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U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin

Local legislators joined U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) at a press conference Sept. 14 in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) invited elected officials from across Suffolk County and from all levels of government to join him Monday, Sept. 14, on the front steps of Town Hall to send a plea for help to the capital as Congress members prepare to negotiate the next federal COVID-19 package.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On hand was U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who along with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY19) introduced the Direct Support for Communities Act in the House of Representatives. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D).

Wehrheim said the legislators are calling on Congress for direct coronavirus funding while their municipalities face historic financial shortfalls. He thanked Zeldin for working across the aisle and advocating for a bipartisan proposal for the funding that local governments could use for essential services and to offset lost revenues during the ongoing pandemic.

Zeldin said while there has been legislation to provide relief for families, small businesses and for state and local governments under the CARES Act, there was still more that needed to be done.

He gave the example of the Town of Brookhaven, which was excluded from the last relief package. The congressman said for a town to receive CARES Act funding directly it needed a population of more than 500,000. Brookhaven has just under that number. The town had requested $12 million from the federal government, according to Zeldin.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here.”

— Lee Zeldin

“The formula of how that CARES Act money was distributed was very strict to ensure that the money could only be used for COVID-19 related expenses,” he said. “It’s important for there not only to be more funding for state and local governments, but also more flexibility in how that money is spent.”

The legislation introduced recently by Zeldin would allow a new formula to disperse relief funding based on population. Under the new guidelines, if the act is passed, Brookhaven could potentially receive the $12 million.

Zeldin said with the new formula half the money would go to the counties based on population and the other half to towns, cities and villages.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here,” the congressman said.

During his speech, four protesters jeered Zeldin as he spoke and held up signs, one of which read, “Lazy Lee Must Go! CD1 Deserves Better!” 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also spoke at the press conference. He said the pandemic has shut down the economy and the effects will reverberate for the next 100 years. He thanked Zeldin for his help with what he called “a rescue bill.”

“Government is no different than the average family,” he said. “Our revenues are down, and we still must provide services. We need some help. We need some leadership.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said since the middle of March towns have provided much needed essential services such as senior centers providing meals for those in need, garbage pickup and public safety agencies patrolling the beaches and parks, which he said may have seen more visitors in the last few months than in the last 15 years. He added that the continuity of services continued without federal assistance and it’s important to remember that the future is unknown with COVID-19.

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on every aspect of county and local government functions.

“We are on the verge of utter collapse, and without intervention and swift intervention from the federal government, our county government and local governments will no longer exist as we know them here,” the comptroller said. “And guess what? We deserve better. We deserve better from Washington. We deserve a government that is going to actually be receptive to this crisis.”

New York State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R- Fort Salonga), plus Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (R), Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (D) and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) also spoke at the event to show their support for the bipartisan bill.

There will be a significant reduction in the number of people who can commemorate 9/11 this year, with many like the annual event in Shoreham being closed to the public due to COVID-19. File photo by Kyle Barr

TBR News Media reached out to several local elected officials at the national, state and county level to let them share their thoughts as we head into another commemoration of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

*This post will be updated as more officials respond to our questions.*

Sen. Gaughran Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) spoke with the TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

Gaughran: When I think of 9/11, I obviously think of the heroism and the number of people I know who died. I certainly think of the police officers and the firefighters and the first responders who, without hesitancy, ran right into those buildings. Probably, some of them knew they were going to get killed. Maybe others figured it was another day when they were going to try to save people.

TBR: Who is the first person you think of in connection with 9/11?

On Sept. 11, 2019, Gov. Cuomo signs 9/11 bill, sponsored by N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran.

Gaughran: Since I have been in the senate, the first person that comes to mind more than anyone else is Tim DeMeo, who is a constituent of mine, who was working for the Department of Environmental Conservation. He was in charge of dealing with oil spills, other contaminated sites and other hazardous clean ups. He was in Manhattan, driving over the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn, when the plane crashed. He got a call, “You should turn around, go back to Manhattan. This is something we’ll have to deal with.”

He turned around. The second plane crashed. He was permanently injured by debris. He stayed there. The next day and the next day, throughout [the clean-up] with all the other heroes…

He worked alongside police and firefighters and others working at the scene. He got very sick. He was not entitled to the same disability retirement benefits that everybody else was who was there. The way the state legislature wrote the bill, it was written so it would [be for] uniformed employees. He was not one of them. He was in the Department of Environmental Conservation. There were eight or nine other people like him. One of the first who came to see me in my district office, he came and told me a story … He said, “everybody else has been helped and I haven’t.”

He has significant medical issues. Attempts to pass a bill never went anywhere. I ended up writing a bill. We passed a bill last year, on 9/11. The Governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] signed the bill.

It’s my proudest achievement so far. It didn’t help as many people as some of the other legislation I dealt with. I’m proudest of [that bill]. All these people were just as much heroes as everyone else. They were left out. New York was ignoring them.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Gaughran: I think it’s basically the same. A nurse or a doctor or a firefighter or an EMT who picks up somebody and puts them in an ambulance and brings them to the hospital are doing this knowing they could easily contract COVID and face the same issues that people they are trying to help are facing. The risks are the same. Running into a burning building is a more immediate risk. Dealing with a sick COVID patient, who may give you the disease, you’re facing a risk that potentially could cost you your life.

TBR: Do you think the divisiveness of today will ease during 9/11?

Gaughran: I would hope so. I remember on 9/11, watching George W. Bush at the site, that iconic image, with the bull horn and everything. That wasn’t that long after the election. My kids were young. They paid attention to everything. [They said] “dad, you didn’t vote for him.” This is a moment when we all have to stand behind him. It was a different world then. It’s hard to get people to agree to the same thing today. The president we have now is not going out of his way to try to create national unity.

I voted for Al Gore, but Bush did push for national unity after that, including visiting mosques, to make it clear that even though the terrorists who killed us were of a certain background, the folks who were living in the United States who happened to be Muslim are patriotic citizens like everyone else.

Rep. Lee Zeldin Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) responded to questions from TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Zeldin: The bravery, selflessness, fearlessness, and resolve of first responders, Americans, and our entire nation as a whole. When so many of us think about 9/11, we remember exactly where we were that day, when ordinary Americans became extraordinary heroes. We vividly remember what we heard, what we saw and how we felt. We remember first responders running towards danger at the greatest possible risk to their own lives.

While our memories of those moments have not faded, most importantly, neither has our resolve to rise stronger than ever before. New Yorkers remain committed, especially this year, to remember, honor and exemplify those Americans, who in the face of unconscionable evil, were the very best of who we are.

TBR:  Who is the first person that comes to mind in connection with 9/11?

Zeldin: It’s difficult to choose just one person who comes to mind, but with the full permanent funding of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund signed into law last year, one of the first people who comes to mind is Luis Alvarez. While he wasn’t with us to witness the legislation he fought so hard for signed into law, he spent his final weeks with us continuing the fight until the very end so other 9/11 first responders wouldn’t have to.

TBR: In the context of the pandemic, is 9/11 overlooked?

Zeldin: Even in the midst of a pandemic, the commitment of New Yorkers to Never Forget, as we’ve seen with the Tribute in Light and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, underscores how dedicated New Yorkers are to the memory of those who died on that day and the so many who have passed since due to 9/11 related illnesses.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Zeldin: The same bravery in the face of clear danger and uncertainty that drove so many first responders on 9/11 to save countless lives at the expensive of their own, is the same bravery that has spurred so many of our local first responders and health care workers to serve throughout the novel outbreak of coronavirus.

Left, the Broadway Beach ramp was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; right, the newly recostructed stairs and drainage system installed by Brookhaven town in 2020. Photos from Town of Brookhaven

Last week, the Town of Brookhaven highway department announced it had completed the $1.165 million stormwater treatment and shoreline stabilization project at the northern end of Broadway in Rocky Point, finishing a slate of over $6 million projects since Hurricane Sandy ravaged Long Island’s coastline eight years ago.

Town officials said the Broadway Beach sustained extensive damage including substantial sand, beach grass and vegetation erosion, as well as the destruction of the gabion-basket wall system, the beach access stairway and the concrete walkway after Sandy in 2012. 

At the end of last year, the town voted to enter into an agreement with the North Shore Beach Property Owners Association to start the project, which was set to start in early 2020 and finish by Memorial Day, May 25. 

In order to reduce risk of damage from future storm events, the gabion-basket walls were completely removed and replaced with steel bulkhead for toe of slope stability and an armor stone revetment wall. Highway officials said the bulkhead — which now protects areas of the bluff that have experienced significant levels of erosion in the past — has a much longer life span than the gabion-basket walls and will better protect the drainage infrastructure and shoreline from high storm surges, nor’easters and hurricanes. A new drainage system and stormwater treatment unit were also designed and incorporated into this project, ensuring that polluted stormwater is not directly discharged into the Long Island Sound.

“The completion of this project will ensure that we are less vulnerable to damage from future storms,” said Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) in a release.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Program has approved for 90 percent reimbursement of the total project cost of $1,165,000. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) helped secure a total of $4.5 million in FEMA grants. The last 10 percent, or $116,500, comes from the town’s highway budget as a capital project.

In the release, Zeldin said the project is “bolstering our area’s storm resiliency,” and is “preventing future water damage.”

This project is the last of a $6 million total Hurricane Sandy response for nearly a decade. This includes:

• Gully Landing Road, Miller Place — Total Cost: $1.4 million; 90 percent funded by FEMA

• Shore Road and Amagansett Drive, Sound Beach — Total Cost: $1.3 million; $233,651 FEMA funded

• Friendship Beach, Rocky Point — Total Cost: $1,045,648; 90 percent FEMA funded

• Hallock Landing Road, Rocky Point — Total Cost: $996,829; 90 percent funded by FEMA

• Sills Gully Beach, Shoreham — Total Cost: $875,000; 90 percent FEMA funded

• Riverhead Drive, Sound Beach — Total Cost: $239,210; 90 percent FEMA funded

• Landing Road, Miller Place — Total Cost: $145,845; 90 percent FEMA funded

• Woodhull Landing Beach, Sound Beach — Total Cost: $70,000

• Hagerman Landing Road, Rocky Point — Total Cost: $43,572

Goroff, center, won out amongst this year's slate of Democratic contenders to run against Lee Zeldin in November. Photo from Three Village Democratic Club

By Kyle Barr and David Luces

After nearly two weeks of anticipation since ballots were first cast, Stony Brook University scientist Nancy Goroff has come out on top of a slate of Democratic contenders running for the 1st Congressional District. She will run against U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) in November.

With votes still to be certified, officials at the Suffolk County Board of Elections confirmed Goroff won by a margin of 630 with 17,905 votes, after all absentee ballots were finished counting Thursday, July 9. Last year’s Democratic contender Perry Gershon came out with 17,275 while Bridget Fleming, a Suffolk County legislator from Sag Harbor, finished with 13,696. Gregory Fisher had 773 total votes.

Goroff congratulated both Gershon and Fleming for the race, and extolled this year’s turnout of being nearly double that of 2018.

In her message to voters, Goroff also said that Zeldin had put “hyperpartisan spin over science and over the needs of our community.”

Gershon, on Twitter, congratulated Goroff on her winning the primary, adding, “I am confident that Nancy will offer real solutions.”

“It was an honor working to be your representative in Congress and I am very sorry I will not be our party’s torchbearer in November,” Gershon wrote on his campaign Facebook page. “I will be
honored to do whatever I can to assure Nancy’s victory.”

Goroff, 52, has been chair of SBU’s chemistry department until taking a leave of absence to campaign. She is also President of Gallery North’s board of trustees and lives in Stony Brook.

This post will be updated when comments from Zeldin and Fleming become available.

Department chief Kevin Fitzpatrick presents a plaque to Hailee Hurtado July 6. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A 15-year-old’s heroic actions were recognized July 6 at Smithtown Fire Department’s main facility on Elm Avenue.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim talks about Hailee before he and councilmembers gave her and her sister Madison skateboards. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The fire department, elected officials and the Smithtown Children’s Foundation presented Hailee Hurtado with awards and presents for helping to save her entire family from a devastating house fire June 26. If her actions would have been delayed by a few minutes, the outcome could have ended in tragedy, according to the fire department’s public information officer Rick Torre.

“We can all agree today that Hailee’s quick instinct and fast actions define her today as a hero,” Torre said.

It was in the early morning hours of June 26 when Hailee thought she smelled smoke in her Stuyvesant Lane home. Her first response was to wake up her father, Jonathan Hurtado, who discovered there was a fire in the garage. As the father evacuated his wife, Evelyn, and younger daughter, Madison, Hailee ran downstairs for her grandmother. After getting his wife and younger daughter to safety, Jonathan Hurtado returned inside the house where he found Hailee downstairs assisting her grandmother who uses a cane.

When the family was all safe outside, the garage became engulfed in flames and the fire had spread up the exterior to the upper level. Despite the fire department responding in minutes, the home was left uninhabitable with the total destruction of all keepsakes, clothing and electronics.

Torre said while firefighters are trained and participate in drills, Hailee didn’t have that luxury.

“In the early morning hours of June 26, the skills of the classroom or drills didn’t come into play for Hailee Hurtado,” he said. “It was instinct.”

Department chief Kevin Fitzpatrick presented Hailee with a plaque, and she received accolades and certificates for her valor from Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

Hailee Hurtado, left, holds the plaque she received from the Smithtown Fire Department as Congressman Lee Zeldin (R) congratulates her on her bravery July 6. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Zeldin congratulated Hailee on her bravery and counted her among the town’s finest as several of the department’s firefighters were on hand for the event.

“It really says a lot about what Hailee did when you have hometown heroes calling you a hero,” he said.

John Kennedy said his office has internships and then handed Hailee his business card and said she was welcomed to call at any time if she were interested in interning in his office.

Wehrheim joked that Hailee asked her parents if she really had to attend, he said, “Now you know why you had to come.”

“The Hurtado family have lost their home, their memories and their keepsakes, but they still have each other thanks to Hailee doing the impossible,” Wehrheim said. “It’s a privilege to honor her today.”

After his speech, Wehrheim and councilmembers gave Hailee and her sister skateboards. Mario Mattera, who is running for State Senate in November and is the business agent for Local Plumbers Union 200, presented four bicycles for the whole family.

Christine Fitzgerald, co-founder of the Smithtown Children’s Foundation, said an iPhone 11 was on the way for Hailee. The foundation has provided relief for the family after the fire and neighbors have started a GoFundMe page to help.

While Hailee was too shy to speak, her father Jonathan Hurtado said the tragedy has been surreal, and he thanked his neighbors and the community, especially the firefighters for their quick response.

“It was apparent in that moment I didn’t know what to do with myself and my family,” he said.

The father said the family appreciated the help they have received and neighbors reaching out to check up on them.

“It was truly a blessing to see how everybody pitched in,” he said.

People wishing to help the Hurtados can visit GoFundMe.com and search Help the Hurtado Family.

Nursing homes have become a hotbed of discussion over the large percentage of their residents who have died from COVID-19 while in New York facilities. Stock photo

When the initial COVID-19 surge occurred in New York State, nursing homes were the site of rampant infections and deaths. According to a New York State Department of Health report released earlier this week, the infection was spread by community transmission and asymptomatic staff members. 

The agency aimed to study the impact of the state’s March directive that nursing homes could not refuse admission or readmission to patients because of a confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection. The directive was meant to free up space in overcrowded hospitals as the pandemic intensified.

The number of nursing home staff reporting COVID-19 symptoms peaked March 16, 23 days prior to the peak of nursing home fatalities, which occurred April 8. 

“It is likely that thousands of employees who were infected in mid-March transmitted the virus unknowingly — through no fault of their own — while working, which then led to resident infection,” the report states. 

Critics of the directive argue that it allowed infected patients to return or come into these facilities and in turn spread the virus to other individuals. The findings of the study show 

37,500 workers — one in four of 158,000 nursing home workers — were infected with COVID-19 between March and early June. 

A number of elected officials took issue with the guidance given to nursing homes by the state. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) disputed claims that the state was simply following the federal government’s guidance. He said the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal regulator for nursing homes, had previously issued guidance stating that not only should nursing homes only accept patients for which they can care for, but that nursing homes should focus on “prompt detection, triage and isolation of potentially infectious residents.” 

Zeldin also called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CMS to launch an investigation into New York State’s adherence to appropriate health and safety guidelines within nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

In a statement following the release of the NYSDOH report, Zeldin reiterated his stance. 

“An internal review by the State of New York is OK for them to initiate, but this is not a situation where the state is going to be able to objectively investigate itself,” he said. “These facilities should not have been required to accept patients who were diagnosed at the time with coronavirus, especially if they did not have the ability to protect the rest of their vulnerable population. It was also a fatal policy to prevent nursing homes from administering coronavirus tests to patients returning from hospitalization. Our seniors and their families deserve answers, and an independent investigation is clearly necessary.”

A statewide nursing home survey conducted by NYSDOH shows that between March 25 and May 8, a total of 6,326 COVID-19 hospital patients were admitted into 310 nursing homes. Of those facilities 252 already had either confirmed or suspected positive patients, confirmed or presumed fatalities or infected workers, prior to admission of someone with the coronavirus. 

Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association said at the onset of the pandemic, nursing homes and assisted living facilities were not the top priority. Bolstering hospital resources and ramping up hospital bed capacity were. 

“Policymakers now know that the men and women residing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are the most at risk of infection from the COVID-19 virus,” Hanse said in a statement. “Consequently, it is essential that nursing homes and assisted living providers receive the full support and assistance from elected officials and policymakers to ensure they have the necessary resources to defeat this virus and safeguard their residents and staff.”

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

Republican and Democratic congressmen from Long Island are promoting a bill that would cancel the taxable status placed on grants for prototype denitrifying septic systems in Suffolk County and offer relief to those who received those grants. 

Both U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) are promoting legislation that would essentially reverse the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s ruling that grants for the experimental septic systems were taxable, despite Suffolk County and other local officials saying there was precedent for such grants on home-based environmental devices being tax free.

“Cesspools and septic systems have been identified as the largest single cause of degraded water quality on Long Island,” Suozzi said in a statement. “This bill may not sound exciting, but it has a real impact on real people’s lives and pocketbooks.”

The IRS ruling came down in January of this year after Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) asked the IRS for such a decision. The comptroller sent tax bills to homeowners who had taken up such grants in 2019, saying the county should have constructed the program to make sure that the feds would tax the contractors, not those who received the grants. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement that “the notion that Suffolk County homeowners would be taxed for participating in a water quality program that will make their water cleaner simply defies all logic.”

Zeldin said they have to protect taxpayers.

“This program’s goals are laudable, but we must ensure people can actually use the program to achieve those goals. While all levels of government work to find a solution, due to the urgency of this situation, we are running the gamut on every option, including this legislation to provide immediate relief,” he said in a release.

The bill would also retroactively allow people who received the grants to amend their 2019 tax returns for grants received in the same year.

The legislation is expected to be included within a larger congressional infrastructure package that will be voted on within the next few weeks.

Members of Stony Brook's medical team throw fists in the air during todays flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. Photo by Kyle Barr

After a public effort to gain access to short term funds, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) last night received word that the pleas had paid off.

Members of the non-invasive cardiology department at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Federal Reserve expanded the eligibility requirements in the federal CARES Act to counties that were below the previous threshold of two million residents to provide short term borrowing through a municipal liquidity fund.

“This is a huge short in the arm to our efforts to provide property tax relief to people who have been negatively impacted economically,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

The funds will allow the county to access short term borrowing for up to 36 months and will relieve the financial burden that comes from the Suffolk County Tax Act, which prevents the county from receiving funds until the middle of the year. During periods when Suffolk collects typical tax revenue, when residents can enjoy local restaurants, movies, and concerts, the urgency to access funds at a reasonable rate isn’t as high.

“This gives the county the ability to do short-term borrowing to address the cash flow issues that are caused by revenue almost completely drying up because of the wholesale shutdown of certain parts of our economy,” Bellone said.

The County thanked numerous area politicians, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1).

Schumer “walked the letter into [Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin’s] office and said, ‘We need to do this,’” Bellone said. “Zeldin lobbied [President Donald Trump (R)] and [Mnuchin] directly. He set up a call with Mnuchin and himself so I could make the case directly about why Suffolk County needs this and why this is so important.”

In the meantime, hospitalizations continue to decline, sustaining a trend that could lead to a measured and gradual reopening of the economy.

The number of hospitalizations declined by 15 to 1,082, with the number of residents in the Intensive Care Unit falling by four to 408.

These declines are getting close to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for 14 days, which is the minimum for restarting and reopening the economy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said today there has to be ground rules for such a reopening. Hospitals, he said, must be at no more than 70 percent capacity with a rate of transmission no higher than 1.1.

An additional 44 people left the hospital in the last day.

People are still dying from complications related to COVID-19 at a rate that is greater than one per hour, as 29 people died over the last day, bringing the total to 1,131.

In terms of hotspot areas, the six sites have now tested 2,124 people. The county has results for 1,584, with 757 of those confirmed positive. The rate of positive tests is 48 percent, which is still well above the rate of 38 percent for the rest of the county, but is below the initial testing rate of 53 percent.

The county plans to open a seventh testing site on Thursday in Southampton.

Working with Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, the county has also started providing food to people who come to select hotspot testing sites, starting with Brentwood. On Thursday, Wyandanch will also provide food distribution to those receiving a coronavirus test who also need food.

Bellone urged people who are having food security issues to contact 311. Operators will connect residents with agencies that can provide food.

Separately, campgrounds will be closed in line with state guidance through May 31, when the county will revisit the issue. Anyone who has a reservation between April 1 and May 31 will receive a refund.

“Stay tuned as we move forward in May,” Bellone urged those interested in the camp sites.

The Suffolk County Police Department continues to be “fortunate” with the overall rate of COVID-19 infection, as 86 sworn officers have tested positive, with 71 returning to work, Commissioner Geraldine Hart said on the call. Hart attributed the lower rate of infection to the procedures the police department followed early on once the infection reached the shores of Suffolk County.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Thousands of masks have come to Suffolk County over the past two days courtesy of the White House, both from purchases and donations.

After U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) put out a tweet asking for help for Suffolk County, where the number of positive diagnosis for COVID-19 continues to climb above 10,000, a member of the President Donald Trump (R) family connected with County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The county executive, who had run out of his supplies of personal protective equipment, purchased 150,000 surgical masks.

On Sunday night,  Trump announced that he would ship 200,000 coveted n95 masks to Suffolk County, which came from a federal procurement collection, said Zeldin.

“For the n95 masks to come in without a charge helps all of those local entities laying out a lot of cash at the moment,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin is continuing to reach out to other resources around the country, hoping to secure hospital gowns, among other equipment. Indeed, Zeldin spoke earlier today with the Ambassador to Iceland, who is “working the phones to see if he can help the county procure gowns.”

The 1st district representative said he believes the timing of his tweet seeking assistance for Suffolk County “connected with Americans who may not even live in New York, but who were feeling the spirit as fellow Americans to do whatever they can.”

As for ventilators, Zeldin indicated that the White House is likely to respond to any requests for additional equipment with a question about the location and use of the 4,000 ventilators the federal government already sent.

“It appears [the ventilators from the federal stock pile] haven’t been deployed yet,” Zeldin said. “If you went back to the White House right now and said, ‘I need another ventilator,’ it would be a fair question to be asked back, ‘Where are the ventilators that we sent you?’”

Zeldin said he understands the plan at the state level to increase the number of ventilators as the state prepares for any sudden increase in demand, adding he wouldn’t expect the state to provide a map of where every ventilator is located,  but he does believe an accounting of the life saving equipment would help the White House respond to any further requests.

Zeldin said putting together the location of ventilators in Suffolk County is, “something that [Bellone’s] office is working proactively on to identify. It appears that they know where every ventilator is in the county. They were working to obtain additional information beyond that and hopefully will yield some additional intelligence that helps in the process.”

Despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) again today sharing he is optimistic New York could be hitting the apex of the virus, the number of cases on Long Island continue to grow as testing continues.

As of this morning, Bellone said the number of positive tests in Suffolk County for the virus had climbed to 13,487, which is an increase of over 1,000.

“We’re seeing a big increase in the number of people testing positive,” Bellone said.

The hospitalization rate, however, increased at a much slower pace than it had prior to Sunday as well. The number of people in the hospital with the virus stands at 1,463, which is up 26 patients, with 546 residents in the Intensive Care Unit, an increase of six patients.

“For the second day in a row, we’ve had a modest increase in the number of hospitalizations,” Bellone said “That is a good sign.”

Another positive piece of news, Bellone said, is that 63 people have left the hospital who had Covid-19.

These encouraging signs mean that the social distancing and New York Pause, which Cuomo extended until April 29, are working.

They do not, however, indicate that “we take our foot off the pedal,” Bellone said. “The worst thing is to see positive news and decide we can start adjusting our life back to normal. Then, we would see a rise in cases again and, instead of a plateau, we would go back up. We do not want to see that happen.”

As of today, Suffolk County had 710 hospital beds available, including 65 ICU beds.

The number of people who have died with coronavirus continues to rise. Bellone reported an additional 24 people who have died from complications related to coronavirus, which brings the total to 199. He expects those numbers may be under reported and the county may have crossed above 200 deaths.

Bellone continued to urge people who have recovered from a confirmed case of Covid-19 to donate blood plasma, which is rich in virus-fighting antibodies, to the Red Cross, to the New York Blood Center or to the Mount Sinai health system, which are available online at NYBloodCenter.org or MountSinai.org.

The Suffolk County Police Department continues to respond to calls about residents who are not complying with social distancing the New York Pause. Yesterday, the police department had 24 calls, of which three were non compliant. Once the officers spoke to those who were not compliant, they immediately changed their behavior and the officers didn’t have to issue any tickets.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said some of those who were not complying with the ongoing social distancing rules have been in the hard-to-reach immigrant community. The police department is going out with signage and fliers. This morning,  Hart participated in a radio show with La Fiesta “to make sure we’re communicating.” The police department has also reached out to community leaders to ask for their help.

To reach younger people who may not be complying, the police department has also used social media. Over the weekend,  Hart partnered with school superintendents to do a robocall to ask families to follow the current public health mandates.

As of this morning, 56 sworn officers and six civilians had contracted COVID-19.

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Update: This story includes details about 200,000 n95 masks President Trump is delivering tomorrow to Suffolk County. The story also adds a quote from Representative Lee Zeldin.

With the well running dry for personal protective equipment from local resources as the viral pandemic spreads, Suffolk County is receiving much-needed help from President Donald Trump, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1).

After Suffolk County received 150,000 n95 masks Sunday, President Donald Trump (R) said the White House is sending an additional 200,000 masks to the county tomorrow at no cost.

Zeldin, who is a member of the bipartisan Congressman Coronavirus Task Force, had been asking for help to find masks for a county where the number of people infected and dying from the virus continued to climb.

Soon after Zeldin’s request for assistance, Kushner told Zeldin he would like to ensure that Suffolk County receives all the personal protective equipment it will need over the next 30 days.

“We are all in this fight together, and I am encouraged by the Administration’s swift, effective and immediate response to Suffolk Suffolk County has the support of officials at every level of government, Bellone said, with ongoing help from Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and the commitment Zeldin received from Jared Kushner, a senior advisor in the White House and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

“It is a significant thing to know we have that commitment from the White House,” said County Executive Steve Bellone (D) on his daily conference call with reporters.

“I want to thank [Congressman] Zeldin,” Bellone said. “We will continue to work together.”

The Suffolk County Fire Chief’s Association, meanwhile, expressed its ongoing appreciation for the effort and sacrifice of health care workers throughout the county this evening at 7 pm. Throughout the county, Suffolk County fire trucks sounded their sirens in unison to “express their gratitude and support,” Bellone said.

Indeed, the number of positive diagnoses has increased to 12,405 in Suffolk County, which is an increase of 1,035 over the previous 24 hours,.

At the same time, the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus increased to 1,435, which is a rise of 19 over the previous day. The increase is the second consecutive day when the number of hospitalizations has risen by a smaller amount.

“We’re hopeful that is a trend that will continue,” Bellone said. “We hopeful,” but it’s too early to say that is the case. At this point, it’s too early to predict when the surge will reach its peak.

The number of patients in the Intensive Care Unit climbed by 113, which is a “huge jump,” Bellone said, bringing the total in the ICU to 540 people.

Additionally, the number of people who have died with the virus has now climbed to 175

On a positive note, the number of patients with Covid-19 who were released from the hospital increased to 107 over the last day.

In addressing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that people wear face coverings when they go out in public, Bellone urged people not to use the N95 surgical masks that the county is reserving for health care workers and others exposed to infected residents regularly as a part of their jobs. Instead, he suggested that people use cloth coverings.

On his facebook page and social media sites, Bellone is sharing ways residents can make their own masks, which can include wrapping a tee shirt around their heads.

The county executive said he would be “wearing one when I am out in public. If I’m out anymore and I haven’t been going to the store much, I will wear a face covering in alignment with guidance from the CDC. We are modeling what we are asking county residents to do.”

Separately, the county is revising the limitations for cultural and artistic grants. Those organizations that have received those grants can use them to fund payroll and offer virtual programming. Bellone said the county “understands that may be a necessity for a while.”