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Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Elwood Superintendent Ken Bossert. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Earlier on in the still-ongoing pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) spoke of his intentions to remake the lagging parts of society. In early May, the governor announced a new committee to “reimagine” education in New York state. He tapped the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to serve as just one of several “experts and stakeholders” for the initiative and named numerous people throughout the state to serve on the committee.

But since that was announced May 8, little has been heard from the committee. Among its 19 members, two are from Long Island, including Martin Palermo, a chemistry teacher at William Floyd High School who was designated a Master Teacher by New York State in 2016, and Jackie Duodu-Burbridge, of Copiague, who was described as a parent in a state release, but also ran unsuccessfully on the Working Families Party ticket for the Suffolk County 15th District seat vacated by former Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

Palermo, who is currently working on a doctorate of chemical education at Stony Brook University, was unable to respond to requests for comment by press time about what kinds of discussions were going on in the committee. Duodu-Burbridge could not be reached for comment.

How involved is the Gates foundation? It’s hard to tell, but the organization did tell the Washington Post in a statement it is recommending experts and contributing its own insights into how technology can enhance learning.

For some school district officials, these calls instead brought forth shivers of memories from a little less than a decade ago, with the advent of standardized testing and Common Core where teachers’ evaluations depended on how well their students scored. The Gates foundation played a major part in crafting that initiative.

Some district officials worried it would be an attempt to make distance learning more standard going forward, even when the pandemic has died down. Cuomo since clarified the position that distance or online learning could “never replace in-person learning with a teacher,” yet school officials have remained skeptical for a number of reasons, with many still feeling the governor is emphasizing replacing in-person learning.  

Ken Bossert, the superintendent of the Elwood school district, a former head of the Port Jefferson School District and past president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said he did not believe there is any need to reimagine education. 

“A lot of educators heard that and winced a little bit because there is this false perception that what we were doing pre-pandemic wasn’t in the best interest of students,” he said. “I don’t think school districts need to be reimagined, I think they need to be revised — I think there is always room for improvement.”

Comsewogue school district has a long history of actively decrying Common Core and New York State’s attempts at standardized testing. Former Superintendent Joe Rella, who passed earlier this year, was a major opponent of the 2012 implementation of Common Core, writing a letter to New York State against its implementation in 2013. He was at the forefront of a rally hosted later that year which gathered support from thousands of residents.

The district later implemented problem-based learning initiatives as a response to those earlier state standardizations, and has been accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools.

Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the district is still waiting to see what comes out of the committee, especially since there has been little news since it was created. 

“Each district has different populations, I don’t know if it will be one size fits all,” Quinn said. “I would like to see support for helping us with lower class sizes. All these social-distancing technologies, it’s very expensive. If we were going to come back to school, it’s very difficult to keep young kids apart.” 

She added that the focus the committee has on online, technology-based learning and shared classrooms over the internet presents itself a huge, new problem. The pandemic has only exacerbated inequalities among some communities and districts on Long Island. Some districts have access to computers or Chromebook laptops they simply hand out to students. Others don’t have anything like that. Not to mention there is a wide disparity between households that have multiple devices that can access the internet and those that have few or none.

School districts are already internally trying to find ways to promote more technology in and out of the classroom, especially since the question of how schools will come back in the fall is still to be decided. Mount Sinai school board president, Robert Sweeney, has been on the board for the past nine years. He said the district has in the past dealt with issues over Common Core with creating its own agencies, books and instructions in-house when the state wasn’t offering much in the way of aid for teachers on the new material.

The district will be using a successful allocation under the Smart Schools Bond Act to bolster their internal networks, potentially increasing the school’s online options.

“How much technology can we get into the hands of our students, what can we do with classroom-based technology, what can we do with technology to our students at home?” Sweeney said. “Let’s take it out of these difficult times and put it into the new normal.” 

Bossert was recently named to the New York State Education Department’s Regional Reopening Schools Task Force. He said a subcommittee of that group is specifically looking at tackling that lack of access to technology. 

But in the end, he said such a reimagining committee should not be handled by the governor’s office.

“The governor should empower the state Education Department to work with the 700 school districts of the state,” Bossert said. “I’m not sure it should be a function of the governor’s office.”

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Suffolk County has moved to Phase 3 of its economic reopening following a prolonged lockdown from COVID-19, as restaurants can offer limited seating dining and nail salons and tattoo parlors can reopen.

Additionally, the number of people that can gather together increased to 25 from 10.

For personal care and indoor dining, the maximum capacity is half of the pre-viral levels. Employees must be tested every two weeks at these establishments.

“It’s another huge step for all of us,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

The viral numbers in the county continued to remain well below guidelines and limits.

The number of people testing positive for the virus was 45, bringing the total to 41,101.

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus declined by one through the 24 hour period ending on June 22, bringing that total to 88.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit with complications related to the virus decreased by two to 26.

The percent of hospital beds occupied was 64, while the percent of ICU beds in use was 60 percent.

The number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 increased by two to 1,972.

Suffolk County distributed an additional 15,000 personal protective equipment in the last day, with much of that going to the police department and nursing homes.

Separately, Suffolk County is continuing its movie series, which kicked off this past weekend with the showing of “Jaws” on the 45th anniversary of the shark film’s debut.

Reservations are open starting today for “ET The Extra-Terrestrial,” which will be shown next Wednesday, July 1. Upcoming movies include “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Addams Family.”

Residents interested in seeing the free movies at the Smithpoint County Park can get tickets at suffolkcountyny.gov/driveinmovieseries.com.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) indicated recently that Phase 4 reopening would exclude malls, movie theaters and gyms, Bellone said he is continuing to communicate with the state about these limits.

Bellone said he believes malls “can reopen with a limited capacity and requiring face coverings.” After looking at the Phase 3 data, he expects the state may reevaluate those guidelines to see what else can be reopened.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order earlier today that will allow the state’s enforcement efforts to increase for businesses that aren’t following social distancing guidelines.

The state liquor authority can immediately suspend a business’s liquor license for violating rules. Bars and restaurants are not only responsible for ensuring these social distancing requirements inside their establishments, but are also required to enforce the area immediately outside their location, which includes the sidewalk and any expansion of their business into the street.

“Some of what we saw were people mingling and not seated,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. The county sent notifications from the Department of Health reminding the businesses of the guidance.

“We don’t want to be overly aggressive with businesses struggling to get back on their feet,” Bellone said, although he suggested that “egregious violations” have an appropriate mechanism in place to allow authorities to respond immediately.

Viral Numbers

The data from the county regarding the spread of the virus continues to be positive as Suffolk entered the second week of its Phase Two reopening.

An additional 40 people tested positive for the virus, bringing the total who have tested positive since the pandemic reached Long Island to 40,810. The rate of positive tests was 0.7 percent, which is well below the positive testing rate during the worst of the pandemic, which was above 30 percent.

Hospitalizations continue to hover around the same level, climbing one day and then falling the next. In the 24 hours ending June 16, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 was 125, which is a decline of four. That follows an increase from the day before of eight.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit with the virus remained the same, at 35.

An additional 15 people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

The number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 was three. Coronavirus has taken the lives of 1,961 residents of Suffolk County.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 66 percent, while the percent of ICU beds was at 62.

Earlier this week, the governor announced that hospital patients could receive visitors.

Stony Brook University Hospital received the updated guidelines to expand visitation with protocols for specific safety measures, health screenings and time limited visits, according to a Stony Brook Medicine official.

“We are currently reviewing these guidelines so that we can establish a safe process of visitation for our patients and their families while continuing to maintain a safe environment,” the SB official explained in an email. “We know visitors and loved ones play an essential role in the healing and recovery process of our patients and we look forward to welcoming them once again.”

The official didn’t indicate when the hospital might begin allowing visitors.

Summer Movies

At this point, the kick off to the summer film series at Smith Point County Park on Saturday, June 20 has sold out for the free showing of “Jaws” at 8:30 p.m. The date of the showing marks the 45th anniversary of the release of the film in which Richard Dreyfuss, playing Matt Hooper, proclaimed, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” when the shark attacked.

If those who have booked tickets do not arrive by 8:10 p.m., other residents can take their place, Bellone said.

The next movie in the summer film series is “Goonies,” which will be on June 24. Residents who would like to see the film can go to the web site suffolkcountyny.gov/driveinmovies to book their free tickets.

Other films on tap during the series include “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Elf”, and Harry Potter, although Bellone didn’t specify which of the eight films will be featured.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) today announced that residents in hospitals could have visitors starting today and those in group homes could have visitors starting on Friday.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) applauded the decisions, which were based on the lower rates of positive test and the declining strain on the health care system.

“There has been a lot of anguish and turmoil and pain throughout this whole COVID-19 crisis,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “One of the biggest areas we have seen this in is the inability to be with loved ones when they are ill or sick or to visit loved ones in group homes.”

Bellone called the decision a “big step forward” for numerous families.

Separately, the county executive said residents could reserve a spot at the Smith Point County Park this Saturday at 8:30 p.m. for a free showing of “Jaws” on the 45th anniversary of the classic horror film.

Interested residents can reserve a spot at suffolkcountyny.gov/driveinmovies. Space is limited and tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

As for the numbers, the number of new infections was 46, which is about a 1 percent positive rate among those tested. The total number of people who have had a positive COVID-19 test has reached 40,738.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus declined by six to 121, while the number of people in the Intensive Care Unit remained the same, at 38.

Meanwhile, an additional two people died from complications related to COVID-19. The total number of people in Suffolk County who have died from the virus is 1,957.

The number of people who have left the hospital in the last 24 hours was eight.

Since the start of Phase Two last Wednesday, the Suffolk County Police Department has received 122 complaints and found four violations of social distancing or face covering violations. The police did not issue any tickets.

The number of sworn officers who have tested positive for the virus is 88, which is an increase of one over the last six weeks. At this point, six officers are still out sick with the virus.

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Frustrated with large crowds congregating outside restaurants and bars in Manhattan and the Hamptons, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) warned that these areas could face greater restrictions while businesses could be fined or could lose their state-approved liquor licenses.

People have made over 25,000 complaints to the state about a lack of social distancing and limited face coverings in Manhattan and the Hamptons.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he hadn’t heard of any increase in reports of noncompliance in the Hamptons and emphasized the different states of reopening between the two regions.

“The Hamptons are in a little bit of a different situation than Manhattan,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “We are in Phase,” in which restaurants can offer outdoor dining, while Manhattan just entered the first phase of reopening, which doesn’t include such outdoor dining accommodations.

The Suffolk County Police Department has been educating businesses that weren’t open before throughout the area about the rules they have to follow.

“Businesses are happy to reopen and they want to follow the rules,” Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron said on the call. “They don’t want the rollback, either. We are working collaboratively and will be in touch with East End chiefs” to assist them in ensuring any compliance.

Bellone reiterated that he is “confident we have been doing compliance and enforcement from the beginning.”

The numbers related to COVID-19 for Suffolk County continue to remain positive.

Over the last day, 44 people have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to 4,243. Those numbers continue to hover on a daily basis below the targeted 100 for the county.

While he continues to monitor the number of daily positive results closely, Bellone said he believes that the protests didn’t cause a spread of the virus if the new infections remain at this level through the middle of the week.

Being outside and wearing face coverings helps reduce the transmission of the virus.

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 remained the same through the day ending on June 12 at 125. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds rose by one to 40.

Hospital bed capacity remains below targets. An additional 16 people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

The number of people who died from complications related to the virus increased by one to 1,948.

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In a milestone indicative of how deadly and prolonged the toll of the virus has been, Suffolk County reported the first day without a death from COVID-19 since March 16.

“I’m finally able to say that no one in Suffolk County in the last 24 hours has died from COVID-19,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “That’s a great place to be.”

While Bellone said the county, which entered Phase Two of its reopening Wednesday,  June 10, still has a ways to go before it controls the spread of a virus that has claimed the lives of 1,945 people in the county, the day without a death from the pandemic is a “milestone.”

With many other states, including Texas and North Carolina, are experiencing a surge in the number of people diagnosed with the virus and being admitted to hospitals for their care, Suffolk County continues to experience a decline in the number of residents testing positive.

Indeed, in the last day, despite protests over the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of a former police officer charged with murder, the number of people who tested positive in the county only increased by 47, raising the total to 40,559.

Bellone attributed the current condition on Long Island to the pain, uncertainty and suffering that rocked Long Island, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.

“Because of the experience we’ve gone through, overwhelmingly, people are taking precautions,” Bellone said. “They are still listening to the guidance. Even at protests, even at demonstrations, I have seen people wearing face coverings.”

Suffolk County also has an advanced testing and contact tracing system that is making a difference as the area reopens.

Meanwhile, earlier today, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order requiring local police agencies to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s plan must include procedures and practices that extend beyond the use of force by April 1, 2021.

The police forces have to engage the public in the process, present a plan for comments, and share that plan with a local legislative body. If the government doesn’t certify the plan, the police may not be eligible to receive future state funding.

Bellone said he “looks forward to working with the state” on community police policies. The county executive said he is proud of the work the Suffolk County Police Department has done with anti-bias training.

The SCPD has “developed leading edge initiatives.”

Cuomo also signed a bill passed by the state senate earlier this week repealing 50-a, a statue in civil law that prevented people from accessing records of police and other civil servants like firefighters. Advocates said this will allow more transparency, especially regarding police misconduct. Police unions and senate republicans said this would puts cops in more danger, despite proponents saying people cannot gain access to cops’ personal information.

Bellone reemphasized a point he has made in recent days amid the backlash against unjust and unfair policing polices, suggesting that the police are “part of the community, they aren’t coming into the community” from the outside.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said she met this morning at 11 a.m. with the President of the Guardians, which is an internal fraternal organization representing black officers. She meets with the Guardians on a monthly basis.

Officers in the Guardian “know they have accessibility to leadership,” Hart said. “Those conversations lead to suggestions.”

The discussion this morning was more informal and was part of an open conversation and dialog.

As for the impact of COVID-19 in the county, the numbers continue to show a hard-fought recovery from the deadly virus.

Hospitalizations in the 24 hours ending on June 10 declined by 17 to 134. The number of residents in the Intensive Care Unit also declined by four to 41.

“These are all great numbers,” Bellone said.

An additional 16 people were discharged from hospitals in the county.

The bed capacity remained below important levels. Residents with COVID-19 represented 66 percent of the overall beds, and below 60 percent of the ICU beds, which are below the 70 percent guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The county handed out 17,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day.

Finally, the county worked with Island Harvest to distribute food through a program called Nourish New York today.

The effort, which was at the Westfield South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, planned to distribute 100,000 pounds of food, including cheese, milk, yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables and ground beef.

The program “helps those in this desperate time who need food” while preventing waste and supporting the agricultural community, Bellone said. Through 2 p.m., the program had handed out more than 2,500 boxes of food items.

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Even as Phase Two of the economic restart began yesterday, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he has reached out to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office to request the restart of other activities.

Bellone has asked that youth sports be permitted. He said he also would like to see non-touch museums that have large spaces with capacity limits reopen.

“Some of that was lumped into Phase Four with mass gathering-type activities,” said Bellone on his daily conference call with reporters. The county is looking at what it can open up sooner.

Bellone, who spent parts of the first day of Phase Two getting a haircut, dining out and enjoying ice cream with a tour of several downtowns in Suffolk, said the reopening was “off to a good start” and that it helped people feel more of a sense of normalcy.

Bellone reminded business owners that the county started a personal protective equipment giveaway.

The county is providing some cloth face coverings and hand sanitizer to small businesses, nonprofit companies and faith based organizations.

“Reopening businesses in this environment is a challenge,” Bellone said. “To the extent we can do something that helps them a little bit, we want to do this.”

Bellone said 403 businesses had filled out applications for those supplies since Monday and that 226 businesses had picked up those kits. Interested business owners can find a supply request form at suffolkcountyny.gov/bru.

Viral Numbers

Over the last 24 hours, an additional 48 people have tested positive for COVID-19, which brings the total to 40,512. The county executive hopes that number continues to remain below 100 for any given day.

The number of new infection numbers continues to remain below 100 despite protests in response to the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

Bellone said it might still be a little early to draw any conclusions about the potential spread of the virus in response to the protests. He will be looking more closely at the new infection rates through the weekend and into the beginning of next week.

“My sense is that being outdoors is a safe environment,” the county executive said.

For the 24 hour period ending on June 9, the number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 declined by 14 to 151. The number of people in Intensive Care Units declined by one to 45.

Hospital bed occupancy from people with the coronavirus stood at 66 percent for hospital beds overall and at 60 percent for ICU beds.

An additional 15 people were discharged from the hospital and are continuing their recovery from the virus at home.

Meanwhile, the number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 increased by four in the last day. The total for the same period ending yesterday was two, which brings the total to 1,945.

The county distributed an additional 26 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a new executive order June 8 that New York State would be extending the deadline for mailed in absentee ballots for school budget and board of education votes to Tuesday, June 16.

Many districts are still collecting ballots via drop off to district offices on June 9 by the end of the business day at 5 p.m. Absentee ballots can still be mailed to districts and will be accepted until June 16 at 5 p.m.

This also comes with the announcement the state would allow school districts to conduct graduations ceremonies, though they must be outside, adhere to social distance guidelines and must contain 150 people or less. Some school districts said those figures may be too restrictive.

“The recent approval for small gatherings for graduation, while welcome news, requires seniors to be separated into multiple different ceremonies,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole in a public letter. He asked residents to encourage local and state leaders to revisit the matter.

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown. Photo by Tom Caruso

Churches, mosques and synagogues can reopen as Suffolk County enters Phase Two of its reopening this Wednesday, albeit with only 25 percent capacity.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that these houses of worship could admit community members and that religious leaders were responsible for ensuring compliance with the public health guidelines designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s an important time for our faith-based communities to be opened back up,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “Our faith-based communities are ready to this. They understand what needs to be done.”

Separately, as protests continue on Long Island and throughout the world after the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of a former police officer, who has been charged with his murder, public officials are engaging in ongoing conversations with community leaders bout ways to create greater equity and opportunity for everyone.

“There are areas for us to make progress,” Bellone said. “There is more work to be done.”

Bellone suggested the police department can look to make itself more diverse so that it “reflects in terms of its diversity the communities it serves across the county. That’s a priority for us.”

Bellone said conversations about equal opportunities occurred before the killing of Floyd and are moving into a “new phase” amid the protests and demonstrations.

Viral Numbers

The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 rose by 39 to 40,239 over the last day.

The number of residents in the hospital due to the pandemic declined by 13 to 200, while the number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds declined by one to 53 through June 4th.

An additional 24 people left the hospital over the last day.

The number of people who died due to complications related to COVID-19 in the last day was five, bringing the total to 1,923.

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

With protests and violence rocking several cities, including New York City, after the videotaped killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called the officer’s actions a type of racism.

“Perhaps the most disturbing thing” about the way now-fired officer Derek Chauvin, who is now in jail on charges of third-degree murder, acted is the “lack of concern that this officer showed in knowing that he was being videotaped,” said Bellone on his daily conference call with reporters. “That suggests this officer felt that there was no accountability.”

In calling the actions of Chauvin structural racism, Bellone pointed to a Newsday investigation that revealed a similar type of racism and discrimination in the housing industry on Long Island.

While Suffolk County has made “an incredible amount of progress, we clearly have much more work to do,” Bellone said.

The county executive said he understood the protests that have taken place in response to videos that showed Chauvin kneeling on the neck of the handcuffed Floyd, whose pleas that he couldn’t breathe went unheeded.

Bellone, however, said overrunning a police station “can not happen” and expressed his support for the vast majority of police officers who are “hard working, dedicated professionals who are putting their own safety on the line to protect us.”

In a statement she read during the media call, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Floyd’s death was “an outrage” and was “unacceptable.” She condemned the tragic killing, while adding that she holds the officers of the Suffolk County Police Department to the “highest standards.”

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron, who has been on the force for over 35 years, described how he has been in situations where people resisted his efforts to arrest them.

Force is a “last resort,” Cameron said. Officers are trained to “use the bare minimum force necessary to get someone into custody.”

Cameron has never put a knee to another person’s neck and said he had never seen another police officer in the SCPD use a similar tactic during his career. Officers have not received training to pin a suspect to the ground with a knee to a handcuffed person’s neck.

Pinning someone to the ground could cause positional asphyxia, spinal damage, or can cause damage to the airway.

Cameron said he believes his officers will step in and intervene if another officer is using unnecessary or excessive force.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the state would be getting the attorney general to review procedures following the demonstrations which turned violent on Friday, with multiple instances of recorder violence against protesters and violent actions against police.

Viral Numbers

As for the COVID-19 numbers, the county has had an additional 87 positive tests, bringing the total to 38,582. That doesn’t include 13,733 people who have tested positive for the antibody.

Hospitalizations have declined by 16 to 275 as of May 28. At the same time, the number of residents with COVID-19 in ICU beds has fallen by 5 to 80.

Hospital capacity was at 65 percent for overall beds and 62 percent for ICU beds.

The number of people who have been discharged from the hospital in the last day was 27.

An additional 13 people have died from complications related to the coronavirus. The total number of deaths has reached 1,892.

Separately, the county reopened its camping reservation system yesterday at 4 p.m. Residents made 4,739 reservations for 25,608 reservation days.

“That shows the demand we have and the desire for people to get out and enjoy summer,” Bellone said. “We are going to be able to have a summer here in Suffolk County.”

Beaches, meanwhile, remain open for residents only.