Tags Posts tagged with "COVID"


By Daniel Dunaief

For the first time since May 2023, Brookhaven National Laboratory required masks on site at its facility starting on Jan. 8, as the rate of hospital admissions for the virus that caused the pandemic climbed.

Following the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, BNL, which is a Department of Energy-sponsored site, reinstituted the mask policy once Covid admissions climbed above 20 per 100,000 people in the county, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The CDC level rose to 24.8 on the evening of Jan. 5 and the lab re-implemented its mask requirement on the following Monday. Area doctors said they’ve seen an increase in illnesses tied to Covid, particularly after people traveled during the December holidays.

“We’ve seen a lot more Covid,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. 

Dr. Nachman said people who are talking to friends and neighbors are hearing regularly about those who are sick with Covid.

Stony Brook University Hospital is not requiring masking at all times. The hospital is recommending that people consider wearing masks. Medical staff entering patient rooms are wearing them.

People walking into the hospital will see “more people wearing masks” in general, she added. In addition to Covid, hospitals in the area are also seeing a “huge amount of flu,” Dr. Nachman said.


METRO photo

By Shannon L. Malone, Esq.

Shannon L. Malone, Esq.

Members of the community have been inquiring about how the courts have dealt with their calendars for personal injury cases caused mainly by motor vehicle accidents during more recent variants of COVID-19. Clients are naturally concerned about their health and the progress of their personal injury cases. 

Moreover, people who have gotten into various types of accidents while last year’s Omicron variant was raging wonder if they, or we, should be doing anything different. Finally, with the recent uptick in COVID-19 reported by the media, we are receiving additional inquiries of this nature over the summer. 

Just ‘how open’ were the courts before the Omicron variant became widespread?

Before the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus became prevalent, the courts in Suffolk County and throughout the state were beginning to “open up” and conduct “in person” appearances for conferences and other matters. 

Trials started when these appearances became more commonplace and seemingly conducted without danger to the court personnel, litigants, and lawyers. First, the court scheduled criminal trials in cases with incarcerated defendants, and then serious felony trials began in the fall of 2021. 

Next, the court started trying civil cases as a backlog of personal injury accident trials had developed. The judges throughout the state were encouraged to reduce the backlog, as it is well known that personal injury cases arising out of car accidents, slip and fall incidents, and medical malpractice usually settle only when a trial is about to begin. Therefore, the need to schedule trials became essential. 

What happened to trials that were scheduled before the Omicron variant became widespread? 

Just as civil trials for personal injury cases were beginning to be held with little or no noticeable spread of the virus, by the end of 2021, the Omicron variant hit New York State and most of the country. 

Several personal injury trials had been completed by jury verdict or settlement in Suffolk County; however, as 2022 began, the Omicron variant caused a pause in starting most civil personal injury trials. While a few such cases proceeded to trial while Omicron was spreading, the cases that involved several parties, such as multi-car accident matters, were postponed until the variant subsided.

What is the status of personal injury cases as of the Summer of 2023? 

Despite the emergence of the apparent new strain of COVID-19, the entire country clearly is enduring its spread. Whether it is a result of the vaccines, people developing immunity, or the availability of medications, most cases seem to be relatively mild. As a result, the courts are operating as they were in 2019, and trials are proceeding in virtually all personal injury cases. 

Needless to say, if you have a case pending or were involved in an accident that caused personal injury, be sure to keep in touch with your lawyer or consult with an attorney if you haven’t done so already, as no one can predict how new variants of the virus will evolve. 

According to epidemiologist Nathan Grubaugh of Yale University, “Delta was never going to be the last variant—and Omicron is not going to be the last one, as long as there is a COVID-19 outbreak somewhere in the world, there is going to be something new that emerges.” 

Shannon L. Malone, Esq. is an Associate Attorney at Glynn Mercep Purcell and Morrison LLP in Setauket. She graduated from Touro Law, where she wrote and served as an editor of the Touro Law Review. Ms. Malone is a proud Stony Brook University alumna.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

The clock didn’t care about COVID-19.

Time marched forward at the same pace that it always has, and yet, the pandemic, which altered so much about our experiences, seemed to alter the fourth dimension.

Initially stuck in homes, we developed new routines, worked at kitchen tables or desks and spent considerably more time with family members and our pets throughout the day than anticipated.

For students, the pandemic altered opportunities and created challenges unseen for a century.

And yet, each year, as in this one for our daughter, the annual rite of passage of a graduation following an amalgam of typical and unique experiences awaits.

As these students march to “Pomp and Circumstance,” listen, or half-listen, to graduation speakers and glance at their supportive families who are thrilled to mark the milestone, celebrate their achievement and come together, what will be going through the minds of these new graduates?

Some may reflect on the typical academic stresses and achievements that helped them earn their diploma. They will consider the hours spent on lab experiments, the late-night workouts at the gym before a big game, and the endless rehearsals for shows and performances. They may bask in the attention of friends they made from around the country or around the corner.

They also might consider the parts they missed or the sudden change from their expected pathways.

Students, who were studying abroad, suddenly needed to return home as quickly as possible. They had to make sure they had their passports and visas, booked flights, and cleared out of rooms that might have just started to feel like home.

Others, like our daughter, raced back to their dorms from spring break, packed everything up and drove home.

As the weeks and months of uncertainty caused by a pandemic that gripped the country for more than two years progressed, some students recognized that they would not have some opportunities, like studying abroad. They might have filled out forms, learned important words in a different language, and chosen classes carefully that they couldn’t take.

Student-athletes, actors and artists, many of whom worked hard for months or longer together, were on their own as fields and stands stood empty.

These students may recognize, more than others, that plans may need to change in response to uncertainty caused by health concerns, storms or other issues.

Amid these disruptions and changes in routine, students and their families needed to pivot. They connected with friends online, entertained themselves at home, often on electronic devices, and tried to learn online.

Undoubtedly, they missed learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom. I heard from numerous students about lowered expectations and abridged syllabi, with American History classes designed to go to 2016 that stopped in 1945, at the end of World War II.

It will be up to students to fill those holes and to recognize the opportunities to become lifelong learners.

Indeed, as people search for a label for these graduates, perhaps the list will include the pivot generation, the empty stadium generation, and the virtual learning generation.

Historically, commencement speakers have exhorted graduates to embrace the opportunity to learn, to question the world around them and to seek out whatever they need.

After the pandemic adversely affected some of the students, perhaps some of them will learn and develop a stronger and more determined resilience, enabling them to keep their goals in sight even amid future uncertainties.

In the meantime, they and we can embrace the normalcy of a routine that allows them to watch the familiar clock as it slowly moves through the minutes of a commencement address.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

COVID caught me. After two and a half years of bobbing and weaving, trying to elude the virus, I finally have been felled. It’s like being shot on the last day of the war. 

I did all the right things. I avoided crowds, driving back from my South Carolina vacation at the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020 instead of using my return plane ticket. I stopped going to the opera and to Broadway shows in New York City. I didn’t eat in restaurants, even after they reopened, for fear of who might be harboring pathogens at the next table. We closed the office to all but those with appointments. We ordered masks for the staff by the dozens and hand sanitizer by the gallon. We practiced social distancing at the bank, that is, before the bank closed its doors and moved away. We stopped holding events, such as “People of the Year” and “Cooks, Books and Corks” and “Reader’s Choice” that might turn into superspreaders. My family and I zoomed rather than visited. Our family holiday celebrations and vacations were suspended. And we took to our computers, to the extent we were able, for everything from classroom learning to shopping for toilet paper.

Remember all that?

Well, as much as we would like to declare the pandemic over, as President Joe Biden (D) recently did, the virus is still with us. I stopped social distancing, then recently became casual about wearing my mask. I started getting together, first with family, then with close friends, then with business colleagues. Recently, I have been eating inside a couple of restaurants. I stopped asking every repairman to please wear a mask in my house. I pushed COVID phobia way down in my consciousness.

Then I got it.

There are, of course, some differences between catching COVID early on and now. The health care professionals know so much more now about treating the disease. Hospitalizations are fewer but still some 32,000 daily, intubations are less common. But people are still dying, some 400-500 a day, to put numbers on it. Through Sept. 19, Suffolk County reported more than one death per day for the month, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health.

“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota, was quoted in the Tuesday edition of The New York Times. He continued that COVID-19 was the No. 4 cause of death in the country.

Many of us were feeling what Biden was expressing. Yes, we have vaccines and medicines now that successfully hold the pathogen at bay, and most people have every expectation of recovering. Nonetheless, it has been a dreaded disease, especially for those of a certain age or with underlying conditions. With me, it started as a little dry cough throughout the afternoon, hardly noticeable. By nightfall, the cough had deepened and a headache began. The next day, the miserable irritation at the back of the throat started. By the end of the day, my temperature began to climb, eventually four degrees, and my body ached.

Of course, my doctor was on vacation that week, but the backup staff responded valiantly. They called me in for THE test, and when it was positive, they gave me three options. I could go to the Emergency Room and get an infusion of monoclonal antibodies, which would take an hour (not including the inevitable wait.) They could phone in a prescription for paxlovid, and I could take three pills in the morning, then three at night, for five days. They spelled out the side effects of both treatments, which didn’t sound too cheerful. Or I could just monitor the situation, drinking plenty of liquids, taking some Tylenol and see how it goes.

I chose the paxlovid.

Yes, it causes a metallic taste after it’s ingested. But it seems to have worked. 

Will I be as cavalier about relaxing precautions? No, I don’t think so. It is possible to get it again, and I REALLY don’t want it again.  I will get the next booster when I am eligible, I will continue to wear a mask regardless of what those around me are doing, and I will limit my dining, to the extent possible, to the great outdoors.

By Raymond Janis 

At the Shea Theatre, Suffolk County Community College Ammerman campus, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) delivered his State of the County address May 18.

The county executive started his speech with a moment of silence to honor the lives lost in the Buffalo gun tragedy. 

“We continue to grieve for those who were lost, for the Buffalo community and, most importantly, for the families that have been directly impacted by this incomprehensible act of hate,” he said. “We must speak out against hateful rhetoric that is contrary to the American creed and stand up for what we do believe. This requires that we continue to celebrate our diversity here and recognize it for what it is — a strength.”

County legislators onstage during the event, above. Photo from Bellone’s Flickr page

COVID-19 recovery

The county executive acknowledged the many challenges of leading the administration through the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “In March of 2020, life as we knew it shut down,” he said. “The world came to a halt and Suffolk County was at the epicenter of the COVID-19 global pandemic in our state and in our nation.”

Bellone reported that the county has lost over 4,400 residents to the virus. As normalcy slowly returns, he said that the pandemic has taught valuable lessons.

“One of the clearest takeaways for me is the importance of public service,” he said. “During this county’s darkest hour, our employees did it all. While much of the rest of the world was on lockdown, county employees ensured critical operations did not stop.” He added, “It is fitting that this year’s State of the County is here at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman campus as this was the location for one of our first mass-vaccination sites.”

Human resources 

One of Bellone’s points of emphasis during the address was the need for greater human resources personnel in county government. Despite its size, Bellone said that the county government still operates without a fully functional human resources department. 

“Human resources, to the extent that it has existed in this government, has been done on an ad hoc basis,” the county executive said. “Commissioners or department heads who are not human resource professionals perform these functions when a problem occurs or a crisis arises.”

Bellone considers this no way to run an organization, especially one as large and impactful to the lives of residents as the Suffolk County government. He likened human resources to military supply units.

“Operating departments without effective human resources is like the military trying to operate without its supply units,” he said, adding, “You can have the best fighting force in the world, but if those support units are ineffective, the mission will be undermined.” 

Through the addition of the latest HR software and new organizational practices, he suggested the county can save $18 million per year in payroll operation costs alone. 

Investing in the future

The county executive called the Long Island Rail Road a critical asset. “Nearly two centuries after its tracks were laid, that initial investment is still reaping extraordinary returns for the region,” he said. 

Bellone said the county is taking two significant leaps forward with both the East Side Access and Third Track projects. 

The county executive announced a new project called the Midway Crossing, which proposes to create two new public facilities which have long been under consideration: the Long Island Convention Center and a north terminal at MacArthur Airport. 

“It is crazy that a region of our size and significance, of nearly 3 million people, with incredible innovation and natural assets, adjacent to the largest and most important city in the nation, has no convention center,” he said. “A convention center would bring thousands of people and businesses to our region every year from other parts of the country, importantly bringing new dollars into our local economy.”

In a grand plan, Bellone envisions this convention center will be connected to both a new state-of-the-art north airport terminal at MacArthur Airport and to the main line of the LIRR. 

“The convention center attendees would conveniently and easily fly in and out of MacArthur Airport, and if a flight wasn’t available they would still have the ability to take the train from either JFK or LaGuardia,” he said. “Every great region must have a great regional airport and no one can deny that Long Island is one of the great regions in the nation.”

Bellone also foresees other opportunities to integrate the regional economy along the Ronkonkoma Branch line of the LIRR. He proposes relocating the “wholly underutilized” Yaphank station to create the Brookhaven National Laboratory Station, “effectively connecting this global institution to MacArthur Airport and the larger innovation ecosystem in the region by mass transit.”

Environmental quality

County Executive Steve Bellone, above, delivers the State of the County address. Photo from Bellone’s Flickr page

The county executive highlighted some of the environmental initiatives that his administration is working on. He said this region is currently on the front lines of the battle against climate change.

“As an island, we know that we are on the front lines of climate change,” Bellone said. “By taking action, we are not only helping to protect our region in the future, but we are creating economic opportunities in the near term as well.”

He also discussed the need for more charging stations as drivers throughout the county continue to transition to electric vehicles. He announced that two-dozen public libraries in each of the 10 towns in the county have partnered with the administration in the development of a charge-sharing network.

Suffolk County has also emerged as one of the centers of the offshore wind industry in the region, according to Bellone. “This is an industry that will have a more than $12 billion economic impact on New York,” he said. “Suffolk County is well positioned to benefit from the new supply chains and the creation of approximately 7,000 new jobs.”

The county has also reached out to businesses and collaborated with local colleges to establish workforce training programs that will prepare residents for these new jobs. 

Opioid crisis

Exacerbated by the pandemic, ending the opioid epidemic remains near the top of Bellone’s list of priorities. He said opioids have wreaked havoc upon the county, causing horrific damage for users and their families.

“After years of steady progress, the pandemic created unprecedented circumstances of fear, isolation and anxiety that led to an increase in overdoses — 374 confirmed [fatal] cases last year alone,” he said. 

“If we want to be part of the solution, then we need to do what the Greatest Generation did: Put our heads down and build. Build our families first and then do our part to build stronger communities.” — Steve Bellone

The Greatest Generation

Bellone concluded his address on a positive note. With war again raging in Europe, the county executive reminded the audience of the example of the Greatest Generation.

“The attack on Ukraine is the kind of naked aggression against a sovereign nation in Europe that we have not witnessed since the end of World War II,” he said. “The images and the videos that we see coming out of Ukraine are absolutely devastating and heartbreaking.” He added, “I don’t think that it is any coincidence that after more than 75 years of peace in Europe, forged by the sacrifices of American veterans, that we’re seeing this kind of aggression happen just as this Greatest Generation slowly, but inevitably, fades into history.”

Bellone said it is important to honor the legacy of the Greatest Generation as these Americans had laid the foundation for a future of peace. “They won the war and then they came home and built a better future for all of us,” he said. “If we want to be part of the solution, then we need to do what the Greatest Generation did: Put our heads down and build. Build our families first and then do our part to build stronger communities.” 

Many doctors are suggesting people learn to live with the virus and begin returning to usual activities such as going to the movies. Photo from Pixabay

Dr. Gregson Pigott went to the movies this week.

While the activity would be considered mundane in 2019, the decision to go to the theater to catch a flick is yet another example of how local doctors, or, in this case, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, is practicing what he preaches.

“We need to learn to live with the virus,” said Pigott, who has also been to a few Brooklyn Nets basketball games. Pigott, who is not using a mask except in situations where it is required, such as on a plane or on public transit, suggested people are “trying to resume life as it was pre-COVID.”

While the percentage of positive tests has risen, the numbers haven’t raised any alarm bells.

The percentage of COVID positive tests increased to a seven-day average of 2.6% as of April 2, according to figures from the New York State Department of Health.

That figure is higher than it had been in the weeks prior, when the percentage dipped below 2%.

“I certainly expected this,” Dr. Sean Clousten, associate professor of Public Health at Stony Brook University explained in an email. “I suspect this increase is due to unmasking at public schools because many kids who are infected are asymptomatic or the symptoms are different.”

Pigott said the current symptoms for the newer variant of omicron, called BA.2, which is becoming the dominant strain across the country and through much of the world, includes stuffy noses, scratchy throat and a slight cough.

Clousten added that the symptoms can also appear more like a bad stomach bug.

Second booster

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved a second booster for people over 50 and for those who are immunocompromised and who had a first booster more than four months ago.

Pigott said he would urge people who are over 65 or those who are immunocompromised to consider getting another jab.

“Most of the general population is fine with the three-shot regimen,” Pigott said. “Your body will recognize any kind of COVID infection and deal with it quickly.”

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, indicated in an email that Stony Brook has been “advocating for switching vaccines.”

Switching vaccines could mean triggering a different response to the shot for the second booster, Nachman added.

Data about a second booster shows that the shot provides “good protection” against serious COVID, Nachman said. “Will it protect against any infection (meaning you might get a runny nose, cough or upper respiratory infection)? Not really.”

Nachman urged people to consult with their primary care doctor to decide whether to take a booster. What people are doing and where they are going can and should affect that decision.

Finally, daily activities such as going back to a crowded office or starting to take New York City transit could be “excellent reasons” to get a booster, she said.

Nachman plans to get a booster, although she is working on the best timing for another shot.

“Before I travel abroad is key to making sure I have my booster and am protected,” Nachman added.


Nachman is encouraged that people are returning to in-person conferences and other activities.

“It will be great to have people starting to get back to routine living, and that means being with other people,” she explained in an email.

She urged people to stay at home if they don’t feel well.

“Now is not the time to push to go to that meeting or get together with extended family, since you might just be responsible for getting someone else sick,” she explained.

She suggested people should be patient and understanding of others who choose to wear masks or continue to practice social distancing.

“Don’t shame anyone who is wearing a mask,” Nachman advised. “If that is what it takes to get them together with you in public, go for it.”

In another sign of a return to a pre-pandemic life, Pigott suggested that the Health Department was planning to direct more resources to tracking illnesses like Lyme disease.

Famotidine molecule Image courtesy of Wikipedia

By Daniel Dunaief

An over-the-counter stomach-soothing medication may also relieve some of the symptoms of mild to moderate COVID-19.

Tobias Janowitz Photo courtesy of CSHL

In a study recently published in the journal Gut, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Assistant Professor Tobias Janowitz and a team of collaborators at CSHL and The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health demonstrated that Famotidine, the active ingredient in Pepcid, shortened the duration of symptoms for a diverse patient group of adults soon after developing COVID-19 symptoms.

In a placebo-controlled study, people taking 80 milligrams of Famotidine three times a day reported that symptoms such as headaches declined after 8.2 days, compared with 11.4 days for patients who were taking the placebo.

“We think that the results are preliminary, but encouraging,” Janowitz explained in an email. 

The research, which included 55 volunteers, may offer health care providers another tool to help treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. In the clinical study, the use of Famotidine helped reduce a potentially overactive inflammatory response without suppressing the immune system’s efforts to ward off the virus.

Participants in the study received Famotidine or placebo pills along with a host of instruments they could use at home to gather clinical data about themselves, including a cellular activated Apple iPad, a scale, thermometer, fitness tracker, spirometer to measure air flow in and out of the lungs and a pulse oximeter, which measured oxygen levels by taking a reading over a person’s fingernails.

The protocol for the study allowed volunteers to stay home, where they gathered results from the instruments and reported on their health and any symptoms they felt. Technicians came to the home of each volunteer on the first, seventh, 15th, and 28th days after entering the clinical trial.

Researchers and doctors involved in the analysis of the effectiveness of COVID believe this remote approach to participating in clinical trials could prove a safe and effective way to conduct research for other diseases.

“In today’s virtual world, our clinical trial strategy has significant implications for how to study new drugs in patients at home,” Dr. Kevin Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes, explained in a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory news brief.

Janowitz added that other studies could also use testing protocols at home, including for other diseases. “We are looking forward to employing it to help develop better treatments for people with cancer,” which is the disease at the center of his research, he explained.

The CSHL Assistant Professor focuses on the whole body response to cancer, although many of the biological considerations are transferable to other diseases.

Pivot to COVID

According to Janowitz, “It was relatively easy for us to pivot to COVID research when it was a global area of unmet need.” 

The researchers chose Famotidine because of encouraging studies and from a case series, Janowitz explained. They also found a potential mechanism of action where Famotidine blocked the H2 receptor, which encouraged them to move to a phase 2 randomized clinical trial.

The researchers were pleased that the participants in this small trial included people from a range of ages and ethnic groups. Nearly two thirds of patients, who were 18 years and older, were from black, mixed-race or Hispanic communities.

“Patients with different ancestry may have different responses to this disease,” Janowitz explained. “It helps to learn about the generalizability of the results.”

In a CSHL news brief, Nicole Jordan-Martin, executive director for New York City Health + Hospitals, added that “accessible, safe and low-cost outpatient treatment options are a priority in our global efforts to combat COVID-19.” Northwell and New York City Health + Hospitals provided care for the communities most in need of support for New York City, she added.

The collaborators were also encouraged by their teamwork.

“Our institutions worked extremely well together to face challenges the pandemic posed, like offering digital solutions and reaching populations who struggled for access to care,” Dr. Christina Brennan, vice president of clinical research at the Feinstein Institute and co-investigator of the trial, said in the news brief. 

“From screening patients to organizing home delivery of the equipment and medication, this sets a new model for future trials and convenience for participants.”

Janowitz described the safety profile of Famotidine as “excellent” and said it “appears to have few interactions with other drugs and very few side effects in general.”

To be sure, Janowitz cautioned doctors and patients not to stock up on Famotidine before researchers conduct additional studies.

“Our trial is not conclusive and an early phase clinical trial (phase 1 or 2) is not sufficient to inform clinical practice,” he wrote.

Additionally without further study, researchers don’t know the best potential dose and dosing interval for this possible treatment. At this point, they know how long the drug stays in the blood and the strength of its binding to its receptor.

A dose of 20 milligrams per day or less may be too little to achieve an effect, but “we do not know this for certain,” Janowitz explained.

While researchers agreed that further studies were necessary to answer key questions, they believed that the results from this research could provide fodder for studies outside of the COVID world.

“It is possible that sustained inflammation contributes to illness in other contexts and changing this inflammation would be beneficial,” Janowitz wrote. “This will have to be explored separately. Importantly, the methods used in this trial are also transferrable, so we have learned a lot of important information” from this research.

Stock photo

The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in Suffolk County continues to plummet, raising expectations of more mask-optional or mask-free options for businesses and public places in the weeks and months ahead.

The percentage of positive tests, which the Omicron wave caused to crest in the mid to high twenties in the first few weeks after the start of the year, continues to plunge into the low single digits.

Indeed, as of Feb. 20, the seven-day average for positive tests was down to 2.2%, which is considerably lower than the mid to high 20% tests in the first few weeks of January, according to public information from the New York State Department of Health.

“The data are very promising and supportive of the idea that masks may not be necessary in social settings,” Sean Clouston, associate professor in the Program in Public Health and the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, explained in an email.

A spring and summer that lifted some pandemic rules would relieve the strain of a public health threat that claimed the lives of community members, shut down businesses, altered school learning environments and created a mental health strain.

Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, explained that the decline in positive tests was “expected” and that it was “reassuring that the predictions held.”

The Health Service Commissioner is hoping, unless new, more virulent variants develop that “we will enter into a period of respite from COVID-19.

Pigott, however, added that Suffolk County hospitals still had COVID patients. People over 65 have seen the greatest decrease in hospitalizations. The senior age group had accounted for 65 to 70% of hospitalizations last January. 

That rate has steadily declined amid a high rate of vaccinations and boosters.

The most recent surge caused by the Omicron variant has elevated the levels of hospitalizations among younger age groups, especially for those who are not vaccinated, Pigott explained.

On the positive side, hospital stays have likely generally been shorter than in the earlier days of the pandemic as the “medical profession has learned over the course of time what interventions work best,” Pigott added.

Monoclonal antibodies and antiviral medications such as remdesivir have reduced the likelihood of significant illness when people with positive tests receive these treatments soon after diagnosis, Pigott explained.

As for boosters, Pigott didn’t anticipate the broad need for additional shots in the immediate future.

“Recent studies are showing the booster shot to hold up quite well over time, so perhaps a booster will not be needed, at least not for a while,” he wrote.

Although doctors have identified a new subvariant of Omicron called BA.2 that the county is monitoring carefully, the World Health Organization has not classified it as a variant of concern.

Mental health

Even as the physical threat from COVID-19 may be receding, health care professionals suggested that the mental health toll from the pandemic may require continued monitoring and support.

Pigott cited two new CDC studies that indicated the children’s mental health crisis has gotten worse during the pandemic.

Adam Gonzalez, associate professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, explained that young adults, in particular, have been struggling with increased rates of anxiety and depression.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Household Pulse Survey, which is a 20-minute online survey, 39.2% of people nationally aged 18 to 29 had indicators of anxiety or depression between Jan. 26 and Feb. 7 of this year. 

The group with the lowest percentage of such indicators was 80 years and above, with 9.3% of that age experiencing these indicators.

“The elevated rates of mental health problems highlight the need for mental health screening, referral and treatment — incorporating mental health as part of one’s overall health and well-being,” Gonzalez added.

Stony Brook Medicine is screening for depression throughout its practices to identify people who need mental health care support, Gonzalez wrote.

Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular is effective in helping improve mental health, with a group format proving just as effective as individual therapy, Gonzalez explained.

Gonzalez added that even a single session can help improve mental health, putting people back on a healthier path.

Gonzalez has been partnering with Jessica Schleider, assistant professor in Clinical Psychology at Stony Brook University, to teach people “how to break down problems into manageable steps. Our overall goal is to help get people the skills they need to effectively manage their mental health.”

County Executive Steve Bellone during a press conference in Hauppauge. Photo from Suffolk County

Following the recent CDC announcement, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced on Tuesday, Nov. 9 that the Suffolk County Health Department will begin administering free COVID-19 vaccines to children ages 5 to 11. 

The vaccine clinics — which will be located at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge — will be exclusively for children ages 5 to 17.

“I am beyond pleased that the CDC has recommended that children ages 5 to 11 years old be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Bellone said. “As a father, I am encouraging all parents who may have questions to talk with their pediatrician or a trusted healthcare provider about the importance of getting their children vaccinated. This vaccine saves lives and it could save the life of your child.”

On Nov. 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final clearance for the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, following the emergency use authorization granted by the Food and Drug Administration last month. 

All children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible to receive a two-dose primary series of the pediatric formulation of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, effective immediately. This is the first COVID-19 vaccine to be permitted for use in the age group, leading the way for more than 28 million children in the United States to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

To date, nearly 88 percent of county residents 18 and over have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 74% of all county residents have received at least one dose.

Vaccines will be administered at the H. Lee Dennison Building located at 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

 While appointments are not required, they are strongly encouraged. Walk-ins will be available on a first come, first served basis. For more information on the County’s vaccine efforts, or to schedule an appointment call 311 or visit suffolkcountyny.gov/vaccine. 

Steve Bellone. Stock photo by Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) tested positive for COVID-19.

The County Executive, who is vaccinated and has been observing mask mandates, is unsure of how he contracted the virus.

Bellone has mild symptoms and is currently not receiving any medical treatment.

“I hope this serves as a reminder to all residents that while we are making incredible progress in the war against COVID-19, we are not done just yet,” Bellone said in a statement. “I encourage anyone who is eligible to receive their booster shot to do so.”

At this point, no other members of his office staff or his family has tested positive.

Bellone said he feels in “good health and spirits,” according to the statement. He will continue to carry out the duties of the County Executive.

Meanwhile, the percentage of positive tests on a seven-day average in Suffolk County fell below 3% on Oct. 20, dropping to 2.9%, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health.

Local health care providers have been encouraged by the overall decline in positive tests, which they attribute in part to ongoing vaccination efforts.

The Food and Drug Administration provided emergency use authorization for the Moderna booster for a specific groups of people who were fully vaccinated at least six months ago. Those groups include: people 65 years and older; people 18 through 64 who are considered at high risk; and people 18 through 64 with occupational exposure.

The FDA also approved the use of a single booster dose for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.

The FDA also allowed a mix and match approach to boosters, authorizing those who received one type of vaccination to choose a different booster. Local health care providers said studies have shown that people who received the J&J vaccine had a higher antibody response after receiving a Moderna booster.

“The available data suggest waning immunity in some populations who are fully vaccinated,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodccock said in a statement. “The availability of those authorized boosters is important for continued protection against COVID-19 disease.”

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said the FDA would gather additional data as quickly as possible to assess the benefits and risks of the us of booster doses in additional populations and plans to update the healthcare community and the public in the coming weeks.

For more information on vaccines in the area, residents can go to the web site: suffolkcountyny.gov/vaccine.

The web site also includes answers to frequently asked questions, such as: what are the side effects after I get the COVID-19 vaccine, is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have an underlying medical condition, and what should I do if I am exposed to COVID-19 after being vaccinated.

Early in the pandemic, Bellone remained in quarantine and managed his responsibilities from home after Deputy County Executive Peter Scully tested positive for the virus. Bellone didn’t test positive at that point, although he, like so many others in the early days of the disease, waited days for the results of his COVID test.