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Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) addressed those gathered about his goals for the 2019 Legislative session. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

While public health officials initially expressed concerns for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Suffolk County has started to see an increasing number of cases of what’s known as Kawasaki disease.

In the county, seven children are currently hospitalized with a disease that doctors believe is linked to COVID-19. One child has died from this disease, which causes inflammation that can require medical attention. Children in Europe and the U.S. including in San Francisco, have exhibited symptoms of this disease.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said today the condition has impacted 100 people and has killed three. Kawasaki disease, also known as pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, affects children mostly between ages 5 to 14, though it has affected some children younger than that.

The pandemic “does impact kids directly,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. Although the county, like New York City which has several cases and deaths as well, “doesn’t completely understand it at this point.” Bellone urged children to wear face masks and practice social distancing in the same way as their parents and grandparents.

“We’ve known from the beginning that kids transmit the virus,” Bellone said. “This is all about protecting everyone as we try to restart our economy.”

In the last day, the number of new positive tests for COVID-19 increased by 150 to 37,062. Those numbers are about 10 percent of the new daily total just a few weeks ago.

Through yesterday, the number of residents hospitalized decreased by 15 to 575, which is “another real indication of the progress we are making.”

The number of people in Intensive Care Units fell by six to 216.

Of the 2,973 hospital beds in the county, 918 are available, while 209 ICU beds are available among the 619 in the county.

Amid a death toll that has risen by another 15 in the last day, bringing the total on Long Island to 1,654, the Association of Mental Health and Wellness is offering bereavement support groups online, starting next Tuesday.

“For those who have lost loved ones, friends, family members, this is there for you,” Bellone said. There are different categories of support groups for grieving adults, peer bereavement, veterans groups and a creative arts bereavement group.

Those interested in these support groups can sign up or register through bereavement.mhaw.org.

At locations in Shirley and Selden, Rite Aid will provide free COVID-19 testing to anyone who is over 18. Interested residents need to pre-register and have identification through the web site riteaid.com.

Tommy and Sue Sullivan pose for a photo in front of their soon-to-be old, Superstorm Sandy-damaged house prior to revamping. With hard hats on, the two prepare to help Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County help renovate their home. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Tommy Sullivan has always been paying it forward.

So when Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk reached out to help renovate his Sandy-damaged home, he said he was overcome with emotion.

“We’re really overwhelmed by this,” Tommy Sullivan said of he and his wife Sue’s reaction to the help and support they’ve received. “It was looking hopeless for us for a while. We couldn’t have done this ourselves. It was just way, way too much work and, again, we’re just so overwhelmed and happy and just very, very grateful.”

The effort to help the Sullivan family started when members of the VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point heard about the damage done to the Rocky Point home. When Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, the house sustained roof damage that could not be repaired. As time went on, the damages became worse, which rendered the house unlivable for Tommy Sullivan, a U.S. army veteran, and his wife Sue, a substitute teacher. The family was forced to spend several nights out staying at friends’ homes.

The front of the Sullivan's house shows the exterior and roof damage brought on by Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The front of the Sullivan’s house shows the exterior and roof damage brought on by Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Desirée Keegan

But John Rago, outreach coordinator for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs project known as the Suffolk County United Veterans group, stepped up to help the Sullivans find sanctuary when he met Diane Burke, executive director and CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County at a luncheon in Patchogue back in March.

At a meeting for the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, Rago explained the program’s support and services for veteran families, which included a rapid-rehousing and homeless prevention program for veterans.

“We were reaching dead ends all over the place and I happened to be sitting at the luncheon across from Diane and I introduced myself,” he said. “I asked her if she did teardown and rebuilds, and she said yes, so I started to tell her about Tommy and before I even finished she said, ‘We’re in.’”

Burke said she was more than happy to help who she saw as such a well-deserved recipient.

“I thought, ‘We have to make this happen,’ and we just put the pieces together and we’re here to support a local veteran to recreate a place to call home,” Burke said of the initiative. “Not only did Tom serve our country, but he continues to serve our community, so that is absolutely what we’re about. It’s great to partner with somebody who understands volunteerism and actually lives it.”

Tommy Sullivan was a member of the West Point band for three years when he served during the Vietnam War. He is an original member of Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge, a musical group best known for their million-selling rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “The Worst That Could Happen,” and has been performing solo since then at charity organizations and events.

Some events include Long Island State Veterans Home’s annual Golf Classic, Wounded Warrior Project events, Rocky Point high school’s Veteran’s Day and 9/11 ceremonies. Just last Friday, the veteran sang at cancer benefit for a friend with brain cancer.

“When people with a good cause call, we never turn it down, because that’s it’s own reward,” he said. “Whenever I get a call, especially from the vet’s organizations, I’m there. I set up my stuff and I sing, and it feels great to have this support. We’re all the same kind of people here and it’s special because it’s all about the heart. Everyone here has a big heart and we’re just very happy.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who said she knows the Sullivans as longtime residents, said the work Tommy Sullivan does for his community is extraordinary.

“It’s a very exciting time for all of us to be able to help them because they’ve helped so many people through their advocacy and their volunteering,” she said. “He has the voice of an angel. It’ll bring goose bumps to you. It really, really will.”

The councilwoman also said she sees the family as more than deserving of this renovation.

“They pay it forward all the time,” Bonner said. “They never ask for anything in return, and they’ve fallen on some difficult times — probably from volunteering so much and not asking for money. Helping is so easy to do, and it’s the best part of my job. I believe it is part of the main reason why we have public service, such as council people.”

The work for the eight-week project began on Oct. 19 with several different projects including reframing and reroofing; the installation of new electric, plumbing; new interior fixtures; remodeling to the flooring, kitchen and bathroom; and new windows and doors throughout the home.

“I’m very happy that they decided to help Tommy and Susan out and I can’t wait until we give them the keys to their brand new house,” Rago said. “It’s nice to help a veteran, especially one that gives back so much to the veteran community.”

Sue Sullivan said she was excited to remain in the couple’s same home they’ve lived in since 1996, and said the love and care she has received is what she believes life is all about.

“Everyone taking care of everybody — we dedicate our lives to that,” she said. “This is the most wonderful thing that could happen in our lives besides marrying each other. As community members, we want everyone to know we’re here for them for anything. If you need us, we’ll come. Everything that everyone is doing and the way they’re contributing, they’re our family now, and that’s just a forever family.