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Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. Photo by Julianne Mosher

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) packed up his moving trucks at the governor’s mansion, the soon-to-be state leader headed to Long Island last week for a quick appearance and chat with local reporters.

Before she became New York’s 57th and first female governor, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) made a quick stop in Hauppauge for a roundtable discussion on Friday, Aug. 20, with local labor leaders where topics included job training, green jobs and new legislative efforts to support essential workers.

Although the discussion was closed to media, Hochul stopped for a small press conference to quickly discuss her intentions during the meeting.

“One of my first priorities is continue creating good jobs,” she said. “Getting the offshore wind institute off the ground and give opportunities to just really train people in the underserved communities and the jobs of tomorrow where there will be tens of thousands of jobs in that space.”

Hochul said she and the business leaders in attendance also talked about workforce development and creating opportunities to keep young people fully employed on Long Island.

The visit wasn’t anything new, she said, mentioning that over the last seven years “coming out and seeing the people is what I do.”

“If you ask anyone, I’ve been told that Nassau and Suffolk counties are planning on taxing me as a local resident because I’m here so often,” she joked.

As chair of the Regional Economic Development Councils, she said that she is going to continue and be accessible throughout her term.

“I’m going to continue showing appreciation to the labor community, the job creators, the business community and elected officials,” she said. “I have a deep appreciation for all the various roles of government, and I want them to know that they have a governor who recognizes and appreciates that.”

Hochul officially took on her new role early Tuesday, Aug. 24, moving into the governor’s mansion in Albany.

“I haven’t thought about getting a U-Haul,” she joked to reporters on Friday. “I was just going to pack an overnight bag and see what happens. I’ll then keep our residence in Buffalo, as well. It’s going to be very fluid.”

During the event, reporters urged Hochul to announce what her plans were surrounding mask mandates. At the time she said she couldn’t release an official statement until she took office but hinted that “people should be ready.”

As expected, she said during her first press conference as governor that New York will require schools across the state to mandate mask wearing for students. Faculty and staff must be vaccinated or tested weekly, as of press time Wednesday, Aug. 25.

From New York State website

On Tuesday, Aug. 10, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced his resignation.

The announcement came a week after the release of a report by state Attorney General Letitia James (D) saying independent investigators concluded that the governor harassed multiple women from 2013-20. The resignation came after a virtual press conference held by his attorney Rita Glavin. She criticized the attorney general’s report and said it contains errors and omissions when recounting allegations made against Cuomo. Glavin added that each account needs more investigation.

“I think that women should be believed and they should be treated fairly,” she said. “I also believe men should be believed and treated fairly. All people should be given that, and everybody should have a chance to respond, and everybody should be scrutinized with what they say by facts, context and evidence. That hasn’t happened here.”

After the attorney general’s report was released, one of the alleged victims, former executive assistant Brittany Commisso, filed a criminal complaint saying the governor groped her and fondled her breast.

Cuomo said during his announcement that he will step down in 14 days. He will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) who will become the state’s first female governor.

The outgoing governor said he thanked those with sincere complaints as the women coming forward taught him an important lesson, and he said he took responsibility.

He added he felt that with some there are other “motivations at play.”

Local legislators react

Shortly after Cuomo announced his resignation, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who has been named the presumptive Republican nominee for governor in the 2022 race, released a statement saying the governor was “resigning to skirt all repercussions for his actions as opposed to accounting for his misconduct. He knows he would be impeached. He knows he would be voted out of office.” 

“Andrew Cuomo broke the law and criminal repercussions must follow, despite him no longer serving in public office,” Zeldin said. “From his deadly nursing home order and cover-up, to his $5.1 million self-congratulatory book deal and serial harassment and abuse of others, he’s been unfit to continue serving for a long period of time.”

Zeldin also criticized Hochul in his Aug. 10 statement.

“Unfortunately, for New Yorkers, we’re left with Cuomo’s lieutenant who empowered this disgusting behavior while Andrew Cuomo cultivated this toxic culture, leaving a trail of victims in its wake,” Zeldin said. “Kathy Hochul has been silent scandal after scandal, from fatal nursing home policies and cover-ups to rampant harassment, intimidation, bullying and abuse.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) called the past few months “a very difficult period for the people of New York state” in a statement.

“I thank and commend the incredibly brave women who stepped forward and spoke truth to power,” he said. “No one is above the law.”

In the statement, Gaughran praised the next NYS governor and said he looks forward to working with her.

“I have known and worked with Kathy Hochul for years and there is no one better equipped to step in and lead New York as the state continues to navigate the pandemic and heal from these past few months,” he said. “Her decades of public service across the local, state and federal levels will serve New Yorkers well and help lead the state through this tumultuous time.”

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said Cuomo’s “impending resignation is welcome news to New Yorkers.” He said the move saves the time and money that would be invested in impeachment.

“Now, state government must refocus its energies on defeating the COVID Delta variant, working to rebuild New York’s struggling economy and infrastructure, and combating the rise in violent crime,” he said.

“I look forward to working with New York’s first female governor, Kathy Hochul, to put this dark episode in state government behind us and work to heal the state as we move forward through these times of great uncertainty,” Palumbo said.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) on his official Facebook page said the resignation announcement should have happened months ago.

“Andrew Cuomo has abused his power in a truly reprehensible manner and it is unacceptable that he and his team attempted to hide or excuse his disgusting behavior,” Mattera wrote. “They must all be held accountable and it is imperative that all ongoing and future investigations be allowed to proceed to their rightful conclusions.”

Mattera said he is ready to work with Hochul.

“I congratulate her on this historic moment and promise my support and cooperation as she begins her tenure,” he said. “This is a truly tragic story of abuse and betrayal that has now reached its conclusion, and we need to make sure that today serves as the dawn of a new era for every New Yorker.”

Hochul’s first day in office will be Tuesday, Aug. 24.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) File photo by Sara Meghan Walsh

By Rita J. Egan and Julianne Mosher

Local elected officials weighed in after New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D) released a report saying independent investigators concluded that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) harassed multiple women — including current and former employees — from 2013-20.

The investigation began in March and James appointed the investigators, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office.

“This is a sad day for New York because independent investigators have concluded that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and, in doing so, broke the law,” James said in the press release. “I am grateful to all the women who came forward to tell their stories in painstaking detail, enabling investigators to get to the truth. No man — no matter how powerful — can be allowed to harass women or violate our human rights laws, period.”

According to the press release, Cuomo was also interviewed. The report said the governor denied the most serious allegations. He also gave “blanket denials” or said he had no recollection of specific incidents.

During an Aug. 3 recorded statement, Cuomo denied the allegations and said there are generational and cultural differences in the way he expresses himself compared to others.

U.S. Congress

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who has been named the presumptive Republican nominee for governor in the 2022 race, in a statement demanded that Cuomo resign or be impeached.

“Cuomo institutionalized widespread abuse within his administration and tried to silence his many victims, which enabled him to continue openly preying on those around him,” Zeldin said in the statement. “Over the last few months, Cuomo has continued his attempts to undermine the investigations into his wrongdoing and those carrying them out, and I have no doubt he will continue to do so following the release of the report.”

Zeldin’s neighboring congressman, Tom Suozzi (D-NY3), released a joint statement along with congressmen Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY8) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY5). The representatives said in the statement that the attorney general “conducted a complete, thorough and professional investigation.”

“The investigation has found that the governor engaged in abusive behavior toward women, including subordinates, created a hostile work environment and violated state and federal law,” the statement read. “We commend the brave women who came forward and spoke truth to power. The time has come for Governor Andrew Cuomo to do the right thing for the people of New York state and resign.”

State Senate

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) also thanked “the brave women who courageously stood up to tell their stories of harassment” in a statement.

“This is truly a sad day for our state, and it is time for the governor to do the right thing for the good of New York’s future,” Mattera said. “Since these troubling allegations were first brought to light, I have supported an independent investigation to uncover the full truth and bring justice for these women. Now that the attorney general’s report has confirmed and corroborated these disturbing actions, I am renewing my call for the governor to resign immediately.”

Mattera said in the statement that if the governor does not resign that the state Assembly should impeach him: “While I would hope that the hardworking men and women of New York can be spared the expense and damage such action would cause, it is vital that the Assembly Democratic Conference act on behalf of the residents if Governor Cuomo continues to refuse to step aside.”

Mattera added that the scandal has gotten in the way of recovering from the pandemic.

“The reality is that this continuing cloud hanging over our state is impeding our ability to govern,” he said. “It cannot be allowed to impede the much-needed work that must be done to recover from the ongoing COVID crisis.  The residents of our state need to know that their government will not allow any distractions to impede those efforts to rebuild our economy, help our businesses grow and create the jobs that our residents need.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) agreed in a statement Cuomo must resign, saying it would be “in the best interest of the state.”

“The attorney general’s findings of sexual harassment and violations of New York State’s sexual harassment policy are credible and deeply troubling,” Gaughran said. “I thank the women who bravely spoke out about the governor’s reprehensible conduct.”

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said that he called on Cuomo to resign in March.

“Today, after the findings of the attorney general’s report, I renew my call for him to resign immediately,” he said in a statement. “If the governor, driven by his arrogance and hubris refuses to resign, then the Assembly Democratic Conference must take immediate action and begin impeachment proceedings.

Palumbo added that “the attorney general’s report makes it clear that he is no longer fit to serve the people of New York as its top executive.”

He said that he commends “the brave women who showed the courage to expose the pervasive culture of abuse and harassment in the top echelons of our state government.”

State Assembly

Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) released a statement on the report saying the evidence is damning.

“No one should suffer the systemic and frankly disgusting sexual harassment that the governor engaged in. This was a nonpartisan and independent investigation. I am calling once again on Gov. Cuomo to step down,” she said. “He cannot serve the people of New York any longer. He should be ashamed of himself and, finally, do what is right. If not, he should be impeached immediately while he faces prosecution and ongoing criminal investigation by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said in a statement that if the governor didn’t resign, impeachment would be necessary.

“I support and commend the numerous women who courageously spoke the truth,” Englebright said. “They deserve justice. The attorney general’s findings are clear and condemning. If Governor Andrew Cuomo refuses to resign then the Assembly must act with deliberate speed to impeach.”

Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) in a phone interview said when the allegations first surfaced, he believed the governor was entitled to due process, but now he feels the governor should resign or be impeached and said the governor is a liability for Democrats.

“He’ll try to protect his legacy,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’ll try to protect the family name, but I think he’s already tarnished that and ruined his legacy. It’s a shame.”

Fitzpatrick added he and other elected officials hope that Cuomo will also be held accountable for the handling of nursing home deaths and what resources were involved in the writing of his recent book.

“Each one alone would merit impeachment,” Fitzpatrick said.

Presiding Officer Rob Calarco shakes hands with Leg. Nick Caracappa during Friday’s press conference. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A bipartisan group of representatives from local, state and federal elected offices, civics and the community gathered to call on the governor to repair New York state roads with federal funding.

Spearheaded by Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden), he demanded that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gives his immediate attention to the unsafe state roads, specifically in Suffolk County. 

Caracappa said roads like I-495 (the Long Island Expressway), Route 27 (Sunrise Highway) and Route 25 (Middle Country Road) have potholes the size of craters, that cannot just damage a vehicle, but could potentially take a life. 

“The current state of these roadways presents very hazardous, dangerous driving conditions to the millions of commuters who depend upon these roadways on a daily basis,” Caracappa said at the May 21 press conference outside the state building in Hauppauge. “Whether it be for work or leisure, commuters place themselves in harm’s way when entering these roadways throughout Suffolk County and beyond.”

The legislator noted that the county’s roads occupy over one million commuters on a daily basis. When a driver blows out a tire on the side of a busy highway, he could be putting his life at risk, stepping out of the car to examine the damage.

“The residents of Suffolk County in New York pay some of the highest taxes in this country,” he added. “There are better, safer and more secure roadways than those we are currently forced to utilize on a daily basis … the lives of the hardworking commuters and their family members should not be put in peril each and every time.”

The meeting came after the legislator issued a letter signed by all 17 Suffolk County Legislators to Cuomo and NYS Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez.

Ten town leaders also signed the letter to show their support. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) spoke on their behalf. 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Someone once said, all issues of government are issues of money. Look how the state spends its money,” Romaine began. “We have roads in atrocious conditions — I rode on the expressway to get here, and it seemed like there was more blacktop to the potholes than there was concrete for the pavement.”

Romaine said this needs to change.

“We need to make sure that the guys that ride bikes, the guys who drive cars, the gals that drive cars, that they’re safe, these roads are not safe,” he said. “The money is there — let’s spend it where it should be spent. Let’s spend it on our infrastructure. Let’s create jobs. Anyone that studies economics, understands that investment in infrastructure, produces great results for the economy, and also for our citizens that have to travel.”

Caracappa mentioned that repairs for these roadways are scheduled for completion by 2023-2024, which he said is an unacceptable time frame. At a time when the state has received unprecedented levels of federal aid, he felt the time for immediate and decisive action must be now.

“New York State should be held accountable and responsible for every flat tire, automobile accident, injury or death caused by the current road conditions of these roadways, with restitution given to those who have been major under the conditions that can be likened only to a war-torn country,” Caracappa said. “We have an obligation to ensure the safety of our communities, and should make every effort to begin to do so without any further delay.”

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said the state roadway infrastructure has been completely mismanaged. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“They are spending millions of dollars unnecessarily when they should be paving our roads,” he said. “People are going to get hurt and cost this county and the state millions of dollars in lawsuits, and all for what? Because of mismanagement. It doesn’t take Perry Mason to figure out the road needs to be paved.”

And it isn’t just for residents. Caracappa and several of the other officials mentioned that East End tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry. But it won’t be if tourists can’t safety get out there.

“We spend millions of dollars for tourism on the East End,” said Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset). “I don’t know if they are able to get there without blowing a tire.”

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) added that Long Island is finally “mask free” and tourism will be back. 

“Let’s talk about commerce and equity of a $5 billion East End tourism industry,” he said. “People from all over the tri-state area make choices … Are they going to come down roads that are like downtown Baghdad? Or are they going to go to Jersey or up the Hudson River?”

Just an hour before the 11 a.m. press conference, Cuomo sent out a statement announcing a $30.6 million investment in pavement restoration projects for Long Island roads — for five state highways in Nassau and Suffolk Counties totaling 20 miles.

State Senator Mario Mattera (R) said that regardless, the roads are still a disaster.

“It’s amazing that the governor heard probably about this press conference,” he said. “And now money is being released. But again, strike with numbers in solidarity. And you know what, everybody needs to be a voice. This is our safety. These are our roads.”

The state restoration plans to end by 2022.

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.