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Gov. Andrew Cuomo

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Republican elected officials gathered at a press conference in Hauppauge Thursday, Jan. 14, calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on the state’s failed vaccine rollout.

Elected officials in Hauppauge. Photo by Kimberly Brown

State senators, including Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), demanded that Cuomo implement a plan to fix issues that have arisen since the vaccine was authorized to be distributed.

Senior citizen and West Babylon resident, Anna Foley, shared her experience of how difficult it has been to obtain the vaccine, which she has still not received.

“I’m 83 years old, fighting two types of cancer and other underlying medical problems,” she said. “I can’t seem to get anyone to help. I have looked at the New York State website, called pharmacies, doctors, hospitals, and I even tried my union to see if I can get any information, to no avail.”

Foley mentioned the difficulties senior citizens are facing while trying to make an appointment for the vaccine, saying that most people ages 80 and over are not computer savvy, and the locations where the vaccine is administered are too far to drive to.

Mattera pointed out how the federal government still has not released the new vaccine to pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, giving residents fewer options of locations where they can receive the vaccine.

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

In his plea to the governor, Mattera said, “Get the vaccine here and get more locations. Right now, there are four locations, and do you know what they say? They say, ‘We don’t know what to do, we can’t help you.’ It’s unacceptable.”

The partial and full closings of businesses, mandated by Cuomo, were intended to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. However, Palumbo said even though businesses are partially closed, the cases are still increasing.

“The Legislature needs to get involved, we need to get control back,” he said. “We need to get those vaccinations out, and as quickly as possible — not throw them in the garbage.”

Many of the politicians also discussed the bill Cuomo signed into law June 17, which would allow every pharmacist in New York state to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) demanded to know why the bill has not been put into full force.

“Now we’re in January, governor, where is your plan?” Smith said. “Why is every single pharmacy in the state of New York not able to administer this vaccine?”

 

Suffolk County officials said we are certainly in the midst of the pandemic's second wave. Stock photo

Responding to numerous 911 calls on Monday, Nov. 30, just after midnight, the Suffolk County Police Department arrived at 51 Hawkins Lane in Brookhaven to find an estimated 300 to 400 people arriving for a party.

Police said it took about four hours to break up a gathering that was just getting started. The owner of the 5,000 square foot property, which is listed on Air BNB for $399 per night, was one of the people who called the police.

SCPD Chief Stuart Cameron said the people who rented the house who officials believe came from New Jersey would face civil fines of up to $15,000 and criminal charges that include criminal nuisance in the second degree and section 12-B of the public health law, which are the sections the police have been using for COVID-19-related enforcement.

The “prompt response” by the police and the “effective dispersion of the crowd” enabled the police to avert a “potential supers spreader event,” Cameron said on a call with the media run by County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“We have gotten significant cooperation from the homeowner,” Bellone said on the conference call. “When they found that the home was being used for this purpose, they did report that. We will be holding accountable the people who did hold this party.”

Bellone cautioned anyone who might consider coming in to Suffolk County from out of town that they will not be allowed to skirt COVID-19 public health rules.

“Renting a home and thinking you will be able to get away with that … that’s not going to happen,” Bellone said. “We’ve worked too hard to allow selfish and reckless individuals to set back our efforts to continue to protect people’s health.”

Bellone thanked the SCPD for their efforts.

Bellone urged people to continue to follow public health guidelines, particularly as the holidays approach. He said there was hope on the horizon with a vaccine and that there is an “end in sight. We need to do the best we can to follow the guidance so we can contain this second wave.”

Across the county, Chief Cameron described the number of 911 calls over Thanksgiving as a “handful,” which was below his expectations. In the cases when the police did arrive at a home, they didn’t notice “any gross deviations,” which the police chief described as a “testament to the people of Suffolk County.”

A Tough Beginning

As for the number of positive tests, the trend continues to provide warning signs to area officials about the return of the spread of a virus the county had originally beat back earlier this year.

Positive tests for COVID-19 stood at 5.2% as of Dec. 1, with 609 new cases in the previous day. The county hasn’t had a rate above five percent since May 17.

Hospitalizations now stand at 248, which is the highest since June 3.

“Those numbers are alarming to say the least,” Bellone said. “There’s no doubt we are in that second wave we talked about for so long.”

The county and state will now incorporate hospital capacity into cluster zone designations in determining yellow, orange and red levels.

As of the beginning of this month, 28% of hospital beds were available, with 32% of intensive care unit beds available.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has indicated that hospitals in the state need to prepare for surges by identifying doctors and nurses, preparing field hospitals and planning for “all the things we did in the spring,” Bellone said.

Bellone reinforced a message about schools he’s been sharing for several weeks, even as positive cases continue to increase. The county executive said Suffolk is not seeing the spread happening in schools in any significant level.

“Keeping our schools open is critical for students, families and for our continued economic recovery,” Bellone said.

Bellone reminded residents that the majority of new cases seem to be coming from small gatherings, where family and friends who feel safer with each other are congregating, often without masks and, at times, within six feet of each other.

“It is critically important that people limit those gatherings,” Bellone said.

The county continues to rely on contact tracing to try to limit the spread of the virus. On the first of November, the county had 30 people in place who were contact tracing, reflecting the smaller number of positive tests. Now, the county has over 200 contact tracers, who are reaching out to positive cases to connect with those who might have been exposed to the virus.

In the last two weeks, the county had 7,948 confirmed cases. Contact tracers reached 6,114 people, with 3,801 of those providing contacts, which represents less than half the total.

Dr. Shahida Iftikhar, deputy commissioner for the Department of Health, said the number of people who didn’t provide contacts included those who weren’t within six feet for 10 minutes or more of other people.

A sign of the times outside Smithtown Town Hall. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Library

Even before some family gatherings provide a potential breeding ground for the coronavirus, Suffolk County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at rates not seen since the worst of the first wave, in April.

In the last day, 501 people have tested positive for the coronavirus which is the highest number since April. That represents a 4 percent positive test rate, which is also the highest figure since May 18.

“It is unclear if we are plateauing or whether [these numbers] will continue to go up,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters. He is concerned about “where we may go after the Thanksgiving holidays.”

Indeed, Dr. Shahida Iftikhar, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Health, said the numbers were likely climbing as a result of smaller gatherings, which is what triggered an increase after the Halloween weekend.

Long Island surpassed 1,000 cases on Tuesday, according to officials. More communities on Long Island are close to being named so-called yellow zones by the state, which might mean more restrictions and the potential rolling back of the phased reopening seen earlier this year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during his Wednesday livestream the virus is being spread mainly by bars and restaurants that sell alcohol, gyms and small gatherings. New restrictions have been placed on all three earlier this month. Cuomo also said places like Monroe County, whose officials said cases were mainly due to small gatherings and not places like gyms, were outliers, and stressed people limit gatherings on Thanksgiving.

I give thanks for the intelligence of New Yorkers, but we have to stay safe, we have to keep the infection rate down through the thanksgiving holiday,” he said. ““Don’t be a turkey, wear a mask this Thanksgiving.”

Despite the move away from contact tracing in other regions with widespread community spread, Suffolk County continues to use contact tracers to call people who have received positive tests and to warn anyone they might have infected.

For those residents who have received a negative COVID test and plan to gather with family and friends, Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner in the County Department of Health, cautioned that people can have a negative test and still transmit the virus after they are exposed.

There is a lot of “asymptomatic spread,” Pigott warned.

To limit the spread of the virus, Bellone urged people to follow state guidelines, limiting gatherings to 10 people, washing their hands, wearing face coverings where possible and keeping a distance of at least six feet, particularly from vulnerable members of the population.

In anticipation of gatherings, the Suffolk County Police Department has added patrols and will perform compliance checks with bars and restaurants to ensure that these businesses are adhering to the state requirements that they shut down indoor food and beverage service after 10 p.m.

The SCPD will not go from house to house counting cars, but they will respond to any reports of private residences that exceed the 10-person limit.

New York State has designated Riverhead and Hampton Bays as yellow zones. Bellone encouraged residents living within these zones to get tested. Residents can find testing sites at the web site suffolkcountyny.gov.

Cuomo said New York, among other states, has started adding field hospitals again, much like what was seen during the first wave of the pandemic. The first field hospital has been set up in Staten Island, though more be on the way.

Free testing sites, supported by New York State, are opening Monday at the Northwell Health Dolan Family Healthy Center in Huntington and on Tuesday at Sun River Health in Patchogue.

As the Board of Elections continues to count votes, Bellone said one of the people who worked for the elections tested positive. The county has tested 111 people who worked in the building, with eight people testing positive and 37 quarantined because of close contact.

On the positive side, Suffolk County’s testing in schools in Riverhead and Hampton Bays has demonstrated a low rate of infection. In Riverhead, 12 out of 524 people tested positive, while Hampton Bays had four positive tests out of 417 people tested.

“While we continue to monitor the rise in cases, we are not currently seeing community spread happening in our schools,” Bellone said. “As long as students and faculty are kept safe, schools should remain open.”

Additional reporting by Kyle Barr

An image of the proposed treatment system. Image from SCWA

With a little under 600 wells in its system, the Suffolk County Water Authority has a big task ahead as it tries to comply with state mandates to remove the likely carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane from Long Island’s drinking water.

On a Zoom call with TBR News Media, water authority officials talked about the current progress on remodeling the county’s water infrastructure, including 76 wells. It’s a difficult task, and there are many years and millions of dollars more needed before many of the county’s wells are remediated. The authority has estimated 45% of its wells were detected with 1,4 dioxane, which Jeffrey Szabo, the CEO of the SCWA, called “frightening.”

A map showing where the SCWA expects to put the treatment systems, should they be approved. Images from SCWA

For over a year, 1,4 dioxane has appeared in the news frequently . Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation at the end of last year banning 1,4 dioxane, which is normally found in some household cleaning products. At the tail end of July this year, New York adopted regulations for the chemical, setting the maximum contaminant levels, or MCL, of 1 part per billion. 1,4 dioxane has been found in 70% of Long Island wells found during a federal testing initiative back in 2013 through 2015. 

The state has also set the MCL for PFOA and PFOS, both of which have been found to cause health issues in humans and animals, at a maximum of 10 parts per trillion. Perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, is a chemical often found in firefighting foams, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is used in nonstick and stain-resistant products.

Szabo said they are on their way to establishing treatment for the PFOA and PFOS in all wells that need it. The water authority’s October report states that all wells with those chemicals above the MCL limit are either being treated to remove the contaminants or are being blended to below the MCL or have been removed from service. Szabo said the water authority has granular activated carbon, or GAC filters that help remove the PFAS chemicals, but such carbon-based filters have little to no effect on 1,4 dioxane. Instead, the SCWA started almost a decade ago developing technology to remove another similar chemical, 1,3 dioxane from drinking water. In 2017, SCWA engineers designed and piloted the first full-scale pilot 1,4-dioxane treatment system in state history. The authority’s Advanced Oxidation Process, or AOP treatment system is currently operational in only one location, Central Islip. That design process “took a long time and a lot of money,” Szabo said.

The water authority CEO said they now have 56 AOP treatment systems in construction in Suffolk, including in Farmingdale and Huntington. There are AOP treatment systems being designed for places on the North Shore such as Sunken Meadow Park, but in many cases it’s not as simple as installing a new filter, as it often takes reconfiguring and additional electrical work. Clearing and site work continues for future AOP sites and electrical upgrade work is beginning at sites such as Flower Hill Road in Huntington. In some cases it’s simply easier and cheaper to replace old wells, such as on Old Dock Road in Kings Park, which is replacing two wells on Carlson Avenue both of which need AOP systems.

Not only that, but there is an apparent year-long lead time from when the authority orders a new system to when it can be installed.

Despite recent efforts, funding continues to be the biggest issue. Each GAC system costs around $1 million to manufacture. An AOP system is closer to $2.5 million. At the end of last year, the SCWA estimated efforts to remediate such wells would cost $177 million over the next five years. The October report states the authority has spent close to $12 million to date for PFAS related work and $23,136,397 for emerging contaminant work.

The water authority passed a $20 fee added to residents’ quarterly water bills starting this year to help pay for this new water treatment. 

Though even with that fee, it’s not likely enough to cover the full cost. The water authority has also filed lawsuits against several companies whose products contain PFOA, PFOS or 1,4 dioxane. Those suits are still ongoing. The SCWA has received $13.3 million in grants from New York State and has submitted additional applications for state grant funding for 14 of its wells.  

The water authority is also waiting on a bill in the state legislature which could provide some extra financial assistance. A bill supported by state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) that would provide reimbursement for emerging contaminant grants by responsible parties has passed the state senate but currently remains in committee in the assembly.

Turkeys waddle around Raleigh’s Poultry Farm in Kings Park as customers stop by looking for potential Thanksgiving meals. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Despite new state restrictions on gatherings, some local small businesses are thankful this year for all the support they’ve received at the start of the holiday season. 

In pre-COVID times, a typical Thanksgiving dinner could host a dozen or even more people. But as of last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced new guidelines for the upcoming holidays, asking people to host small gatherings of 10 people or less. 

Lisa Harris, the owner of Torte Jeff in Port Jefferson, said although they are down in sales, people are still buying Thanksgiving day pies. Photo by Margot Garant

But small groups aren’t stopping people from spending time with their loved ones — just less of them this year. And with the tradition of family get-togethers comes the big Thanksgiving meal, full of sides, pies and of course, turkey.

Cathy Raleigh-Boylan, co-owner of Raleigh’s Poultry Farm in Kings Park, said sales have actually increased this year, much to her surprise. 

“There are a lot of people asking for small or medium sized turkeys, but people are still having Thanksgiving,” she said. “Even if they’re not having a large gathering, they still want a big bird and just have a lot of leftovers.”

The farm has been a staple to the Smithtown community for more than 61 years, she said, and usually people come from all over to pick up their Thanksgiving meats. This year is a little different, but not necessarily in a bad way.

“With COVID, we’re realizing a lot more people are eating at home with families and teaching the young kids how to cook,” she said. “Generations are going back a bit. As bad as COVID was, a lot more family time came out of it.”

Raleigh’s also sells pies, making it a one-stop shop for local Thanksgiving needs. “We’ve sold more pies than ever,” she said. “I think people just want to make Thanksgiving special this year. We can’t do a lot of things right now, so people are looking for some normalcy.”

Some people are opting not for the bird this year, and are switching it up. At Cow Palace in Rocky Point, owner Debbie Teitjen said there are other options they offer. “A lot of people are doing turkey breast or turkey London broil,” she said. “We’re doing tons of catering for smaller events and a lot of curbside catering.”

But Arthur Worthington, of Miloski’s Poultry Farm on Middle Country Road in Calverton, said many of his customers are choosing to size down. 

“There definitely are still a lot of people going along with the tradition,” he said. “There are a lot of inquiries similar from years before.”

He said customers who still want the bird are preferring smaller ones for this year’s dinner. 

“They’re looking for the 12 to 16 pound range, which is tough because everything we do with raising turkeys, we have to plan years in advance,” he said. 

But over in Huntington, Nick Voulgaris III, owner of Kerbers Farm on West Pulaski Road, said it’s been busier than typically this time of the year. 

Turkeys waddle around Raleigh’s Poultry Farm in Kings Park as customers stop by looking for potential Thanksgiving meals. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“This is normally the busiest time of the year for us,” he said. “We’re slightly above normal, which is a good thing especially during the current economic climate.”

Voulgaris said people are gravitating towards smaller birds for smaller groups, but as of right now, they have completely sold out of turkeys for the holiday. 

“We’ve seen a 20% increase in sales over the last six months, or so,” he said. 

While they’re out of birds for the upcoming holiday, they still have plenty of pies to preorder before Sunday Nov. 20, he said. 

Lisa Harris, owner of Torte Jeff Pie Co. on East Main Street in Port Jefferson, said her shop has been down about 25% in sales from last year because gatherings are smaller, but people are still looking to celebrate with their favorite pies for the holiday. 

“We’re selling less pies, but to the same amount of people,” she said. “We have definitely had a request for smaller pies.”

Although it’s a small hit to her business, she’s still happy people want to shop small. Some, she said, are starting new traditions ordering and bringing home her savory Thanksgiving Day pie.

“It’s everything you would have on Thanksgiving in a traditional pie,” she said. “That’s becoming really popular.”

To deal with COVID-19, Harris implemented online ordering through Nov. 20 on a new portal on the shop’s website. 

Decorations on a house in Rocky Point reminding people to wear masks. Photo by Kyle Barr

The percentage of positive tests for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has increased in the last week, particularly among younger residents.

Positive tests over the last seven days increased to 2.17%, which is up from 1.41% in the prior week, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“COVID cases are surging in Suffolk County,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters Nov. 10. “We are seeing what other places in other communities have been experiencing for some time now.”

Indeed, the increase in cases is likely occurring even at gatherings that are following the state-mandated limit of 50 people at any gathering.

On Monday, the positivity rate was 3.8%, which is the first time since May 25 that the rate was above 3%.

Given when these positive tests occurred, Bellone said they are “exactly when we would expect to see cases spiking” from Halloween gatherings.

The majority of the positive tests are among people who are under 65, said Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, with 27% of the cases among people 25 to 40 and 31% for people who are 41 to 65.

“If we continue to see this surge in positive cases throughout Suffolk County, how long before it gets into that more vulnerable population?” Bellone said.

Bellone urged families to take precautions at gatherings during Thanksgiving by limiting the number of people coming together for the holiday, opening windows when possible, and, if necessary in smaller spaces, wearing masks.

“The current spike we are seeing is clearly related to gatherings,” Bellone said. These gatherings do not violate limits, which is a warning sign. “We have to take precautions to prevent these surges.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also expressed alarm in a press conference Monday about the spike in COVID cases nationwide, saying we’re likely to have “a long two months.”

Bellone said the county is planning to increase its contact tracers over the next week in response to the increase in positive tests. The county currently has 50 contact tracers and plans to double that to 100 over the next few days, at which point it will double that again.

The number of hospitalizations which, like the testing percentage is not close to where it was during the worst of the pandemic, current stands at 60, which is also a rise from recent weeks, when the number of people hospitalized with the virus hovered between the 20s and 40s.

In recent months, hospitals haven’t seen the “real, real sick COVID patients they were seeing in March,” Pigott said. Residents are typically coming in for a day or two and then are continuing their recovery at home.

In addition to the public health threat an increase in cases poses for a county that had been the epicenter for the pandemic in the U.S. in the spring, the rise in positive tests presents a potential threat to the fragile economy, which is still recovering after an extended lockdown and slow, phased reopening.

“If these trends continue, that could result in certain rollbacks of the economic recovery,” Bellone said.

Bellone urged people in the county to pay close attention to their own symptoms. He recommended that residents stay home when they are not feeling well and get tested.

Testing has become much more widely available in Suffolk County and throughout the state. Information on the location of testing sites is available at suffolkcountyny.gov/Covid19. A list of testing sites is located half way down the screen, in a blue box on the left hand side.

“If you don’t have insurance, the test is free throughout the county,” Bellone said. “Get tested. That will help us get a handle on the surge that is happening right now. Those numbers are concerning, they are disturbing.”

The county needs to keep the numbers under control to keep the virus from threatening the economic recovery, he added.

Stony Brook University said the 17 students who were positive with COVID-19 were spread across campus with limited possibility of contact. File photo by Kyle Barr

Stony Brook University unveiled it is currently tracking 17 positive cases of COVID-19, with officials saying all are asymptomatic and have been quarantined.

In a release on the university’s website published Sept. 2, SBU said the 17 cases were as a result of testing of more than 3,000 students on West Campus since Aug. 11 by Student Health Services. The new confirmed cases, as of Wednesday, were in addition to the one other confirmed case officials identified Aug. 28.

All 18 positives are being retested to identify any false positives. The students have been asked to go into quarantine, along with any close associates who were asked to self-isolate.

The fall 2020 semester started Aug. 24 for undergrads.

On Aug. 27 Gov. Andrew Cuomo updated the state’s guidelines for universities and colleges reopening. If colleges have 100 cases or if the number of cases equal 5% of their population or more, they must go to remote learning for two weeks. After that time if things do not improve, the school could potentially be closed to in-person learning for the rest of the semester.

On Thursday, Sept. 3, SUNY Oneonta announced they were cancelling in-person classes for the rest of the Fall after close to 390 students were tested positive for COVID-19.

Stony Brook said the 17 positive cases were spread all throughout the campus, and that none were roommates and there was at least one positive case in each resident hall. Six of the students who tested positive for COVID-19 are taking only online classes and of the 12 students who tested positive and were attending in-person classes, the university said none were in the same classroom environment. According to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard, only 19% of students are registered for in-person classes.

The university said in the news statement it was continuing to test. 

“If there is a need to shift to an operating status of fully online instruction for a 14-day period or longer, we will communicate with the community directly and promptly,” the statement read.

 

Stony Brook University's COVID-19 testing site. Photo by Matthew Niegocki

As part of an awareness campaign, Suffolk County is trying to provide residents with updated information on testing locations, including sites in pharmacies that are free of charge. 

Suffolk officials said this was in response to U.S. Centers for Disease Control Guidelines which were inexplicably changed Aug. 25 to say that individuals do not necessarily need to get tested for COVID-19 after coming in contact with someone who has tested positive. New York State officials have also spoken out against the change, arguing it flies in the face of what we currently understand about COVID-19.

Such sites are listed below:

Town of Brookhaven and East End

  • CVS Pharmacy, 6221 Route 25A, Wading River, NY 11792
  • CVS Pharmacy, 496 County Road 111 Building C, Manorville, NY 11949
  • Rite Aid, 803 Montauk Hwy Unit D, Shirley, NY
  • CVS Pharmacy, 29 Havenwood Drive, Shirley NY 11967
  • Walgreens, 1580 Route 112, Medford, NY 11763
  • CVS Pharmacy, 470 West Main Street, Patchogue, NY 11772
  • CVS Pharmacy, 1710 Route 112, Coram, NY 11727
  • CVS Pharmacy, 2315 Middle Country Road, Centereach, NY 11720
  • Rite Aid, 229 Independence Plaza, Selden, NY
  • CVS Pharmacy, 729 Portion Road, Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
  • Stony Brook Drive Through Testing Site, 100 Nicolls Rd, Stony Brook, NY 11794

Town of Smithtown

  • CVS Pharmacy, 977 Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, NY 11725
  • CVS Pharmacy, 111 Terry Road, Smithtown, NY 11787

Town of Huntington and Western Suffolk

  • CVS Pharmacy, 520 Larkfield Road, East Northport, NY 11731
  • CVS Pharmacy, 2000 Jericho Turnpike, East Northport, NY 11731
  • CVS Pharmacy, 111 Depot Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746
  • CVS Pharmacy, 107 South Country Road, Bellport, NY 11713
  • CVS Pharmacy, 450 Main Street, Farmingdale, NY 11735
  • CVS Pharmacy, Candlewood Road and 5th Avenue, Brentwood, NY 11717
  • CVS Pharmacy, 311 Main Street, Center Moriches, NY 11934
  • CVS Pharmacy, 831 Connetquot Avenue, Islip Terrace, NY 11752
  • CVS Pharmacy, 105 Montauk Highway, West Sayville, NY 11782

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during a press conference Aug. 26 that New York would not adhere to the new guidance. He instead proclaimed that the CDC was following the bidding of President Donald Trump (R). He called the new health policy “political propaganda.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a release that the new CDC guidance is inconsistent with what has already helped stop the spread of COVID-19.

“From day one, we have prioritized access to testing, especially in our hard hit communities,” Bellone said in a release. “In light of the puzzling CDC guidance released this week, I am proud to stand with Governor Cuomo and others in the medical community to encourage our residents to continue to get tested. If we want to avoid a second wave and keep our infection rate below one percent, testing must be a top priority.”

For their part, federal health officials have told reporters the CDC’s change in testing policy was not based on politics and the change was made by CDC themselves. However, Trump has publicly said that he believed the reason the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase was because the U.S. has increased the number of tests it conducts.

Suffolk Commissioner of Health Services Dr. Gregson Pigott said testing is the best way to prevent a new wave of the virus come the end of summer.

“A robust testing program allows us to identify as many positive cases as possible, isolate those individuals and quarantine their close contacts, therefore slowing and containing the spread of COVID-19,” Pigott said in a release. “In order to protect public health and help prevent a second wave in the fall, we will continue to recommend everyone who is exposed to the virus gets tested.”

Additional testing sites can be found by typing in a zip code at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you

 

Suffolk County police car. File photo

By Nancy Marr

In 2009, the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) was investigated by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) after the death of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian national murdered by teenagers in Patchogue. The SCPD cooperated with the DOJ investigation and signed an agreement that the SCPD would ensure that it would police equitably, respectfully and free of unlawful bias. It agreed to maintain a true Community Oriented Police Enforcement program through the County, and strengthen outreach efforts in the Latino communities.

Gov. Cuomo’s June 12 statewide Executive Order states that all police agencies must “develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force.” Police forces must adopt a plan by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding and certify that they have:

• Engaged stakeholders in a public and open process on policing strategies and tools;

• Presented a plan by chief executive and head of the local police force to the public for comment;

• After consideration of any comments, presented such plan to the local legislative body (council or legislature as appropriate) which has approved such plan (by either local law or resolution); and

• If such local government does not certify the plan, the police force may not be eligible to receive future state funding.

Governor Cuomo said, “Our law enforcement officers are essential to ensuring public safety — they literally put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect us. This emergency regulation will help rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve by requiring localities to develop a new plan for policing in the community based on fact-finding and meaningful community input.”

The Suffolk County plan development will be conducted by Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Sheriff Errol Toulon, and will consist of stakeholders from all sectors of the county, seeking to address any racial bias, use of force, negligence and sensitivity, and about incidents where the police have reacted differently when treating minorities.

Recent review of police conduct show that the police are often tasked to deal with issues of mental health, homelessness and addiction as often as crime prevention or property protection. Many communities have developed programs to respond with mental health workers, either before or with the police. Since 1989, in Eugene Oregon, a mobile crisis intervention team (Cahoots) responds to calls involving people who may be in mental distress. Police back-up is called in only when necessary. Examples of programs are numerous, but each jurisdiction has its own data, issues and challenges.

Open meetings and providing information to the public through the media will be needed to engage community members in the process. It is a chance for the community to get a fuller understanding of how a police and community relationship based on trust, fairness, accountability and transparency, necessary to reduce any racial disparities in policing is truly possible.

Suffolk County’s success will depend on the commitment of County Executive Steve Bellone to promptly and transparently communicate his support, and not interfere in the forums while listening to the concerns and passions of stakeholders. Nassau County already has announced the beginning of their process, while all is quiet in Suffolk County.

Engaging representatives of groups with different perspectives and experiences, in a facilitated non-judgmental setting, is a step toward creating a community that treats everyone fairly.  Please reach out to our County Executive and your County Legislator to support a process that engages participants through the county in a fair and honest evaluation of police practices, and envisions new ways of approaching community safety and social justice. Time is of the essence!

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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