes hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, cancer, and congestive heart failure, among others.

In Suffolk County, the number of fatalities linked to complications from coronavirus in nursing homes was 155, while the number in adult care facilities was 97, brining the total to 252, according to figures from the New York State Department of Health. That means that over 40 percent of the deaths in Suffolk County were in nursing homes or adult care centers.

“The virus attacks this exact population of individuals: the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions,” Bellone said.

The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Suffolk County stands at 22,691, which is up 744 over the last 24 hours.

Separately, Stony Brook University Hospital announced that over 1,853 people had contributed $669,388 to the hospitals’s Coronavirus Crisis Challenge. The fundraising goal is $750,000.

Investors Bank and its Foundation contributed $100,00 to cover part of the cost of erecting and equipping a field hospital that will have over 1,000 beds and is expected to be completed later this week. The suggestion to make the contribution came from John Tsunis, former Gold Coast Chairman and CEO and current Chairman of investors Bank Long Island Advisory Board. Investors Bank recently purchased Gold Coast Bancorp.

“I am so grateful that Investors Bank is continuing [its] partnership and that its core values echo what the Long Island communities have come to expect from Gold Coast,” Tsunis said in a statement.

Stock photo

Even as Suffolk County residents dealt with a storm that had knocked out power in 10,000 homes by 3 p.m., hospitals that have been in the center of the coronavirus storm experienced a second straight day of improving numbers.

The number of people hospitalized in the county dropped 19 to 1,595, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“That is not enough to tell us that we’ve seen the worst of this at this point, but it is another positive indicator,” Bellone said.

The number of residents in Intensive Care Unit beds also declined by nine to 539, while the number of patients who are intubated also declined by one.

“To see all three of those numbers down, however slightly, is a positive,” the county executive said.

Suffolk County, along with the entire State of New York, has been at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of people testing positive, sick with the virus, in the hospital, or among those felled by the disease rising rapidly since the first reported positive test on March 9.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said such numbers, while still horrific in seeing the number of deaths from Easter Sunday, represents a “flattening of the curve,” with the increase in deaths finally showing a slow down.

The county bed capacity, meanwhile, continued to rise, as area hospitals follow through on plans to double the bed capacity, particularly if the recent drops in hospitalizations become a momentary pause before more residents need urgent medical care.

In the last day, area hospitals have increased bed capacity by 57, bringing the total to 3,423 for the county, which includes 756 ICU beds. The overall number of beds available is 717, with 103 ICU beds currently vacant.

Adding to the string of positive developments over the last two days, hospitals also discharged 125 patients who had received treatment.

Hospital gowns remains the biggest supplies need for hospitals, Bellone said.

The county has 772 ventilators, with 262 currently available.

“At this point, with where we are with the numbers, unless we see a significant spike [in demand], I am comfortable with where we are on the ventilators,” Bellone said.

In an ongoing trend amid more widespread testing, residents continue to test positive for the virus. Over the last 24 hours, the number who tested positive climbed by over 1,000 to 21,947. Amid the storm today, mobile testing sites in hotspots including Huntington Station, Brentwood and Riverhead were closed, although Bellone is “expecting to have the sites back on track tomorrow.”

The number of people who have died from complications connected to coronavirus continues to rise. An additional 50 people died, bringing the total in the county to 568.

Stony Brook University's COVID-19 testing site will be closing its ER portion due to declining numbers of people coming through. Photo by Matthew Niegocki

On Easter Sunday, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) shared more encouraging signs about the battle against the coronavirus.

The number of hospitalizations fell over the last 24 hours, for the first time since the start of the pandemic on Long Island. The number of hospitalizations decreased by 44, to 1,658.

“This is the number that tells me where we are headed,” Bellone said on his daily call with reporters.

Bellone cautioned that it’s unclear whether this individual statistic was a statistical anomaly or part of a trend.

“In the context of where we’ve been and the trajectory, there’s a bit of light in the darkness,” Bellone said. “There’s a real sense of hope about where we are going and what is happening.”

While the number of overall hospitalizations declined, the number of residents in beds in the intensive care unit increased by seven to 548.

“We’re seeing that staying relatively in that flat level,” Bellone said. “We’ll see where that goes over the next few days.”

In the last 24 hours, hospitals in Suffolk County have discharged 160 patients, which is also a positive figure Bellone shared.

The number of people who have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 has increased to 20,934.

The new testing sites in hotspot communities including Huntington Station, Brentwood and Riverhead will be closed tomorrow because of expected heavy winds and rain.

“High winds make it impossible to do this kind of testing,” Bellone said. People who had an appointment would be able to reschedule them.

The virus continues to claim the lives of residents in the county. The number of people who have died from complications related to the coronavirus increased by 60, bringing the total to 518. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this morning the death tole in New York has gone to 9,385.

The county executive extended his condolences to the families who have lost loved ones to the pandemic.

“I never imagined being in the position of reporting the numbers on a daily basis of people who have died in our county from anything like this,” Bellone said. “It drives home the point of why we’re doing all of this.”

Bellone urged people to continue to maintain social distancing and to work from home. While he couldn’t indicate when the county might open up again, he suggested that the economic decision-making process would likely involve regional discussions and coordination.

“We are one region, and when we talk about the economy, that’s important,” Bellone said. “It’s too early to tell the direction of the data.”

Bellone said he would continue to look at hospitalizations, as the hospitals are “strained beyond anything we have ever seen.”

Bellone visited the field hospital that construction workers were building this morning at Stony Brook University and which is scheduled for completion by next Saturday.

“It is our hope that our hospital never sees a single patient,” Bellone said. “If that is the case, it means that everything we have been doing, the sacrifices, the Easter that is different for all of us today who celebrate, that it is working and is saving people’s lives.”

Stock Photo

Amid the religious holidays of Passover and Easter, Suffolk County is starting to see some trends that offer some hope to residents.

Some of the numbers have started to move in a favorable direction. The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus increased by 16 over the last 24 hours, climbing to 1,658. At the same time, the number of people entering the Intensive Care Unit only rose by 18 to 541.

In the prior week, hospitals admitted an average of 144 patients per day. The average this week has come down to 35 people per day.

“We’ll be looking forward to this week,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “Hopefully, we’ll be seeing those numbers come down” even further.

Additionally, the number of people discharged from the hospital who had coronavirus reached 160, which is the highest number since residents with COVID-19 were admitted.

The combination of lower admissions and higher hospital discharges is “great news,” Bellone said.

Bellone said social distancing and keeping residents at home are having a dramatic impact and that it’s unclear whether hospitals in Suffolk County will need all the additional capacity in hospital beds.

Bellone cautioned that some of the recent positive numbers would likely move dramatically against the county if people let their guards down.

“By no means [do these encouraging signs] suggest we are changing course,” he said.

Indeed, the number of positive diagnoses has increased to 20,321, which is a jump of about 1,000 over a number the county adjusted after recognizing some double counting from the day before.

The county is providing new tests in hotspot neighborhoods, including Huntington Station, Riverhead and Brentwood. Later this week, Suffolk County also plans to provide by-appointment testing at Wyandanch and Amityville.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths connected to coronavirus rose another 44, bringing the total to 458.

Bellone offered his condolences to the survivors, adding, “we are thinking about your every day.”

He also thanked schools throughout the county for distributing meals during the public health crisis. Schools have distributed 770,000 meals since the pandemic reached the county, which includes 254,000 meals in the past week.

The county executive also thanked the technology teachers at William Floyd High School who made 550 face shields to protect health care workers who are on the front lines.

Bellone also was asked about the timing to reopen schools amid a back and forth between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). De Blasio would like to close schools for the rest of the academic year, while Cuomo believes that decision rests with his office and should be made in consultation with other officials in the state and schools in the region.

“We are one New York,” Bellone said. “The regional approach makes sense. We’ll be having those conversations in the coming days and beyond as we look at the data and see where we’re going to make the best informed decision.”

Separately, the 25,000 hospital gowns Bellone sent members of the Department of Public Works to retrieve from Allentown, Pennsylvania arrived yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Police Department has had 72 officers test positive for COVID-19, with 21 of them returning to work.

Suffolk County has had difficulties coming up with PPE devices during the ongoing pandemic. Stock photo

With 20,000 Suffolk County residents testing positive for Coronavirus and 1,642 people in the hospital with symptoms of COVID-19, the pandemic has created a tremendous strain on health care workers, first responders, and on the county’s supply of personal protective equipment.

The latest and strongest need in the county, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters, is gowns.

The county had ordered 25,000 gowns, which were supposed to arrive yesterday. On a follow up call, Bellone learned the gowns were in Allentown, Pennsylvania and were scheduled to arrive April 14, which is not nearly soon enough.

Bellone sent a crew from the Department of Public Works to Pennsylvania to pick up the gowns, which are now expected this afternoon.

Those gowns, however, “will not last long,” especially as the ongoing need for health care services remains high, Bellone said.

The number of fatalities related to complications from COVID-19 climbed another 52 and now stands at 414.

“What is frightening about those numbers is that we know they will continue to rise,” Bellone said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said today he would issue an executive order to bring more funeral directors amid high mortalities in the state.

“This has been a real challenge for funeral directors and the staffs at cemeteries across the county,” Bellone said. Funeral homes are dealing with the “same kind of shortages across the board. That creates issues with the entire system. We are grateful to the governor, who is thinking about these issues and challenges.”

To increase awareness of the ongoing crisis in communities where the infection rate is high, the county recently opened a testing site in Huntington Station. Today, Suffolk also opened sites in Brentwood and Riverhead and is also exploring adding testing facilities at other locations.

The county has added a Spanish language text messaging service with updates on the coronavirus. People who are interested in receiving updates in Spanish can text CovidEspanol to 67283.

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) directed schools and nonessential businesses to remain close for two more weeks, through April 29th.

New Yorkers can collect an additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks, for a total of 39 weeks.

On Wednesday, the Suffolk County Police Department arrested Richard Green, a resident of Mastic Beach, who allegedly broke into four businesses in Patchogue and Center Moriches over the past few months.

“This should serve as a reminder that while the police department is engaged in COVID-19 responses, they are continuing to do everything they have to do to protect the public and public safety in this county,” Bellone said. “If you are thinking this might be a good time to commit a crime, think again. You will be apprehended and arrested.”

In thinking about a return to a more normal future after social distancing and New York Pause ends, Bellone said the county has engaged and formalized a Suffolk Recovery Task Force, which Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman will lead.

Kaiman, who is a former North Hempstead Supervisor, has “extraordinary experience in government,” Bellone said, adding that he led Cuomo’s recovery efforts on Long Island after Hurricane Sandy.

Led by Dr. Elliott Bennett-Guerrero, the medical director for perioperative quality and patient safety, the clinical trial for plasma donations is expected to enroll up to 500 patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

The next piece of personal protective equipment that Suffolk County needs is gowns, as Long Island remains at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Today, the county will receive 25,000 gowns, thanks to the work of the procurement team which has been “scouring the planet for supplies,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

While those gowns will help the health care workers who have been helping the influx of patients coming into hospitals, they won’t be sufficient amid the ongoing outbreak.

“The burn rate [for gowns] is absolutely incredible,” said Bellone, who urged residents to donate hospital gowns to the Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services site at 102 East Avenue in Yaphank between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Bellone thanked Onandago County Executive Ryan McMahon, who is sending reinforcements in the form of 22 nurses to Stony Brook University.

“Those nurses will come down here to provide assistance and relief to front line workers who have been going at this nonstop, working shift after shift in an incredibly intense environment,” Bellonme said. “We are extraordinarily grateful.”

Bellone also thanked DS Services of America, a company based in Georgia, who brought a tractor trailer load of bottled water, coffee, tea and a collection of beverages to the county. The county will deliver those donations to first responders and health care workers.
Criminals Caught

While some people have taken the crisis in the county as an opportunity to contribute, others have seen it as a chance to commit crimes.

This week, the Suffolk County Police Department arrested Joseph Porter of Mastic Beach and Rebecca Wood of Lake Ronkonkoma in Bay Shore for a string of 11 burglaries committed between March 9, the day after Suffolk County had its first coronavirus patient, and April 7.

One of the alleged burglars told police he thought he would be able to get away with his crimes because the police were distracted with the virus.

“He was wrong,” Bellone said.

Additionally, police apprehended John Cayamanda, a St. James resident, whom they allege committed several acts of arson since the start of the virus.

“This is a reassurance to the public that our police department and all of our law enforcement agencies are on the job and are able to do their work,” Bellone said.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the number of domestic violence incidents, which have been climbing nationally amid social distancing and work-from-home arrangements, has climbed 8 percent.

“We have a dedicated unit for domestic violence and they are continuing their outreach, identifying individuals and making sure they get the assistance they need,” Hart said on the call.
Cases Climb

As for the coronavirus tests, the number of confirmed cases continues to climb, rising 1,700 to 18,602 people. The total is about a half of the number reported for all of mainland China, Bellone said.

As of yesterday, the number of Suffolk County Police officers who tested positive for COVID-19 was 62, with 18 of those officers returning to work.

The number of people hospitalized in the last 24 hours showed the smallest increase in recent weeks, rising by 10 people.

“That is a good sign,” Bellone said.

The number of people entering the Intensive Care Unit, meanwhile, rose by 14 people, which is still below a recent high from several days ago.

Overall, the number of hospital beds in the county stands at 3,365, with 750 total ICU beds. Currently, there are 585 hospital beds and 102 ICU beds available.

Over the last 24 hours, 39 people have died from the virus, which brings the total for the county up to 362.

“Our hearts break for those families who have been impacted by this,” Bellone said. “We know we are not at the apex. We are still in the thick of this.”

To reach young people who may not be practicing the same social distancing guidelines, Bellone said he was launching a peer-to-peer Covid challenge. This initiative attempts to tap into the creativity of students to share their stories about what they are doing online and with their peers. He said he hopes those people who follow social distancing guidelines will inspire their peers to do the same.
Seeking Plasma Donors, Saving N95 Masks 
Separately, Stony Brook University is looking for donors who have recovered from a coronavirus infection who can contribute plasma that might help others fight the disease.

Led by Elliott Bennet-Guerrero, the Medical Director of Perioperative Quality and Patient Safety, the study plans to treat up to 500 Long Island patients with convalescent plasma, which is rich in the antibodies patients who defeated COVID-19 used to return to health.

Stony Brook University Hospital received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to treat patients through a randomized, controlled study. In a typical study, the groups would be evenly divided between those who receive the treatment and those who get a control. The public health crisis, however, has allowed researchers to change that mix, so that 80 percent of the patients in the trial will receive the convalescent plasma.

Also, Stony Brook announced a novel way to disinfect the coveted N95 masks, which have become the gold standard to protect health care workers and first responders.

Ken Shroyer, the Chair of the Department of Pathology, and Glen Itzkowitz, Associate Dean for Research Facilities & Operations, found that masks passed fit tests after they were treated up to four repeated cycles in a dry heat oven at 212 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

In an email, Shroyer explained that temperature control is important because the masks need to be sterilized at the highest temperature possible, although they failed if they were heated above 248 degrees Fahrenheit. Since some ovens might not have accurate thermostats, it would be helpful to confirm the temperature inside the oven with a thermometer.

The procedure involves placing each mask in a paper bag labeled with the name of the health care provider and work location. A technician seals the bags with indicator tape and places them in the oven.

“The team has discussed potential fabrication efforts to construct a sterilizer racking system capable of recycling as many as 8,000 masks a day through the heat treatment,” Itzkowitz said in a press release.

Stony Brook researchers hope hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes could use this technique to protect workers on the front lines of the battle against the virus.

A blood sample with respiratory coronavirus positive. Stock photo

Starting today, Suffolk County is providing free testing, by appointment only, at Huntington Station as a part of the county’s efforts to develop a hotspot testing program for communities struggling with a higher incidence of coronavirus infections.

Additionally, Suffolk County will open testing sites in Brentwood and Riverhead on Friday and is searching for additional sites.

Hotspot testing is “targeted and focused on those communities where we are seeing higher rates happening,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a daily conference call with reporters. Testing will hopefully allow the county to get a better understanding of what the numbers are and will help people battling symptoms of COVID-19 to connect with necessary resources.

Bellone thanked Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who connected county officials with Reef Technology, which is a large scale logistics company. At no cost, Reef will provide tents and help to handle the logistics at these sites, Bellone said.

“It’s a great example of a private sector business stepping up to help,” Bellone said.

At the same time, another company, called East/West Industries based in Ronkonkoma, which designs and manufactures products for airline crews and has contracts with military and commercial airlines, is working to provide face masks which are in line with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for first responders, police officers, deputy sheriffs. The masks will be cloth masks and will be made of reusable cloth. East/West is also donating the company’s time to produce this protective equipment.

Separately, Bellone said the nonprofit Long Island-based outreach center United Way is collecting donations to help people who are struggling amid the severe economic slowdown. People who are interested in donating to this effort can contact the United Way at UnitedWayLI.org. Those who are interested in accessing those resources can also visit the same site, Bellone said.

The county executive reiterated the county and state government’s 90-day prohibition on evictions.

“We understand that this crisis has created a terrible financial impact for many people, put extreme pressure on landlords” who have bills they have to pay, but “we want to may it clear that evictions are not permissible.”

Bellone highlighted that today marks exactly one month since Suffolk County recorded its first case of the pandemic. The numbers have been climbing since then and have shown some slowdown in recent days.

By the end of the day today, Bellone expects the number of deaths to approach or exceed 300, which is up from 263 yesterday.

The number of confirmed cases is approaching 17,000. Amid a determined effort to increase hospital capacity, the county has increased the number of beds by 1,000 to 3,322. The number of intensive care unit beds is up to 746, which is an increase of 49 from yesterday.

The number of people hospitalized also continued to increase, with 1,585 hospitalized and 517 in the ICU, which is 11 higher than yesterday but still below the peak.

Bellone was pleased to report that 130 residents have been discharged from the hospital in the last 24 hours.

Bellone urged residents to stay the course, even as the temperature climbs, with social distancing.

Meanwhile, Stony Brook University disclosed some of the vast array of donations to its health care workers, who are on the front lines of the ongoing battle to beat back the infection in a county that has more positive tests for the virus than every other state but New York and New Jersey.

Between March 20 and April 4, the University received 201,959 pieces of personal protective equipment, 232 iPads 4,793 comfort care items and 65 foot deliveries. The comfort care items have included fidget spinners, aromatherapy masks, vide messages and stress balls, while patient comfort care has included puzzles, socks, sleep masks, notebooks and pens.