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Suffolk County

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On his daily update with reporters July 14, an exacerbated-sounding Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had a rather simple message: “Wear a mask, wear a face covering, there’s too much at stake for you not to.”

This comes on the heels of new virus data for Suffolk County, which says the positive test rate broke 2 percent today as the number of new positive tests rose by 102 to a total of 42,214 in Suffolk County. The number even beats the positive test rate for New York City, which is sitting at 1.4 percent as of reporting. The overall New York State positive rate is 1.5 percent.

“This is the first time the number of new positives has risen since May 31,” Bellone said. “The numbers are moving in the wrong direction.”

While the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 remained relatively the same at 41, along with 14 people in ICU beds, the county executive said the number of increasing cases is due to young people, especially those 30 years or younger. Since June 24, 42 percent of positive cases have come from this age group, Bellone said. 

This news also comes on the heels of a release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo who cited a Fourth of July weekend party in Holtsville as an example of how new infections are being spread. While the governor’s office put the number at 35 percent testing positive, the county put the number at 4, meaning 22 percent of partygoers were confirmed with the virus. The county did not issue any citations for the party as the number of people was under the 25 required limit for gatherings. The county executive said police did not respond to this particular gathering in Holtsville, and he did not reveal

“It’s an example of why it’s critically important that we remain vigilant,” Bellone said. “If you attended a Fourth of July gathering, you should be extremely sensitive to how you’re feeling, and when in doubt go get tested.”

Bellone added they have been doing contract tracing for events tracing back to the Fourth of July weekend, but did not have other examples of other gatherings where people have tested positive. If the county has to, Bellone said police will step up enforcement about gatherings. 

“If that number climbs to 5 percent we’re not going to be able to reopen our schools, and that will be terrible for kids and parents,” he said.

The county executive said 10 lifeguards employed by Suffolk County have been confirmed with COVID-19, but officials said they were not confirmed with the virus from being on the beach during the holiday, and more likely were infected during gatherings with fellow lifeguards. All 10 are now in quarantine.

On the positive end, however, Tuesday also marked a third day in a row where no new people have died due to complications with COVID-19.

On the state side, Cuomo added another four states to the list of places people must quarantine after coming in to include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. 

 

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While Suffolk County remains well below the level of positive tests for the country as a whole and for states like Florida and Texas, the percentage of positive tests in the area has crept higher than it’s been in recent weeks.

Among 4,517 tests, 84 people tested positive for the coronavirus, which is a 1.9% positive test rate, The positive tests have been tracking closer to 1 percent for the last several days.

“If you attended a party last weekend on July 4 or a larger gathering, be sensitive to how you are feeling,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his almost daily conference call with reporters. “You may want to reconsider visiting friends and family who are vulnerable.”

Given the large number of tests throughout the country, the wait time to get results has increased to five to 10 days, Bellone said.

Additionally, Saheda Iftikhar, the Deputy Commissioner for Department of Health Services, said the time between exposure and a positive test is usually at least 48 hours. That means a person attending a gathering on a Sunday when he or she might have been exposed to someone with the virus should wait until Wednesday before taking a test, to avoid a likely false negative.

The 84 positive results from the July 12 data likely came from tests administered days or even a week earlier, which means that these tests could indicate any increase due to gatherings around Independence Day.

To be sure, Bellone said he doesn’t put too much stock in any one day’s numbers. Nonetheless, he said the county will remain vigilant about monitoring the infection rate over the next few days.

“Be smart,” Bellone urged. “If you attend a gathering in which social distancing or the guidelines may not be strictly adhered to, be very conscious of any symptoms you may have,” Bellone said.

Bellone also urged people to be responsive to calls from the Department of Health, as contact tracers gather confidential information designed to contain any possible spread of the virus.

The other numbers for residents were encouraging.

The number of residents in the hospital was 40, which is a decline from 54 on Friday. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds was 14, which is up from 10 from Friday.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 70 percent, while ICU occupancy was at 61 percent.

Hospitals discharged 13 people who had suffered with symptoms related to the virus.

For the last 48 hours, the number of fatalities has been zero. The total number of people who have died from complications related to the coronavirus is 1,993.

Bellone highlighted a financial report from New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, titled “Under Pressure.” The report indicated that, statewide, local sales tax collections declined by 24 percent in April and 32 percent in May.

“Local governments are only beginning to feel the impacts of COVID-19 on their revenue,” Bellone said. Reductions in state aid are still possible, which puts counties cities and less wealthy school districts in an “especially tenuous position.”

Local governments will need to take drastic measures to fill enormous budget gaps. That includes Suffolk County, which may have a deficit as large as $839 million this year.

Separately, as school districts try to figure out how to balance between in-person and remote learning, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) issued guidelines today designed to provide specific targets.

Schools in districts that have reached Phase 4 of the reopening, which includes Suffolk County and where the infection rate is below 5 percent, can reopen. When the positive testing percentage on a rolling 7-day basis exceeds 9 percent should close, Cuomo advised.

School districts will make their decisions about opening between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7.

The governor also announced a new requirement that people traveling into New York from 19 states with rising rates like Florida, California, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas will have to give the state contact information before leaving the airport. Those who fail to do this will receive a summons and face a $2,000 fine

From left: Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and former Congressman Steve Israel. Photo from Bellone’s office

During the first two months of the pandemic, Long Island lost jobs at a faster rate than New York City, New York State or anywhere else in the nation, according to a new report from Nassau and Suffolk Counties with city-based consulting firm HR&A Advisors.

Long Islanders suffered the twin blows of the public health impact, with close to 2,000 people dying from the virus, and the economic destruction.

Long Island lost 270,000 jobs, or 21.9 percent of non-farm payroll employment, compared with a rate of 20.1 percent for New York City.

“This pandemic has caused hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders to lose their jobs, shuttered businesses, and turned our local economy upside down,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. He and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) held a press conference today in Melville where they cited this report. “This report makes it clear that federal aid from Congress is necessary if our region is going to rebound and recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

The impact was particularly brutal for people with low-paying jobs, lower levels of education and among the Hispanic population.

The worst, however, is not over, as total job losses on Long Island are expected to reach 375,000 compared to pre-COVID levels. Net job losses are expected to continue through 2021 as well, albeit at a slower pace.

More than two out of three jobs lost (or 68 percent) were in sectors that pay less than the regional average annual wage of $61,600.

The area that lost the highest number of jobs, across Suffolk and Nassau County, was hospitality, which shed 82,000 jobs. Health care and social assistance lost 59,000 jobs and retail lost 52,000.

The job decline in hospitality was especially problematic for Hispanic workers, who are disproportionately represented in those businesses. Hispanic workers represent 27 percent of the hospitality field, while they are a smaller 17 percent of the overall Long Island workforce.

While workers with a high school diploma or below constitute 62 percent of the workforce, they represented 73 percent of the viral-related job losses, reflecting the disparate effect of the virus.

The overall effect of these job losses will result in a decline of $21 billion in earnings for Long Island workers and $61 billion in economic activity throughout the area.

The report suggested that economic recovery would occur in several waves, with some industries showing an increase in jobs much more rapidly than others. Finance and insurance, management of companies and enterprises, professional and technical services, government and information jobs will likely see 95 percent of jobs return within six months, by the first quarter of next year.

The second wave includes jobs in real estate, retail, administrative and waste services, construction and utilities, education, health care and social assistance, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and other services. Within a full year, 85 percent of those jobs will return.

The third wave will take the longest and will bring back the fewest jobs. Accommodation and food services, transportation and warehousing, and arts, entertainment and recreation will take two years to restore 75 percent of the jobs on Long Island that predated COVID-19.

Half of all businesses in Suffolk County closed temporarily during the virus. An estimated 1 percent of those businesses closed permanently.

One third of businesses on Long Island are at risk of closing.

The report also projects that earning and spending losses may be even higher in 2021 from a slow recovery within some sectors and from expiring unemployment benefits.

The report and the county executives urged the federal government to pass the HEROES Act, which provides $375 billion in budgetary relief for local governments. The act passed the house, but the Senate has yet to address it.

The report also urged an extension of benefits for workers and businesses and an increase in federal infrastructure funds. The report also sought federal relief for small businesses, while supporting new business development and helping businesses recover. Finally, it seeks assistance for states and counties for workforce development, job training and equity initiatives.

Police Set New Guidelines for Protests

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With Suffolk County entering Phase 4 of a planned reopening, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) provided his final daily media update on the county’s response to the virus. The County Executive had conducted 122 such updates, as residents suffered personal and economic losses that extend far beyond the daily numbers and statistics.

“We reached the final stage of reopening” today, Bellone said. The county has gone “up the mountain and made it down the other side. In the process, we’ve seen terrible tragedy and acts of extraordinary heroism.”

Entering Phase 4 marks a “new stage” in this unprecedented event,” Bellone added.

Even as the county executive is pleased that the county has moved to Phase 4, in which people can gather outdoors in groups of 50 instead of 25 and some businesses that had remained closed can reopen, he is still aware of the additional work necessary to open other enterprises that remained closed, such as gyms, bowling alleys, catering facilities and movie theaters.

Gyms have presented plans for reducing risk, such as individual workout sessions and class-based reservations that would allow contact tracing to reduce risk, Bellone said.

Asked about reopening schools, which will affect so many families and teachers across the county, Bellone said he thinks schools “need to reopen. That needs to be done safely.”

He suggested that putting together those plans was complicated, but that it shouldn’t be a divisive or political issue.

“We know it is good for kids to be in school,” Bellone said. “We can not have a whole generation of kids that are falling behind. We know the devastating impact that would have.”

The county executive called on the federal government to provide relief to schools to prevent them from having to cut areas that he deemed critical, such as arts, music, sports and staff. Reopening schools will require additional expenses, as schools will not be able to operate normally.

“Right now, schools are worried about paying for the basics,” Bellone said. A federal government that didn’t provide disaster assistance would be “absolutely unconscionable.”

Viral Numbers

The number of people who tested positive for the coronavirus was 69, which represents a 1.7 percent positive rate for new tests. While that percentage is higher than the recent average, which is closer to 1.1 percent, Bellone said he doesn’t put too much stock in any one day’s data.

The total number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 is 41,799.

The number of people who have tested positive for the antibody but who didn’t have symptoms of the disease is 20,104.

The number of people in the hospital declined by seven to 50, which is “an amazing number considering where we’ve been.”

The number in the Intensive Care Units is nine.

Overall hospital bed occupancy was at 68 percent, while ICU bed occupancy was at 59 percent.

Six people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

The viral death toll held steady at a revised 1,984, as no residents died from complications related to the coronavirus.

To prepare for a possible second wave of the virus, the county developed a contact tracing program and has worked through procurement to stockpile some personal protective equipment.

Police Rules for Protests

The Suffolk County Police Department put several new rules in place in connection with any future protests.

For starters, demonstrators need to contact the SCPD at least 24 hours in advance to indicate the route they plan to take. They can call (631) 852-6110 between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. from Monday through Friday.

Protests are prohibited from congregating in the street and disrupting the flow of traffic. Police said people who don’t comply with this rule are subject to enforcement action.

Demonstrators cannot block vehicular or pedestrian traffic and may not enter private property without consent.

Demonstrators may also not walk in the traffic lanes of a roadway when prohibited.

Finally, people who are older than two years old who can tolerate a face mask medically is required to wear one in situations where maintaining six feet of social distancing is not possible.

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Suffolk County will enter Phase 4 tomorrow of its economic reopening with the tail wind of strong public health numbers.

The new phase “means that certain low-risk outdoor and indoor activity will begin to open up,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in his daily conference call with reporters. Some arts, entertainment, media and sports will restart.

Residents are permitted to gather in groups of 50, up from the 25 from the previous phase. Houses of worship, meanwhile, can go to 33 percent capacity.

The Long Island Aquarium, the Maritime Museum, and the Children’s Zoo, among others, are all reopening.

“I encourage people to call directly to make sure that the places are open,” Bellone advised. Some of these facilities might have specific restrictions and may have limited hours.

In the last 24 hours, 45 people tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to 41,730. With 4,226 people tested, the percentage of positive tests was about 1.1 percent.

At the same time, 20,003 have tested positive for the antibody to the virus, indicating that their bodies fought off COVID-19 without a positive test.

Hospitalizations fell six to 57, which is the first time since March that the number of residents who were in the hospital with coronavirus symptoms was below 60. At the same time, the number of people in the Intensive Care Unit was 14, which is a decline of two.

An additional nine people were discharged from the hospital and are continuing their recovery at home.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 64 percent, with ICU bed capacity at 60 percent.

One person died in the last day from complications related to the virus, bringing the total to 1,985.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

Even as Suffolk County prepares for the final phase of its economic reopening this Wednesday, people came to Fire Island during Fourth of July celebrations, where they reportedly violated social distancing and face covering rules.

After all the work to reduce the spread of the virus in Suffolk County and the economic and personal sacrifices designed to save lives, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was disheartened by images of people on Fire Island and in Montauk who ignored public health rules.

Bringing groups of people within six feet of each other without wearing face coverings is “just dumb,” Bellone said. “It doesn’t make sense. The way that we will undo all of the progress that we have made is to simply stop using common sense.”Such flouting of rules designed to protect the public “is unacceptable” and will result in enforcement actions, Bellone said.

Future incidents in which people don’t follow health guidelines can result in tickets from the police department. The tickets are a Class B Felony.

Bellone urged residents to remain safe so that the county can consider reopening schools and so businesses that have been able to survive the earlier shutdown can continue to rebuild.

The Suffolk County Police Department received 1,160 firework-related calls from Friday through Sunday.

Viral Numbers

The number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 was 43, which represents a 1.1 percent positive rate among the 3,812 people tested.

The total number of people who have tested positive for the virus was 41,685. The number of people who have had a positive antibody test, who have not had symptoms of the disease but whose bodies have developed antibodies, is 19,978.

Hospitalizations declined by three to 63, while the number of people in the Intensive Care Units was 16, which is also down by three.

Hospital bed use was at 64 percent. The occupancy of ICU beds was at 56 percent.

Over the last day, 13 people were discharged from Suffolk County hospitals.

One person died from complications related to COVID-19. The total number of deaths for Suffolk County increased to 1,984.

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station in 2018. Photo by Kyle Barr

A man in Port Jefferson Station was injured just after 10 p.m. last night when he attempted to light a firework that explored and injured one of his eyes.

Carlos Diaz, 29, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious, but not life threatening injuries.

Additionally, a 29-year old man in Central Islip was severely wounded in the hand from an exploding firework. The man was at home on Tamarack Street when the injury occurred around 9:10 p.m. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.

“Every year, we do these reminders and talk about the dangers of fireworks,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in his daily media call. He shared his hopes that both people injured by fireworks will recover.

Suffolk County Police Department Chief Stuart Cameron said the county did have a higher incidence of fireworks-related calls, due to the limitations on large crowds at the usual fireworks shows.

While the number rose, he said the increase in Nassau County was “much higher.”

Earlier in the day, at 5:30 p.m., Second Precinct officers responded to a fire at the Rodeway Inn in Huntington Station. Canine officers located Raymond Pond, 50, whom they are holding overnight and charging with Arson in the second degree. Pond, who is a resident of the Inn, also has two outstanding warrants. While people were at the Inn when it caught fire, the police reported no injuries.

Viral Numbers

For the fifth time in the last seven days, Suffolk County reported no deaths from complications related to COVID-19. This lower mortality rate puts the county in a good position to reach Phase 4 of its reopening plan this Wednesday.

“We are moving into the new week in very good shape,” Bellone said. The low mortality rate is a “credit to everyone who has done amazing work in this county,” including by the public who he said has, mostly, abided by rules regarding social distancing and face coverings.

The number of new positive tests was 57, which brings the total number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus to 41,642.

An additional 19,960 people have tested positive for the antibody.

Hospitalizations declined by four to 66. The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit increased by two to 19.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 67 percent, while the percent of ICU beds in use was 60 percent.

In the last day, 10 people were discharged from county hospitals.

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As Suffolk County prepares to enter Phase 4 of its economic reopening, the county has reported the lowest number of weekly fatalities since March.

For for the fourth time in six days, no one died from complications related to COVID-19, which is a pattern County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he hopes continues as the county fights to hold its hard-earned gains from the lockdown and new rules designed to protect public health.

The number of people who have died from the virus remained at 1,983.

“This is a real reflection of how far we have come,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “All the sacrifices are ultimately about saving people’s lives.”

The number of people who tested positive for the virus was 47, bringing the total to 41,585. That represents 1.1 percent of the tests given over the last day.

Hospitalizations declined by three to 7. The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit who are battling the virus fell by three to 17. The two-day decline at the ICU was 10.

Hospital occupancy was at 68 percent, while ICU bed capacity was at 61 percent, both of which are within safe guidelines for continuing to march forward with reopening.

The number of people who were discharged from the hospital was five.

Fireworks in Port Jefferson for Independence Day 2019. Photo by David Ackerman

As the county prepares for a Fourth of July following a painful spring, county officials and health care providers reminded residents to remain safe during fireworks displays and to continue to follow health guidelines.

Steve Sandoval, Associate Professor of Surgery and Medical Director of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital, urged residents to be cautious around fireworks and barbecues.

The best way to avoid injuries is to “prevent the burn in the first place with safety tips and precautions to eliminate potential dangers,” Sandoval said in a statement.

The Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center offered 10 tips, which included viewing fireworks used by professionals, not leaving hot coals or fire pits, not using the stove top, fire pit or fireplace when residents are tired or have had alcohol.

“If burned, do you go anywhere but a facility that specializes in burn treatment,” Sandoval said.

The Suffolk County Police Department, meanwhile, warned residents of counterfeit oxycodone. Detectives recently seized pills that bear the markings of 30 mg of oxycodone but that were fentanyl instead, which is 1,000 times more potent than morphine. Ingestion can cause overdose and death. The department warned residents that people buying these pills may not be able to distinguish between the counterfeit pills and prescription oxycodone.

Viral Numbers

After two days without a death related to complications from COVID-19, two residents died in the past 24 hours. The total number of residents who have died from the virus is 1,983.

The number of new infections over the last day was 47, bringing the total to 41,538. Gregson Pigott, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said new infections crossed a whole spectrum of ages and included people in their 20’s.

The county distributed 30,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day.

After the success of drive in movies at the Smithpoint County Park, the county is opening a second site for movies, at the Suffolk County Community College on the Grant Campus in Brentwood. The series will include “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” July 8, “The Karate Kid” July 9, “Matilda” on the 10th and “Back to the Future” on the 11th. Residents interested in getting free tickets can register through suffolkcountyny.gov/driveinmovies.

Sound Beach Civic Associaiton President Bea Ruberto speaks during the Veterans Day ceremony at Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park. File photo by Desirée Keegan

How high is the hill we have yet to climb? For the last several months we followed the guidelines: We stayed home, we wore masks when we needed to go out and we maintained social distancing, and it worked — we flattened the curve. The economy is reopening, and we’re all looking forward to resuming our lives, but from a health perspective and economically, it may be a long road back.

Suffolk is a populous county and has been severely affected by this virus, and the region’s ability to recover from the costs incurred by the pandemic depends on what happens next. As I understand it, Suffolk County is requesting $1 billion in federal aid, a fraction of what we send to Washington in taxes. In addition, Long Island sends more dollars to Washington than it receives in return. According to the Suffolk County COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Force Final Report, for most years sales tax collections account for approximately half of county revenues while an additional quarter comes from property taxes. The task force is currently projecting a $329 million shortfall in sales tax collections and a 4.9 percent shortfall in property tax collections. And, although the county is budgeted to receive $314 million in state aid, the State of New York has announced that, without federal reimbursements for the COVID-19 expenses it has incurred, there will be potential cuts of 20 to 30 percent. According to this report, the full impact of the lockdown is expected to bring steeper decline in the economy, the GDP and sales tax revenues. Again, as I understand it, without federal aid, the recovery could be extended out for a decade if not longer.

We did what we were told — we shut down the economy — and we hope that now what we hear from the federal government isn’t, “Thank you for following the guidelines; now you pay the cost of the response.” The pandemic is no different than any other natural disaster, and the federal government must provide the relief it would provide during any natural disaster. The state and county budgets are hurting, yet the message we’re getting from Washington is that there’s nothing to worry about and local governments should solve “their own problems.” 

This is a pivotal moment for the region. We need to recover as soon as possible. The financial impact should not be borne primarily by taxpayers nor should we accept cuts to services provided by our first responders, police and other essential workers, but this is exactly what will happen: An already fragile economy will tank without help from the federal government.

To this end, the Sound Beach Civic Association is spearheading a letter-writing campaign reaching out to our federal representatives without whose support the taxpayers of Suffolk County will suffer — both financially and in reduction of services. We encourage everyone to join us and contact Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY-3) and Peter King (R-NY-2) and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D). If you don’t want to write your own letter, you can download one at www.soundbeachcivic.org.

Bea Ruberto is the president of the Sound Beach Civic Association.