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Fox and Owl Inn

People from as far as Manhattan and as close as Centereach have been taking their vacations on Long Island, such as at the Fox & Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, instead of other states/countries where travel restrictions make it difficult. Photo from Rebecca Kassay

Residents of both Suffolk County and New York City have turned to local hotels and bed and breakfasts to enjoy time away from home amid limited travel options during the pandemic.

With out-of-state guests from numerous states limited in their travel to the area, corporate travel down considerably, and sports teams either shut down or playing without any fans, area hotels have still attracted guests from nearby towns and villages and from city residents disappointed with ongoing urban closures and eager to enjoy a natural setting.

People from as far as Manhattan and as close as Centereach have been taking their vacations on Long Island, such as at the Stony Brook Holiday Inn Express, instead of other states/countries where travel restrictions make it difficult. File photo

“It’s very different now,” said Jamie Ladone, sales executive at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook. “We’re not getting as many out-of-state guests,” but the hotel is finding people who are eager for a staycation.

Indeed, Emilie Zaniello and her family recently spent a weekend at the Holiday Inn, just 20 minutes from her home in Centereach

“We needed to get out of our element, to take a break from everyday life and the stresses right now,” said Zaniello, who stayed during a weekend with her husband John and their two children, 8-year-old Abigail, and 6-year-old John Robert.

The family felt “cooped up in the house” as their children didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do “normal, everyday things,” Zaniello said.

Abigail and John Robert enjoyed playing on the baseball field and the basketball court, while the family also booked time to go swimming.

“It just felt like a mini-vacation, where we didn’t have to go too far,” said Zaniello, who drove back and forth to her home to take care of the family’s two miniature dachshunds.

At the Holiday Inn, Suffolk residents have also enjoyed the indoor pool, outdoor patio, and volleyball and basketball courts, which families can use while maintaining social distancing, Ladone said. The hotel also has a putting green, horseshoes, and a baseball field and basketball court.

“We have people looking to spend quality time together like a family outdoors,” Ladone said.

The Holiday Inn has a meeting space upstairs with a seating capacity, under non-pandemic conditions, of 100. The hotel is hosting baby showers and corporate events outdoors on their patio.

The Holiday Inn has booked about 30 percent more outdoor parties than usual, Ladone said.

The Stony Brook hotel has also partnered with Spa Exotique, which offers massages or facials, and kayak packages with Stony Brook Harbor Kayak and Paddleboard.

Bed and Breakfast 

Bed and breakfasts in the area are also attracting attention from residents of Suffolk County and New York City.

At the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, people are booking their rooms one to three weeks before they need them, reflecting the uncertainty about plans that might need to change amid fluid infection rates.

For the past two months, the Fox and Owl has been booking about 90 to 95 percent of their capacity, with a majority of the guests coming from New York City and Long Island rather than the usual far-flung locations across the country and world.

The bed and breakfast derived its name from “The Lord of the Rings” book series, which husband and wife owners Andrew Thomas and Rebecca Kassay enjoys. They each picked an animal that was native to the area and hoped to create a place that was akin to the respite the main characters felt when they visited an inn.

Kassay said the Inn has “kept up to date as far as the recommendations for cleaning and the response to the COVID-19.”

“It just felt like a mini-vacation, where we didn’t have to go too far.”

— Emilie Zaniello

The Fox and Owl is located in an 1850 Victorian home, which has large windows that Kassay keeps open as often as she can. Kassay and Thomas also use Lysol on surfaces regularly and ask their guests to wear masks in public.

While guests sit on sofas that are six feet apart, they have shared stories about their quarantine experiences and make predictions about what will happen next.

The Fox and Owl has three guest suites. Some family groups have booked the entire bed and breakfast, which is “really nice for families that are coming to visit other family members,” Kassay said. Groups of friends with similar quarantine habits who feel comfortable interacting with each other have also booked the entire Inn.

The Fox and Owl offers guests the use of a jacuzzi, which is complimentary with any booking. For an additional fee, the Inn provides S’Mores near the fire pit.

Kassay said she and Thomas appreciate that they can offer people an “escape and relief from the stress that everyone is handling.”

As the owner of a bed and breakfast, she said she has reflected on the challenge of remaining personable to guests even while wearing a mask. The daughter of a Sicilian mother, Kassay was raised to speak by using body language and by communicating with her hands as well as her words.

She noticed how guests have become “more expressive,” she said. “If you stop and look at people talking, there is more physicality to American’s interaction with one another.”

A resident of midtown, Mey, who preferred to use only her first name, said she and her boyfriend came to Port Jefferson to escape from the city and enjoy nature amid all the urban closures.

They planned to visit Port Jefferson for the day and wound up spending the night at the Fox and Owl Inn when they weren’t ready to drive back to Manhattan. Mey and her boyfriend enjoyed sitting on the porch, visiting a nearby park and eating ice cream.

“Port Jefferson has a lot of nature and the feeling of a vacation,” Mey said. The experience was “very chill.”

The Manhattanite enjoys attending Broadway shows when she is in the city, which are still closed.

The urban couple traveled to Long Island because they were “looking for something peaceful” and they “found it. Seeing green is better than seeing buildings.”

Bob and MaryLou Whitcomb at their house in Old Field cutting up fabric for the homemade masks. Their neighbor Christine Matthews, along with her children, finishes the job by sewing them. Photo from MaryLou Whitcomb

As hospitals experience a significant lack of protective masks during the growing coronavirus pandemic, locals are looking for ways to assist, using on-hand materials and their own equipment. 

Christine Matthews, along with her children, helps create masks for healthcare workers at her house in Old Field. Photo from MaryLou Whitcomb

Rebecca Kassay, who co-owns the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, started a Facebook group, Suffolk County Creators of COVID19 Medical Supplies, to not only get the word out that there’s a need for homemade supplies but also to make sure locals are crafting these items the right way.

Kassay said there has been a growing demand for aid, and with so many people home from work and school, many are looking for ways they can help out.

“That’s what the group is aiming to do — to focus all of that information into one place,” she said.

Groups like Kassay’s have popped up all across the country as news of this lack of personal protective equipment grows. A national Facebook group called Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies has put forward a countrywide initiative to crowdsource more of these protective items. This mainly includes gloves, gowns and masks.

The Suffolk group is just getting its legs but have already confirmed donations are accepted in several local places, including the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, Pax Christi homeless shelter in Port Jeff, Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff and Stony Brook University Hospital.

Kassay said the point of her group is to make sure people are making masks to a rigorous standard, following instructions provided by multiple sites including www.project-cloth-masks.com as well as documents provided by the OSCMS.

Angela Clayton, a historical costume designer from Manorville, said she started making masks because she had both the material and the skillset, and knew she needed to put them to use.

“I’m lucky to be financially stable and healthy, I wanted to help in any way I could,” she said. 

The costume designer has been making masks from 100 percent cotton fabric, which can be used as a mask or as a cover for the more sought after N95 medical masks. She got her designs from www.makemasks2020.org, which not only gives designs but partners with groups around the country to get specifically requested designs from the makers to those who need them. 

People all over Long Island have caught onto this trend. Old Field residents Bob and MaryLou Whitcomb, along with their neighbor Christine Matthews and her children Nicole and Connor, have been crafting handmade masks since Friday, March 20. MaryLou said the idea came after a phone call with her sister in Boston, with the person on the other end upset of her own close family members working in the health care field while severely lacking supplies of masks.

So far, the neighborhood team has made around 200 masks, which were mailed to Whitcomb’s sister. They have made masks for doctors in the Old Field area and also have plans to ship more to NYU Langone hospital.

“I thought to myself, we’re all sitting around — why don’t we do something?” MaryLou said. 

There are some issues, including accessing supplies, particularly in terms of elastic, which has proved hard to come by. The Suffolk County Creators group has been trying to crowdsource materials from people who have it, especially the elastic bands. Though now there are more and more examples of people making ties from fabric instead.

Angela Clayton, a historical costume designer from Manorville, has been designing masks for healthcare workers. Photo from Clayton’s instagram

Though area hospitals are loath to admit it, officials have said there is a general lack of PPE material in nearly every medical sector. Some of this is due to people hoarding such devices since the start of the outbreak. As cases ramp up, hospital workers have been dealing with the shortage. There are reported cases of hospital workers using masks meant for just a single encounter for over a week. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said there are some facilities, including nursing homes, first responders as well as hospitals, that have been reduced to a pittance of the preventative garb and devices.

Though Stony Brook University Hospital officials have said they “have supplies, but need more,” they have started accepting PPE donations. 

“It’s amazing how people can come together to support one another in a time of crisis,” said Stony Brook University Hospital CEO Carol Gomes in an email statement. “We are grateful for the community’s willingness to help one another. We’re all in this together.”

A Stony Brook spokesperson said the hospital is “open to accepting all kinds of donations at this time. They will then be sorted and distributed appropriately.”

Despite this, Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said in a phone call with reporters that masks need to be certified if they are to be of any use. Making masks at home is “not advised — we’re looking for masks that can help filter out the virus,” he said. “They need to be certified and tested.”

Kassay said she agrees these masks are not replacements for the professionally made and certified items normally used in the health care sector. At the same time, while other health care providers may have better access to the high filtering top-of-the-line N95 masks, people who work for food pantries, food banks or even just in retail do not have the same access to the high-grade PPE items. Not to mention, there are several designs for masks that can go over the N95 types, potentially allowing them to last longer without being soiled.

For those looking to get into making masks, Clayton said its best to order materials remotely and not threaten the spread of the virus. Use the resources available and try and contact groups that may need masks but are not in the medical field, such as shelters, clinics or senior centers to see what they may need as well.

Kassay said these homemade masks, at the very least, help remind people not to touch their nose or mouth, which experts have recommended people restrict themselves from doing.

“Something is better than nothing,” Kassay said. “We’re all living in this unprecedented time, we’re all wondering what we can do. You want to make sure you’re doing something in the best way possible.” 

County Solicits PPE Supplies from Local Companies

In calls to reporters, Bellone said they simply do not have enough beds and other supplies for what still could be a ballooning of the number of coronavirus cases. Hospitals, officials warned, could be overwhelmed as we head toward a peak number of cases. 

The county announced a donation drive for medical supplies. They are looking for donations of N95 masks, ear loop face masks, gowns and gloves from the construction industry, building trades and others in organized labor, as they are supplies that are often used on work sites. Additionally, the county is soliciting donations of ear loop masks and gloves from the personal service industry.

By the end of Monday, the first day of the drive, Bellone said they have already received “an incredible amount of outpouring and support.” This included 40,000 gloves of various sizes, 3,000 N95 masks, 1,500 gowns and over 3,000 ear loop masks.

Donations can be delivered to the Suffolk County Fire Academy located at 102 East Ave. in Yaphank between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays. Residents can email [email protected] regarding a large donation of supplies or a potential vendor of opportunity.

“You cannot continue to do these supplies on an ad hoc basis.”

— Andrew Cuomo

As of Monday, Long Island is set to receive 33,976 N95 masks, 86,170 surgical masks, 35,350 gloves, 14,512 gowns and 19,709 face shields. Cuomo admitted that even with these supplies, hospitals will need more especially in the long term.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has said New York hospitals would need to increase the number of intensive care unit beds by approximately 18,000 to 37,000 in total to deal with the peak of the pandemic in New York. The governor put out an executive order saying hospitals must increase the number of beds by at least 50 percent.

Companies like 3M, which manufactures the N95 masks, would be shipping half a million masks to New York and Seattle.

But Cuomo said even such beneficial acts by a few companies belies the need for all such companies to step up to the plate. He has urged the Donald Trump (R) administration to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow them to order manufacturers to increase production of much-needed PPE items. The president has signed an executive order invoking the act but has yet to make a single order. Cuomo said those companies would be “paid handsomely” for the effort, but that it was needed more than ever.

“You can’t run this operation that way — it can’t just be based on ‘we’re waiting for people to come forward with offers,’” he said at the Monday press conference. “You cannot continue to do these supplies on an ad hoc basis.”