On a national stage, two U.S presidents are in a tug-of-war for the soul of our nation.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden (D) and former President Donald Trump (R) presented disparate visions for the American future. Despite diametrically opposing messages, one theme unifies these speeches: Americans stand at a crossroads in our history, and our trajectory is undecided.
Numerous problems plague our policymakers in Washington, from national security, economic uncertainty, immigration policy, among many others. In the face of these seemingly unanswerable questions, we must remember that all politics is local. Before we can even consider pondering the great questions of our time, we must first get our affairs in order here at the community level.
From town and village halls to school boards, environmental demonstrations, civic meetings, and everything in between, our residents grapple with the most pressing issues confronting our communities. We find particular examples of the nation’s broader, systemic issues within these forums.
What does it mean to have a representative voice in government? What is an equitable distribution of public resources? How and where should we build, and to what end?
We are wrestling with these unsettled questions right now. At the local level, our citizens learn how systems operate. With this understanding, we begin breaking down the great questions into bite-sized, manageable tasks.
In time, we will accumulate small wins. This formula can be scaled, meaning we can soon apply our takeaways from local politics to the higher levels of government.
We hold that this bottom-up approach is the best course of action, both for our residents and nation. Locally, our voices ring louder, our votes weightier. Let’s fix our problems here first, then set our sights on issues further from home.
We must first create a solid foundation to build something meant to last. May we heal this divided but unbroken nation. May we find solutions to problems both near and far. And may we never lose faith in the principles that unite us as community members and Americans.
Protesters rallied in two North Shore locations this past weekend, to demonstrate their First Amendment right to protest.
Nearly 100 people stood on the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket on Saturday holding signs urging that President Donald Trump (R) be impeached. For the last 18 years, the North Country Peace Group has stood on the bend, every weekend, to protest.
This year was different.
“I’m going on 79 years, and I’ve seen a good chunk of American history,” said protester Jerry Shor. “I’m really sad this happened to our government, which I owe a lot to … We have tremendous respect for our government.”
And although Shor said he doesn’t always agree with what the government does, he knew he had to exercise his right to demonstrate, protest and make his feelings known.
In response to the storming of the United States Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 6, members of the group wanted to make their voices heard — their anger at the president for inciting violence, and their urge to remove Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) from Congress.
“I usually don’t come out, but today seemed like a day we had to because of what happened in Washington on Wednesday,” said protester Bob Keeler. “And Lee Zeldin, who supposedly represents us in the Congress, is not representing me very well. It’s time for him to be a former congressman.”
Normally the corner has a large group of counter-protesters — known as the North Country Patriots — across the way. This weekend there was only a small group of five.
“The real patriots are the ones who are voicing their opinions the way our forefathers really meant to be voiced,” Shor said.
Protester Paige Pearson said she had a bad feeling that something was going to happen Jan. 6.
“My immediate thought was I wasn’t surprised,” she said. “But I’m extremely disappointed.”
Pearson said she was disheartened to see what was happening in Washington D.C., especially when she previously participated in other protests that were peaceful and civil.
“We’ve been fighting for months and months, trying to stay as peaceful as possible,” she said. “And then all of these people can just storm into the Capitol, and cause all of this violence and destruction, and get out clean and unharmed.”
At the same time, at Resistance Corner on Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station, a smaller, but just as loud group rallied against the president.
Organizers of the Friends for Justice group Holly Fils-Aime said the protesters chose to stand at the corner of Nesconset Highway because nearly 3,000 cars pass every hour.
“Obviously we were very upset when Trump claimed election fraud,” she said.
With the riots down south, Fils-Aime said she and her group are calling for the president to be impeached.
Holding signs of Trump’s face on a peach, the group voiced their hopes that Congress will vote to remove the president from power.
“I can’t believe this is happening to our country,” Fils-Aime said. “He’s been talking about this for months. … We need to get him out of office, so he can’t do this again.”
Kaung Kyaw arrived in America when he was 19. “I’ve always thought since I came here that I’m a foreigner, so my opinions really don’t matter,” he said.
He is just one of more than 4,000 international students who come to study at Stony Brook University from 103 countries. They make up a large, diverse population either living on campus or nearby. Many credit this international community for driving the large numbers of ethnically varied offerings of both shops and restaurants in the Setauket/Stony Brook area. Their inclusion in the community has led to events like the annual Dragon Boat Race Festival in Port Jefferson and the Chinese New Year celebration by the Ward Melville Heritage Organization.
Kyaw, a 21-year-old student from Myanmar, came to the U.S. in 2018. He said he always had dreamt of coming to the United States and decided to choose SBU as his place of study to become a surgeon.
But before he traveled here, he remembers hearing that Donald Trump was elected as Republican president back in 2016. Kyaw’s initial thought was, “What were they thinking?”
“I thought it was so funny,” he said. “But now I’m living this reality and it’s not funny anymore.”
Kyaw is currently studying biology. After graduation, he said he would like to hopefully continue his education in the States. That, however, has been complicated by the president’s addition of his home country to a list of nations on a travel ban in January this year.
“If I get to stay here, I would practice here,” he said. “But right now, that’s not possible because of Donald Trump’s travel ban.”
He said that because of the current presidency, his view of America has morphed into a vision that isn’t always that welcoming.
“When he tried to send us all back a few months ago, that was really cruel and was really unfair,” he said. “We pay a lot of money to be here and study here. We don’t deserve this kind of treatment — nobody does.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, Kyaw said he was subjected to racism. He never imagined this when he considered coming here.
“I thought America would be this amazing place with lots of job opportunities,” he said. “I didn’t think of the racism or any other bad issues here. America was just this dream place to be in. But I got here, and these are topics we cannot escape — I didn’t know how much it’s ingrained into everyone’s minds.”
Minal Chawla, 19 from India, said she was just 17 when she decided to study abroad at Stony Brook. “Before coming to the U.S., I think I never paid much attention to what was happening in American politics and what was going here in general,” she said. “But now I try to keep myself up to date with all the latest happenings because I think in one way or the other, they affect me.”
Chawla, who is studying health sciences and journalism, said that there is so much happening in the U.S. that her future appears a little more unclear because of the uncertainties.
“I have a whole plan of what I want to do after graduation,” she said. “But now looking at the current scenario, I am unsure about whether I will be able to achieve it or not because the immigration policies can change at any moment and things can go south all of a sudden.”
She added that under President-elect Joe Biden’s new Democratic administration, she’s hopeful. “I hope that the decisions they take are in favor of all the international students who plan to work or settle in the U.S. after studies,” she said. “Currently, I am just trying to focus on the bright side and practicing gratitude by reflecting upon the things that I am thankful for.”
Veronica Alvarenga Hon, 21 from Costa Rica, has spent two-and-a-half years in the States. She said that before coming here, she always found the American electoral system to be interesting. In Costa Rica, they elect the president according to popular vote.
“I do have to say that for a long time, the U.S. portrayed itself as the leader of the free world— they were an example of what you could achieve by valuing freedom and respecting other people’s rights,” she said. “This, for some reason, made the U.S. seem more liberal in my mind. I was very surprised that many people were very conservative, even by my own standards.”
The 2020 election, to Hon, was polarizing. “President Trump often uses inflammatory rhetoric which only riles people up more,” she said. “I think this is just another example of the populist trend that we are seeing in the world. It was very disappointing to see so many people voting for the opposite of what I would consider American values, such as equality, freedom, respect and tolerance.”
“This, for some reason, made the U.S. seem more liberal in my mind. I was very surprised that many people were very conservative, even by my own standards.”
— Veronica Alvarenga
But she said it’s natural for people todisagree when it comes to politics. “I just don’t think it’s usually so personal to everyone,” she said.
Hon added that she viewed the election more about getting Trump out of office, rather than liking Biden.
“The U.S., once the leader of the free world, seems to have forgotten that to lead, you need people that will follow,” she said. “I am hoping that the Biden administration takes a different approach in their foreign policy — one that would consider rejoining the Paris Agreement, the World Health Organization and the JCPOA [known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal].”
Kyaw agreed. ”Trump being the president has shown you how much racism there is in America,” he said. “This was all there before he came in the spotlight. They just started expressing it and people started becoming nastier and nastier. We need to start fixing that.”
Abhishek Cherath, 21 from Mumbai [formerly Bombay] in India said in his opinion bringing back America to what it was before Trump’s presidency will not be easy.
“The things that are being put at risk by Trumpism are much longer lasting than anything else,” he said. “Politics is dirty. But the only alternative to politics is war — that’s not a good alternative.”
Under a Biden term in office, Cherath said he hopes things will be more pleasant among his American colleagues.
“I don’t really know what I’m going to do, but I hope America is OK,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of wonderful stuff that happens here, and it will be a real shame to just have that all vanish into a civil war.”
Flags flying, the Trump crowd rolled through local communities Halloween, Oct. 31, despite some local opposition.
Just a few days before the election date Nov. 3, caravans supporting President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign could be seen on major roadways on County Road 83 in Mount Sinai and Route 25A in Port Jefferson and Setauket.
For around 30 minutes, vehicles bearing flags supporting Trump’s reelection rolled down Main Street in Port Jefferson. A crowd of around 20 people stood by the side cheering on the car parade. Most were not wearing masks.
The parade in Port Jefferson was conducted by the right wing online group Setauket Patriots. Their Trumpalozza 3 car parade was a sequel to a separate Trump caravan held Oct. 17, one that lasted for close to an hour and saw hundreds of vehicles rolling down Main Street.
Officials from the Village of Port Jefferson posted a statement to its website and Facebook about before the parade Oct. 28, saying the village does not “condone lawless or disrespectful behavior within our village, regardless of any content or message that any group may convey.” Despite some residents’ complaints of the prior parade, officials said they legally do not have the authority to stop a moving vehicle or issue citations for traffic law.
Both Suffolk County Police and village Code Enforcement were present, keeping spectators behind the barricades and directing traffic down Main Street and up West Broadway.
A crowd of counter protesters, including the North Country Peace Group which normally protest at the corner of North Country Road and Bennetts Road in Setauket, gathered along the south of the road as the caravan passed.
Joining the North Country Peace Group were people holding a rally against police brutality. A few from the south side crossed Route 25A to talk to members of the North Country Patriots who stand across from the peace group every Saturday. One girl walked across the street to stand in front of a member of the Patriots. The two stared each other down for several minutes.
As the caravan passed Bennetts Road, rally members, who held signs showing support for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice president nominee Kamala Harris or that read Black Lives Matter and similar sentiments, knelt or turned their backs on the Trump caravan when it came by. Many raised their fists, a regular symbol for BLM. Police officers on the scene said they would arrest anyone who got out of their cars in the caravan or protesters who went in the street to confront them.
Another car caravan supporting Trump and the reelection of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) got going the same day, starting at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. The caravan, formed by the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee and online group Brookhaven Republican Friends, saw about 20 people and their vehicles stream down Patchogue-Mount Sinai Road going south before eventually turning onto Sunrise Highway and ending at Zeldin’s Shirley offices.
Additional reporting by Julianne Mosher and Steven Zaitz
Caravan goers and Counterprotesters Butt Heads in Setauket
1 of 29
UPDATE: On Feb. 22, all charges were dismissed against Deborah Kosyla. She was also identified as the victim of the hit-and-run crash that occurred in Setauket on the day of the caravan.
For close to an hour, hundreds of President Donald Trump’s (R) supporters rolled through the North Shore and parts of the Middle Country area during a huge caravan Saturday, Oct. 17.
Members of the Trumpalozza event, organized by right-wing online group Setauket Patriots, leaned on their horns and shouted “four more years” and “Trump” while people lined up at the corner of East Broadway and Main Street in Port Jefferson shouted their support as well. Some cars sported bull horns that blasted their support into the cool fall air. Many cars and pickup trucks were hung with flags supporting Trump’s reelection campaign, as well as many pictures and even some blow up representations of the president.
Some cars also used tape to cover up their license plates, which is a violation of New York State law. Many of those gathered to cheer on the caravan were not wearing masks.
In a previous article, James Robitsek, the event organizer for the Setauket Patriots, said they did not ask participants to block their license plate numbers but added people had been doing it to avoid being outed online.
The Setauket Patriots also brought an impersonator of the president to lead the caravan. The actor’s name was Thomas Mundy, aka TOMMY Trump45, who is listed as a comedian on his Facebook page.
The caravan originally organized at the LIRR parking lot in Port Jeff Station a little before noon, where the actor portraying the president, speaking in Trump’s voice, called Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant “evil.” The Patriots were issued a summons earlier this month for hosting a parade on 9/11 without a permit. The village put a moratorium on any new parade or march permits in June, citing fear of spreading COVID-19. A Black Lives Matter march was held in June, followed by a Setauket Patriots-held car parade for Fourth of July. Village officials have said they are the only group to have attempted a parade since the moratorium was put in place.
Robitsek has previously told TBR News Media he feels he and his group are being targeted by local Democrats in the area. The original date for the summons was moved to November, but Setauket Patriots had planned to protest in front of Village Hall.
While many supporters saw the event as a success in getting the word out about their support, some felt they were harassed by participants if they shared any dissent.
Andrew Rimby, a doctorate student at Stony Brook University and Port Jeff resident, said he was called a gay slur by a member of the caravan as he walked in the village.
“There were those of us who expressed our dissent, who said we don’t agree,” he said. “A woman started to call me a gay slur, and I had a lot of time to talk to her. I was, like, ‘Why are you insulting me like this?’ And she said, ‘You don’t support our president.’”
Rimby sent a letter to Garant voicing his and 14 other local residents’ concerns about the caravan that went through the village. The letter complained about the caravan violating noise codes as well as how people harassed him and anybody else who showed dissent.
During the village board meeting Oct. 19, Garant made a statement about the weekend’s events, saying they have received multiple complaints from residents though none of those issues were addressed specifically. Police were on-site as they could issue citations for traffic or moving violations, though she commended both them and code enforcement for keeping things organized in a tense situation.
“I want to reemphasize the Village of Port Jefferson does not condone lawless or disrespectful behavior regardless of any messaging a person or group is attempting to convey,” Garant said. “We’re hoping that with each day that ticks off the calendar that we may return to somewhat of an existence of peaceful and quiet enjoyment in our community. … I just wanted to let everybody know it was a tough day for everyone here in the village.”
Once in St. James, the caravan stopped at Patio Pizza, which had come under several bouts of controversy after people threatened to boycott the establishment after it was shown with a Trump flag. Trump’s Twitter account has previously tweeted about the St. James pizza parlor.
The parade traveled a circuit first through Port Jefferson up into Setauket, down through St James and going through Centereach and Selden before eventually coming up Route 112. In Setauket, members of the North Country Peace Group stood in front of the caravan, blocking its path. Some caravan goers got out of their cars to confront the people blocking their path. One woman yelled into a megaphone, “Liberals go home.”
Police said three people were arrested for disorderly conduct, namely Deborah Kosyla of Setauket, Anne Chimelis of Setauket, and Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and leader of the peace group. A video from the Setauket Patriots Facebook page shows peace group members standing in front of vehicles clenching fists in the air and holding signs. In that same video, the Trump look-alike also called the people assembled in front of them “evil people.” A man in the car with Mundy apparently makes a crack about how the “Secret Service is going to take out the machine guns.”
Gordon, speaking on behalf of the peace group, said they were unable to release a comment at this time, citing it being an ongoing police issue.
Separately, Suffolk County police are investigating a hit-and-run crash that occurred at the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket that same day. Police said the call came in at around 1 p.m. for the crash, which they said occurred some time around 12:45 p.m. They did not release details on whether the crash involved a member of the caravan or a protester.
The Setauket Fire Department confirmed they did take one person to a hospital for minor injuries around that time, but department officials declined to offer further comment.
There was not much in the way of counterprotesters, though at one point during the parade a driver threw up the middle finger to supporters assembled on the sidewalk. One counterprotester stood at the turn into the Port Jeff train station parking lot holding a sign that read Black Lives Matter. He was later seen down at the corner of East Broadway and Main after the caravan had already gone ahead. There was also a separate protest held by progressives next to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber train car about the ongoing controversy over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court replacement.
The Trumpalozza event ended with many caravan goers returning to Port Jeff to participate in a rally across from Port Jefferson Village Hall, in the Town of Brookhaven-owned park for locals who died on 9/11.
Residents on Long Island and elsewhere can’t call their doctor’s offices and ask to receive all of the same treatment that sent President Donald Trump (R) from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center back to the White House and the campaign trail.
After officials said he tested positive for COVID-19 Oct. 2, the president received a combination of the antiviral drug Remdesivir, an antibody cocktail from Regeneron, and the steroid dexamethasone.
Remdesivir has become more widely used in hospitals on Long Island.
The last two months, “all patients admitted to the hospital may qualify for Remdesivir according to the clinical judgment of your doctor,” said Dr. Luis Marcos, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.
The patient population that is most likely to benefit from Remdesivir includes residents who are over 60, have diabetes with hypertension and have been admitted to the hospital with mild pneumonia.
Patients who have liver disease or kidney failure may not be prescribed the intravenous drug.
Typically, Remdesivir, like other antiviral drugs, benefits patients who have contracted COVID-19 within a week, because the medicine stops the replication of the virus.
Patients who received Remdesivir after an infection that lasted more than 10 days may not benefit as much because the drug won’t reverse damage done to the lungs.
The side effects of antivirals typically last one to two days.
Dexamethasone is also available and used in hospitals including Huntington Hospitals and Stony Brook.
As a steroid, dexamethasone has “multiple side effects,” said Dr. Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital. “It is only given when the benefit is expected to significantly outweigh the risk and so there’s going to be that assessment in every case,” Dr. Grosso said.
Patients with diabetes are likely to experience “more trouble with their blood sugar control if they’re receiving dexamethasone,” Grosso added.
Dexamethasone can also produce sleeplessness and, in some cases, psychiatric disturbances, doctors added.
The monoclonal antibody cocktail from Regeneron the president received has had limited use, mostly through clinical trials and in compassionate care cases. It has not received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, although it has applied for emergency use authorization.
Stony Brook was planning to participate in the second trial of Regeneron, with Dr. Bettina Fries, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, as the principal investigator and Dr. Marcos as the co-principal investigator. The hospital did not participate because it didn’t have enough cases.
Marcos said the cocktail of antibodies block the virus actively causing inflammation.
The good news with the Regeneron treatment is that the side effects appear minimal, Marcos said.
Regeneron is unlikely to reverse the damage in the lungs caused by the virus. In managing patient care, doctors try to slow or stop the progression of pneumonia from the virus.
Marcos said patients who are asymptomatic or have minor symptoms shouldn’t race to take the more widely available Remdesivir or Dexamethasone because 99% of patients with COVID infection do not have pneumonia. Those patients with a mild upper respiratory infection may not need anything but Tylenol.
Patients who are developing more severe symptoms can come to the hospital to determine the best medical response.
“If you have fever or you don’t feel that great, of course, come to the Emergency Room, we can evaluate you, and decide what to do next. For mild, mild cases, I don’t think we should be using Remdesivir,” Grosso said.
The Setauket Patriots announced they would be hosting a Trumpalozza Road Rally event starting and eventually ending in Port Jefferson Saturday, Oct. 17.
Setauket Patriots organizer James Robitsek said he expects 800 to 1,000 participants. On the group’s Facebook page, a little over 400 say they will be attending, with more indicating they possibly may.
The car caravan is just the third event hosted by Setauket Patriots, an online right-wing group that often posts in support of President Donald Trump (R), among other conservative and far-right messaging. Previous events have been based on Fourth of July and Veterans Day celebrations, though each has carried a strong political tinge in support of Trump. Out of these other past events, this one is the most explicit in its support.
The caravan is to start in the parking lot of the Port Jefferson LIRR train station before moving down Main Street then turning left onto West Broadway. Cars are set to move onto Route 25A in Setauket, down into St. James along Lake Avenue, past the Smith Haven Mall. The caravan will move through Centereach and Selden before turning onto County Road 83 and back onto Route 112 to finish back at the Port Jeff train station.
Robitsek said he has been in contact with Suffolk County police about the event, and though they might be around to facilitate cars leaving the parking lot, they will not be there for the entire run of the car parade.
Other car caravans in support of Trump have passed through the North Shore in the past month. Several went from Huntington out to the North Fork, where people hung out sunroofs and stood in the back of pickup trucks. Pictures also show people in the caravan had placed tape to obscure their license plates, which is against the law.
Robitsek said he has not advocated that drivers use tape on their license plates, but participants in other pro-Trump events have been outed online by people tracking their license numbers.
Despite this, police report nobody in the caravans has been arrested to date, though one resident from Northport was arrested by Northport police for alleged menacing and disorderly conduct involving a caravanner’s truck, something he has reportedly heavily disputed.
The planned caravan is only three days before Robitsek and the Setauket Patriots are set to be in village traffic court, Oct. 20, over their previous Veterans Day event, which drew hundreds down through the village without a permit. Most marching that day did so without masks.
Village of Port Jefferson had issued an executive order signed July 6 by Mayor Margot Garant effectively stopping the village from signing any new permits for marches or protests. This was in response to the Patriots’ July 4 car parade as well as a Black Lives Matter march hosted in Port Jeff in June. The order was enabled by the village’s previous declaration of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Garant has said the issue is with how many people these events bring together during a pandemic.
On Facebook, Robitsek said they were issued a summons on Oct. 5, and claimed local officials from village, county and state were targeting him and his group.
“I’m being unfairly targeted because I’m a pro-Trump group in an all-Democrat town,” he said, adding the reason they chose Port Jeff as their starting point was “its high visibility, it’s a Democrat-run village, so why not show support for the silent majority that does support President Trump.”
Village officials have previously said the Patriots submitted a permit application for the July 4 event, but that they failed to file it correctly, and that they did not pay fees attached to the permit process.
The Setauket Patriots organizer posted the summons online, which said the offense was because they “led a procession/parade down a public sidewalk without a permit” in violation of village code. The Setauket Patriots have also planned a rally in front of Village Hall Oct. 20 in protest of receiving the summons.
Deputy Village Attorney Rich Harris said the summons was only for the violation of the village code, which depending on a plea or a court ruling could result in a 0 to $2,000 fine or up to 15 days in jail. On its face, the violation does not have anything to do with recouping losses from either police or constable’s overtime.
“It’s a violation of the village code for operating a parade or procession without permit,” Harris said.
Whether this event could also be in violation of village code depends on how the event proceeds, Harris said. It could be different, especially as most people will be in vehicles and that the caravan will not be exclusive to Port Jeff.
The car caravan is scheduled for the same day and time as the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce’s Pumpkinmania, that’s set to bring in professional pumpkin carvers to do live demonstrations as well as host a pumpkin carving contest.
Barbara Ransome, executive director of the chamber, said she is not worried that the caravan would impact the chamber’s event. Pumpkinmania will be held 12 to 7 p.m. and will be located at 138 E. Main St. in the small brick patio area. There will also be a set of pumpkin carving contests for Port Jefferson residents, one for children and one for adults, that will be judged by the professionals. There is a $5 entrance fee for each participant.
Ransome said the caravan of cars will likely have already moved on, and there will be plenty of time afterward for people to come down. The chamber event is also designed to promote the small businesses on East Main Street.
The head of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force visited Stony Brook University this week to talk to faculty, students and administrators about college life during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Dr. Deborah Birx met in a private roundtable talk with SBU representatives to gauge how everyone feels returning to campus, as part of a several-month-long tour of colleges across the country. The meeting lasted more than two hours, president of the university Dr. Maurie McInnis said, deeming it a successful discussion.
“We want to find a pathway forward for other universities, and when we want to use what we have learned to make it available to others.”
— Dr. Deborah Birx
“She was excited about what we’ve been doing on campus and at the hospital,” McInnis said. “We also learned an enormous amount from her about what we can expect in the fall.”
The roundtable went over time, and so Birx only gave about 15 minutes to assembled reporters.
With recent news of many colleges across the state struggling to stay open with an uptick in COVID-19 cases on their campus, Birx praised the university for how they initially handled the pandemic back in March, up until now.
She added that she was particularly excited to visit Stony Brook because the university and hospital “stood out at one of the most difficult times in March, April and May in a really open, transparent and careful way.”
“I was listening to the research activities that they started from day one,” she said. “And it thrilled my heart to hear from them that their number one thing was collecting data and collecting information in real time.”
Birx said the university’s research was fundamental in the beginning, by comparing and trying to understand how to find solutions with better care for patients.
“That’s why we have medical research institutions,” she said. “I think you could really see the strength of that here.”
She commended staff for their “months of planning” by implementing social distancing throughout the campus with signs, stickers on the floor and seating placed six-feet-apart from each other — things she hopes other colleges and universities will follow.
“We want to find a pathway forward for other universities, and when we want to use what we have learned to make it available to others,” she said. “It’s been really a privilege to be here.”
Reporters asked the head of the president’s coronavirus task force about President Donald Trump (R) testing positive for COVID-19, his trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and his most recent return to the White House, especially his apparent eschewing of wearing a mask for photo ops despite being contagious.
Birx replied, “We have been on the road, so I’ve been very concerned about what’s happening in the rest of America.” She added she would not question the judgement of the Walter Reed doctors, and she is “very proud of the physicians, between the Navy and the army, that are caring for him.”
During her visit, she asked for insight from students, asking them for their comments and concerns for the remainder of the school year.
“Meeting with students and really understanding what the university did to make sure that the students and the community were safe, I think really needs to constantly be applauded,” Dr. Birx said. “And I think understanding what’s happening with the commuting students and ensuring that they’re safe, has also been really important.”
Birx asked students for insight regarding communication with family members during holiday gatherings this upcoming season.
“I think there are still people waiting for the epidemic to look like it looked before,” she said. “It’s not going to look like that. It’s not going to be a workplace driven epidemic. It is going to be what we’ve seen across the south — where it involves family members, social occasions and spreading silently in communities before and outside of the workplace.”
But she also mentioned what she’s anticipating, and her own, personal, concerns.
“I feel like at this moment, in many of the areas of the Northeast county by county, we still don’t have enough what we would call ‘eyes on the epidemic,’” she said. “What do I mean by that? Really active surveillance sites so that we can see early infections before we see hospitalizations, so we can do community mitigation.”
By having eyes on the virus, it can be more easily contained especially among non-sick asymptomatic individuals.
“I think working with the county, the university can use their data and their ability to translate information to be in regular communication with the community about where the virus is and where it isn’t,” Birx said.
“We’ve demonstrated that we can learn, live and work together safely,” McInnis said.
But before Birx left, she gave one big piece of advice for heading into the fall season. “Please get your flu shot.”
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) has been in the thick of federal discussions about another program to support state and local governments.
He said the federal government is having “active talks with respect to there being a next coronavirus response bill … I have been advocating directly to the president and his chief of staff [Mark Meadows] and leaders in Congress about Suffolk County and our local towns and villages.”
The local congressman, whose district covers the North Fork and South Fork all the way west to most of Smithtown, said President Donald Trump (R) called his house last Sunday night and that he used the opportunity to talk about getting funding for local government. Zeldin brought up the MTA with the president.
“I’m trying to get top line numbers for our county, towns, villages, the MTA and Port Authority,” he said.
Zeldin suggested three factors affected a national funding bill. The first is that the Nov. 3 election is rapidly approaching.
“You have to have a willingness to allow your political opposition to also have a win when you have a government that’s divided between parties,” he said. “The only way for a next coronavirus response bill to become law is similarly to the way the past coronavirus response bill became law,” by Republicans and Democrats working together.
Passing another bill would give everyone, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Trump a win, the congressman said.
“That’s a problem for some, because there are people who really don’t want the president to get reelected,” Zeldin said. “If anyone wants to suggest that that’s not a factor, a political calculation and electioneering, they are incredibly naive to that absolute factor to these talks.”
Additionally, the Republicans and Democrats have been far apart in the amount of funding. The Democrats initially had passed a bill in the House for approximately $900 billion for state and local governments out of a $3.4 trillion total aid bill, but the congressman claimed Democrats are sticking to their highball number. According to Axios, Pelosi is now aiming for a new total aid package hovering around $2.2 trillion with local assistance reduced to $436 billion.
Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have offered a $150 billion package for state and local governments.
“You can’t stick to a state and local government funding number as high as $900 billion,” Zeldin said. “That’s far more than state and local governments are asking for. If you insist on $900 billion or bust, there’s not going to be any additional state and local funding.”
The additional dynamic that comes into play is that some Democrats who were elected for the first time in Republican districts have been putting pressure on Pelosi in the last few weeks, Zeldin said.
“They want there to actually be negotiations and compromise to get it over the finish line,” he said.
With talks restarted between congressional Democratic leadership and the Trump administration, Zeldin said he was “hopeful” that the discussions would result in a new bill.
He said the amount of money the states and local governments are asking for has also declined since the original request. Indeed, New York State has cut its request to $30 billion from $60 billion.
Any bill that passed wouldn’t likely indicate how county and local governments should spend the money, the congressman said.
“I’m not looking for Congress to break up every dollar being appropriated for Suffolk County,” Zeldin said. “The best thing to do would be to provide flexibility, so that county level elected officials can determine the best use of additional funding.”
This past weekend, President Donald Trump (R) was in Suffolk County, raising money for this reelection. During his time on Long Island, he called requests for financial aid amid the pandemic a bailout, repeating some of the language he used two years in response to Puerto Rico’s request for financial aid after Hurricane Maria.
“I couldn’t disagree with this more,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said today on a conference call with reporters. “We need federal disaster assistance to respond to, and recover from, COVID-19.”
Bellone said the county abided by guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that it shut down its economy to protect the health of its population, lowering the death toll at the cost of the economy.
Approaching an argument the president has made against the reaction to the murder by police of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, Bellone suggested that the lack of financial support from the federal government would be a form of defunding the police, taking away salaries from public health workers and removing the financial support necessary for the safe return of students to in-person learning this fall.
“This should have nothing to do with politics,” he argued. “We are still in the middle of fighting a pandemic.”
The county executive urged the federal government to provide vital financial resources to fund these recovery efforts.
“When President Trump talks about federal disaster assistance as a bailout, this is flat out wrong,” Bellone said. The money he has requested, including during a recent trip to Washington, DC, he argued will pay for police officers. Bellone also pointed out that Long Island has provided ample financial resources to the federal government during more prosperous years through tax dollars.
By taking away state and local property tax deductions, the federal government has added billions to what Long Island sends to Washington as a region every year, Bellone said.
“The notion of a bailout suggests we did something wrong in Suffolk County,” the county executive continued. “The fact of the matter is, we all did our jobs here.”
Separately, Bellone said Suffolk County has managed to keep illnesses and deaths down in the public health battle against COVID-19.
In the last day, the number of people who have tested positive for the virus was 55 out of a total of 5,030 people who received a test. The rate of just over 1 percent is tracking with the positive tests for the last few weeks and is well below the 5 percent threshold schools have for reopening.
The number of residents who tested positive for the antibody to COVID-19 stands at 24,392.
Hospitalizations, meanwhile, continued to be well below the worst of the pandemic, when the health care system strained under the weight of sick residents.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 stands at 33, which is an increase of 2. The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit was three.
Hospital bed occupancy stood at 72 percent overall and at 67 percent in the ICU.
The number of people who have died from complications related to the virus stands at 1,998. Four people were discharged the hospital in the last day.