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pandemic

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

While for now, the pandemic is officially in the rearview mirror, according to the World Health Organization, it’s worth considering what we can and can’t blame on COVID-19. For starters, here are a few things that aren’t the fault of the pandemic.

— A favorite sports team’s defeat. Every team had to deal with COVID-19. The pandemic didn’t affect my team’s best athletes any more than any other team’s stars.

— The weather. It’s going to rain, and it’s going to be too hot and too cold. That happened before the pandemic, and it’s going to happen afterward. Global warming, if anything, might have slowed slightly as more people stayed home each day.

— Unrequited love. Authors throughout history have found this topic particularly appealing. A would-be romantic goes out into the world with a proverbial heart filled with affection and admiration. Cupid hits that person with an arrow, creating a wellspring of dedication and devotion toward someone who doesn’t return the favor. The pandemic might have made it harder to know where we stood with each other, but unrequited love will continue to cause problems and lead to sad-but-relatable romantic comedies.

— Bad grades. We all have moments when we don’t study enough, the right way, or even the right material. The pandemic might have made it harder to focus or to care about theorems or memorizing dates, but it’s not the fault of the virus. It might have been tougher to concentrate in those early days, with dogs barking, parents yelling into Zoom calls, and people dropping off food at our front door.

— Anger in Washington. This is one of the easiest to dispel. Did you pay any attention to the vitriol coming out of the nation’s capital before 2019? It’s not as if the parties suddenly decided fighting each other was more valuable than getting anything done or compromising. The words under the Washington DC license plate shouldn’t read “taxation without representation,” which refers to the fact that residents pay taxes but don’t have federal representation. Instead, it should read: “Grrrrrrrrrrr!”

— Biased journalism. As a member of the media, I understand the frustration with the written and spoken words on TV and in print. The left hates Trump; the right hates Biden and ne’er the ‘twain shall meet. The pandemic didn’t pour gasoline on that dumpster fire. Media organizations staked out their territory prior to the pandemic and have remained more faithful to their talking points than many people do to their own marriage vows.

Okay, now, what about the things we can blame on the pandemic.

— Mental health strain. While the pandemic may be gone, we haven’t wrapped our arms around the mental health impact. We spent way too much time on our phones, making us feel simultaneously connected and disconnected while the pool of frustration continues to get deeper.

— Educational gaps. Students will never get back those days and the lessons they missed during the pandemic. Classes condensed their syllabi, lowering requirements and expectations for each class and for graduation. Students of all ages missed lessons and assignments that might have inspired them and that would have helped them reach previous educational requirements.

— Social graces. A first-grade teacher recently told me that their school still can’t bring all the first-grade classes together. When they do, the students argue about resources and space. Prior to the pandemic, students from several classes could easily play together. Hopefully, that will change as the students age and fill in gaps in their ability to interact.

Even as we hope to move past the pandemic, we can’t ignore the difficult reality, forcing parents, teachers, children and members of society to relearn lessons about acting and interacting. No, we can’t take cues from Washington, but maybe we can overcome deficiencies exacerbated by the pandemic.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I’ve been on a long journey that’s taken me around the world for more than two and a half years. Many hosts have provided for me, enabling me to grow and, in some cases, make changes.

I don’t recall the beginning. The first host I remember was an incredibly kind doctor. She spent countless hours caring for others, looking into their eyes, assuring them she would do everything she could for them.

She was so focused on helping others that she didn’t even know she was hosting me. I stayed quiet just long enough to make the jump to a famous American actor who was working in Australia.

He and his wife didn’t enjoy their time with me. They warned the world about me and my extended family.

My next host was a businessman. He had been in a hospital with his son, who had a broken leg. The businessman stayed in the waiting room for hours, trying to do his work but unable to focus because he was so concerned about his boy.

Finally, after hours of surgery, the doctor came out to talk to him and that’s when I found a new host.

This businessman worked hard. Once he discovered his son was safe, he ignored me and my needs.

I developed without anyone noticing me. At one point, I heard someone come looking for me, but I hid just far enough away. I traveled a great distance on a plane with him. Once we were in a new country, I had so many choices.

Realizing it was time to go, I jumped to an elderly bus driver. He was a gentle man. The lighter laugh lines near his eyes looked like waves approaching the shore on his dark chocolate skin.

Before he collapsed into bed the second evening we were together, he seemed to be staring directly at me. In his house, I had a choice of other possible hosts, but decided to hitch a ride with his son.

That one almost cost me my life. His son soon realized I was there, and he stayed away from everyone. I was curled up alone with him. He barely moved for long periods of time, except when he coughed or sat up and sent text messages and emails. One night, when he was finally sleeping, a man came into his room to clean it. That’s when I escaped.

This man didn’t even know he hosted me. He wasn’t stuck in bed, and he didn’t cough. I traveled with him to several events. After other trips, I found an important politician. We took a ride in a helicopter and went to a hospital where doctors provided all kinds of new medicines.

I became like a game of telephone, passing along from one person to the next. And, like a game of telephone, the message changed, as I demanded different things from my host.

I found myself at a concert with a young woman who sang and danced for hours. She looked so vibrant and full of life.

She was a friendly enough host, until I set up camp with her mother. Then, she shouted at me, praying to keep me away. She took me to a hotel, where she seemed to stare at me while she prayed.

When someone delivered food and walked in the room to wait for payment, I made the jump to him. During the day, he was a student with a full and busy life. I didn’t stay long, moving on to his girlfriend, her roommate, and, eventually, to a professor.

I stayed with the professor for over a week. She spent considerable time grading papers, writing at her computer, talking to family members, and taking medicine.

I have made some changes along the way. I don’t travel with as much baggage as I used to. I know people think I’m not as much of a burden as I was in the early days. My most recent host would disagree. He couldn’t talk, had trouble sleeping and was exhausted all the time. I’m getting ready to travel the world again this fall and winter. You can ignore me all you want, but I’m still here, making changes and preparing to find more hosts.

During the height of the pandemic, a COVID-19 drive-thru testing area was set up in the South P Lot of Stony Brook University. Photo by Stony Brook Medicine

This week marked two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, leading to the shutdown of schools, the closing of businesses, a surge in emergency room visits, and a desperate search for treatments to a new disease that was sickening and killing people around the world.

Pastor Doug Jansson, below, of Living Word Church in Hauppauge hugs his family while in SBU hospital for COVID-19. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

For health care providers, life two years after the pandemic has dramatically improved from those first few days when medical professionals had far more questions than answers.

“The cloud that was hanging over our heads seems to have disbursed,” said Dr. Sunil Dhuper, chief medical officer at Port Jefferson’s St. Charles Hospital. “I feel a lot more optimistic now.”

Indeed, Suffolk County officials tracked a host of numbers throughout the pandemic, which carried different meanings at different times. In 2020, state officials considered a 5% positive testing rate as a potential warning sign to consider closing schools. Entering another phase of reopening businesses required that hospitals have at least 30% of their hospital beds available.

Those numbers, fortunately, have declined dramatically, with the current positive seven day testing rate at 1.5% for Suffolk County as of March 15 and 35% of hospital beds available, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Lessons learned

Amid much more manageable levels of COVID-19, health care officials reflected on the last two years.

For Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/Northwell Health, the “most important lesson we have learned is that we can never lose hope,” he said in an email.

Despite an initial United States response to the pandemic that Popp described as disorganized and confusing, he said “communities got together fast, local leaders took charge and, I think, we did our best under the circumstances.”

Carol Gomes, chief executive officer for Stony Brook University Hospital, suggested that one of the biggest lessons was to remain flexible, with the “ability to pivot into paradigm shifts that were unimaginable,” she wrote in an email.

She described how most good business practices suggest a just-in-time inventory, which is efficient and cost effective.

“During the pandemic, when the national supply chain was considerably weakened, we shifted to an entirely different model and now focus on stockpiling key supplies to ensure continuity of services,” Gomes wrote in an email.

Stony Brook Hospital has dedicated more space to ensure the availability of supplies by securing additional warehouse facilities, Gomes said.

Dhuper said a high level of coordination and cooperation in health care created the ability to “work wonders. A classic example of that is the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. I think it has been a phenomenal accomplishment and a true game changer,” Dhuper said.

Signage outside of Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Low point

Amid a series of challenges over the last two years, health care professionals also described some of the low points.

Popp recalled April of 2020, when COVID hit one of the nursing homes in the community. Of the 50 elderly residents under his care, 24 died in the span of two weeks. During this time, the hospital couldn’t even test for COVID. Popp described the losses as “heartbreaking.”

Dhuper, meanwhile, pointed to the roller coaster created by variants that brought concerns about infections and sicknesses back even as vaccinations seemed to create a viral firewall.

The delta variant followed by omicron “eroded confidence” in the viral response, as millions of people contracted variants that were more infectious than the initial Wuhan strain.

Monoclonal antibodies were also not as effective against these strains, which was “another blow,” Dhuper said. “Everything seemed like there was no end in sight and we were not going to come out of it” any time soon.

Message from 2020

If he could go back in time and provide advice to health care providers and the public in the early stages of the pandemic, Dhuper said he would encourage more mask wearing, particularly before vaccines became available.

“The mask was the only guaranteed protection in the absence of any medications,” Dhuper said. “That message was not very well delivered. Hand washing was good, but masks definitely helped.”

Gomes would urge the 2020 version of herself to remain on the same path traveled, which is to focus on the “safety and well being of our community, including our staff, faculty, patients and community at large,” she explained in an email. “What has worked well in the past may not necessarily help with a new crisis. Flexibility is key.”

Next steps

Recognizing the burden COVID-19 placed on health care providers, area hospitals have focused resources on the mental health strain.

Stony Brook has “significantly expanded its resources to provide support and assistance for health care staff,” Gomes explained. Resilience at Stony Brook is a special location within the hospital dedicated for staff and faculty that includes pet therapy, aromatherapy, massage chairs, counseling services, mindfulness and meditation classes, among other options.

Stony Brook also has a crisis management intervention team to support staff and faculty.

Outside the clinical setting, Dr. Adam Gonzalez, director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center and assistant professor of Psychiatry at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said several studies have shown a rise in anxiety and depression across the country and increases in suicide ideation for sub-groups.

Stony Brook Medicine launched depression screening throughout its practices to identify those in need of mental health care.

Positive signs

Health care providers appreciated the support they received from the community and the collaborative spirit that strengthened the medical community.

“We functioned as a team often working with health care providers that were not our usual team members,” Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, explained in an email. “It was not uncommon to see adult and pediatric physicians covering care of COVID-infected patients or working with residents across the spectrum of specialties making rounds together.”

For many health care workers, including Popp, the support from the community for health care workers was helpful and inspiring.

“I saw people and businesses alike help frontline workers in any way they could, making masks, bringing in food to the hospital, helping quarantined people with food shopping,” Dr. Popp wrote in an email.

Thomas Manuel inside The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Long Island Arts Alliance is asking artists, performers and creators to share their stories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lauren Wagner, executive director of LIAA, said that over the last two years, the group has been asking creatives to share the experiences pre-pandemic and onward in hopes that new legislation will be created to further help the art and culture sector locally.

“The percentage of job losses in the arts is three times worse than other nonprofit organizations,” she said. 

LIAA serves as an alliance of and for the region’s not-for-profit arts, cultural and arts education organizations.  LIAA promotes awareness of and participation in Long Island’s world-class arts and cultural institutions in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

Formed in 2003, LIAA offers leadership and diverse support services to arts organizations, serves as an advocate for arts education in our schools and collaborates on strategies for economic development and community revitalization.

An advocate for artists, painters, sculptors, dancers, performers and musicians, Wagner added that when things were shut down two years ago, LIAA decided it wanted to reach out to its community to find out how people were handling the stressful changes.

That’s when LIAA came up with surveys to give a platform for creators to explain what’s going on in their lives.

“The surveys are to poll everyone’s status,” Wagner said. “Then, we use those numbers to go back to our new legislators and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on and we need help.’”

Most recently, a 2022 update has been posted to the LIAA website. This is the third survey to make its way around the arts community.

The survey states, “As COVID-19 extends into 2022, it is important to secure updated information about the continuing impact of the pandemic on the creative sector and creative workers. The information you provide is critical to advocacy efforts for the arts and culture sector across Long Island.”

Wagner said the more creatives who participate, the better.

“Artists/creatives were — and remain — among the most severely affected segment of the nation’s workforce,” she said. “The arts are a formidable industry in the U.S. — $919.7 billion (pre-COVID) that supported 5.2 million jobs and represented 4.3% of the nation’s economy.”

She added that they have not seen significant relief funding earmarked for the arts from the local government despite the impact the sector has on the local economy.

“The American Rescue Plan provided $385,003,440 to Nassau County, $286,812,434 to Suffolk County, and an additional $170 million to our local townships,” she said.

But when it comes to the higher levels of government, Wagner said that things often get “skewed” because of the Island’s proximity to New York City.

“I hate to say compete with the city, but we do,” she said. “We’re a great economic driver on Long Island and we get forgotten about.”

She said the surveys could “paint a real picture of what it’s like to be an artist on Long Island.”

The artists

Patty Eljaiek. Photo from Patty Eljaiek

Patty Eljaiek, a visual artist from Huntington Station, said that many people might not realize the impact art has on the community — especially financially.

“I think it’s part of the perception that art is not a business,” she said. “Art is a business.”

Elijaiek added that if an artist is looking to share their expertise with the world, they are, in fact, a business. 

“Art has been something that people appreciate but they don’t know how to put value to it,” she said.

Wagner agreed. She said that early on during the pandemic, people looked to the arts for solace.

“Artists are second responders,” she said. “First responders save lives, but artists put everything back together.”

Alex Alexander, a musician in Rocky Point, said that people who work in the arts — such as being a working musician — don’t have the typical 9-to-5 routine.

“You can plan with a 9-to-5,” he said. “I can’t plan my life as other people would.”

And Tom Manuel, executive director of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook and a musician himself, said that his venue was shut down for 15 months throughout the pandemic, but still continued to serve its community with outdoor shows despite the lack of revenue coming in. 

Manuel said that while big industries were being saved by the federal government, the nonprofit sector was “left out” and they had to look to their sponsors to help save them. 

“We were really blessed in that we had a lot of our donors and sponsors step up and say, ‘Hey, we know that you’re closed, but we’re going to still give our sponsorship and don’t worry about programming, just stay open,’” he said.

Board members at The Jazz Loft began raising money themselves for other artists who were struggling, raising nearly $20,000 worth of assistance.

But the pain and struggle were still there as they helped their peers. 

“The statistics show of all the things that could close and not reopen, the most unlikely place to reopen after being shuttered is a performing arts venue,” he said. “That’s the data.”

Manuel said that jazz is all about improvisation — which is what musicians did — and to work through the blues.

“I think that one of the beautiful things that did come out of the pandemic is people realized how important the arts were to them,” he said. “I think there was a reconnection that was established, which is a beautiful thing.”

Artists can participate in LIAA’s survey until Feb. 16 online now at longislandartsalliance.org.

“People don’t realize this is their livelihood on the line,” Wagner said. 

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Angela Veeck, center, said she and her employees such as Linda Arias, left, and Debbie Deeds, right, pivoted and adapted to continue serving Pieceful Quilting customers during the pandemic. Photo from Angela Veeck

The owner of Pieceful Quilting on Jericho Turnpike is ready to retire. The milestone comes after two years of learning the importance of pivoting when times are rough and discovering how adaptable she and her staff can be.

Pieceful Quilting storefront. Photo from Angela Veeck

After 13 years in business in East Northport, Angela Veeck has decided to retire and close the doors of Pieceful Quilting for good. The business owner said a date hasn’t been chosen yet, but she will close the doors for the last time once everything in the store is sold.

Veeck, who in the past has owned quilting shops in Riverhead and Calverton, said running a small business has changed over the years, especially during the pandemic. She said she was fortunate to be able to apply for an exemption when New York State mandates were first issued during the earlier months and stay open due to the store making and selling masks, even though she was only able to have one employee in the store with her at a time. Customers would order the masks online and then pick them up outside the store.

Another way they have adapted is by offering the quilting workshops that were once in person by posting livestream classes on the store’s Facebook page.

“Now we are essentially running two businesses, one brick-and-mortar and one internet based,” she said.

Veeck added that as stores began to open again after mandates were relaxed, many customers became accustomed to shopping online. She said competing with other online businesses can be overwhelming at times, especially when one is involved in a niche market like hers. Veeck likened the online niche business to the entertainment industry where “you always have to keep up and do something new and exciting.”

Her website is one that she felt fortunate to have once the pandemic kept many at home. In addition to local customers, the site attracts those that don’t have a quilting store near them. Veeck said to her knowledge there are only a few such stores in Suffolk County and none in Nassau County. Once the doors of Pieceful Quilting are closed, Veeck said she will also cease the online business that she began in 2003.

Veeck, who has an extensive background in marketing, said the main reason she opened Pieceful Quilting in East Northport was that, with her business sense, she knew the area would be ideal for a store such as hers where people could come and pick out their own materials to quilt.

She said she’s noticed a lot of businesses in the area closing even though she feels the area is a good one to open up a place if one can find a reasonable rent.

“Small businesses are what keeps this country going,” she said.

While it was a difficult decision to retire, the business owner, who splits her time between East Northport and her home in Riverhead, said she’s looking forward to more time with her husband, Ken. She added she will finally be able to work on some of her own sewing and quilting projects.

“Unbelievably, the quilt shop owner has little time to quilt and sew.”

The last two years have left her with advice to business owners going through rough times.

“You got to pivot and you got to pivot fast,” she said.

Pixabay photo

It’s been a difficult 18 months, especially when we think back to the early days of the pandemic as we watched businesses across our communities adjust to state mandates after COVID-19 raged through our area. From limiting capacity to some businesses not being able to operate at all, many owners had difficulty adjusting.

Despite the lifting of state mandates a few months ago, many are still suffering.

As we look around more and more, places are closing or are in jeopardy of shutting down. In the last two weeks, we have heard the news of the Book Revue in Huntington set to close by Sept. 30. After 44 years of business, the village staple is in a financial hole.

The store had been shut down for three months during the pandemic. Once it was reopen, the business struggled to get back on its feet, and the owner fell behind on the rent.

To the east, Smithtown Performing Arts Center is having trouble holding on to its lease of the old theater. The nonprofit is also behind in its rent and has been unable to make a deal with the landlord, which led him to put the theater up for sale two weeks ago.

Both businesses received assistance during the pandemic. The Book Revue, like many others, was fortunate to receive loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program to pay employees’ salaries and keep the lights on. For SPAC, the nonprofit received a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant but needs to have a full account of debts to be able to reconcile grant monies.

With the pandemic lingering, what many people are discovering is that the assistance just artificially propped them up for a short while. Now more than ever, local businesses and nonprofits need the help of community members to enter their storefronts and buy their products. When a consumer chooses between shopping or eating locally instead of online or going to a big chain, it makes a difference.

If one looks for a silver lining in all this, it may be that many business owners have come up with innovative ways to stay open, while others have embraced curbside pickup and created websites and social media accounts that will be an asset in the future.

And while it’s sad to see so many favorite businesses closing their doors, it also paves the way for new stores with fresh ideas to come in with items such as different types of ice cream or creative giftware or clothing.

Many of our main streets need revitalization and the arrival of new businesses or current ones reinventing themselves can be just what our communities need to reimagine themselves — and not only survive but thrive in the future.

We can all help small local businesses stay afloat, whether it’s an old staple or a new place. Because at the end of the day, if a store or restaurant has been empty and the cash register reflects that, we’ll see more and more empty storefronts in our future.

Spend your money wisely — shop and eat locally.

County Executive Steve Bellone with Dr. Gregson Pigott in front of the vaccine pods in Hauppauge. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Thanks to vaccines for COVID-19, the percentage of positive tests recently dropped below 1% for the first time since the third week of October.

“That’s a big deal,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner for the Department of Health Services in Suffolk County.

Indeed, Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/Northwell Health and associate professor of medicine at Hofstra School of Medicine, said the infection rate was closer to 10 percent in the middle of the winter.

The current positive tests represent a “really low number,” Popp said.

Infections are coming down even more than they did last year amid the economic shutdown because of the vaccine, Pigott said.

Pigott added that the vaccines have proven effective against the most predominant mutated form of the virus, B117 or the UK variant, which is also the most common mutation throughout the country.

“We haven’t seen evidence of resistance to the vaccine,” he said. “The vaccine is working against it.”

The number of people hospitalized with the virus also has been declining in recent weeks. Throughout the county, under 150 people were in the hospital battling symptoms of the disease that caused the pandemic. That’s down from a high of 863 on Jan. 19.

The age of those hospitalized is generally younger than the people who needed urgent medical care in 2020. They are in their 40s and 50s, and they generally don’t stay in the hospital for long.

Because they are younger and healthier, even if they are hospitalized, they generally are discharged sooner, Pigott said.

“I expect we’ll be under 100 soon,” Pigott said.

Indeed, area hospitals reported lower numbers of Covid patients. As of May 10, Stony Brook Hospital had 42 COVID-19 patients, with 13 in the Intensive Care Unit.

As of the same date, Huntington Hospital had 17 COVID-19 positive patients.

Vaccinations

The population of people who are older than 65 have generally embraced the opportunity to receive vaccinations. Pigott said about 80% of this population in Suffolk County have been vaccinated.

The elderly, who were among those representing the larger groups hospitalized or killed by the virus, were the first group eligible to receive the vaccination. Children as young as 12 are now eligible to receive a vaccine.

The medical community has been wondering how to “cross this barrier” to encourage more people to receive a vaccine that could continue to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus, Popp said.

Popp urged medical professionals to have conversations with each person to figure out why he or she might be reluctant. He attributed some of the fears of the vaccine to misinformation spread on the Internet or over social media.

Popp recognized that some of those who are unwilling to consider the vaccine don’t have a personal or regular connection with a member of a medical community they trust.

He suggested that doctors and nurses should visit people at cultural centers and schools.

Among workers at Huntington Hospital, the rate of vaccinations has slowed and is about 73%.

“We did quite well” to get to that point, but the hospital “can not go much further” without overcoming some resistance, Popp said.

Pigott said that the halt in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 13 tamped down on the vaccination rate.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration stopped the use of that vaccine pending an analysis of rare side effects, the county “never recovered momentum.”

Pigott said he has participated in webinars and has encouraged people to gather information to make informed decisions.

“The best you can do is show the numbers,” Pigott said, as the number of people who are over 65 who have been hospitalized has declined dramatically as a result of the use of the vaccine.

Reopening in stages

Employers throughout the county have been monitoring the health of their workers and keeping track of the vaccination rate.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has been working its way through various phases of reopening, from phase 1, which occurred on June 1 and involved bringing back most of the scientists, to phase 2 in late September, with the return of more administrators, to phase 2A, which started May 3 and involved bringing back even more people.

The lab, which has historically hosted well-attended scientific meetings that bring together some of the best researchers from around the world, has not yet entered phase 3, when it would be open without any restrictions.

On any given day, the lab probably has 60 to 65% of its staff working on site, according to John Tuke, the chief pperating officer.

“We aspire to be 100% vaccinated, but we’re realistic to know that that’s probably not going to happen,” Tuke said. “Before we move into phase 3, we’re going to want to see that percentage be very high.”

The lab is hoping to bring some conferences back in the fall on a limited basis.

In the last week, the lab tested 400 people, with one test coming back positive. The highest the positivity rate ever got was around 1%.

The percentage of people who have received the vaccine at CSHL is in the low 80s.

While the lab has restrictions on travel, it has made exceptions for staff members to travel through requests to the director of research, the president of the lab or to Tuke.

BNL, meanwhile, continues to have about a third of its staff on site, while most of the staff continues to work remotely. Like CSHL, BNL is not requiring staff to be vaccinated.

BNL is not planning any in-person events this summer or fall. The lab has slightly expanded user access to facilities on a case-by-case basis. BNL has had 10 positive tests in the past month.

At Stony Brook University, about 82% of health care workers have been vaccinated, while 77% of students are vaccinated, with 16% looking to get it sooner rather than later, according to a spokeswoman. As with other SUNY and CUNY schools, Stony Brook will require a vaccine for everyone who returns to school in the fall.

Stony Brook is no longer requiring fully vaccinated people to wear a mask outdoors, except in crowded settings or venues.

Photo by Pixabay

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I have two friends whose sons are contemplating important choices. The first son, Matt, is trying to decide where to attend college.

He has gained admission to two elite schools. He can’t go wrong, as his parents have told him repeatedly, with either choice. Making this decision in a normal year would be hard. In a pandemic year, it’s almost impossible.

Matt can’t stay over at each school for a weekend or even attend a few classes. He can’t get much of a feeling for the “vibe” of the school because he can’t go into most of the buildings, even with a mask and with his letter of admission.

He can compare the national rankings from U.S. News and World Report, check college guides, talk with his guidance counselor, chat with graduates from his high school who attend each school and stroll around each campus. 

He can’t, however, fully try on the school, the way he might a tailored suit. Masks cover the faces of most of the people at each school, which makes it impossible to search for smiles on the faces of his potential future classmates.

He recently found himself leaning toward school A. The same day, his father spoke with a friend of his whose daughter was attending school B.

His father showed a picture of his friend’s daughter to Matt. The friend’s attractive daughter caused Matt to rethink his tentative decision.

That brings me to my other friend’s son, Eric. In his mid-20s, Eric has been caught in the same social world that has limited the options for everyone else.

Eric has been dating a woman for over two years and is considering the future of the relationship. He is not sure whether it’s the appropriate time to consider living together or getting married.

Eric is incredibly attached to his girlfriend, who has been one of the few people he sees regularly in real life during the pandemic.

Eric is not sure how long this altered reality, in which he works from home, speaks with family and friends virtually most of the time, and sees his girlfriend during his limited social hours, will last. In the meantime, he’d like something in his life to move forward.

Matt and Eric are weighing their options. For Matt, the choice of college may well come down to the last picture of another student he sees before he pushes a button.

Choosing a college can, and likely should, involve more significant factors. Then again, both of the colleges line up so well that he is likely to have a similar experience, albeit with different people around him, at each school.

Eric’s decision, however, isn’t so interchangeable. It involves a leap of faith that those of us who are married have made that relies on our own criteria. We can consult family, friends, and counselors as we weigh the pros and cons, but, ultimately, the responsibility and opportunity rest with us.

Coming up with his own questions and his own scale to evaluate the relationship is challenging, particularly when everything seems somewhere between good and great right now. He can’t possibly know what life will look like in two, five, 10 or 20 years from now.

I don’t envy either Matt or Eric as they contemplate these decisions. I do, however, agree with Matt’s parents: he can’t go wrong. For Eric, the decision has more significant longer-term ramifications and likely reflects variables that are difficult to imagine, particularly amid the uncertainty of the present.

Photo from Pexels

By Michael Christodoulou

Michael Christodoulou
Michael Christodoulou

The COVID-19 pandemic may end up changing our lives in some significant ways. To cite one example, it’s likely we’ll see a lot more people continue to work remotely, now that they’ve seen the effectiveness of tools such as videoconferencing. Education, too, may be forever changed in some ways. Perhaps just as important, though, is how many people may now think more about the future – including how they invest.

If you work with a financial professional, you may have connected with this individual over the past several months through a videoconferencing platform, rather than in person. Some people like this arrangement because it offers more scheduling flexibility and eliminates the time and effort of traveling to and from an appointment. Others, however, still prefer face-to-face contact and look forward to when such arrangements will again be practical and safe for everyone involved. But if you’re in the first group – that is, you prefer videoconferencing – you may now wish to use this communication method in the future, at least some of the time.

But beyond the physical aspects of your investing experience, you may now be looking at some changes in your investment strategy brought on, or at least suggested, by your reactions to the pandemic.

For example, many people – especially, but not exclusively, those whose employment was affected by the pandemic – found that they were coming up short in the area of liquidity. They didn’t have enough easily accessible savings to provide them with the cash they needed to meet their expenses until their employment situations stabilized. Consequently, some individuals were forced to dip into their long-term investments, such as their 401(k)s and IRAs. Generally speaking, this type of move is not ideal – these accounts are designed for retirement, so, the more you tap into them early, the less you’ll have available when you do retire. Furthermore, your withdrawals will likely be taxable, and, depending on your age, may also be subject to penalties.

If you were affected by this liquidity crunch, you can take steps now to avoid its recurrence. Your best move may be to build an emergency fund containing three to six months’ worth of living expenses, with the funds held in a separate, highly accessible account of cash or cash equivalents. Of course, given your regular expenses, it may take some time to build such an amount, but if you can commit yourself to putting away a certain amount of money each month, you will make progress. Even having a few hundred dollars in an emergency fund can help create more financial stability.

Apart from this new appreciation for short-term liquidity, though, the foundation for your overall financial future should remain essentially the same. In addition to building your emergency fund, you should still contribute what you can afford to your IRA, 401(k) and other retirement plans. If you have children you want to send to college, you might still explore college-funding vehicles such as a 529 plan. Higher education will still be expensive, even with an expansion in online learning programs.

Post-pandemic life may contain some differences, along with many similarities to life before. But it will always be a smart move to create a long-term financial strategy tailored to your individual needs, goals and risk tolerance.

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS®

Financial Advisor from the STONY BROOK EDWARD JONES

Edward Jones. Member SIPC.

Aman Mistry, Jonathan Chung, and Justin Hippler

During the pandemic, three Smithtown High School East juniors recognized their fellow students needed a helping hand when it came to their studies.

Aman Mistry, Jonathan Chung and Justin Hippler started PeerLab Tutoring for high school students in the pandemic and have extended help to those in middle school. The one-on-one tutoring is free of charge, and to stay healthy during the pandemic, virtual.

Chung said the three recognized that some students were struggling with remote learning and knew during the pandemic was a good time to start offering virtual tutoring.

“Some students may have difficulty adapting,” he said.

He added the tutors are ready to help with schoolwork or studying for a test.

The three said that, in general, paying for tutoring can become expensive, even if only seeking an hour of help.

After a student interested in tutoring fills out the form on the website [see below], the student is matched with a tutor who can help them. The tutor and student are connected so they can email each other directly. Currently, 40 high school tutors are offering their services for free through the service and, in return, they receive community service hours. So far, the tutors have conducted 120 sessions and helped more than 30 students in Suffolk County.

Mistry said tutors are in AP and honors classes.

“We made sure that they had an A-minus or above in the class they wanted to tutor,” Mistry said.

They have found that students respond well to receiving tutoring from a peer and think they may be less intimidated talking to a high school student than an adult.

“They’re more like a role model for them — to have someone that went through the same classes that you went through and succeeded,” Hippler said. “So, they have their own experiences that they can share, also strategies and techniques.”

Next week the high school juniors will return to school in-person full time as the Smithtown Central School District is in the process of returning all secondary students to the classroom in phases. Elementary students returned in October. Tutoring through PeerLab will continue to be virtual.

“For right now, we do want to keep it virtual to keep it safe, and even with going back to school, we know a lot of kids have gotten really behind in their classes because they might not be able to pay attention as well virtually,” Mistry said, adding a lot of big tests are coming up such as AP exams and Regents.

The three encourage students to reach out for help when struggling with studies.

“Take advantage of the opportunities you have, if you are struggling always reach out for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking other people for help. And, you know, finding opportunities,” Mistry said.

Hippler agreed.

“You always have a community behind you, and whether you think you’re the only one struggling, you just got to know that there’s other people in the same boat as you,” he said. “And we all just want to help each other get better and get out of that struggle.”

For more information, visit peerlabtutoring.wixsite.com/network.