Area Lawmakers Continue To Address COVID-19 Epidemic At Federal, State, Local Level - 27 East

Area Lawmakers Continue To Address COVID-19 Epidemic At Federal, State, Local Level

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Officials in Westhampton Beach posted signs to deter congregations in violation of the social distancing executive order.

Officials in Westhampton Beach posted signs to deter congregations in violation of the social distancing executive order.

In the Village of Westhampton Beach, signs encourage visitors to the beaches and parks to comply with the New York PAUSE order.

In the Village of Westhampton Beach, signs encourage visitors to the beaches and parks to comply with the New York PAUSE order.

County Executive Steve Bellone greets the delivery of N95 masks on Tuesday.

County Executive Steve Bellone greets the delivery of N95 masks on Tuesday.

Much needed masks for first responders and healthcare workers arrived in Suffolk County on Tuesday.

Much needed masks for first responders and healthcare workers arrived in Suffolk County on Tuesday.

Kitty Merrill on Apr 8, 2020

Every afternoon since the COVID-19 crisis began, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has spoken about hospital capacity. On Tuesday, confronted with a “staggering” number of fatalities overnight — 64, bringing the death toll to 263 countywide , he instead spoke of morgue capacity.

“I never dreamed, as county executive, I’d be talking about morgue capacity,” he said.

Mr. Bellone reported the county morgue was at 70 percent capacity. There’s still space, and making sure there is more is something he’s discussed with his emergency operations team since the pandemic began.

He said staff was taking additional measures to handle any overflow, working with the state to bring in a mobile refrigerated trailer and also purchasing a second one.

“Hopefully we will not need to use it,” he said.

The staggering number is a stark reminder of what is happening in the hospitals and “why we’re doing all we’re doing,” he said. In contrast to what is happening on the state level, Suffolk County became the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, with hospitalizations up “significantly” to 1,517, from 1,463 Monday. Intensive care admissions decreased by 40 overnight from 506 Monday to 546 Tuesday.

“That’s the first time we’ve seen that,” Mr. Bellone said.

Confirmed cases in the county on Wednesday approached 17,000, with 228 in Southampton and 74 in East Hampton.

While state numbers seem to be leveling off, the rate of increases in New York slowing down, the county executive said it was “vitally important” people refrain from taking the slower rate as “mission accomplished.” People have to remain vigilant so the situation that’s happened in other countries — a reduction in case rate, followed by a spike as people returned to normal life too soon — doesn’t happen here.

“Social distancing” was the oft-repeated term this week, with government leaders from the state to the village level emphasizing the need to abide by the New York PAUSE executive order and stay at least six feet away from everyone but the family you live with.

During his daily update Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the extension of New York PAUSE. Schools and non-essential businesses must remain closed through April 29, and the fine for violating the social distancing executive order has increased to $1,000.

Two days earlier Mr. Bellone said that failure to comply with social distancing rules, in effect, “dishonors” healthcare and EMS workers on the front lines, putting them and the entire hospital system at risk of overload. Over the weekend, he helped organize a tribute to frontline workers, and fire sirens sounded at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

“Social distancing is working,” the governor reported, but there is a danger of becoming overconfident, as numbers related to deaths, hospitalizations, and intensive care admissions begin to flatten statewide.

“This is an enemy we have underestimated from the beginning,” he warned. “Now is not the time to be playing Frisbee with your friends in the park.”

Projection models could suggest New York is beginning to be at the apex of the curve, but, Mr. Cuomo said, “it could still go any way.”

The direction of the curve “still depends on what we do,” the governor emphasized. “If we are on a plateau,” he said, “we’re on a plateau at a very high level.”

Whether cases across New York and Long Island continue to spike or plateau, the need for equipment for healthcare workers and first responders reached a near breaking point.

Mr. Bellone reported on Saturday that the county had exhausted its supplies of Personal Protective Equipment.

On Sunday, U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin brought welcome news. He helped facilitate the procurement of 150,000 surgical masks for the county.

“Yesterday, I was notified that the county’s stockpile of surgical masks, regular sized N95 masks, gowns, face shields, and body bags was empty,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement. “Working with County Executive Steve Bellone and his team and the White House, we were able to make things happen quickly last night.”

Additionally, Mr. Zeldin’s office announced on Sunday evening that Suffolk County would be receiving 200,000 N95 masks, which provide the best protection to healthcare workers, after an appeal to the White House’s coronavirus task force and President Donald Trump’s special advisor Jared Kushner.

On Monday night, the county executive reported receiving 136 ventilators from the state for county hospitals. The governor had directed state hospitals to pool resources and deploy them according to greatest need.

Also over the weekend, on Saturday, Mr. Bellone said the Red Cross was actively seeking people who have recovered from cornavirus for plasma donations. Antibodies in the plasma of people who have had the virus and gotten well may be used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. By Monday, Mount Sinai Hospital and New York Blood Center were also seeking donors.

Speaking on WLNG Tuesday morning, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman likened the 6-foot social distancing rule to being inside a “bubble.”

Legislator Bridget Fleming said she prefers to think of “physical distancing,” because people can maintain social contact through varied media, by telephone, and platforms like Zoom.

Zoom can be tricky, however. Officials in both Sag Harbor and Westhampton Beach this week reported their meetings were hacked by “zoom bombers” who disrupted proceedings and caused the village boards to shut them down.

“It was quite disturbing, and the meeting was promptly terminated,” Mayor Maria Moore of Westhampton Beach said. “The FBI has urged people to report incidents of hacking, so we have forwarded the recording of our meeting to the FBI.”

The hacked meeting took place on April 1. With additional security measures in place, the board was able to hold a meeting undisturbed on April 2. Sag Harbor’s meeting morphed into a follow-up conference call with the board after trustees hastily closed their session Friday afternoon.

Also in Westhampton Beach, Ms. Moore reported that, with social distancing at beaches and parks continuing to be an issue, the village posted signs that urge the public to “maintain social distance or we will have to close our beaches and parks.”

Work on flower gardens and ornamental landscaping had to close down Thursday after revisions to the guidelines for essential businesses related to landscaping and agriculture were released.

Landscaping that relates to maintenance and pest control is still considered essential. Other landscaping activities, like planting flowers, are not.

Agriculture nurseries and farms that produce food crops are essential businesses. Other aspects of horticulture have been deemed non-essential. Horticultural operations are invited to check the agriculture.ny.gov website as the guidelines may change.

Chief of Staff Irene Donohue offered an update on behalf of Ms. Fleming on April 2. She reported that Mr. Cuomo has convened a New York PAUSE enforcement task force to assist local authorities. Individuals may file complaints regarding non-essential businesses continuing to operate or large groups of people continuing to gather in violation of the executive order by calling 1-831-789-0470 or the county’s clearinghouse number, 311.

Also this week, the county made a map depicting “real time” case numbers available to the public. Visit suffolkcountyny.gov, then click on the COVID-19 update prompt on the upper left hand side of the home page. On the next page, a blue bar, once clicked, takes the user to the map. Under the map, click town or community for details.

This week, the governor also announced an agreement with the largest student loan servicers in New York to obtain relief for student loan borrowers experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 who contact their private student loan servicer.

Available relief includes 90 days of deferred monthly payments, waived late fees, no negative reporting to credit agencies, and enrolling eligible borrowers in available long-term assistance program.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, only provides relief to borrowers whose loans are owned by the federal government. This agreement with the student loan industry provides much-needed relief to these outstanding borrowers whose loans are privately owned.

The New York State Department of Financial Services will issue guidance that reflects and complements the state’s agreement with the private student loan industry and that also directs regulated student loan servicers to quickly and appropriately implement the relief provided by the federal CARES Act for borrowers whose loans are federally owned. New York student loan borrowers should visit DFS’s website for more information about available student loan relief.

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