Week Eight Of Coronavirus Concludes With School Closures, Vote Postponements, and Metrics Unmet

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone offers daily COVID-19 response updates to the media.

School and village votes have been postponed or reconfigured, and schools are closed for the remainder of the year. Elected officials gathering for Zoom or Facebook Live confabs. And Eyes were on area beaches as the weekend onslaught of daytrippers continued, seemingly unabated.

As week eight of the COVID-19 pandemic drew to a close, with the May 15 expiration date of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stay-at-home order looming, the big question on everyone’s minds was, “Are we prepared to Un-PAUSE?”
In Suffolk County, the answer is: unlikely.

During his daily media update on Tuesday, County Executive Steve Bellone stopped short of answering the question. Instead, he spoke of how officials were working to meet the seven reopening metrics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten days out from the presumed end of PAUSE, the county still had a long row to hoe.

It met the spirit of one hospitalization metric, if not the letter of it. The CDC and Governor Cuomo call for a 14-day decrease in the hospitalization rate before reopening may commence. Tuesday would have been day 14 for Suffolk County, but for two days in a row, the number of hospitalizations increased. The increases were slight — 4 on Monday and 18 on Tuesday.

“That’s definitely something I’m concerned about,” the county executive said. But, since the metric calls for a three day rolling average, Mr. Bellone said he felt the clock wouldn’t restart. The hospitalizations had been largely on a downward trend, but the numbers were still high, with 835 people in hospitals across the county.

Metrics related to testing and contact tracing are not yet in place. While the county has ramped up testing and meets the CDC-suggested volume, contact tracing has yet to launch.

Thirty tracers for every 100,00 residents are required. In Suffolk County, the tracing program is still in the formation stage. Mr. Bellone said officials are working with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation and Johns Hopkins University to get workers hired and trained.

Still another metric, hospital capacity, hasn’t hit the guideline yet, either. As of Tuesday, county hospitals were at 72 percent capacity, with 70 percent being the bellwether. However, the 70 percent must include elective surgeries and procedures, and the region’s hospitals have yet to open for those.

A guideline requiring no more than two new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents hasn’t been achieved, either. In Suffolk County, the requirement tops at 30, and from Monday to Tuesday, 50 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to regional hospitals.

On Friday, Governor Cuomo announced schools and college campuses in New York State will stay closed for the remainder of the academic year. Distance learning will continue, Mr. Cuomo said, but students will not return to classrooms and board buses where COVID-19 can spread.

Statewide, schools have been closed since March 18 under executive order.
Turning to beaches and parks, over the weekend, East Hampton Town Police wrote 150 parking tickets as enforcement of nonresident beach parking continued for the second weekend in a row. In East Hampton Village, officials reminded that its beach sticker enforcement will commence on May 15.

Last Friday, town supervisors from across Suffolk County launched a Facebook Live meeting aimed at discussing a collaborative plan for the counties, beaches, parks, and playgrounds.
The Suffolk County Supervisors Association hosted the joint meeting with the focal point of the discussion being the opening of beaches and parks. The group did not release a plan; members spoke, instead, of the importance of crafting a regional strategy for summer activities.

“It’s important we coordinate our efforts the best we can,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said. “What one town does affects another.”
East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc noted that ranks swell under normal conditions each summer. Population density goes up each summer, but, “unfortunately, density is what this disease thrives on.”

Careful monitoring will be necessary, he underscored.

“We don’t want to pull back from the gains we’ve made,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.
According to a release from the association, the supervisors set a deadline of May 18 for the completion of a regional plan.

Concurrently, the summer activity working group composed of county, town and village officials planned to offer recommendations to town supervisors for additional input. From there, the plan for beaches and parks and summer recreation will be forwarded to the state for creation of final guidance as a part of the governor’s “re-imagining New York” plan.

Also on Friday, the governor issued an executive order delaying school board elections and budget votes until June 9 in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Separately, the governor announced that village elections and other local special district elections will be pushed back until September 15.

The school board elections and budget votes will all be conducted by mail, the governor’s office announced, and all qualified voters will be sent an absentee ballot with return postage paid.

The presidential primary was canceled by the state Board of Elections last week, but on Tuesday a federal judge ordered it reinstated. It’s slated for June 23, along with primaries for lower ballot races.

Also hosting a tele-meeting this week, on Tuesday, U.S. representatives Lee Zeldin, Peter King, Tom Suozzi, Kathleen Rice and Gregory Meeks provided an update on the federal response to coronavirus, after which Long Island’s local mayors had the opportunity to ask questions, share concerns, and speak to the needs of communities across Long Island.

Said Mr. Zeldin in a post-conference release, “As we seek to finish the fight against coronavirus and work to emerge stronger than ever, our local mayors are helping lead the charge on the ground in our communities … In addition to continuing to provide our communities with vital Personal Protective Equipment and other resources, we must ensure they have the direct local funding they need to recover economically in light of historic budgetary shortfalls caused by the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. echoed the funding entreaty on Friday. He joined with members of the Assembly majority in urging the New York State congressional delegation to support unrestricted aid to state and local governments.

The $484 billion federal relief package adopted last month provides additional aid to hospitals and small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but failed to include money for state and local governments grappling with the crisis.

“Local governments are responsible for providing vital programs and services we depend on,” Mr. Thiele said in a release. Programs run the gamut from public safety to senior support to garbage removal.

“Not providing aid to municipalities means that the government is neglecting to aid our first responders, police, fire services, and teachers,” he said. The failure to assist could mean “widespread layoffs and the halting of these critical services,” the assemblyman warned.

Local governments are reeling from the financial devastation of COVID-19, he said. With New York the hardest hit state in the nation, “our local governments are bearing the brunt of the burden.”

As of Wednesday morning, there were 38,927 confirmed cases countywide listed on Suffolk’s interactive map, with 797 in Southampton Town and 236 in the Town of East Hampton.