Village, Town, County And State Officials Respond to COVID-19 Crisis

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Dropboxes for document submissions for several East Hampton Town departments as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 virus in the East Hampton Town offices at 300 Pantigo Place.

A robocall listing COVID-19 precautions from East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc over the weekend. An Instagram advisory from Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren. Tele-meetings closed to the public and live-streamed on public access TV and websites. Telephone conference calls and email blasts offering updates daily, sometimes hourly.

Across the East End, the county, state and nation, elected officials are grappling with wholesale closures of public spaces, and crystallizing responses to the coronavirus pandemic as they navigate declared states of emergency this week.

All schools in Suffolk County are closed by order of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. On Sunday afternoon, he directed the closure of all schools for two weeks beginning Monday, March 16, and continuing through Friday, March 27.
He said in a statement released that day that the order was at the recommendation of the county health commissioner and in consultation with the Superintendents Association.

Issuing a Local Emergency Order closing the schools, he said, “As part of our larger social distancing efforts, we believe that closing schools is the right thing to do at this time.”

Schools across the South Fork are strategizing ways to offer online education and continue to provide meals for students who rely on them.

There is evidence the virus is already present in many communities and efforts to prevent its spread must be the focus, Mr. Bellone said Sunday.

To that end, on Monday, March 16, the county executive reported that he is working from home under voluntary quarantine, stating, “Out of an abundance of caution, I’m limiting my contact with others. It’s important to lead by example.”

His chief deputy, Peter Scully, tested positive for the virus, County Department of Health Services Commissioner Dr. Gregson H. Pigott was under mandatory quarantine, and executive staff members were being tested.

Also Monday, Mr. Bellone reported the first two deaths related to COVID-19; two elderly patients in western Suffolk succumbed to infection — that number grew to three by Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, the number of cases countywide was 84, with 1,374 reported statewide, and 22 on the North Fork, the area hardest hit to date.

East Hampton Village reported its first case of COVID-19, a 70-year-old man. Officials said the case appears to be community-spread and not due to travel. The patient was under quarantine at home as of March 16.

As of Tuesday, there were two confirmed cases in each of Southampton and East Hampton towns.

Also on Monday, all restaurants and bars in the tristate area were ordered closed by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The closure began at 8 p.m. Monday, with establishments that can, permitted to offer takeout items or delivery.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said rules would be waived to allow all bars, restaurants and wineries to sell their products to go.

“Whatever you can order in a bar, a restaurant, a distillery or winery, you will be allowed to purchase through takeout,” he said. “We hope that goes a long way toward staving off economic hardship.”

Announcing the decision on Twitter on Monday morning, Mr. Cuomo said gyms and movie theaters would also be shuttered, with crowd capacity at any gathering across the state capped at 50 people.

Following the governor’s announcement, on Monday afternoon, Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy called on restaurants and bars in the small village to shutter their doors at 5 p.m. and cease “any kind of sitdown or table service where patrons are permitted to consume food and beverages on premises.”

The request, said Ms. Mulcahy, comes as a part of the village’s “commitment to practice social distances to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus” in Sag Harbor.

“Those businesses that are able to continue to provide takeout or delivery service for the community to do so while keeping minimal staff on duty are presently encouraged to do so,” reads the letter Ms. Mulcahy shared with the Chamber of Commerce and Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin J. McGuire on Monday. “Takeout or delivery orders should be sent in remotely, paid for by credit card over the phone, and the prepared food should be sealed in a bag and left available for patrons to retrieve at the front door or delivered out to the customer’s vehicle.”

Sag Harbor Village took a moment at the close of the request to remind restaurant management in Sag Harbor that if any employees are diagnosed with COVID-19, they must contact the Suffolk County Department of Health Services immediately and cease serving any prepared foods or beverages. They also ask employers inform the Village of Sag Harbor as well by emailing clerk@sagharborny.com.

The emergency advisory to shutter restaurant and bar service to patrons, outside of takeout or delivery, is effective until further notice, said Ms. Mulcahy.

Across the East End, local municipalities followed the state’s lead, issuing “states of emergency” and closures of nonessential services. In East Hampton, Mr. Van Scoyoc sent out a robocall over the weekend, reminding residents of preventative measures. He declared a state of emergency on Friday, March 13.

During a televised and live-streamed work session Tuesday, the supervisor reiterated precautions to take, including social distancing, hand washing, steering clear of those with symptoms, and working from home when possible.

“We have faced many storms in East Hampton over our history,” he said. “Blizzards, nor’easters, hurricanes. But no storm has been as insidious as COVID-19. It’s a serious disease that threatens both young and old adults, wealthy and poor. But unlike a hurricane, this storm surge can be flattened. Its effects can be blunted.

“I ask everyone to work together, be patient, be calm, and we’ll get through this just fine if we follow these simple steps.”

On Monday night, the supervisor issued an advisory listing closures. The East Hampton Town Board meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 19, has been canceled. Meetings of the Architectural Review Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Planning Board have been canceled. If a board action is needed within a legally binding timeline, the board may meet by teleconference, which will be covered by LTV.

All public hearings are canceled until further notice. Town of East Hampton buildings have been closed to the public. Employees in certain departments performing tasks deemed essential during the current state of emergency will remain on duty, while the staff workforce in other departments will be reduced by half, with some employees, as possible, working from home. Members of the public in need of essential services may contact town departments by mail, phone, or email. Athletic recreation and social gatherings have been prohibited at town parks and playing fields. The town recycling center will remain open per its usual hours.

East Hampton Village followed suit, declaring its own state of emergency effective at 6 p.m. on Friday.

Village offices, except the Police Department, will be closed to the public “as deemed necessary,” public meetings are subject to cancellation or rescheduling as teleconferencing meetings, although board meetings are set to continue for now, and public hearings, except those under legal time constraints, are canceled for the time being. The March 20 Village Board meeting will be closed to the public, but available to view on LTV. Museums and the public restrooms at Herrick Park are closed.

The need to protect village workers, residents and guests was cited in a press release announcing the declaration on Friday evening. The public was asked to use online services, email and telephone calls instead of attempting to visit village offices in person.

East Hampton and Sag Harbor justice courts directed people with court business to call for adjournments and use online options to pay fines.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees said they will make a decision whether or not to declare a state of emergency, similar to what town governments in East Hampton and Southampton announced in the last week. Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said the village board was exploring what kind of power declaring a state of emergency would give village officials and police amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman signed an emergency order to close most town buildings, administrative offices and community centers — including town playgrounds — to the public beginning Tuesday, March 17, and continuing through March 31.

Town employees will continue to work within the buildings on a limited basis to perform governmental services, according to a release sent out by the supervisor on Monday. Some employees will work from home. A drop box will be set up at the main entrance of Town Hall on Hampton Road for receipt of documents, including tax payments. The emergency order will allow the supervisor to take all necessary actions to protect public health and safety.

The emergency order also cancels all board meetings, except for the Town Board, which will meet to conduct town business. All public hearings will be postponed for the emergency period and new dates will be announced when available.

The public will be able to watch Town Board meetings live on Channel 22 and can submit comments through the Town Clerk’s office at townclerk@southamptontownny.gov.

All town special programs are canceled during the state of emergency, including youth recreation and senior activities.
Food delivery will continue for seniors participating in the nutrition program. The senior transportation program will continue, as well as the South Fork Commuter Connection shuttle bus service. The adult day care program will be suspended for the emergency period. Transfer stations will continue to operate and parks will remain open to the public. The supervisor may extend the order if needed.

“These measures are being taken in an abundance of caution to reduce the spread of the virus allowing hospitals and other healthcare providers more time to prepare for the increase in needed medical services,” the release states.

Channel 22 (SEA-TV) will be used to provide live updates and to disseminate important information during the state of emergency. The town website will also be used similarly. All Town Board members have pledged their full cooperation in assisting in any way necessary to address the issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

An emergency department head meeting was held at Town Hall Monday morning at 10 a.m. The supervisor asked department heads for their full cooperation and assistance. The town will continue to provide needed services while minimizing public interactions.

“We are taking this public health crisis seriously and doing our part to reduce social interactions while maintaining important governmental services,” Mr. Schneiderman was quoted as saying. “We want to protect vulnerable individuals and allow our healthcare system time to catch up with the growing need for testing and treatment.”

Southampton Town Hall is closed to the public and a drop box is set up at the main entrance for receipt of documents including tax payments. DANA SHAW

The town is following all CDC guidelines and working closely with state and county health departments, the release said. Also on Monday, the Hampton Bays Water District announced the closure of its offices to the public. On Tuesday the town’s emergency order was expanded to include the closure of all playgrounds at town parks.

Southampton Village issued its own “state of emergency” declaration on March 16, with public facility closures and meeting adjournments that mirror those of the town. Village administrator Russell Kratoville explained that the village could operate under the umbrella of the town or state declarations. Declaring one of its own can help with pursuing state or federal funds.

“We’re tracking all purchases and staffing used specifically for the purpose of addressing COVID-19 issues,” Mr. Kratoville said.
The state of emergency also gives municipalities the ability to deploy public workers in ways that may be outside their union-described titles.

“It lets us use employees the way we need to, to get the job done,” he said.

In adherence to a staff reduction directive from the governor’s office, the village has halved the number of personnel working at any given time.

“We’re rotating shifts in Village Hall, and cleaning in between,” Mr. Kratoville explained, “so if we have two people who do payroll, they’re not working at the same time.”

The declaration also imbues officials with the power to issue directives closing any village-owned properties.

On Saturday, March 14, Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren announced that he and village residents and local businesses have organized a delivery program aimed to assist the elderly, housebound or high-risk community. Should these residents be unable or fearful of venturing into crowds, volunteers will shop for them and deliver packages to their front door.

“We want to do everything we can for the community at this time,” Mr. Warren said. “Caring for those who are at the most risk for COVID-19, and who may be fearful of venturing out, is the least we can do in this emergency.”

Residents who need assistance are urged to call the mayor’s office at 631-283-0247 ext 222, where their calls will be routed to a team of volunteers headed up by Southampton Village resident Nancy Kane. Calls will be handled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The program began Monday, March 16.

The release noted that the service would be limited to grocery and basic supplies only, and volunteers would do their best to help as many as they can. Those with medical or other emergencies should call their health care provider or 911.

Those who are healthy and would like to help, can contact the mayor’s office via email at mayorsoffice@southamptonvillage.org.

Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Maria Moore said Village Hall would be closed to the public, with the exception of the police department, effective for two weeks beginning March 16.

“We will remain open for operations, but the public access will be limited to the lobby area where a table and boxes have been set up to receive and distribute materials,” she said. “The Board of Trustees and the appointed boards will continue to meet, but without the public present. Applicants will be notified and the meetings will be recorded.”

On Tuesday, March 17, Sagaponack Mayor Donald Louchheim said Sagaponack Village Hall would be closed until further notice. No land use meetings by various village boards would be held until at least mid-April. He advised people to contact sagaponackvillage.org, find the email for applicable departments and email that department with specific questions or requests for building inspections for projects in progress or directions on how to file an application for any required village permits. Leave your name and number in the email and a village representative will return the call.

Beginning Tuesday, March 17, local Legislator Bridget Fleming provided daily conference call updates for the media including the latest statistics and news of the county’s response.
The Suffolk County Legislature suspended the public portion of its March 17 general meeting at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge and rescheduled public hearings for the end of April.

The 13 public hearings on the agenda will be rescheduled for April 28 at 2 p.m. in Riverhead, and no public portion will be held, according to a release from Presiding Officer Rob Calarco. In addition, the legislature building will be closed to the public. Pursuant to the March 12 executive order from Governor Cuomo, municipalities may close meetings to the public so long as the public is able to watch or listen and the meeting is recorded and later transcribed. The meeting was slated to be video-streamed live at www.scnylegislature.us.

On Monday, Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. issued a directive that starting March 17, all visits with inmates at the Suffolk County Correctional Facilities, both contact and non-contact, are temporarily suspended in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the county jails. Attorneys may still make arrangements to visit their clients during this time.

“By limiting the number of people entering our facilities, we can better protect our staff, inmates, and the general public from community spread of COVID-19,” stated Sheriff Toulon.

“Consistent with Department of Health recommendations to limit close contact during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, constituent services and other inquiries in my district office will be limited to email and telephone until further notice,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said in a release Tuesday morning, March 17. “To contact my office, please email thielef@nyassembly.gov or call 631-537-2583. We will do our best to respond as soon as possible. Please be assured that I will continue working to make sure that all the residents of the 1st Assembly District are able to have their concerns addressed.”

On Monday night U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin called upon the IRS to change this year’s tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15, and to waive interest and fees for individuals paying late in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, he issued a statement after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

“President Trump just declared a national emergency, unleashing extensive new resources from all levels of government and the private sector to work together more than ever to combat coronavirus, and the president made the right call,” the statement reads.

“This has been an every level of government, top-to-bottom approach trying to contain this outbreak as much as possible. There’s a lot Governor Cuomo and I disagree on passionately. We’ve been on opposing sides of debates in the past, and we’ll have opposing views on more issues in the future. But as a fellow New Yorker and American, I must say he’s doing an impressive job in our great state combating coronavirus.

“As one of the hardest hit states in the country, the federal, state, and local coronavirus response in New York State should serve as a model for the rest of the country.

“Time and time again, our country has been challenged, and time and time again we have emerged stronger than ever. Coronavirus is no exception. Today is a new day, and those in a position to help must ask themselves what else can be done to assist … and then we must do all in our power to help. All in!”

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