Leaders across every level of government mobilized to provide constituents with the latest information as the COVID-19 pandemic surged this week. Every day, Governor Andrew Cuomo and County Executive Steve Bellone hosted live-stream updates, County Legislator Bridget Fleming held tele-conferences each evening last week, and U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin hosted a tele-town hall on Sunday night.
By Monday, Mr. Cuomo reported over 20,000 cases statewide, with 1,458 in Suffolk County. Overnight 16,000 new tests were conducted statewide, with the total number of tests in the state at 78,289. Mr. Cuomo reiterated that the state was conducting more tests per capita than South Korea. There have been 157 fatalities statewide attributable to COVID-19, 13 in the county as of Monday afternoon. The 13-percent hospitalization rate was down, and the percentage of patients who required intensive care hospitalization was at 24 percent.
“New York far and away has the bulk of the problem,” the governor emphasized.
During his conference with the media on Monday, Mr. Bellone spoke of his own experience registering for a test at a mobile test site set up last week at Stony Brook University.
Although he hit the first criteria of having been in close proximity to a patient who tested positive — two of his deputies — he didn’t meet the next threshold of having a pre-existing condition, compromised immune system, or advanced age. He said there was about a 30-minute wait on the phone call.
Mr. Bellone reported the latest victim to die was a woman in her 80s at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Smithtown. That brought the countywide death toll to 13. There were 116 patients of the total 1,458 individuals who tested positive requiring hospitalization, 38 of whom were in the ICU.
“Today we have seen the spirit of cooperation, the outpouring of generosity of people who come together in times of crisis,” he said, speaking to an ongoing quest for supplies.
The county launched a drive for medical supplies at the fire academy in Yaphank and the response was “incredible.” The collection of supplies like N95 masks, gowns, gloves and ear loop masks will continue through the week.
Mr. Bellone said he’d received a number of calls asking whether those in the landscape industry were categorized as “essential workers,” and could continue to work. They are advised to follow the New York State PAUSE mandate of maintaining a 6-foot “social distance” and may continue to operate for maintenance purposes.
The county executive said he is still hearing reports of children in groups, despite the mandate, and has enlisted the aid of New York Mets pitcher and Long Island resident Steven Matz, who has created a PSA Mr. Bellone hopes will connect particularly with kids.
Each day, as the number of positive cases increased, and the volume of medical supplies dwindled, lawmakers reiterated what’s become an urgent, and sometimes frustrated, refrain: “Stay Home.”
On Sunday, Mr. Cuomo reported visiting Manhattan and seeing crowds in the parks, despite his exhortation regarding social distancing and the mandate to refrain from being in groups.
“I don’t know what I’m saying that people don’t get,” he said, clearly exasperated.
He called the pandemic, “the challenge for this generation.”
He directed New Yorkers to take what control of their lives that they can and “plan for the negatives and plan for the positives.”
“This is not a short-term situation. This is not a long weekend. This is not a week,” he said Sunday. “The timeline, nobody can tell you. It depends on how we handle it, but 40 percent, up to 80 percent of the population will wind up getting this virus. All we’re trying to do is slow the spread, but it will spread. It is that contagious. Again, that’s nothing to panic over. You saw the numbers. Unless you’re older with an underlying illness, etcetera, it’s something that you’re going to resolve. But it’s going to work its way through society. We’ll manage that capacity rate, but it is going to be four months, six months, nine months.”
On Friday, he issued the New York State PAUSE executive order, mandating a 100-percent reduction in the non-essential workforce, and banning the non-essential gatherings of any groups “of any size for any reason,” according to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.
Also on Friday, the state education department suspended all standardized tests due to the school closures, most of which went into effect on March 16.
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles closed its offices on Monday, all reservations and road tests are suspended. Expiration dates for driver’s licenses, non-driver IDs and vehicle registrations will be extended. Residents are encouraged to complete their transactions online at dmv.ny.gov.
Throughout the week, during his conferences, streamed from his home, where Mr. Bellone decided to self-quarantine after his chief deputy, Peter Scully, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 13, he spoke of a surge in cases expected within the next six weeks. Another member of his senior staff, Dennis Cohen,subsequently tested positive, and as of press time, Mr. Bellone had not been tested. He echoed what the governor said, “I have no symptoms, I don’t want to waste the test.”
On Sunday, Mr. Bellone announced new policies to protect Suffolk Transit workers amid the outbreak. Starting Monday, the county implemented a rear-door boarding policy on fixed route bus service, and planned to isolate the first few rows of the bus to create a safe social distance between the riders and the driver.
Additionally, the county executive encouraged all Suffolk Transit customers to go cashless with the Suffolk FastFare Mobile App to help limit contact between the driver and passengers. The app, which is available for download in both the Apple Store and Google Play, is available for use on all Suffolk County Transit buses and allows riders to purchase tickets on their smartphones anytime, anywhere. Passengers using Suffolk FastFare can pay for tickets using a credit or debit card, or via digital payment services such as Apple Pay.
Also on Sunday, he called on the federal government to provide direct financial relief to small businesses during the outbreak to keep businesses afloat.
“In difficult times, our community has always come together to work cooperatively. The situation is changing from day to day, and I am working daily to assure the safety and security of all in East Hampton,” was the message from East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc.
In a statement released Friday, he said he was working with leaders at other levels of government and in daily communication with them.
“We are working to address the impacts of the pandemic on the community, from identifying locations for satellite hospital services to planning for ways to assist individuals and businesses economically affected by the shutdowns of workplaces and businesses,” he said.
He directed community members to contact the town Human Services Department at 631-329-6939 for information about community resources for food or other assistance.
The town will provide frozen meals to seniors over age 60, by appointment. After makig an appointment the meals will be brought to the senior’s car when they pull up at the senior center on Springs Fireplace Road.
In order to limit senior citizens’ possible exposure to the coronavirus, Human Services staff have been calling seniors who use town programs as well as those community members who are on the town’s special needs list (on oxygen, wheelchair bound, on dialysis, etc.) and emergency services lists (residents who wish to be checked up on when there is an emergency). These calls serve as wellness checks and to ascertain if residents are in need of frozen meals, medical prescriptions, groceries, transportation to doctor’s appointments. Currently 300 residents are receiving calls every other day.
Once clients are called, the Department begins the process of sending drivers and other staff to deliver meals, pick up prescriptions, and/or go food shopping.
On Friday, East Hampton Village officials passed a resolution extending expiration dates for building permits for 60 days. Inside inspections have been suspended temporarily.
A message on the village website, offers an array of links people can visit for information. It notes, “The Village of East Hampton is taking precautions on a daily basis to protect the health and wellbeing of its residents and visitors. Essential Village offices are open but not to the public. Staff continues to work as well, either onsite or remotely to ensure that Village business is still conducted.”
In Southampton Town, a portable sign on Sunrise Highway just west of the merge urges drivers to “stay home.”
In an effort to allow the public an opportunity to be heard during Tuesday’s Southampton Town Board meeting, board members agreed to permit emails to be submitted to them up to an hour before the meeting began.
Two public hearings had been scheduled to be held during the meeting — one pertaining to the legislation that would protect graves in the Shinnecock Hills area and another regarding a moratorium on the development of certain sites within Shinnecock Hills — but were postponed because of the crisis.
Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said during last week’s work session that when he reached out to Shinnecock Tribal Chairman Bryan Polite to notify him that the hearings were postponed, the chairman was “polite” and understood the reasoning behind postponing the proceedings.
The meeting was slated to be televised live on SEA-TV. The supervisor also said if the meetings continue to be disrupted because of COVID-19, board members may consider allowing the public to call in on a speaker phone.
Mr. Schneiderman is offering updates on SEATV, Facebook, and the town website.
By Monday morning, Southampton Village Board member Kimberly Allan was working to coordinate a list of organizations assisting people with food. She’s hoping to get the list up on the village website.
Board member Mark Parash was creating a flier offering safety guidelines. He was still cooking and offering takeout at his restaurant, Sip ‘N Soda, and was putting a positive spin on doing a practice run for a board meeting on Zoom.
“It should be fun to see what’s in everybody’s background,” he said via email.
Released Monday morning, the flier exhorts people to “STOP to think about what is going on around you. LOOK for ways you can help your community. LISTEN to what your Government is asking you to do. YOUR actions could save someone’s life.”
Encouraging people to stay home, the message asks people to refrain from leaving garbage on the street if they do go out to get food. It directs people to refrain from using parks and beaches as gathering areas and to adhere to the social distancing mandate. “We do not want to close our parks and beaches,” the message underscores, asking visitors to keep them clean and safe.
In Sag Harbor, Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy is offering daily updates on local radio, WLNG each morning.
“I am sorry that we have come to this for any number of reasons,” the mayor said in a statement sent to Chamber of Commerce members on Saturday afternoon. Ms. Mulcahy was sure to remind the business community that the necessary closures were only temporary.
“We can only hope that these drastic measures will help this crisis be over sooner and we can get back to work soon,” Ms. Mulcahy said in closing.
In Quogue Village, Mayor Peter Sartorius reported he and his staff are working from home, with just one person on duty in Village Hall. The next public meeting the village will hold is slated for April, and still on, the mayor informed. Officials may consider having a “call-in” hearing.
“That’s what we did for our meeting last week, and we had a couple of people call in,” he said.
Mr. Sartorius said the local convenience store is one “choke spot” where people congregate for supplies. He said he may have the police chief speak with them about monitoring the 6-foot “social distance” mandate.
The Village of North Haven is working to arrange meetings via teleconference and has asked village residents to add their email addresses to its list for continued updates.
In Westhampton Beach, the next Village Board work session will be held via teleconference on April 1 at 5 p.m. Visit the village website for call-in information.
Mayor Maria Moore added that elected leaders from the five East End towns and various villages have been conferring by conference call on Tuesdays and Fridays to share information and coordinate efforts.
“We will best get through this by working together,” she said.
Sagaponack Village Hall will be closed until further notice, according to an announcement on the village website. The board will re-evaluate each Monday and re-open when it is safe to do so. In the interim, staff will continue to work and can conduct business over the phone or through email.