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Suffolk County Department of Health Services

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A teacher at St. James Elementary School was confirmed with COVID-19, but district officials say they're taken every precaution for reopening. Photo from Google Maps

For one staff member in the Smithtown Central School District, the beginning of the school year has been put on pause.

Mark Secaur, deputy superintendent, sent out a letter Sept. 2 to notify the community that earlier that day the district was notified of a St. James Elementary School staff member who tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to the letter, the person was last in the building Aug. 27. In accordance with the district’s reopening plan, the case was reported to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which will investigate and initiate contract tracing.

“Remember that our best chance to limit the spread of this virus is to work together and follow appropriate New York State Department of Health guidance,” Secaur wrote.

Two other districts on Long Island, namely Islip and Bellmore-Merrick, have also announced they had teachers who were confirmed with COVID-19 before the school year’s start.

Smithtown students are set to be back in school Sept. 9. Click here for more on Smithtown’s hybrid learning plan.

Local officials and health professional are urging residents to get this year's flu shot. Stock photo

State, county and area hospitals are bracing for this year’s flu season following reports of a sharp increase in recent weeks in the number of flu cases in New York state.

About 11,000 confirmed cases of influenza were reported by the New York State Department of Health for the week ending Jan. 11. That’s an increase of 10 percent over the previous week, according to the New York State Flu Tracker. There were 641 new cases in Suffolk County. The statewide total this season stands at almost 44,000. 

Similarly, “widespread”’ flu activity was reported by health departments in 46 states as of the last week of December, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and professor of Pediatrics, said currently the hospital is in the midst of handling an influx of influenza cases.

“We are dealing with the children’s hospital being quite full,” she said. “We have a number of infants with the flu, and we are concerned about it.” 

“Community protection is everyone’s job.”

– Sharon Nachman

The hospital hopes to see an improvement in the next couple of weeks.

Nachman points to a number of reasons why we have been seeing more flu cases in the state: People unwilling to get vaccinated; individuals believing that they are safe from getting sick if they haven’t in the past; a belief that cold and flu medications are better than the shot, among other things.

“I ask patients, ‘Is there a legitimate reason why you don’t want to be vaccinated?’” Nachman said. “You have to think of who is also living in your household, like young people and the elderly. Community protection is everyone’s job.”

The division chief said if everyone got their flu vaccine there would be less people to treat.

“You are 100 percent at risk without the vaccine,” Nachman said. “The vaccine will not prevent someone from getting the flu, but it can lessen the severity of it and shorten its duration.”

She said despite some misconceptions, you can’t catch the flu from the vaccine as it does not contain a live virus. If you happen to get sick after getting a flu shot, it’s a coincidence as there are a lot of viruses and illnesses circulating during the winter months.

In an effort to curb flu cases in Suffolk County, officials announced recently that the county would be offering free influenza immunization to residents 6 months of age and older who are uninsured or whose health insurance does not cover flu immunization.

“The health and wellness of our residents is of utmost importance,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in a statement. “The flu has been on the rise, and we want residents to know it is not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones from what can turn into a debilitating disease by getting immunized as soon as possible.”

The county’s health department has been providing flu immunizations at a number of locations including Suffolk County Department of Health Services at Great River in the Town of Islip and at Riverhead Free Library.

Nachman said it is important to constantly wash your hands and if you are sick, stay home to avoid exposing others to the illness.

Flu shots are also available at local pharmacies, pediatrician and health care provider offices, as well at county-affiliated health centers.

People who are having difficulty finding flu shots or community groups serving those who are in need of flu shots are advised to contact the county Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at 631-854-0333.

 

Northport Middle School closed after contamination concerns. File photo

Northport-East Northport Union Free School District Superintendent Rob Banzer has decided, effective immediately, to close Northport Middle School for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year after P.W. Grosser Consulting, the environmental firm who has been testing soil around the school property, found on Saturday elevated levels of benzene in two separate septic systems on site.

Classes for the Northport Middle School students were cancelled for Tuesday, Jan. 21 and Wed. Jan. 22, and will resume on Jan. 23 in new locations.

“It is important to note that preliminary air testing indicated no observable detection of volatile organic compounds or VOCs, which includes benzene, inside the building, or from soil samples, as well as at the source of the septic tanks,” Banzer said in an email notice to parents sent at 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. “However, in the best interest of students and staff and in consideration of ongoing testing and remediation, the building will be closed for the balance of the school year.”

During an unscheduled workshop with board members Wednesday,  Jan. 15, Banzer presented and reviewed a decisive contingency relocation plan for Northport Middle School students that ultimately became necessary to implement just days later.

The plan, developed with goals identified by all stakeholders, maintains the school’s curriculum, allows for spring sports, and enables students to access science labs. It was considered the best, least disruptive option.

As discussed during the workshop, transportation is feasible, but may require that some students change buses at the William J. Brosnan School building on Laurel Avenue. Additional drivers and buses might alleviate the need for transferring, Banzer said, but could be tough to secure.

“Although a great deal of the plan is already in place, we will need Tuesday and Wednesday to refine the logistics for staff and students, including scheduling, transportation and food service,” Banzer stated in his note to parents.

As explained to parents and reviewed in the Jan. 15 workshop:

  • Northport Middle School 8th graders will relocate to a special wing of the high school.
  • Northport Middle School 7th graders will relocate to East Northport Middle School.

Originally, Northport Middle School 6th graders were expected to be relocated to either Norwood Avenue or Bellerose Elementary schools. But, as explained in a letter sent to parents Jan. 20, the district opted to keep all of the 6th graders together at Norwood Avenue school. The gifted and talented program will instead be relocated to Bellerose

Suffolk County Department of Health Services requires that the site be remediated to remove the benzene. The health department also requires remediation for high levels of mercury and silver found in the leaching pools outside of the schools G-wing. Remediation plans are still under development.

Many parents have been conflicted about sending their children to the school. Students and staff have complained about unidentified foul odors that regularly surface inside the building. Some parents, retired teachers and community members blame chemicals previously identified on school grounds as a potential cause for their illnesses. As the environmental investigation continues, some parents are breathing a sign of relief.

“We are happy to know that the testing can be completed with the children and staff relocated to safe locations,” said Bethany Watts.

By Donna Deedy

[email protected]

“It’s more than a pretty garden,” said Chris Clapp, a marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s a biological process that relies on plants, wood chips and microbes to remove nitrogen in wastewater before it flows back into the environment.”

On June 24, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined Clapp with a conglomerate of representatives from both government and the private sector at The Nature Conservancy’s Upland Farms Sanctuary in Cold Spring Harbor to unveil a state-of-the-art method for reducing and eliminating nitrogen from wastewater. 

The county expects the new system to be a replacement for cesspools and septic systems, which are blamed for the seeping of nitrogen into Long Island waterways, causing red tides, dead zones and closed beaches.

County Executive Steve Bellone and Nancy Kelley of The Nature Conservancy plant the new garden at Upland Farms.

The issue is a serious concern, Bellone said, as he introduced the county’s Deputy Executive Peter Scully, who is spearheading the county’s Reclaim Our Water Initiative and serves as the Suffolk’s water czar. “Anytime a government appoints a water czar, you know you have problems to address.”

Scully, formerly the director for the Long Island region of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said six other septic alternatives are currently approved.    

Long Island is reportedly one of the most densely populated locations in the country without adequate wastewater treatment. Currently, there are 360,000 antiquated cesspools and septic systems. The county expects to set nitrogen reduction targets for watershed areas where replacement holds the most benefit. 

The technique, called a vegetated circulating gravel system, is composed of an underground network that essentially connects the drains and toilets of a home or office to plant life and microbial action. It works in two stages to denitrify the wastewater. The first phase discharges wastewater into an underground gravel bed covered with a surprisingly small garden of native plants that takes up nitrogen through its roots. The water is then circulated into an underground box of wood chips that convert the remaining nitrogen into gas, before it’s circulated back to the gravel bed. Once the water is denitrified, it’s dispersed through a buried leaching field. 

The county partnered with the Nature Conservancy to develop and implement the system for its Upland Farms Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located a half-mile from Cold Spring Harbor, where water quality has worsened during the last 12 years to the point where the state is officially proposing to designate it an impaired water body. 

“The Conservancy is proud to stand alongside the county and our partners to celebrate this exciting new system that taps into the power of nature to combat the nitrogen crisis, putting us on a path to cleaner water,” said Nancy Kelley, Long Island chapter director for The Nature Conservancy.  

During the experimental phase the system reduced by half the amount of nitrogen discharged from wastewater. A similar technique has been effective at removing up to 90% in other parts of the country. The system’s designers at Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology aim to completely remove nitrogen from discharges.  The Upland Farms offices and meeting hall system, which encompasses 156 square feet,  serves the equivalent of two to three homes. 

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that denitrification efforts work. The Centerport Yacht Club’s beach was closed for seven years due to water quality issues and reopened in 2015 after the Northport sewer plant upgraded to a denitrification system. Improvements to the harbor storm drain discharges, and a public lawn care campaign about curbing the use of fertilizers, also reportedly helped. 

The county has reached a critical juncture and beginning July 1, its new sanitary code for septic systems takes effect, which permits only denitrifying technology.

Justin Jobin, who works on environmental projects with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said that he expects to gain approval for a pilot program to accelerate the vegetated circulating gravel system’s public introduction, which could be approved as soon as this summer.  The design can be modified, its developers said, to serve single homes or large businesses. In addition to removing nitrogen, the system can also naturally filter out pharmaceuticals and personal care products.  Its impacts on 1,4-dioxane are being studied. 

Visit www.ReclaimOurWater.info for additional information. 

Photos by Donna Deedy

Flu season is hitting New York and the country as a whole especially hard this year. Stock photo

Flu season is hitting harder than usual across the United States this year, and New York has been no exception.

The New York State Department of Health Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report for the week ending Feb. 3, the most recent week available, said it was the ninth consecutive week that widespread influenza activity was reported. The “widespread” distinction means two or more additional lab-confirmed cases of influenza were reported in greater than 31 of the 62 counties in the state per 100,000 people. Nearly 16,000 lab-confirmed cases were reported for that week in New York, compared to about 5,300 for the same week in 2017.

More than 1,100 cases were reported for the same week in Suffolk County, bringing the season-to-date total to 3,301. The week ending Feb. 3 saw nearly identical numbers for the preceding two weeks in Suffolk combined. Three influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported in New York so far this season, and 63 nationwide.

A Feb. 9 update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated influenza-like illness reached 7.7 percent, the highest rate since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, or Swine Flu, which peaked at 7.7 percent. The overall hospitalization rate was higher for the past week than the rate reported for the same week in 2015, a high severity season, according to the CDC. Of the last six flu seasons, the 2017-18 hospitalization rate — 60 hospitalizations per 100,000 people — is the highest at this point in the season. Hospitalization rates have only exceeded 60 per 100,000 people over that span for nine weeks cumulatively — six weeks in 2015 and three weeks in 2017. Influenza-like illness has been at or above the national baseline for 11 weeks. During the last five flu seasons, influenza-like illness remained at or above baseline for 16 weeks on average, meaning the current flu season should be expected to continue for at least the next several weeks.

Flu prevention tips from the CDC:

1. Avoid close contact.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

2. Stay home when you are sick.

If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.

3. Cover your mouth and nose.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

4. Clean your hands.

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

“I think something that the public tends to forget from year to year is that influenza is a significant health issue,” said Dr. Michael Grosso, the chief medical officer at Huntington Hospital. “Were this any other kind of infection, we would be rather alarmed as a country. We’re sort of accustomed to the flu.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken announced last week the county is offering free influenza immunization to residents following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) declaration of a statewide public health emergency.

“The health and wellness of our residents is of utmost importance,” Bellone said in a statement, also thanking Cuomo for the emergency declaration, which resulted in the release of funding to allow for the free flu shots.

Tomarken and Grosso each stressed it is not too late in the season to obtain a flu shot.

“I think it’s important that leaders not ever send mixed signals about this,” Grosso said.

Cuomo also directed the Suffolk DHS to provide educational information to schools, colleges and other service providers about obtaining flu shots and other preventative measures, according to a letter from Tomarken dated Feb. 9 on the DHS website.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is sponsoring legislation that would, for the first time, collect data on all deaths resulting from influenza virus, not just deaths of those 18 years and younger. If approved, the statistics would be reported monthly during flu season and would become the basis of an annual report on that year’s flu season due to the Legislature each May.

“Our understanding of annual influenza outbreaks is limited by the limited data being collected by national, state and local health officials,” Hahn said in a statement. “When the statistics used to monitor this epidemic excludes nearly 79 percent of Suffolk County’s population it is difficult to get a clear picture of its impact on public health. I know having complete information will aid county officials who need to make reasonable predictions based upon available datasets.”

Legislator William ‘Doc’ Spencer (D-Centerport) is also supporting the bill.

Northwell Health, a health system that oversees several area hospitals including Huntington Hospital, has instituted a new “biosurveillance” system to track and respond to the volume of influenza cases it’s handling this season. Among other benefits, the system enables Northwell Health to proactively manage the distribution of resources, including supplies needed to treat patients and protect staff, such as antiviral medications, rapid-flu tests, masks and gloves.

Grosso said the implementation of the statistics yielded from the new system is still coming along, and he said he anticipates it will be a useful tool during subsequent flu seasons.

Free flu shots are available for Suffolk residents age 2 and older at local pharmacies and for those at least 6 months old at pediatrician and healthcare provider offices. Additionally, the county is offering free immunizations for residents 6 months old and up Feb. 13 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Riverhead Free Library and Feb. 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. Residents are asked to call 631-787-2200 Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to schedule an appointment.

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Vapes, or electronic cigarettes, are becoming more and more popular among young people, despite a lack of research about the health effects. Photo by John Petroski

By Sabrina Petroski

The “vape life” has found its way into the Port Jefferson School District, making it one of many being forced to address the new trend.

On Jan. 10, Earl L. Vandermeulen High School hosted a community forum about the dangers associated with the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping among young people. The forum, led by the Senior Drug Abuse Educator with the Suffolk County Department of Health, Stephanie Sloan, gave parents and teachers a wealth of information on the issue.

The use of e-cigarettes rose exponentially between 2011 and 2015 across the United States within both middle and high schools, according to Sloan, who cited statistics from a 2016 report on the matter by the office of the U.S. Surgeon General. Sloan said e-cigarette use increased from less than 2 percent in high schools to 15 percent, and less than 1 percent in middle schools to 5 percent over that time period. According to Sloan, more young people are using the various devices because they are curious, there are fun flavors, and there is no perception of risk.

“They are not harmless and we have to work together to encourage healthier decisions among adults and youth,” Sloan said.

Though there isn’t a lot of conclusive research on e-cigarettes yet, what we do know is the liquid, known as e-juice, is made of a combination of nicotine and propylene glycol, with traces of diacetyl, acetoin, ultrafine particles of metal, and benzene. Sloan pointed out, there is no water in the vapor being inhaled.

The devices come in different shapes and sizes; some as small as an actual cigarette, while others are the size of a cellphone. The smallest, and most popular among young adults is the size and shape of a USB drive, and it leaves no odor, making it easy to hide on school grounds.

“They are not harmless and we have to work together to encourage healthier decisions among adults and youth.”

— Stephanie Sloan

“The problem is, it is very difficult to detect,” said Christine Austen, the high school principal. “Compared to cigarettes there’s no scent, there’s no smoke, and there’s no evidence unless other students report it.”

The trend started in Port Jeff last school year but has become much more frequent since, according to leadership in the district. In an effort to stop students from picking up the habit, the school district has added a section about the dangers of e-cigarettes into the curriculum of every health class.

“We want the kids to know that there are varying amounts of nicotine and other synthetics in these vapes,” said Danielle Turner, the Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics. “Prevention is most important because of what we still don’t know.”

Though there are age restrictions on buying e-cigarettes and vapes, the underage students are still finding ways to obtain them. According to Robert Neidig, Port Jefferson Middle School principal, students say they can access them online with gift cards or through older siblings and friends.

E-cigarettes have recently been added to the Clean Indoor Air Act, making it illegal for them to be used anywhere tobacco products are banned, including on school grounds. Sloan urged administrators to treat the devices the same as cigarettes when punishment is being decided.

According to Superintendent Paul Casciano, punishments for students caught with e-cigarettes on school property are handled on a case by case basis. A parent of both a middle school and a high school student said during the forum he believes there should be a blanket punishment.

“Just a phone call home isn’t enough,” he said. “All of the students should be treated the same in spite of other infractions. The first offense should be a warning, and the second should be a blanket punishment.”

The Port Jeff school district received a grant which will allow it to install vapor detectors in the bathrooms of the school, and going forward the district plan is for the faculty and staff to continue their efforts to keep the community aware and educated.

If you know of or suspect any stores that are selling e-cigarettes or accompanying items to people under the age of 21, you can contact the Department of Health Services Investigation Team by calling 631-853-3162. For more information on the dangers associated with e-cigarettes contact Stephanie Sloan by calling 631-853-8554, or emailing [email protected].

Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson has been around for almost 30 years, though its founder said homelessness was an issue in Port Jeff long before that. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

An Aug. 28 post by a user in a private Facebook group of about 1,300 Port Jefferson Village residents featured a photo of two men sleeping at the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station. Amidst a longer message attached to the image was the phrase: “I’ve had it.”

The post inspired comments from more than a dozen users who began a lengthy discussion about homeowners’ concerns over property values as a result of activity related to homeless people in the area. Some responses included efforts to tackle the issue of homelessness after the main poster asked: “Does anyone know what is being done about this?”

Elected officials, local leaders and data from nonprofit organizations serving the state, Long Island and Suffolk County seem to agree: Efforts exist to reduce the number of undomiciled residents, but the problem is not going away and more needs to be done.

Volunteers at Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jefferson prepare a meal for guests. Photo by Alex Petroski

Homelessness has been a topic of conversation in Port Jeff for decades, and Father Frank Pizzarelli, a Port Jeff resident and founder of the nonprofit Hope House Ministries, began addressing the issue in 1980. With 10 facilities, he helps serve groups and people in need. His first endeavor was The Community House in Port Jefferson.

A 30-bed long-term facility, the home on Main Street is still in operation today for at-risk 16- to 21-year-old males in need of a place to live. Almost 28 years ago, Pizzarelli said he opened Pax Christi Hospitality Center on Oakland Avenue after a Vietnam veteran froze to death in winter while living in what he described as a cardboard box village in Port Jefferson.

At least seven people listed as undomiciled by the county police department were arrested on the morning of Oct. 4 for sleeping in tents in the woods behind the Comsewogue Public Library on Terryville Road, according to police.

According to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization established in 1985 that works with government agencies to secure funding and services for homeless people in Suffolk and Nassau counties, 3,937 people on Long Island were classified as homeless as of January 2017. The number includes people in emergency or transitional housing, as well as those who are completely unsheltered, of which there were 64, according to the group’s annual report for 2017.

In context, the number of homeless people living on Long Island hasn’t changed much over the last three LICH yearly tallies. In 2016, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) conducted an audit to examine the issue of homelessness in the state, which reached some discouraging conclusions.

Homelessness is on the decline nationwide, according to the report, though New York was one of 18 states to see an increase in the number of people without a permanent residence between 2007 and 2015. The number rose by 41 percent to more than 88,000 statewide during that span, which was the largest increase of any state in the country. Much of the increase was attributable to New York City, though DiNapoli’s audit stressed homelessness as a state problem and not simply a city problem, saying homelessness is affecting “communities in virtually every corner of the state … on a daily basis.”

‘Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community. I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity.’

— Frank Pizzarelli

“The homeless problem pre-existed Pax Christi,” Pizzarelli said. The licensed social worker said the idea that his facilities attract the homeless to Port Jeff is a common refrain he’s heard cyclically over the years from people like the Facebook poster, though he said he has found those voices are few and far between and don’t represent the majority of the community.

“Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community,” he said. “I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity. Yes, there are always people that are super critical and, because of the socioeconomic nature of our community, would prefer certain things not be here. They’re a very small minority from my experience.”

He said he receives no financial support from the government other than reimbursements from the county’s Department of Social Services to barely cover his costs for sheltering people overnight at Pax Christi. His entire budget, which he estimated to be in the ballpark of $5 million annually, is covered by donations and grants. He also said he believes homeless people who commit crimes or contribute to tensions in the Port Jeff community tend not to be the same people who are interested in getting help.

“Uptown is a complicated place,” he said. “The homeless have no fixed address and they also have no voice, so it’s easy to blame them. They’re a part of the issue, but it’s not that simplistic. I don’t think the larger community really realizes that.”

Pizzarelli pointed to insufficient funds from the county and state governments as his and other organization’s biggest obstacle in providing services for those in need. He said mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, especially to opioids, are at the root of Suffolk County’s homelessness problem. Once people are in treatment for substance addiction or any mental health affliction, he said more transitional housing needs to be made available to get people on the road to recovery.

Pizzarelli said Pax Christi does not admit any persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so they occasionally have to turn people away.

“We probably all need to take a firmer stand so [homeless people being aided by services] understand if they’re not going to take care of business — hanging out at the train station is not the answer,” he said. “I agree, people don’t need to be harassed when they’re getting off the train.”

A breakdown by race of Long Island’s nearly 4,000 homeless people, according to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. Graphic by TBR News Media

DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, in conjunction with the Welfare to Work Commission of the Legislature, arranged a public hearing Oct. 10 to discuss the impact that massive cuts in President Donald Trump’s (R) early budget proposals to funding for human services would have on local residents.

Michael Stoltz, the executive director of Ronkonkoma-based Association for Mental Health and Wellness said before the hearing he thinks the county fails to adequately invest in mental health services.

“We see a proportionate rise and increase in the number of people in our jails who have mental health conditions — untreated and under treated — and among our homeless populations,” he said.

Stoltz was representing one of the 13 agencies slated to speak during the hearing.

“The county and these agencies are facing a crisis of what could be unparalleled and unprecedented proportions,” commission chairman Richard Koubek said before the hearing. “We have watched with dismay and frustration the chronic underfunding of contract agencies that serve Suffolk County’s poor people.”

Suffolk and Nassau counties collectively are considered a Continuum of Care community, which is defined as a community with a unified plan to organize and deliver housing services to meet the needs of people who are homeless. Grants from the CoC are funded through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a federal department responsible for more than $10 million in CoC grants obtained each year to aid locals, according to its website. DiNapoli’s report found of the smaller communities with CoC programs, Long Island’s counties had the third largest homeless population in the United States.

Long Island’s relative lack of affordable housing can further complicate the issue, as housing units are priced to rent or own in Brookhaven Town according to HUD guidelines, which are dependent on the area median income of a region. In 2017, Suffolk County’s average household income was $110,800. To qualify to rent an affordable living space, household income must be less than 50 percent of this number, meaning in Suffolk, any family earning less than $55,400 annually has a right to reduced rent. Monthly rent for a three-person home for a family earning less than that, for example, by law cannot exceed $1,200.

Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson has been around for almost 30 years, though its founder said homelessness was an issue in Port Jeff long before that. Photo by Alex Petroski

Because of the relatively high average income in Suffolk, “affordable” rent is a term that most likely wouldn’t apply to someone sleeping on the street or residing in a homeless shelter. According to Pizzarelli and Brookhaven Housing and Human Services Commissioner Alison Karppi, there’s far less affordable housing available in the town and the county as a whole than demand would dictate.

“It is estimated that 42,500 renters spend half or more of their income on household costs,” Gregory said prior to the Oct. 10 hearing. “That startling figure emphasizes the need for cheaper housing our working families and young people can afford. We are here today to send a message that we simply can’t afford this budget.”

Last week Brookhaven Town announced a new initiative to acquire vacant “zombie” homes and make them available for veterans and first-time homebuyers at reduced costs as a way to expand the availability of affordable housing in the town. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) estimated there are as many as 2,000 vacant homes in the town with many in a salvageable state.

Port Jeff has another resource in its backyard to help those in need, which reiterates Pizzarelli’s sentiment that on the whole, it is a compassionate community.

Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff Village has been serving people in need, homeless or otherwise, in the area for 28 years. The group also has two locations in Port Jefferson Station comprised of about 200 volunteers and functions entirely on donations of money and food, oftentimes from a local Trader Joe’s. Five days a week, the soup kitchen opens its doors to serve as many as 100 guests free of charge each night. Unlike Pax Christi, Welcome Friends never turns away guests due to intoxication. The volunteers prevent entry to those who could be a danger to other guests, but even in those instances the person is sent away with a to-go meal, always well balanced and fresh. Multiple courses are available but served once a day Sunday to Wednesday and also on Friday.

Lorraine Kutzing, a longtime coordinator at the soup kitchen, said the organization’s sole focus is having as many meals as possible prepared each day, and hopes that she and others like Pizzarelli can continue to try to fix the problem highlighted by community members like those in the Facebook group.

“I think the need has always been there,” she said. “I don’t think that has changed that much.”

Stock photo

Thirteen more mosquito samples have tested positive for West Nile virus in Suffolk County, bringing the total this year to 192, according to Dr. James L. Tomarken, the county’s health commissioner.

The samples were collected from Sept. 15 through Sept. 17, from the following areas: three from West Babylon, one from North Patchogue, one from Selden, one from Patchogue, one from Port Jefferson Station, one from Setauket, one from South Huntington, one from Bay Shore, one from Islip, one from Holbrook and one from Smithtown.

One human has tested positive for West Nile this year. The 55-year-old man from the Town of Islip was admitted to a local hospital in late August upon experiencing symptoms consistent with the virus, according to a Suffolk County Department of Health Services statement on Sept. 11.

The virus, first detected in birds and mosquito samples in Suffolk County in 1999 and again each year thereafter, is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito.

“The confirmation of West Nile virus in mosquito samples indicates the presence of West Nile virus in the area,” Tomarken said. “While there is no cause for alarm, we urge residents to cooperate with us in our efforts to reduce the exposure to the virus, which can be debilitating to humans.”

To reduce the mosquito population around homes, residents should try to eliminate stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. Other tips include disposing of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers; removing discarded tires on the property; making sure roof gutters drain properly, and cleaning clogged gutters; turning over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use; changing the water in birdbaths; cleaning vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds and keeping shrubs and grass trimmed; cleaning and chlorinating swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs; and draining water from pool covers.

Most people infected with West Nile virus will experience mild or no symptoms, but some can develop severe symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to Dr. Tomarken. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. Individuals, especially those 50 years of age or older, or those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk, are urged to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

There are a number of ways to avoid mosquito bites. Residents are advised to minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn; wear shoes and socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors for long periods of time or when mosquitoes are more active; use repellent; and make sure all windows and doors have screens.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Suffolk County Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 852-4270.

For medical questions related to West Nile virus, call 854-0333.

To learn more about how mosquitoes are captured and tested for mosquito-borne diseases in Suffolk County, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtaO-GkF8Yc

To learn more about how mosquitoes are prepared for West Nile virus testing, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebOvsdiln-8.

For further information on West Nile virus, visit the Department of Health Services’ website: https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/HealthServices/PublicHealth/PreventiveServices/ArthropodborneDiseaseProgram/PreventingMosquitoBorneIllnesses.aspx

County: 26 samples collected last month bring total up to 46 this year

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Twenty-six mosquito samples and one bird have tested positive for the West Nile virus in various parts of Suffolk County, Dr. James L. Tomarken, the county’s health commissioner, announced on Friday.

The bird, an American crow, was collected on July 31 from Port Jefferson. All the mosquito samples that came back positive were collected on July 29, according to the county. Five of them were from West Babylon, four were from Farmingville and three were from Lindenhurst; as well as two samples each from Northport, East Northport, Huntington Station, Nesconset and Port Jefferson; and one sample each from Greenlawn, Selden, North Babylon and West Islip.

To date this year, 46 mosquito samples and four birds have tested positive for West Nile virus.

The virus was first detected in birds and mosquitoes in Suffolk County in 1999. It is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. No humans or horses have tested positive for West Nile virus in Suffolk this year.

While Dr. Tomarken said there’s no cause for alarm, he urged residents to take steps to reduce exposure to the virus.

Residents should eliminate stagnant water, where mosquitos breed. Popular breeding grounds include tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, discarded tires, wading pools, wheelbarrows and birdbaths. In addition, residents can make sure their roof gutters are draining properly, clean debris from the edges of ponds and drain water from pool covers.

Minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn to avoid mosquito bites, make sure windows and doors have screens and wear clothing that covers you when outdoors for long periods of time, or when mosquitos are more active.

To report dead birds, which may indicate the presence of the virus, residents should call the county’s West Nile virus hotline at 631-787-2200 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents are encouraged to take a photograph of any bird in question.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the vector control division at 631-852-4270.

For medical questions, call 631-854-0333.

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Mosquito samples from Port Jefferson Station, Rocky Point and East Northport have tested positive for West Nile virus, Suffolk County Health Services Commissioner James Tomarken announced on Friday.

In total, six mosquito samples tested positive for the virus, bringing this year’s total to 13. While the insects were infected, no humans, horses or birds have tested positive for the virus in Suffolk County this year.

Two samples collected from Port Jefferson Station on July 14; one sample collected from Rocky Point on July 16; and one sample collected from East Northport on July 17 tested positive, according to a press release from the health services department. Two other samples were gathered from Copiague and Dix Hills.

West Nile virus was first detected in birds and mosquito samples in Suffolk County in 1999, and is transmitted to humans by mosquito bites. According to the Center for Disease Control, 70 to 80 percent of those infected with the virus do not develop any of the symptoms, which can include fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea and rash. Severe cases — less than 1 percent of infections — could lead to a neurological illness.

Tomarken said while there is no cause for alarm, his department is asking residents to help in their efforts to reduce the exposure to the virus.

First, residents should try to eliminate stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. Popular breeding grounds include tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, discarded tires, wading pools, wheelbarrows and birdbaths. In addition, residents can make sure their roof gutters are draining properly, clean debris from the edges of ponds and drain water from pool covers.

To avoid mosquito bites, residents should minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn, cover up when mosquitoes are most active, use repellent and make sure windows and doors have screens in good repair.

To report dead birds, which may indicate the presence of the virus, residents should call the county’s West Nile virus hotline at 631-787-2200 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents are encouraged to take a photograph of any bird in question.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the vector control division at 631-852-4270.

For medical related questions, call 631-854-0333.