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Stony Brook

Suffolk County Police 6th Squad detectives are investigating an incident during which a man was found unresponsive in a pool in Stony Brook July 5.

Sixth Precinct police officers responded a home on Harmon Court at approximately 2 p.m. after Anthony Leo was found unresponsive in a pool outside the residence.

Leo, 78, of Freeport, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was listed in critical condition.

Several hundred people crowded on to the north side of Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook June 7 in one of a series of protests against racial injustice and police brutality from all around Long Island.

Across from Smith Haven Mall, several hundred protesters gathered both along the busy intersection and a small field just behind the police barricades. At one point, police stopped traffic for a time to allow protesters to march down the road. Cars honked horns in support, and some drove by holding their own signs in solidarity with those at the rally.

Protesters shouted lines such as “no justice, no peace.” People also laid on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs, much as Minneapolis man George Floyd was May 25 when the now-fired officer Derek Chauvin pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck. The crowd shouted while on the ground, “I can’t breathe,” some of the last wods Floyd spoke.

Suffolk County has had around 85 protests since the killing of Floyd more than a week ago, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

All photos by Mike Reilly

Along Nicolls Road, where dozens of people held signs thanking the hospital workers both leaving and arriving at Stony Brook University Hospital, another truck, one bearing a large screen and speakers, rumbled down the road bearing another kind of thank you to the folks on the front lines.

Christian Guardino, a Patchogue resident, came down to the hospital late on Thursday, May 22 to serenade the workers just after their 8 p.m. shift change. The singer, a America’s Got Talent’s Golden Buzzer and Apollo Theater Competition Grand Prize Winner, sang three songs to a crowd gathered in front of the children’s hospital. Others watched from the windows above, even waving lighters from a dark room as Guardino finished a rendition of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

He said he too has been stuck at home because of the pandemic, unable to perform because practically all venues have been shut down. First performing at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, he came to Stony Brook to make sure those workers knew they were top in people’s hearts and minds.  

“The one thing I want to say and for them to get out of this is just thank you, how grateful we are for everything they’re doing for us,” Guardino said. “They’re on the front lines taking care of the people who are sick, risking getting the disease and I just want to thank them.”

Nicole Rossol, the chief patient experience officer at SBUH, said Empire Entertainment, a New York City-based event management company, reached out to Stony Brook looking to do a late show. At the same time, the patchogue singer also made mention he wanted to give back to the hospital. Guardino’s mother, Beth, had worked as a nurse at the hospital previously for nearly a decade.

“We thought if we could do it together, it would be a very beautiful thing for our staff,” Rossol said. “I think the staff has been looking for things to keep them upbeat and help them through this time. Every piece of support from the community really makes a difference.

Empire Entertainment, with their Illuminate Our Heroes tour has brought crews from the city, to New Jersey, and now out to Long Island. Alyssa Bernstein, a senior producer for empire entertainment is herself a Setauket native, and she said she made it a point to come back and support her hometown during the ongoing pandemic.

“We decided, what is a way that we can give back and say thank you, and that’s putting on a little show, that’s what we do best,” Bernstein said. “The work that they’re doing means that we’ll get back to work.”


Stony Brook University's COVID-19 testing site will be closing its ER portion due to declining numbers of people coming through. Photo by Matthew Niegocki

With 694 more people testing positive for the coronavirus, the number of confirmed cases in Suffolk County is now 40,483.

In the Suffolk County hotspot testing sites, the number of positive tests was 1,320 out of 3,412 total tests.

The percentage of positive tests at these hotspots is 38.7, compared with 33 percent for the county as a whole.

Antibody testing for law enforcement continues, with 1,581 law enforcement officers tested by Northwell Health and New York State so far.

The number of people who have died from complications related to coronavirus increased by 21 in the last day, bringing the total to 1,568 for Suffolk County. As of yesterday, the deaths from the virus exceed the number of people killed over 100 years ago aboard the Titanic. The staggering number represents what will likely be a turning point for the county, let alone the entire country which topped 77,000 deaths.

County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) office distributed another 163,000 pieces of personal protective equipment yesterday, bringing the total number of such life-saving items to over four million since the crisis began in March.

Bellone didn’t have the closely watched hospitalization information today because the reporting system was down.

Separately, Bellone said the county was able to honor the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

“Today, we would normally be bringing together our veterans and particularly our World War II veterans to honor them and thank them for what they did for our nation,” said Bellone during his daily call with reporters.

A group including Suffolk County Chief of Police Stuart Cameron and Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency Director Thomas Ronayne raised an American flag above Armed Forces Plaza today. The group saluted the flag and then brought it to the state veteran’s home.

That home has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. As of May 5, the home reported 65 residents have passed away due to the coronavirus. Additionally, 68 residents have tested positive, where out of those four are receiving treatment at neighboring Stony Brook University Hospital. 30 of those veterans are in the post-COVID recovery phase.

Bellone said the county also celebrated the graduation of 70 members of the police academy. While the ceremony was different than it otherwise would have been prior to the pandemic, the event, which was broadcast on Facebook, was watched by more than 25,000 people.

“Their willingness to step forward at any given moment to risk their lives for strangers is an extraordinary thing,” Bellone said. “We thanked them and their family members.”

Separately, as for the national and local elections coming this November, Bellone said he hopes the bipartisan cooperation that has characterized the response in Suffolk County and New York will continue.

“I don’t know if we’re going to see that on a national level [but] at the local level, we are working together in ways we haven’t in many years, maybe not since 9/11,” Bellone said. “That’s what we should do.”

Bellone suggested the county didn’t have “time to spare to worry about partisan nonsense.”

He pointed out how he and Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. (R), who ran against Bellone to become county executive, have been “working closely together to address issues here. I’m hopeful that will continue.”

Stony Brook Closes Satellite ER

Stony Brook University is closing the emergency room field satellite in the South P Lot amid a decline in the number of patients.

The hospital will keep equipment inside the tents in case of future need. The health care workers who had been staffing the field site will return to the hospital.

Stony Brook had seen approximately 2,600 patients at the coronavirus triage sites.

The drive-through testing site in the South P Lot will remain open. That site has tested 27,515 patients.

Residents who would like a test need to make appointments in advance, by calling 888-364-3065. The site is open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Stony Brook University Hospital’s Team Lavender, and a Staff Support Team, delivered care packages to the employees at the Long Island State Veterans Home. The team put together 170 containers filled with donated items from the community including gum, chapsticks, drinks and snacks. They also included trays of home-baked goods, crocheted ear savers, and masks made by a veteran.

Team Lavender volunteers include doctors, nurses, social workers, patient advocates, chaplains, a faculty and staff care team, employee assistance program and employee health program. The team provides emotional, spiritual and psychological support for faculty and staff after an adverse or unexpected event.

Team Lavender completed a successful pilot during the last year in the NICU and maternity units. Team Lavender has worked together with the Staff Support Team to provide hospital wide support. Their efforts, previously performed in-person, are now available virtually for faculty and staff.

Amanda Groveman, a Stony Brook Medicine Quality Management Practitioner, holding a "My Story" poster for Kevin, who enjoys bowling among his hobbies. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Patients battling COVID-19 at Stony Brook University Hospital have allies who can see them and their lives outside the context of the current pandemic.

Thanks to a team of nurses at Stony Brook who are calling family members to gather information and putting together pictures the family members are sending, over 89 patients have received the kind of personalized support they might have gotten if their family and friend network were allowed in the hospital during the pandemic.

“You get everything,” said Amanda Groveman, a Stony Brook Medicine Quality Management Practitioner, who has worked at the hospital since 2006 and created a Power Point template for the information. Family members are sending pictures at of them during Christmas, of people playing various sports, of pets, of other family members, and even a wedding picture from the 1930’s.

Once the nurses gather this information, they print out two copies and laminate them. One copy goes in the room, where the patient can also see it, and the other is in the hallway, where the doctor or nurse who is about to walk in can get a broader look at the life of the patient in the bed on the other side of the door.

The effort, called “My Story,” is an extension of a similar initiative at the hospital for patients who have Alzheimer’s Disease and might also have trouble sharing their lives with the health care workers.

The nurses involved in the program include: Chief of Regulatory Affairs Carolyn Santora, Assistant Director of Nursing Susan Robbins, Director of Quality Management Grace Propper, Lisa Reagan, the patient coordinator and Nurse Practitioner April Plank.

“It’s not just a bullet point checklist,” Groveman said. “It’s creating a history of this patient.”

Some patients like to hear a particular type of music. Indeed, one patient routinely listened to so much “Willie Nelson, that was all he wanted to listen to.”

Grovemen said the contact with the family also connects the nurses to that family’s support network, which they now aren’t able to see in eerily empty waiting rooms.

“You speak to these families and then you feel like you do know this person well,” Groveman said. “At a certain point, it’s not just about the patient. It’s about the whole support system. You’re pulling not just for them, but for their whole family.”

The pictures serve as an inspiration for the nurses as well, who get to share their passion for pets or for sports teams.

These connections are especially important, as some patients have been in the ICU for weeks.

Each time a person leaves the hospital, the staff plays the Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun,” which has also been encouraging to the hospital staff who has been treating them.

When Groveman returns to her family, which includes her husband Matt and their two children, each night, she puts her clothing in the washing machine and takes a shower before she enjoys her own family time.

“As soon as I walk in, they say, ‘No hug yet,’” Groveman said. Her kids have been “really good” about the new nightly pattern.

A by product of her new routine is that Groveman has also been washing her hands and wrists so often that she has developed what her daughter calls “lizard skin.”

She insists on disinfecting everything that comes in the house, which means that she has a collection of cardboard boxes on her porch that wait there until recycling day.

Amid all the public health struggles she and her fellow nurses see every day, she appreciates how Stony Brook has set up a room where nurses can meditate and relax.

Groveman said she’s surprised by the number of people who are coming in who are in their 30’s and 40’s. One of the more challenging elements of caring for patients is, for her, that she sees people who come in who are not in bad shape, but “unfortunately, with this, it can just be all of a sudden someone takes a downturn.”

Groveman had previously worked in pediatrics, where she said she recognized that any treatment for children also benefited the broader family.

“You are treating the family as well,” she said. “You really want to make that connection. Being a nurse is about making that connection.”

With a reduction of 77 hospitalizations in the last 24 hours from COVID-19, hospitalizations have dropped over 40 percent from their peak on April 10.

Indeed, the number of people in the hospital because of the coronavirus has dropped to 970, which is close to the number who were in Suffolk County hospitals at the start of April.

The end of the month of April “couldn’t be more different than when we started,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “When we started [April], we had no idea whether that surge that we were talking about for so long would overwhelm” the health care system.

Bellone credited health care heroes with saving people’s lives and holding the line against the surge of people who developed symptoms from the disease.

The county is ending this month “in a far better place than we began,” Bellone added.

Even as hospitalizations have declined, however, residents are continuing to test positive for the virus, as the number of new positive tests increased by 723 to 34,802.

Ever since the county created hotspot testing, the numbers from those seven sites, which now includes Southampton, have been increasing. The county has tested 2,459 people and has positive results on 881 of the 1,868 tests for which results are known.

The number of people with coronavirus in Intensive Care Unit beds also fell by 25 to 344.

Bed capacity is approaching 70 percent, which is the target rate to reopen the economy.

Bellone is also optimistic that the county will continue to move towards the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s target of 14 straight days of declining hospitalizations from the virus. Once the county reaches that level, it can consider reopening the economy.

In the last 24 hours, 114 residents have left the hospital.

Deaths due to complications from the coronavirus continue to climb. The number of people who died in the last day from the virus was 22, bringing the total to 1,177 people.

Bellone said he doesn’t think there’s a resident of Suffolk County who hasn’t been impacted or know someone who lost a family member, friend or loved one to the disease. The county executive mourned the loss of Terri Freda, who worked in the Medical Examiner’s Office. Freda, who was a spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office in 1997 after the crash of TWA Flight 800, and her husband both lost their battle with the virus.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Terri’s family,” Bellone said.

The county will begin testing law enforcement this Monday and will administer 500 tests at Suffolk County Police Academy. Officers can register starting tomorrow.

Separately, Stony Brook University is urging residents with medical needs unrelated to COVID-19 to reach out to their doctors. People who are having cardiac issues or strokes need rapid-response medical attention, the hospital said.

In a press release, Stony Brook indicated that it has taken numerous steps to protect patients and minimize exposure to COVID-19, including: preventing crowding; adopting CDC guidelines about social distancing and protective equipment; ensuring that staff, doctors and patients are wearing masks; sanitizing facilities; and screening patients the day before their visits. Patients with symptoms of the virus are going to offices designated for COVID-19 care.

Health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital crowd together after the flyover April 28. Photo by Kyle Barr

Even as the emergency health care community is due for a break after an intense surge in patients who had COVID-19 finally subsides, hospitals are seeing an increase in demand for surgeries and procedures residents had put off amid the crisis.

About 10 days ago, Stony Brook University Hospital saw a rise in admissions that were unrelated to COVID-19, said Dr. Todd Griffin, the President of Medical Staff and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine.

Indeed, in the last few days, the non-COVID admissions have been higher than the COVID-driven admissions, Griffin said.

“Patients were staying at home so long” during the pandemic that some of them “had to go into the emergency room,” Griffin said.

Stony Brook had been at pandemic level D during the worst of the crisis and is now getting ready to transition to Pandemic level C, which will allow them to operate on more semi-urgent patients.

These patients either have chronic pain that needs surgical remedies, cancers that are low grade but where waiting more than 30 days could exacerbate the condition, spinal cases that, if left untreated, could lead to more permanent disabilities, or cardiac cases.

“We’re really looking at starting up semi-urgent cases first, then we’ll look at the elective cases” some time later, Griffin said.

A medical team is looking at these types of decisions, trying to determine what falls into the semi-urgent arena and what becomes more of an elective procedure.

Up until recently, the ambulatory surgery center had been acting as an Intensive Care Unit. The hospital is thoroughly cleaning that area to make sure it’s safe for reentry for the general patient population, Griffin said. They are also assessing whether they have the staff to address medical issues that extend beyond helping people battling the virus.

“We are still far from a return to business as usual,” the medical staff president said.

Stony Brook is making sure it has enough personal protective equipment. One of the challenges in preparing hospital rooms for future surgeries is that the material used to make the drapes is the same as the material for surgical masks and gowns.

“A lot of that material was diverted,” Griffin said. The hospital wants to make sure it has enough drapes to meet the medical need.

Patients coming to Stony Brook hospital will need testing for COVID-19 before they receive treatment. The hospital is also considering whether they can test visitors and how that would be done to limit exposure for everyone in the hospital.
Stony Brook Hospital is also considering testing staff and physicians. The availability of testing will determine how many tests they administer and how frequently.

Even during the pandemic, Stony Brook has still been conducting about 10 to 15 procedures per day, which is well below the 70 to 80 patients who typically received treatment.

The individual departments have remained in touch with patients throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our outpatient offices have still been open,” Griffin said.

Indeed, separate from responses to COVID-19, some areas of the hospital have become even busier, including obstetrics and gynecology.

Over the last three or four weeks, the hospital has received about 80 to 100 transfer patients, which is considerably higher than the five to 10 it receives in a typical week.

Some of those patients are residents of New York City and came to Stony Brook because hospitals in other regions had stopped allowing a support person during delivery.

Additionally, Stony Brook has single bedded units in its maternity ward, which means mothers have their own room throughout the process.

“We were trying to have as normal an experience as we can in a pandemic,” Griffin said. “I am so proud of the staff and nurses during this difficult time. They created the best experience for patients possible.”

Even with the hospital scheduling some additional surgeries in the weeks ahead, however, Stony Brook will follow Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) guidance, remaining at or below 70 percent capacity in the event of another surge in demand from COVID-19.

Griffin is concerned that he will “see a second surge during the summer,” which planners are keeping in the “backs of their mind” as they add more patients to the surgery schedule.

Additionally, the medical community has spoken broadly about the combination in the fall or winter of a second wave of coronavirus at the same time as rising infections from the flu.

As the hospital prepares for more surgery patients, they will continue with procedures that protect patients and hospital staff, which includes wearing masks and more rigorous and frequent hand washing.

“Patients need to understand that if they come to Stony Brook Medicine, they are coming to a safe environment,” Griffin said. Griffin suggested that “coming to the hospital is still safer than going to the supermarket.”

Update: This article has been updated to indicate that the number of OB transfers over the last three to four weeks has been a total of 80 to 100, rather than 100 per week over that same time period. It also indicates that Stony Brook is considering whether the hospital can test visitors and how that would be done and that it is getting ready to transition to Pandemic Level C.

LI State Veterans Home has gone through much hardship since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Image from Google Maps

By Rich Acritelli

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Fred Sganga, right, hands a plaque to Battle of the Bulge veteran Tom Struminski at an event last year. File photo by Kyle Barr

These words of heroic national service by Winston Churchill Aug. 20, 1940, have been surely witnessed by U.S. citizens since the start of the COVID-19 health crisis. Feeling immensely proud of his staff and echoing these powerful sentiments is Executive Director Fred Sganga of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook. He stated just how thankful and proud he was of his 675 employees who have done everything possible to treat the veterans of this facility. From the moment that this virus hit the nation, these health care workers and support staff are on the front lines to ensure that this nursing home has taken care of their patients through the terrible rise of COVID-19.   

Currently, there are five New York State Veterans Homes that are facing staggering difficulties since the initial spread of the virus. While this pandemic has impacted all age groups, older generations are the most susceptible from being impacted by the ferocity of this sickness. For over 19 years, Sganga has led the vets home through many difficult moments, but it’s possible this scenario could be the most challenging point of his career. On March 10, Sganga ordered the complete lockdown of operations the nursing home, restricting access from the outside. Looking at the website of this hospital, it has been a transparent effort by Sganga and his staff to speak about the daunting issues that has faced both the workers and residents of the veteran’s home.

Covered in protective gear from head to toe, masks and shields, the staff has been working in hazardous conditions to treat veterans who have greatly sacrificed for this nation. Sganga said he is incredibly proud of his faculty’s ability to not only take care for their patients, but to serve as surrogate family members. For over 40 days, many of these residents have not seen their loved ones and the doctors, nurses, aides, housekeeping and maintenance cadre have engaged these older men and women with a consistent foundation of love and support.  

One of the biggest concerns that Sganga’s staff must handle with the patients who are already battling serious ailments and respiratory problems. The sickness has impacted the COVID units of this nursing home with 57 residents to date that have tested positive. Sganga identifies how this hospital has dealt with the positive cases by not allowing cross contamination between the various health care units. He considers this a deadly “chess game” where he’s made to use every possible strategy to contain the expansion of the virus within the hospital. 

These heavy health strains on the elderly population are apparent as the vets facility, which as of press time has lost 41 people, according to Sganga. While this is a tumultuous time, Sganga has continually stressed the determination of his staff to show up to work every day and to help those men and women residents that have sacrificed for the defense of the nation. Like that of the families, these staff members grieve at the loss of residents that they have grown to known through many special bonds. They have had to adapt to the many unknowns of the virus and decipher through the multitudes of guidance coming from the state and federal government. And through the spirit of cooperation amongst the team, every person plays an important role in carrying out these policies to protect the residents during these harrowing times. 

Much can also be said about the wonderful job that Sganga has done during his tenure at this home for almost two decades. Vietnam vet and Rocky Point VFW Post Commander Joe Cognitore said, “Sganga demonstrates the highest traits that a leader of any major organization can exhibit to lead and care for others. During the height of this crisis, he has the pulse of every staff member and the people that reside in this home. He is a self-starter and a delegator of plans to properly guard against this massive epidemic. Words are not enough to express his strength as a decisive figure to always assist others.  These sentiments are presented through my experiences as a patient that was flawlessly treated by this hospital. His spirit is easily seen through the endearing qualities of all his personnel that are always motivated to do their duty.”

Once this tragic virus began to escalate in widespread positive cases and deaths, the vets home has followed many directives from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, New York Department of Health, the Veterans Administration and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Almost every day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) speaks at daily press conferences outlining the risks of the elderly in the nursing homes and the devoted care in places like that of Stony Brook that has continually met their growing needs. 

Presently, there are over 45,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., with New York making up a third of these figures by nearly 15,000. Out of these numbers, experts say nearly a fifth of virus deaths have come from nursing facilities, and the fear is that more could to be taken from the brutality of the virus. Right now, there are health care workers and patients that have deteriorated quickly and passed away without any major signs of this sickness. 

Until recently, there were not enough testing kits for nursing homes like that of the Long Island State Veterans Home to even test their own workers. Cuomo recently stated that the goal of New York was to start testing 40,000 people every day, but there are many workers that were unable to know if they were safe from this virus. Through the entire interview, Sganga could not thank his staff enough for the absolute determination of his colleagues to stay the course in helping the elderly fight this illness. It has been a hard time for this staff, but they never shied away from their ultimate mission of protecting these men and women that sacrificed greatly for this nation. According to Cognitore, “even during the darkest moments of this crisis, Sganga’s employees and volunteers have diligently worked above and beyond the call of duty to protect the veterans against this uphill medical war to defeat the ongoing spread of COVID-19.” 

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Stock photo

By Leah Chiappino

One of the most trying aspects of COVID-19 is the financial turmoil it has brought on both national and local business sectors. Financial adviser Michael Christodoulou of Edward Jones Investments in Stony Brook answered some commonly asked questions about how to secure investments and resources for small businesses, and the types of financial assistance offered through the recent stimulus package.

Q: What is your advice for people, especially those that are retired or nearing retirement, regarding their stocks and 401(k) plans?

A: For one thing, ask yourself this: When do you really need the money from your investment accounts, such as your IRA and your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan? These are retirement accounts, so, depending on your age, you may not need to tap into them for 20, 30 or even 40 years. If so, your losses may be “paper” ones only for now and aren’t subjecting you to imminent financial jeopardy. This isn’t to minimize the effect this downturn will have on you, of course — it always takes time to recover lost ground, and there are no guarantees with investing. However, although past performance does not guarantee future results, it is useful to note that, over its long history, the U.S. stock market has typically trended in one direction — up — despite serious and sometimes lengthy declines such as we saw in the Great Depression and, to a lesser extent, the bursting of the dot.com bubble of the early 2000s and the financial crisis of 2008-09.

Nonetheless, you may have shorter-term goals — a wedding, down payment on a home, overseas trip, etc. — for which you need to save. For these goals, though, you wouldn’t want to touch your IRA or 401(k), anyway, as you’d likely face taxes and penalties. Instead, you’ll want your money invested in liquid, low-risk accounts that will be minimally affected, if at all, by declines in the financial markets. These vehicles might include Certificates of Deposit (CDs), money market accounts and even good old-fashioned U.S. savings bonds, all of which offer the protection of principal and can pay higher rates than traditional bank savings accounts.

Q: Should people stop contributing to retirement during this time?

A: Every investor has a different time horizon and risk tolerance. Depending on their time horizon and risk tolerance there may be a number of different recommendations.

For example, if a client has a longer-time horizon until retirement it may make sense to continue investing periodically in their retirement plan. But for someone who is looking to retire relatively soon, they might want to stop contributions or start saving those assets in low-risk accounts.

I highly recommend they work with their financial adviser in order to have a personalized strategy designed based on their goals for retirement.

Q: How would you advise small businesses go about applying for governmental assistance, especially through the federal stimulus bill?

A: Small businesses should work with their tax professionals/CPA and financial adviser in order to review their individual situation. I recommend they start by logging onto www.sba.gov/disaster. During this time, they should also be very cautious about scams. 

Q: The economic effects of this virus are already enormous, and will get exponentially worse. How do you think people can financially cope if this crisis continues?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) offers help for investors and small businesses. As we go through the coronavirus crisis, we are all, first and foremost, concerned about the health of our loved ones and communities. But the economic implications of the virus have also weighed heavily on our minds. However, if you’re an investor or a business owner, you just got some help from Washington, and it could make a big difference, at least in the short term, for your financial future. Specifically, the passage of the $2 trillion CARES Act offers, among other provisions, the following:

  • Expanded unemployment benefits: The CARES Act provides $250 billion for extended unemployment insurance, expands eligibility and provides workers with an additional $600 per week for four months, in addition to what state programs pay. The package will also cover the self-employed, independent contractors and “gig economy” workers. Obviously, if your employment has been affected, these benefits can be a lifeline. Furthermore, the benefits could help you avoid liquidating some long-term investments you’ve earmarked for retirement just to meet your daily cash flow needs.
  • Direct payments: Individuals will receive a one-time payment of up to $1,200, although this amount is reduced for incomes over $75,000 and eliminated altogether at $99,000. Joint filers will receive up to $2,400, which will be reduced for incomes over $150,000 and eliminated at $198,000 for joint filers with no children. Plus, taxpayers with children will receive an extra $500 for each dependent child under the age of 17. If you don’t need this money for an immediate need, you might consider putting it into a low-risk, liquid account as part of an emergency fund.
  • No penalty on early withdrawals: Typically, you’d have to pay a 10 percent penalty on early withdrawals from IRAs, 401(k)s and similar retirement accounts. Under the CARES Act, this penalty will be waived for individuals who qualify for COVID-19 relief and/or in plans that allow COVID-19 distributions. Withdrawals will still be taxable, but the taxes can be spread out over three years. Still, you might want to avoid taking early withdrawals, as you’ll want to keep your retirement accounts intact as long as possible.
  • Suspension of required withdrawals: Once you turn 72, you’ll be required to take withdrawals from your traditional IRA and 401(k). The CARES Act waives these required minimum distributions for 2020. If you’re in this age group, but you don’t need the money, you can let your retirement accounts continue growing on a tax-deferred basis.
  • Increase of retirement plan loan limit: Retirement plan investors who qualify for COVID-19 relief can now borrow up to $100,000 from their accounts, up from $50,000, provided their plan allows loans. We recommend that you explore other options, such as the direct payments, to bridge the gap on current expenses and if you choose to take a plan loan work with your financial adviser to develop strategies to pay back these funds over time to reduce any long-term impact to your retirement goals.
  • Small business loans: The CARES Act provides $349 billion to help small businesses — those with fewer than 500 employees — retain workers and avoid closing up shop. A significant part of this small business relief is the Paycheck Protection Program. This initiative provides federally guaranteed loans to small businesses who maintain payroll during this emergency. Significantly, these loans may be forgiven if borrowers use the loans for payroll and other essential business expenses, such as mortgage interest, rent and utilities, and maintain their payroll during the crisis. Please visit sba.gov/disaster for more information.

We’ll be in a challenging economic environment for some time, but the CARES Act should give us a positive jolt — and brighten our outlook.

Q: Do you have any information on how residents will know the exact number on their stimulus check for those above the $75,000 income threshold?

A: I would advise individuals to contact their tax professional/CPA. They will be able to give more accurate guidance based on their clients’ taxable situation and possible qualifications for the CARES Act direct payment program.

Q: What is your advice for those that have recently lost jobs and need to prioritize their loans? How can people cut back, and are there any specific loans that should be paid over others?

A: In the unfortunate event that you or a family member loses your job there are some easy steps to follow to help you better prepare yourself for this event. The federal government has taken a big step in protecting renters by issuing a 120-day moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing and property with federally backed mortgage loans. Some states have barred evictions for a few weeks. Please check with your landlord and or mortgage company.

Q: With stocks dipping, is now a good time to buy?

A: Before investing we recommend that investors understand their time horizon with the asset they are thinking about investing. What will that money be used for in the future? At what point in the future will you need the money?

For investors with a long-term outlook and time horizon, we remain confident that a rebound will take shape. It may take a while longer to materialize, but we think it will be robust and fueled by a return of confidence in the post-virus outlook. Long-term investors don’t need to capitalize on the pullback all at once but should consider opportunities to benefit from this decline. Consider:

  1. Rebalancing: Trimming overweight allocations and filling gaps in underrepresented asset classes and sectors.
  2. Systematic investing: Taking advantage of the ongoing volatility by systematically investing at regular intervals, reducing the “timing” aspect as the selloff plays out.
  3. Look for good buying opportunities, because they are certainly out there. A well-managed company with a solid business plan that produces quality products and services is going to be that same company after the coronavirus and oil price panics subside and, right now, that company’s stock shares may literally be “on sale.”

We recommend you consult with a financial adviser in order to make sure you completely understand your level of risk and time horizon.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for a set amount people should have in savings in case of an emergency? What is the best way to do so?

A:  I believe everyone should have an emergency fund. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal dollar amount that applies for everyone.

If you don’t already have an emergency fund, take these first steps to prepare:

  1. Detail your current financial situation including your income, expenses, assets and debts and any money previously set aside for unexpected expenses.
  2. Create a detailed budget in order to figure out what your monthly and annual living expenses add up to.
  3. Consider saving between three and six months of living expenses if you are still working; 12 months or more if you are retired.

This is just a starting point. Depending on your age, your list may look considerably different. Your financial adviser can help you put together your cash flow analysis related to your financial goals and help you calculate how much cash you may need for your next unexpected event.

Q: How do you think people should go about negotiating with credit card companies and banks if they need relief?

A: If someone is facing some financial hardship, they should contact their credit card company or bank directly. In most cases these companies can provide guidance and options so the individual understands their options and can make a decision based on all the information provided to them.

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Stony Brook University’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine launched a $500,000 coronavirus seed grant program. The money will fund an expected 10 to 14 awards for up to $40,000 per researcher for scientists and clinicians at Stony Brook who are responding to the needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Current, full-time, tenured or tenure track faculty at Stony Brook are eligible for these research grants, which will cover areas such as urgent care health care challenges and psycho-social, behavioral and economic impacts.

The deadline for submissions is April 10 and the awards, for up to a year, will start between April 27 and May 8.

Stony Brook described the application process as straightforward with a quick turnaround.

“This Covid-19 Seed Grant Program will unite our diverse research communities to develop engineering-driven medical solutions that could change the trajectory of Covid-19 response,” Joel Saltz, the Cherith Foundation Chair of Biomedical Informatics and Director of the Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine, said in a statement.

The Office of Proposal Development will provide support to research submitting applications.

The Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine is a combined effort of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Stony Brook Medical School. The Institute was created last summer to address a range of medical challenges that might have engineering solutions.