Innovation in the Age of Coronavirus

Guess who's not coming to dinner: Albany really wants New Yorkers (and everyone else) to stay home this Thanksgiving (the good news is, there's more for you).

The evolving COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the world around us, and myriad Long Island forces – large and small, corporate and nonprofit, industrial and academic – have risen to the challenge. Innovate Long Island presents Innovation in the Age of Coronavirus as a running journal of this region’s resourceful response to the greatest global challenge since World War II. Stay healthy, dear readers.

 

 

Island joins state’s micro-cluster ranks

Action plan: How New Yorkers act dramatically affects the state’s infection rate, according to the governor.

(Nov. 24) Long Island has its first official micro-clusters.

Albany’s daily update of its statewide COVID-19 micro-cluster “focus zones” on Monday included new Yellow Precautionary Zones in Nassau (Great Neck and Massapequa Park) and Suffolk (Riverhead and Hampton Bays), marking the first Long Island flags the New York State Department of Health has planted through its Cluster Action Initiative. The Long Island zones were part of a busy day for the Health Department, with new Orange Warning Zones popping up on Staten Island and in multiple upstate counties and additional Yellow Warning Zones appearing in Upper Manhattan.

With a statewide positivity rate of 3.08 percent and 33 coronavirus-related deaths recorded Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo lamented “a bad combination” as the number of statewide micro-clusters rises and the “high social season” arrives. “We brought the rate down, but you know what? We can bring the rate up,” Cuomo said. “You can bring the rate up a lot easier than you brought the rate down. If our actions change, the rate will change.” – GZ

 

Mount Sinai South Nassau closes ED to visitors

(Nov. 23) With regional COVID-19 new positives spiking, Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital has indefinitely suspended patient visitations within its Emergency Departments.

Noting exceptions for the parents of pediatric patients and “end of life” cases, the change – affecting the hospital’s Oceanside and Long Beach facilities – applies only to Emergency Department patients and visitors. Visiting rules and hours (4-8 p.m. daily) remain unchanged for inpatients across Mount Sinai South Nassau’s other departments.

Family and other visitors will be updated on the condition of Emergency Department patients “by phone,” the hospital said in a statement. More information about visiting patients in the Mount Sinai Health System’s flagship Long Island hospital available here. – GZ     

 

Albany to Congress: Step it up on unemployment

Help wanted: Millions of Americans are about to lose their pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

(Nov. 22) With COVID-19 infections soaring and certain pandemic-specific federal unemployment benefits drying up, Albany is imploring the U.S. Congress to renew and expand federal support for out-of-work Americans.

More than 12 million U.S. residents will lose pandemic-specific federal unemployment benefits on Dec. 31, including 1.2 million New Yorkers currently receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which supports freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t typically qualify for unemployment benefits. Also set to expire by year’s end are Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claims still working through 13 weeks of additional benefits, after exhausting their standard 26 weeks; all told, 682,000 New Yorkers have filed PEUC claims since the spring, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Noting the pandemic has created “an unprecedented economic crisis,” Cuomo on Sunday sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to act quickly. “Inaction from Washington is putting millions of Americans’ financial security at risk,” the governor said. “Congress moved decisively this spring to address the economic impacts of the pandemic and should once again take action before the calendar year ends to bring badly needed support to millions of struggling Americans.” – GZ

 

Predicting the worst, Cuomo pleads for the best

Party pooper: Tough to say, tough to hear, but the right thing to do, according to the governor.

(Nov. 19) Foreseeing “a significant spike post-Thanksgiving,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging New Yorkers to avoid Thanksgiving travel this year – and to steer clear of anything other than small, intimate gatherings.

Noting “the virus is complicated, but the virus is simple” and “your safe zone, it’s not a safe zone,” the governor on Thursday made his strongest statements yet about Thanksgiving 2020, noting it’s “hard … to say and hear,” but the best bet this year – with COVID-19 raging across the country and spiking in “focus zones” around the state – is for people to “act in a way they’ve never acted before” and keep this holiday local, and small.

Cuomo called travel “a real problem for us,” noting New York State’s relatively low infection rates – and said the health of its residents, not to mention continued operation of schools and businesses, face a terrible risk during Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season. “It’s your family,” the governor said. “It’s your home, it’s your table, these are all environments where you feel safe … I am telling you, look at the infection rate five, six, seven, eight days after Thanksgiving, it will be up. This year, if you love someone, it is smarter and better to stay away.” – GZ

 

Island inches toward first official ‘micro-cluster’

Yvette Aguiar: Micro managing.

(Nov. 18) With Albany’s micro-cluster merry-go-round continuously updating its statewide, color-coded “focus zones,” Long Island has yet to be flagged – but it’s getting close.

Focus zones have been established upstate and in the outer boroughs, coming as close to the Nassau County border as the Queens neighborhoods of Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Astoria. And Long Island is now facing a second potential incursion from the east: On Wednesday, Town of Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar called for regional residents to “remain vigilant and maintain proper social distancing,” after New York State’s Cluster Action Initiative announced the Suffolk County town is “approaching micro-cluster status” based on the number of new positive cases per number of people tested.

Noting it’s “crucial not to become complacent,” Aguiar implored her constituents to follow social-distancing rules and make use of the four COVID-19 testing sites within the spacious town (with more on the way). “Suffolk County officials are working with us to identify and monitor clusters, and will be providing rapid testing in an effort to slow the uptick of positive cases in our area,” the supervisor said. “The key to preventing the spread of the disease is testing.” – GZ

 

Slowly, surely, Island infection rate rises

(Nov. 17) New positives are spiking across Long Island and New York State.

Reporting Tuesday on statewide COVID-19 tests administered Monday, the New York State Department of Health announced 808 new Long Island infections, including 406 in Nassau and 402 in Suffolk. As a region, that’s second only to New York City’s 1,934 new reported infections; Long Island’s individual counties also finished second and third, respectively, on a county-by-county basis, outpacing the 399 new positives recorded Monday in Westchester and the 392 recorded in upstate Erie.

Long Island also recorded three coronavirus-related deaths on Monday (Erie reported 11), while 159,852 COVID-19 tests administered Monday resulted in a statewide new-positives rate of 3.18 percent, according to the Department of Health. “The number of cases across the country and in New York are only continuing to climb,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “Our micro-cluster strategy and testing capacity will help us through this new season, but ensuring we don’t go back to where we were in the spring is going to depend on our behavior … Our actions today determine our rate of positive cases tomorrow.” – GZ

 

Albany app reaches out to first-time social-service users

Mike Hein: Social assistance, now stigma-free.

(Nov. 16) A new web application developed through a public-private partnership between New York State and Google’s charitable arm will help state residents struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic locate and obtain critical government assistance.

The “user-friendly social services discovery application” is designed specifically for users who are unfamiliar with the state’s online social-programs network. As the pandemic shifts socioeconomic landscapes, there are many first-timers out there, struggling to identify, apply for and receive state benefits – and they’ll find help in the “Find Services” app, the result of a six-month collaboration between the state’s Office of Information Technology Services, Albany’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and Google.org.

The “easy-to-use starting point for first-time users of social programs” prompts users with a series of simple questions to narrow down their services choices, then provides a ranked list of potential services and application instructions. “Now more than ever, it is critical for eligible New Yorkers to have easy access to programs designed to help them and their families,” noted OTDA Commissioner Mike Hein. “This new web application expands our ongoing efforts to provide a stigma-free platform … that can make an enormous difference in their lives.” – GZ

 

NYU Langone-Long Island leads COVID-19 vaccine trial

Step right up: AstraZeneca needs 30,000 volunteers to test its new COVID-19 vaccine.

(Nov. 11) The former NYU Winthrop Hospital – as of this week, NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island, regional flagship of the NYU Langone Health System – is opening its new Vaccine Center with a bang: A clinical trial of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, developed by British-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca.

The Mineola-based satellite Vaccine Center, part of NYU Langone’s world-renowned vaccine-research division, is currently enrolling patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of the vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The trial will ultimately enroll 30,000 patients globally, with each receiving two doses of either the vaccine candidate or a placebo-saline solution.

The new Long Island Vaccine Center will also seek to enroll volunteers in future experimental vaccine trials for other infectious diseases, according to NYU Winthrop – but for starters, all eyes are on the novel coronavirus. “It’s very exciting for us, and Long Island, to participate in vaccine trials aimed at controlling COVID-19,” said Steven Carsons, director of the Vaccine Center at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island. “While emerging infectious diseases will always be a threat, COVID-19 is clearly the greatest health threat in a hundred years. By working together to establish effective vaccines, hopefully we will conquer it.” – GZ

 

BFCU, Island Harvest plan ‘drive-through’ Turkey Drive

(Nov. 11) The pandemic has increased the number of food-insecure families on Long Island and complicated efforts to assist them – and with the holiday season gearing up, one of the Island’s most productive yearly food drives is keeping both difficult factors in mind.

Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s Bethpage Turkey Drive, held annually to benefit the Bethpage-based Island Harvest Food Bank, has scheduled a “no-contact donation car drive-through” event – a pandemic pivot that will allow the 12th annual collection to proceed with minimal COVID-spreading risk. Volunteers will remove donations while donors wait in their cars, with frozen turkeys, nonperishable foodstuffs and cash donations gratefully accepted at BFCU’s South Oyster Bay Road headquarters between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Nov. 20.

Those who can’t make the drive-through are asked to visit the Bethpage Turkey Drive webpage, where monetary donations are in play – a critical component of Island Harvest’s mission to provide Thanksgiving dinners to 300,000-plus food-insecure Long Islanders. “The economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created a greater need among Long Islanders seeking food assistance, many for the first time,” noted Island Harvest President and CEO Randi Shubin Dresner. “We are incredibly grateful to Bethpage Federal Credit Union for their support and generosity throughout the year, and look forward to another successful Bethpage Turkey Drive.” – GZ

 

Rauch Foundation survey heads downtown

Nancy Rauch Douzinas: Direct access.

(Nov. 10) A new survey from a regional socioeconomic watchdog will directly assess COVID-19’s effects on Long Island’s businesses and downtown districts – and offer advice to help local leaders accelerate the Island’s recovery.

The Rauch Foundation, an influential Garden City-based “family organization” that lobbies for critical systemic changes related to development and sustainability, is offering the survey online, in English and Spanish, in an effort to gather information directly from business owners impacted by the pandemic. The foundation is also dispatching canvassers to hit the bricks in regional downtowns, meet with shop owners and offer to record the five- to 10-minute survey in person.

The survey covers how stores managed changing retail environments before COVID and how the pandemic has impacted their finances, and solicits suggestions on proposals that would promote future sustainability. “It’s easy to guess what the impact of the pandemic might be on local small businesses, but until we hear from the business owners themselves, we can’t really know for sure,” noted Rauch Foundation President Nancy Rauch Douzinas. “It’s important that our business community is included in the recovery process and that their experiences and hardships are taken into consideration.” – GZ 

 

SUNY lays down the law for Spring 2021

Jim Malatras: Strict, but necessary.

(Nov. 9) The State University of New York has outlined a sweeping, system-wide plan designed to allow campuses to safely return to in-person instruction for the Spring 2021 semester.

Noting that SUNY “continues to operate under a state public health emergency,” the comprehensive plan – covering all 64 SUNY campuses and community-college facilities – pushes the in-person instruction start date back to Feb. 1, one of several substantial components. Also noteworthy: mandated COVID-19 tests for all students returning to campus facilities (residents and commuters), a seven-day precautionary quarantine for all returning residential students and the outright cancellation of Spring Break 2021.

Along with continued surveillance testing and social-distancing protocols, the rules are strict – but necessary, according to SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, who stressed that health and safety were the state university system’s top priorities. “We demonstrated this past fall that by implementing an aggressive strategy to manage COVID, students can safely return to campus,” Malatras said. “These additional efforts … illustrate that SUNY is setting a nationwide standard for controlling COVID-19 in the weeks and months to come.” – GZ

 

Wedding stinger: Albany zaps Cutchogue country club

(Nov. 7) They won’t be serving drinks (or anything else) for a while at the North Fork County Club, which has been slammed by the New York State Liquor Authority for hosting what Albany calls a “superspreader” event.

The SLA has summarily suspended the Cutchogue club’s liquor license (no hearing, just gone) following an Oct. 17 wedding reception that reportedly catered to 113 guests. In addition to more than doubling the state’s 50-person limit on nonessential gatherings, the reception proved to be a COVID-19 hotspot, with 34 people – including 30 guests, three country club staffers and one wedding vendor – eventually testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

About 160 people connected to the wedding were ultimately forced to enter quarantine, while “several schools temporarily suspend[ed] in-person learning,” according to the governor’s office. “Hosting one of these events after all New York has been through is obnoxious and irresponsible, not to mention illegal,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “We are eight months into this pandemic and simply will not tolerate businesses that put New Yorkers at risk. I thank Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and his team for their cooperation in holding these bad actors accountable.” – GZ

 

Red zones, and red flags, as NY numbers rise

(Nov. 5) Long Island, so far, remains in the clear – but “focus zones” are popping up all over New York, and the state’s positivity rate is steadily rising.

After several summer months with a daily statewide new-positives rate (among the tested) below 1 percent, New York is currently saddled with a statewide positivity rate of 1.86 percent – inflated significantly by a chunky 3.04 percent positivity rate inside nine focus zones spread across the state, each generating different color-coded levels of concern. The focus zones include two in Brooklyn, two in Queens and one each in Rockland, Orange, Broome, Steuben and Chemung counties.

Brooklyn currently has one red focus zone (a confirmed hotspot) and one yellow focus zone (a precautionary warning buffering higher-infection areas); both of the Queens zones trip the metrics for a yellow alert, as per Albany’s micro-cluster strategy. “COVID fatigue is creeping up and there are serious caution flags in Western New York, the Finger Lakes and in other communities across the state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. “So, it is more important than ever that we be vigilant.” – GZ

 

Stony Brook to next U.S. president: Science, man

Sharon Nachman: Scientific method.

(Nov. 4) The 2020 presidential election is far from decided, but Stony Brook Medicine is already offering its two cents on how the next president should handle the evolving pandemic.

While the world awaits a proven, safe and effective vaccine, Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, predicts that a “second wave” will likely surge in some areas over the next three months – and she suggests several constructive steps for a second-term President Trump or a first-term President Biden to follow to manage the coming spike. Right at the top: embracing science and engaging communities, with an emphasis on making community members feel like stewards of better physical and mental health.

In addition to embracing science, Nachman – an investigator on more than 30 clinical trials, including vaccine trials – also believes the next president must be open about the COVID-19 vaccination process, with special considerations made about prioritizing vaccine distribution to the neediest. The White House should also be prepared to make nice with the World Health Organization and rebuild a fractured national health infrastructure, the doctor added, while generously funding medical research to mitigate this and future pandemics. – GZ

 

Fitbit, Feinstein team up on wearable COVID detector

(Nov. 3) San Francisco-based healthy-lifestyle technology innovator Fitbit will cross the continent to partner with Northwell Health’s R&D division on a wearable device capable of detecting the novel coronavirus.

Fitbit has landed a roughly $2.5 million U.S. Department of Defense grant to develop “wearable diagnostic” capabilities for the early detection of the COVID-19 infection. Step No. 1: a “prospective study” with experts at the Manhasset-based Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, who will put Fitbit’s in-development COVID-19 detection algorithm through its paces.

The study builds on previous Fitbit efforts to develop wearable COVID-detection devices, including a research consortium with The Scripps Research Institute and the Stanford University School of Medicine that launched earlier this year. “The combination of Feinstein Institutes’ research expertise, Northwell’s COVID-19 testing capabilities and Fitbit’s promising algorithm … presents a unique opportunity to accelerate early detection of COVID-19, particularly for our frontline healthcare workers,” noted Feinstein Institutes Senior Vice President Karina Davidson. – GZ

 

Nonprofit blasts health officials over assisted-living salons  

Lisa Newcomb: Hair-raising.

(Nov. 2) An upstate nonprofit watchdog with an eye on conditions in statewide assisted-living facilities is slamming Albany over long-simmering concerns about personal grooming in nursing homes.

The crux of the matter is the New York State Department of Health’s decision to keep on-site hair salons closed, even though other group activities – including communal dining – have been greenlighted, and “despite the pleas of residents and their family members,” according to the Clifton Park-based Empire State Association of Assisted Living. The salons have been closed since March, and as a result, the ESAAL counts “tens of thousands of seniors” across the state either living with hair gone wild or forced to leave their assisted-living facility for hair grooming, which is “not only perplexing, but directly put(s) our residents in harm’s way,” notes ESAAL Executive Director Lisa Newcomb.

“Months ago, when public hair salons in the community were first allowed to reopen, we made the request to the (Health) Department that our in-house salons be allowed to reopen, of course with the same safety measures built in,” Newcomb said Monday. “Yet here we are, with a deafening silence, and much to their distress and mental anguish, some assisted-living residents have not had their hair cut or styled since the shutdown began eight months ago.” – GZ

 

Farewell, ‘travel advisory,’ hello quarantines for (almost) all  

Cuomo: Strategy shift.

(Oct. 31) From the Department of Learning as They Go come Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health, which has throttled back on its mandatory-quarantine interstate travel strategy.

Until now, Albany’s “travel advisory” – which topped out last week at 45 U.S. states and territories – required mandatory 14-day quarantines for new arrivals from states with more than 10 COVID-positive cases per 100,000 state residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a statewide positivity rate above 10 percent over the previous seven days. The advisory is now kaput; new arrivals from everywhere (exempting essential workers and travelers from New York border states) must now quarantine for three days, after which the healthy can “test out,” according to new guidelines announced Saturday.

The skinny: Travelers must be tested within three days prior to arriving in New York, must quarantine for at least three days upon arrival and must take a COVID test on Day Four. The healthy are free to go. “We’re going to a new plan given the changing facts, and the experts suggest we shift to a testing policy,” Cuomo said. “So, there will be no quarantine list – there will be one rule that applies across the country. We bent the curve of this virus by following the data and the science, and we are continuing that approach with these new guidelines.” – GZ

 

Poll: More than half of Metro New Yorkers won’t accept vaccine

(Oct. 29) Underscoring fears about rushed development and lax federal-approval processes, less than half of Metropolitan New York residents plan to get a COVID vaccine when one becomes publicly available.

That shocker headlines the latest Truth in Medicine poll by Mount Sinai South Nassau, Long Island flagship of the Mount Sinai Health System. Sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the survey of 600 Long Island and New York City adults, conducted by phone between Oct. 4 and 8, finds several positives in the regional pandemic response – mask-wearing and school re-openings earn generally high marks – but also spotlights various social inequities: Minority respondents report higher job losses than whites, while only half of those 65 and older who were employed before the pandemic still hold the same job.

Only 46 percent of respondents say they’ll get a COVID vaccine, with two-thirds of those who won’t citing concerns about a rushed approval process. Perhaps most telling: Only 54 percent of respondents say they trust the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to impartially determine if a vaccine is effective and safe. “The poll results show that there is significant concern about the approval process,” said national infectious diseases expert Aaron Glatt, chairman of Mount Sinai South Nassau’s Department of Medicine. “We clearly have our work cut out for us in terms of educating the public on the safety of a COVID vaccine, assuming one is fully developed, tested, demonstrated to be safe and efficacious, and approved by the FDA.” – GZ

 

‘Frontline’ LIRR employees part of MTA screening effort

Free ride: “Frontline” LIRR workers can now get no-charge COVID tests through the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

(Oct. 28) The Metropolitan Transit Authority has initiated a volunteer COVID-19 screening program for “frontline employees.”

The program offers free COVID testing at rotating locations – including MTA facilities, Medical Assessment Centers and Occupational Health Services facilities – for Long Island Rail Road, New York City Transit Authority, Metro-North Railroad and MTA Bridges and Tunnels employees who come in close contact with the public.

The MTA also maintains an agreement with Northwell Health providing free diagnostic testing for MTA workers at regional GoHealth urgent care centers. “Our brave frontline transit workers risked their lives to provide New Yorkers an essential service every single day during this pandemic,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted. “This new voluntary screening program leverages New York’s nation-leading COVID testing program to help keep our frontline workers safe during this unprecedented pandemic.” – GZ

 

Including Northeast neighbors, 45 states/territories now flagged

I left my virus in San Francisco: COVID-positive arrivals from California must now quarantine in New York.

(Oct. 27) A whopping 45 U.S. states and territories now trigger New York State’s mandatory-quarantine metrics, with California joining the pantheon of places flagged by Albany’s “travel advisory.”

Only 41 states and territories actually appear on the advisory, which requires 14-day quarantines for new arrivals from states with more than 10 COVID-positive cases per 100,000 state residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a statewide positivity rate above 10 percent over the previous seven days. But while Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut all meet the metrics, “the interconnected nature of the region and mode of transport between the states” makes a quarantine “not practically viable,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

That said, Cuomo’s office “highly discourages, to the extent practical, non-essential travel” between the Northeast states, while the governor himself vowed continued vigilance in the face of rising national numbers. “New York State is not in a hermetically sealed bubble,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “Now, 45 states and territories meet the requirements for our travel advisory. We cannot let our guard down and risk going backwards in New York.” – GZ

 

Citing COVID, New York Tech freezes tuition through 2021-22

Hank Foley: Mr. Freeze.

(Oct. 26) Noting the “financial strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on students and their families,” the New York Institute of Technology has announced a freeze of all tuitions and fees for its Summer 2021 term and its Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters.

The university has taken several other steps – largely focused on finances – to swing open the doors of its Old Westbury and Manhattan campuses through the teeth of the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to adopting a test-optional admissions policy, New York Tech has established new priority deadlines for early admissions and financial-aid consideration and enhanced online access to admissions and financial-aid resources.

Those moves, along with a freezing what is already a below-average tuition rate among private New York State universities, reflect New York Tech’s “laser focus on offering students the highest-quality experience and exceptional outcomes,” according to New York Institute of Technology President Hank Foley, particularly important during the pandemic. “We stand committed to providing our current and future students with an outstanding college education that is accessible and affordable,” Foley added. – GZ

 

Long Island manufacturers join Albany’s supply lines

(Oct. 23) Two Long Island companies are among eight new statewide businesses being directly funded by Albany to produce supplies for the fight against COVID-19

Farmingdale-based musical instruments maker D’Addario and Co. and St. James-based air conditioner/heat pump manufacturer RE Hansen Industries (dba Islandaire) are now among the New York State businesses receiving more than $16 million in state grants earmarked for the emergency production of personal protective equipment and other pandemic supplies. Although New York is at a low ebb in the national pandemic, it’s taking no chances – and 28 businesses have now responded to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s March call for companies able to retool their production lines to churn out approved equipment including ventilators, testing kits and various PPE.

The idea is not to fully supply the anti-pandemic effort, but to alleviate potential product shortages and head off unfair pricing practices, according to the governor. “The nation learned the hard lesson of not having adequate and readily available supplies made in the United States,” Cuomo said Thursday. “We had to scramble for life-saving products that are mainly manufactured overseas. Our plan to move forward includes investing in the infrastructure that will keep us prepared and support local companies.” – GZ

 

Albany’s color guard races to pace micro-clusters

Multiplication tables: Albany’s COVID-tracking metrics are changing fast.

(Oct. 21) With the statewide new-infection rate hovering around 1.6 percent, Albany is running up different colors in numerous “micro-cluster” zones.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo updated the state’s efforts to track and contain localized COVID-19 outbreaks, noting that Red and Orange zones in Queens (denoting confirmed hotspots and surrounding “warning buffer” areas) have been downshifted to Yellow zones (more of a “precautionary buffer”). However, different-colored zones in Rockland, Orange and Broome counties remain unchanged due to unwavering infection rates, according to the governor, while new warning zones have been established in Steuben and Chemung counties.

Noting “there’s no rocket science here,” a frustrated Cuomo blamed the slowly increasing statewide new-infection rate – up to 1.42 percent without the micro-clusters, 1.62 with – on “a lack of compliance and enforcement,” and demanded local governments step up their game. “That’s the only way it happens,” the governor said. “People didn’t comply, went to a party with more people, went to a bar with more people, had a private party in a backyard with more people. Where people don’t comply, the local government has to enforce. If you have no compliance and you have no enforcement, you know what you have? Spread. That’s it.” – GZ

 

Scientists may have found an eye in COVID’s cytokine storm

Negin Hajizadeh: Steroid era.

(Oct. 20) A corticosteroid cocktail may be the best way to calm a cytokine storm – an overzealous inflammatory response to COVID-19 that pits a patient’s body against its own immune system in a literal fight to the death.

It’s an unfortunately common response to the novel coronavirus, causing organ failure and extensive tissue damage and often leading to death. A new paper published this week in Chest, a peer-reviewed medical journal covering chest diseases and related issues, discusses the most effective immunomodulatory therapies to combat the nefarious condition, with a combination of corticosteroids – such as dexamethasone, a common inflammation treatment similar to a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands – crowned the best treatment to weather a cytokine storm.

The findings, by pulmonary and critical care physician Negin Hajizdeh and her team at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, follow a careful review of 6,000 COVID-19 patients treated between March and April at 12 Northwell Health hospital. “Cytokine storms are a hallmark for many COVID-19 patients and are associated with the most severe form of this illness,” noted Hajizadeh, an associate professor at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and co-senior author on the paper alongside Feinstein Institutes Associate Professor Sonali Narain. “Our findings suggest that with the intervention of certain drugs like corticosteroids … we have found a new standard of care for seriously ill patients.” – GZ

 

Halloween is hell on wheels for ‘alternate reality gamer’

(Oct. 19) With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control red-flagging traditional trick-or-treating during the pandemic, the young and old alike are scrambling for new ways to enjoy Halloween – and Wheatley Heights-based “alternate reality games” pioneer Aurora Interactive has come up something so good, it’s scary.

You’ve entered another dimension, and there’s a signpost up ahead: “From Beyond,” the new family-friendly drive-through screecher on the grounds of the USDAN Summer Camp for the Arts. Self-billed as the world’s only “interactive, immersive Halloween drive-through hybrid horror-comedy ‘I-Spy’ escape alternate reality storytelling gaming adventure,” From Beyond offers a sliding scale of experiences for people of all ages (from lighthearted to heart-pounding, darker as the hour grows later), with visitors taking a 25-minute drive along dark, winding roads haunted by mechanized monsters and masked marauders (PPE and otherwise).

Visitors stay in their cars the whole time – safe from COVID-19 and other horrors – and serve as “monster hunters,” with hints and warnings provided by helpful guides (through cell phones). The rolling horror shows are slated to run through Halloween weekend and reservations are required; full schedules, ticket prices and more information available here. – GZ

 

Albany prepares for cold-weather ‘micro-clusters’

Out of the blue corner: The nation hasn’t turned a corner — COVID is gaining. But Albany is fighting back.

(Oct. 17) While some fantasize that the nation has “turned the corner” on COVID-19, the virus is actually surging – and Albany isn’t waiting for the next wave to crash here.

New York State has crafted a “micro-cluster” strategy to tackle COVID-19 hot spots that may accompany colder weather, combining “refined detection, specific and calibrated mitigation and focused enforcement,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. Relying on “nation-leading levels of testing” and the state’s address-by-address tracking methods, health officials will “implement rules and restrictions directly targeted to areas with the highest concentration of COVID cases” while applying “less-severe restrictions in surrounding communities.”

The strategy is based on techniques employed in the governor’s recent Cluster Action Initiative, which targeted coronavirus hotspots in Brooklyn, Queens and upstate regions. “One of the lessons we learned in New York is to look ahead and stay ahead,” Cuomo noted. “It’s not checkers – we’re playing chess with this virus. In the fall, you’re going to see an increased viral transmission rate. That’s just a fact.” – GZ

 

Feinstein, partners score $11.3M antibody research grant

(Oct. 15) The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research has landed a hefty federal grant that places it squarely on the pandemic’s front lines.

The National Cancer Institute has awarded the Feinstein Institutes and three partner institutions an $11.3 million grant – part of the NCI’s $306 million Serological Sciences Network for COVID-19 – to create a new Capacity Building Center, capable of developing new and improved antibody-testing assays. Northwell Health’s Manhasset-based science division will work with Arizona State University, the University of Minnesota and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai on the new CBC, with each of the partner institutions responsible for testing thousands of people for the novel coronavirus each week and sharing the results.

Additional research into the molecular immune response to COVID-19, key to stopping it and future viruses, is also in play. “To better understand the course of COVID-19 and its impact on patient’s bodies, we must develop more efficient and accurate antibody tests and integrate them with a deeper understanding of the disease,” noted Feinstein Institutes Professor Peter Gregersen, CBC principal investigator. “It is exciting to have the support of the NCI and the SeroNet collaborations.” – GZ

 

Three more states (re-)join mandatory-quarantine list

Stop right there: This is a file photo, and the map is lot redder now.

(Oct. 14) The merry-go-round that is Albany’s COVID-19 “travel advisory” has added (actually, re-added) three states, with no U.S. states or territories healthy enough over the last week to come off.

Ohio, Michigan and Virginia – all of which have spent time before in the New York State Department of Health’s mandatory-quarantine jail, only to be pardoned for good behavior – are back in the clink: Each has tripped the metrics (more than 10 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 state residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a statewide positivity rate above 10 percent over the previous seven days) requiring travelers from those places to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New York.

The naughty list now stands at 36 states, plus U.S. territories Guam and Puerto Rico – and it’s no joke, with multi-departmental state enforcement teams continuing their airport patrols. “As we go into the fall, and the numbers nationwide are going up,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted. “We must work to keep our numbers down, and that’s going to take every New Yorker wearing their masks, socially distancing and being ‘New York Tough’ to maintain our progress.” – GZ

 

Fearing twin peaks, regional hospitals push flu vaccines

(Oct. 13) With a potential “twindemic” looming – a significant second wave of COVID-19 coinciding with peak flu season – regional healthcare leaders are pushing hard on flu vaccinations.

A new campaign by hospitals and county health officials is spreading the word in nine counties east and north of New York City, including Nassau and Suffolk. Sponsored by the Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State and the New York State Association of County Health Officials, the campaign – including new flu-vaccine information pages on county health department websites – is designed specifically to raise awareness of a potential “twindemic” over the fall and winter months, and to encourage residents to get their flu vaccinations now.

Noting “COVID-19 activity is on the rise,” NYS Association of County Health Officials Executive Director Sarah Ravenhill said developing a wellness plan – including a flu-vaccine shot – is more important this year than most. “We strongly encourage everyone to talk with their healthcare provider now and put together a plan that gives them the best chance to stay healthy through the fall and winter,” Ravenhill said Tuesday. “Now is the time to act.” – GZ

 

Albany floods state with 400,000 rapid-test kits

(Oct. 10) With national numbers swelling and localized spikes within New York multiplying, the NYS Department of Health is circulating an additional 400,000 rapid-result test kits around the state.

The kits, which eliminate off-site lab work and provide on-the-spot results within 15 minutes, will be deployed free of charge to local health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and other healthcare providers. The Health Department will “prioritize the distribution of testing kits to counties and local healthcare providers in areas seeing a recent uptick in cases,” according to a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, but kits will be made available to all providers who request them.

The kits will also be sent to schools in so-called “yellow zones,” in accordance with Albany’s recent Cluster Action Initiative, which outlines enforcement rules in yellow “precautionary zones,” orange “warning zones” and red zones where actual spikes have been detected. “From day one, testing has been one of the most vital tools we have to accurately assess COVID-19’s spread,” Cuomo said Friday. “These rapid test kits will allow healthcare institutions throughout the state to quickly and accurately determine COVID-19’s spread, control outbreaks and keep families and communities safe.” – GZ

 

Live, from Garden City: Adelphi stages ‘fully virtual’ theater

Lohne gun: Megan, aiming high on social issues.

(Oct. 9) From the Show Must Go On File comes the Adelphi University Department of Theatre, which is skillfully choreographing its way around the traditional in-theater experience – on hiatus, of course, thanks to the pandemic – with its “first fully virtual theatrical event.”

Written and directed, respectively, by Adelphi alumnae Megan Lohne and Shoshanah Tarkow, “This Odd Geometry of Time” follows the lives of notable women – and a spunky bowhead whale – through history, in “what the Garden City university calls “an exploration of intersectional feminism and climate change, through the guise of a nature documentary.” Four livestreamed performances are scheduled for the Theatre Department’s fall-semester production, which incorporates live performances and a host of innovative technologies.

The livestreams are free but advance registration is required. “When I started writing this experience … I had no idea what it would become,” Lohne noted. “It’s my hope that audience members leave this piece contemplating what is missing from their lives, what they hope for, and ultimately ask the bigger questions of ourselves and each other in this, our only time.” – GZ

 

Numbers creep up, but defensive guv downplays state spike

Cuomo: A few rotten apples.

(Oct. 8) The numbers are slowly going south as New York wrestles with coronavirus clusters in the Big Apple and beyond.

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday counted 145,811 diagnostic test results reported to state health officials the day prior, a new daily record that includes 7,349 test results collected inside five “hot spot” ZIP codes in Brooklyn, Queens, Rockland and Orange counties – with 426 new positives discovered in those specific areas, equaling a chunky 5.8 percent positivity rate. The 138,000-plus tests reported across the rest of the state resulted in 1,410 new positives, a relatively healthy 1.01 percent positivity rate.

Other Wednesday stats are even more troubling: 84 statewide COVID patients discharged from hospitals with 106 new ones admitted; 10 additional New Yorkers dead from COVID-19 complications; and 247 new positives recorded on Long Island, easily outpacing “hot spot” counties Rockland (198) and Orange (108). But reports of a statewide infection spike are exaggerated, according to Cuomo. “That is incorrect,” the governor said Thursday. “The clusters are what we are watching. The clusters are 6 percent of the state population … don’t confuse 6 percent of the population and say it’s representative of the state.” – GZ

 

Podcast probes SBU’s student-, staff-driven success

On the air: Stony Brook panelists discuss the university’s strategy against COVID outbreaks.

(Oct. 6) Binghamton University has temporarily closed its doors, SUNY Oswego is limping back from a two-week closure and other State University schools are struggling through smaller outbreaks, but as the Fall 2020 semester reaches its midway point, COVID-19 cases at Stony Brook University remain “minimal and manageable,” according to SBU, which is now sharing its secrets.

The 22nd episode of SBU’s “Beyond the Expected” podcast, posted this week, features Vice President for Campus Safety Lawrence Zacarese in a (socially distanced) roundtable discussion with Associate Provost for Academic Success Shelley Germana, Assistant VP for Student Health, Wellness and Prevention Services Marisa Bisiani and Dean of Students Rick Gatteau, focused on the success the university – and its students – have enjoyed in mitigating the COVID crisis.

Among the topics discussed in “Coming Back Safe and Strong: Students Step Up!” – which livestreamed Tuesday on Facebook Live and has since been archived in the Beyond the Expected library – are the university’s hybrid-learning model and its plans for the winter and spring months. The podcast series is available on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts and Spotify. – GZ

 

Frustrated Cuomo promises stricter state enforcement

Andrew Cuomo: Don’t make this man angry.

(Oct. 4) Dissatisfied with municipal leaders’ efforts in enforcing state pandemic-recovery regulations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking matters into Albany’s hands, promising “the state will be doing aggressive enforcement starting [Monday].”

The governor said Sunday that local governments “have not done an effective job of enforcement,” referring specifically to a number of “hot spot ZIP codes” where COVID-19 new positives have spiked in recent days. He also drew a parallel to statewide bars and restaurants, which became more compliant with pandemic-based occupancy limitations, food-order conditions and facemask requirements after Albany’s multidepartment task force, combining state health and law enforcement officials, began spot-inspecting local establishments.

Cuomo expressed further frustration with the lack of coronavirus testing in many local schools, promising that “if a local jurisdiction cannot or will not perform effective enforcement of violating entities,” the state will step in. “If the localities do not do testing immediately in the schools in those areas, the state will close them immediately,” the governor said. “I have assured the parents of this state that I would not send my child to a school that I didn’t know was safe … without testing, we can’t assure parents and teachers of the safety of that school.” – GZ

 

As nerves fray, SUNY ups its mental-health game

Jim Malatras: Positive reinforcement.

(Oct. 3) With COVID-19 ratcheting up the mental health and wellness needs of collegians across the nation, the State University system is taking proactive steps to increase mental health services across its 64 statewide campuses.

Speaking Sunday at Brooklyn’s SUNY Downstate Medical Center, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced a comprehensive plan to provide every State University student with access to a network of 6,000-plus licensed mental-health service providers via Thriving Campus, a HIPAA-compliant mobile app built specifically to fill in the gaps between campus- and community-based mental-health services. Already in play on two SUNY campuses, the app is designed to streamline the search for specific off-campus mental-health assistance, which can be “a stressful and overwhelming process,” according to SUNY.

Meanwhile, SUNY Downstate will become a “tele-counseling hub,” offering five regional SUNY campuses a secure online platform for consulting and crisis-assistance services by SUNY physicians and psychologists (SUNY Upstate Medical University already offers the service to 10 northern campuses), and SUNY Albany’s peer-to-peer assistance hotline has been opened to all SUNY students. “Normal pressures associated with college are being compounded by the weight of this unprecedented time … increasing levels of anxiety, stress, loneliness and isolation,” Malatras noted. “With SUNY’s comprehensive Reach Out Mental Health Services Program, students across the entire SUNY system will have access to critical services.” – GZ

 

New York, New Jersey weaponize phones

Phil Murphy: The more, the healthier.

(Oct. 1) Your mobile phone is the latest weapon in the war against COVID-19, at least in New York and New Jersey.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined his New Jersey counterpart, Gov. Phil Murphy, to announce the joint launch of COVID Alert NY and COVID Alert NJ, free mobile apps designed to supplement social-distancing laws by monitoring local data streams and alerting users of potential exposure to novel coronavirus hotspots. With the introduction of the new apps, the Empire and Garden states join East Coast neighbors Pennsylvania and Delaware in creating a regional COVID Alert app network designed to “operate across state lines to stop the spread of COVID-19,” according to Cuomo’s office.

Cuomo called the new apps “really creative and smart” and suggested they’d make a big difference in stymying a potential second wave across the region, while Murphy agreed the apps would “slow the spread of COVID-19” while adding a measure of personal responsibility to the cause. “The more phones that have the app, the better we can fight this pandemic,” the New Jersey governor added. – GZ

 

Prohibition prohibited, Giorgio’s gagged in task force sweep

Vincent Bradley: Bar exams.

(Sept. 30) Add 16 more liquor licenses to Albany’s growing suspension pile – now 217 licenses deep – as a multiagency state task force continues to catch establishments in “egregious violation” of New York Forward occupancy and social-distancing regulations.

Among this week’s suspensions: two establishments in Nassau County and two in Suffolk County, including Calverton’s Giorgio’s Catering, where investigators reportedly observed a Sept. 25 wedding reception with 95 guests in attendance – nearly twice the premises’ pandemic-calculated legal limit – and most not wearing facemasks.

Also pinched this week by the State Liquor Authority/State Police task force: Massapequa Park bar Prohibition, Saint James restaurant Patio Italian Kitchen and Wantagh’s Vintage Sports Bar, where investigators counted nearly 100 patrons packed in on Sept. 26, more than doubling the bar’s current limit. “The task force has been working diligently to stop the small number of businesses who feel they are above the law,” noted State Liquor Authority Chairman Vincent Bradley, adding establishments that do are “putting the public’s health and safety at risk.” – GZ

 

This year, the real trick is staying healthy

(Sept. 29) The governor doesn’t advise it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s a “higher-risk activity.” But Halloween is coming, and you can bet your bottom demon that come hell or no vaccine, more than a few ghosts, ghouls and Marvel superheroes will be on the prowl.

For those who do choose to allow their kids to go trick-or-treating, Sharon Nachman, chief of the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, offers some common-sense suggestions, echoing the CDC’s own best advice: cancel that big party, limit your candy-collector team (and keep them socially distanced), select one piece from candy bowls (to avoid unnecessary touching) and don’t limit masks to the costumed – PPE are a must, parents.

“Parents can work to make trick-or-treating safe,” Nachman noted. “It will take some extra preparation and thinking. Kids can have a good time … it will just look different from past years, but that’s fine.” – GZ

 

Rapid testing, in response to a rapid rise

Make it quick: Albany is shipping rapid-result COVID-19 test kits around the state.

(Sept. 28) An “uptick” in statewide COVID-19 cases is waving red flags across Albany, which is wasting no time on its targeted response.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the deployment of “rapid testing machines” to statewide regions where new infections are spiking, including a Queens neighborhood where new positive cases among those tested hit 6 percent over the weekend. After months of statewide daily new positives under 1 percent – and weeks hovering around the 1 percent mark – roughly 1.5 percent of statewide tests came back positive on Sunday, with percentages as high as 30 percent at testing sites in Rockland County and elsewhere.

In response, the New York State Department of Health is sending 200 rapid-testing machines to specific counties and ZIP codes where the numbers are rising, and is making both machines and operators available to other entities – including municipalities and private schools – that request them. “Focus on the clusters,” the governor said Monday. “Rapid testing machines are 15 minutes turnaround for a test. We can provide … Department of Health staff to operate those machines if the local governments can’t. That’s every private and public school in those ZIP codes. To the local governments in those ZIP codes, it’s the same offer.” – GZ

 

Albany tasks experts with vaccine-prep plans

(Sept. 26) Before being administered in New York State, any COVID-19 vaccine approved by the federal government will have to get past Albany’s new Clinical Advisory Task Force – a team of leading scientists, doctors and public-health experts that will scrutinize the safety and effectiveness of every novel coronavirus treatment greenlighted by Washington.

And any vaccine making it through that gauntlet will get where it’s going quickly and efficiently, thanks to Albany’s new Vaccine Distribution and Implementation Task Force – a team of immunization, government-operations and data-logistics experts charged with designing the best-possible statewide vaccination-administration program.

Noting “serious questions about whether or not the vaccine has become politicized,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the formation of both task forces this week. “Frankly, I’m not going to trust the federal government’s opinion,” the governor said. “We’re going to put together our own review committee … to review the vaccine, and I’m appointing a committee that is going to come up with a vaccine distribution and implementation plan on how we will do it.” – GZ

 

Cuomo: Bulging ‘travel advisory’ a concern for NY, nation

Eyes up: Cuomo and friends are closely watching national infection rates.

(Sept. 23) Albany’s interstate “travel advisory” plumped up this week, adding five states to its mandatory-quarantine protocols without removing any states or U.S. territories.

Recent updates to the list – which requires 14-day quarantines for travelers arriving from states with more than 10 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a positivity rate above 10 percent over the previous seven days – included both additions and subtractions. But on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced that Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, Rhode Island and Wyoming had tripped the metrics without cutting any regions from the list, which has now swelled to 35 U.S. states and territories.

Cuomo called the bulging advisory “a clear example of the continuing extent of the COVID crisis in America” and urged New Yorkers to remain vigilant. “The virus’ spread across the country – new cases have increased more than 15 percent in the last 10 days – makes it all the more urgent,” the governor said. “That’s why New Yorkers need to continue wearing masks, socially distancing and washing their hands, in conjunction with the careful enforcement of local governments.” – GZ

 

‘Like waiting in line at the DMV’ no longer funny

(Sept. 23) The pandemic may have killed off the go-to punchline for long-wait jokes.

The old gag about waiting forever at the DMV office is very likely kaput, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo – inspired by the remote realities of COVID-19 – announcing a new extension of online Department of Motor Vehicle services. Residents in more remote counties will benefit from new online vehicle-registration options, while New Yorkers everywhere can check out a pilot program offering written online tests for passenger car and motorcycle learner’s permits.

The idea, according to the governor, is to keep people safe from COVID-19 by letting them transact remotely – and to keep things moving for those who must visit local, ostensibly less-crowded DMV offices. “As the last six months have demonstrated, we need to continue reimagine how to provide essential government services safely, securely and efficiently,” Cuomo said. “These online options will make it more convenient for New Yorkers to access the services they need, while reducing congestion in the DMV offices and [continuing] our shared progress in stopping the spread of this virus.” – GZ

 

Study: Race for vaccine ignoring pediatrics

Sharon Nachman: Child care.

(Sept. 21) The chief of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases division at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital has a stark warning for the worldwide scientists and laboratories racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine: Leave no child behind.

That’s the word from infectious-disease specialist Sharon Nachman, one of eight authors listed on “Warp Speed for COVID-19 Vaccines: Why are Children Stuck in Neutral?” The academic paper, written by a national collection of infectious-disease experts and published this week by the online journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, notes that multiple adult clinical trials of potential vaccines have already entered phase three, while pediatric clinical trials have not even begun in the United States – a lag that’s not only dangerous for younger victims of the novel coronavirus but for all populations, as “the role of children in [COVID-19] transmission has clearly been underappreciated.”

It routinely takes years to develop viable vaccine candidates for adults, Nachman noted, with additional time to develop pediatric versions. “We need to start evaluating the different vaccines now … in the context of pediatric use,” the co-author said in a statement. “If vaccines are approved and we don’t know how well they work for children, that puts children at a higher risk for infection and further disease spread.” – GZ

 

Slow learners still threatening SUNY campuses

(Sept. 20) The State University of New York continues to battle back against COVID-19 – and, in some cases, its own stubborn students.

On Saturday, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras and SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley announced a “precautionary pause” that suspends all in-person classes and activities at the upstate school through Oct. 5 at least – a chance for COVID-19 cases to “stabilize” following a campus surge, according to the chancellor’s office. The pause comes on the heels of SUNY Brockport suspending its men’s soccer program on Friday for alleged COVID-19 policy violations, just days after the school pulled the mat out from under its Division III wrestling program for flouting the new-normal rules.

According to SUNY’s online COVID-19 tracking system, after a dramatic spike in statewide cases last week, new positives reported on SUNY campuses slowed noticeably this weekend. But with nearly 800 SUNY students currently under mandatory or precautionary quarantine, the actions in Oswego and Brockport were both prudent and a warning to other shortsighted students, warned Malatras. “We cannot let a few individuals ruin it for the entire SUNY community,” the chancellor said Sunday. “We must continue to send a loud and clear message that we will not tolerate blatant violations during this new normal. It’s unfair to the students, faculty, staff and families who have done so much to reopen our colleges and universities.” – GZ

 

Albany continues new-normal crackdown on bars, restaurants

Tempted by flesh: And by ignorance, and paying for it.

(Sept. 19) Add three Suffolk County pubs and another Nassau County establishment to the pile of statewide bars and restaurants whose liquor licenses have been suspended for “egregious violations of pandemic-related executive orders.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on Friday announced the latest round of suspensions following multiagency investigations – 33 in all, bringing the total number of liquor licenses suspended during the coronavirus pandemic to 201. Following investigations by the State Police/State Liquor Authority task force, a dozen Queens establishments were written up this month, along with six in Manhattan and three in Suffolk County (Brooklyn lost two liquor licenses, while a number of other counties, including Nassau, lost one each).

Among the de-licensed: Temptations in Bohemia, where violations included a mask-less lap dancer; Patchogue’s Off-Key Tikki, where a number of alleged social-distancing and PPE infractions were recorded; and Patchogue’s Plaza Papo Deli, where alleged violations ranged from on-premise liquor consumption to illicit drug sales. Also suspended was Toku Modern Asian in Manhasset, where investigators counted 118 patrons – exceeding the establishment’s current indoor-service maximum occupancy of 90 – and several patrons were allegedly served alcohol without ordering food. “This action should serve as a reminder to the small number of establishments who openly flout the rules that they are putting all New Yorkers at risk,” Cuomo said Friday. “They will be held accountable.” – GZ

 

From the Vastardis sisters, different portraits of service

Say “social distancing”: The Follette family, NYU Winthrop supporters and among photographer Paulina Vastardis’ Long Island “porchtraits.”

(Sept. 17) One Long Island family found very different ways to contribute to the regional COVID-19 response, from the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Mineola’s NYU Winthrop Hospital to Long Island’s front porches.

At least, near them – about 10 feet away, actually, where Garden City photographer Paulina Vastardis snapped more than 100 “porchtraits” for the national Front Porch Project. Vastardis, sister of NYU Winthrop Surgical Critical Care Physician Assistant Joanna Vastardis, raised about $5,000 through private donations from photographed families, earmarked for the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, where her sister works per diem – and worked hard during the height of the pandemic.

The shutterbug said she was thrilled to “spend my days photographing families around Long Island” and to help out her sister’s busy hospital unit. “I am so grateful to have used my talents for good,” Vastardis added. “I’ve created memories for those families, and we’ve all come together to help those who continue to help us get through this pandemic.” – GZ

 

And OFFCU said, ‘Let there be mobile deposits’

(Sept. 16) In a clear example of tastes catching up with technology, one local Long Island credit union with an old-school mien is reporting a sudden leap in mobile check deposits – a service Ocean Financial Federal Credit Union has actually offered for more than six years.

The Oceanside-based credit union, founded in 1969 by Knights of Columbus members and still tight with the Catholic Church, said this week that monthly member mobile check deposits nearly tripled between March and July, from $565,000 to $1.3 million. In all of 2019, Ocean Financial members – now reaching into the Diocese of Rockville Centre and welcoming “any Catholic interested in the credit union, inspired by their Catholic values” – remote-deposited a total of $7.8 million; they’ve already eclipsed that in 2020 and are on pace to deposit a record $13.5 million by year’s end.

The COVID-fueled surge comes after years of slow growth for the OFFCU mobile app, which was introduced in 2015 and upgraded in 2017. “We have worked very hard to put big banking tools like mobile check deposit, Zelle and credit-score checks into the hands of our members while maintaining the security and integrity of our members’ accounts,” noted CIO David Franco. “It allows us to punch above our weight class while still offering the benefits of a community-focused financial institution.” – GZ

 

Better postpone that trip to the Northern Marianas

Geography 101: The Northern Mariana Islands, right where you left them.

(Sept. 15) It’s seven steps forward, one step back for Albany’s mandatory-quarantine list, which underwent a major overhaul Tuesday.

California, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio were all removed from New York’s “travel advisory,” meaning they no longer trip the metrics – more than 10 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a positivity rate above 10 percent over the previous seven days – requiring travelers from those departure points to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New York. Also coming off the advisory were the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the northern Pacific Ocean.

With Puerto Rico returning to the watch list on Tuesday, new arrivals from a total of 30 states and U.S. territories must now quarantine in New York, with multi-agency enforcement teams still collecting traveler forms at statewide airports. “When other states and territories make progress fighting COVID-19, that’s good for New York,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted. “While I am glad to see areas removed from the travel advisory list, it still remains far too long.” – GZ

 

New chancellor, SUNY officials in zero-tolerance mode

Jim Malatras: One strike, you’re out.

(Sept. 14) From the Trial By Fire File comes new SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, who – in his first full month on the job – is suspending students, fraternities and classes across the State University system in an uphill battle against COVID-19.

Casualties (to date) along this fresh front include the SUNY Oneonta campus, which has been closed for the semester; all Greek Life and athletics programs at SUNY Oswego, where 100-plus new cases have sprouted this week: dozens of student suspensions across the system; and SUNY Brockport’s Division III wrestling program (along with two wresting physical-education classes), pending the outcome of multiple investigations into alleged COVID-19 policy violations. “This action is necessary and prudent,” Malatras said Saturday, noting he’d discussed the matter with SUNY Brockport President Heidi MacPherson. “If this continues, we may have to take additional SUNY-wide actions to contain the virus.”

Long Island’s five SUNY schools, meanwhile, are doing very well, according to the State University’s new COVID-19 tracking system. As of Monday morning, Stony Brook University, Farmingdale State College, SUNY Old Westbury, Nassau Community College and Suffolk County Community College were reporting only 1 total new positive (at SBU) over the last seven days, with 45 combined students in “precautionary quarantine.” – GZ

 

NYU facilities team up for telemedicine ‘template

(Sept. 10) A majority of COVID-19 patients can be evaluated remotely, a telemedical advantage that promotes social distancing and can help slow viral transmission – and a new medical paper out of the NYU Long Island School of Medicine aims to ensure those remote assessments are done right.

“A Telemedicine Approach to COVID-19 Assessment and Triage,” published Thursday by the peer-reviewed scientific and medical journal Medicina, dives deep into “healing at a distance,” a concept that has adopted multiple new meanings – and significance – in the Age of Coronavirus. With contributions from NYU’s med school, tucked inside NYU Winthrop Hospital, and NYU Langone Health, the paper includes “a template for remote COVID-19 healthcare delivery,” including protocols for “assessing and triaging patients who may be COVID-positive.”

“Most physicians have never before practiced telemedicine,” noted Allison Reiss, associate professor at the Mineola-based medical school, head of the Inflammation Laboratory at NYU Winthrop Hospital’s Research Institute and the lead author of six listed on the “Telemedicine Approach” paper. “In this new world of a pandemic, our guidelines serve as a blueprint for safe and effective COVID-19 assessments.” – GZ

 

Study: Don’t blame COVID’s spread on the young

(Sept. 9) The notion that young people own the lion’s share of responsibility for the proliferation of COVID-19 – a theory reinforced by coronavirus outbreaks at nationwide college campuses, just days after the Fall 2020 semester began – is bunk, according to marketing software specialist Zenreach.

A new study by the San Francisco-based company takes a deep dive into traditionally high-traffic businesses, such as restaurants and bars, and finds that since the start of the pandemic, no specific age group has been statistically more irresponsible than the others. In fact, in tracking specific establishments in different national locations, the study determines that those ages 55 to 64 actually recorded the highest increase in foot traffic at bars, nightclubs and restaurants between April 1 and Aug. 28.

Examples: Restaurant traffic increased 10.2 percent among those ages 21 to 24 between April 1 and Aug. 28, but jumped 18.8 percent between those dates among those ages 55 to 64. Restaurant traffic among those ages 45 to 54 jumped 18.1 percent during that same time, according to Zenreach, while older demographics also returned in greater numbers to bars and nightclubs. – GZ

 

New York doing well – Long Island, not as much

(Sept. 8) From the Department of Mixed Messages comes your daily statewide COVID-19 stat sheet, which shows New York continuing a stellar streak – despite new positives creeping up in some regions, particularly Long Island.

According to the New York State Department of Health, New York has now tallied 32 consecutive days with a statewide infection rate below 1 percent, with 57,826 tests recording only 557 new positives on Monday (0.96 percent). Of those new positives, 222 were in New York City and 117 were on Long Island – including 65 in Nassau and 52 in Suffolk, making them the state’s second- and third-most infected counties.

The relatively high number of local cases prevented Long Island from joining the rest of the state below that impressive 1 percent line. Between Saturday and Monday, the Island’s infection rate hovered between 1 and 1.5 percent; only Western New York – where a sudden spike briefly pushed the infection rate past 2 percent this weekend – posted worse numbers. – GZ

 

Albany assigns homework as school districts reopen

Due today: Statewide school districts have a new assignment from Albany.

(Sept. 7)  The state’s latest COVID-19 tracking dashboard will keep a watchful eye on New York State public school districts, which are reopening to students this week for the first time since March.

As of Tuesday, public districts across Long Island and the rest of the state will be mandated to provide daily updates on new COVID-19 positives to the New York State Department of Health, which plans to collate the data into a publicly accessible tracking system. State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker informed the districts this week of the new reporting requirements and the plans for the DOH dashboard, which is slated to provide regular updates beginning Sept. 9.

The daily report card will help Albany spot trouble spots sooner – and will ultimately test how well individual school districts are implementing their social-distancing strategies, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “Parents and teachers are understandably concerned about schools reopening,” Cuomo noted. “I hope this will give teachers and parents some confidence that the plans are being implemented, and if there’s a positive case … DOH will know and the locals can respond quickly.” – GZ

 

Molloy ‘Masks Up,’ and we ain’t lion

(Sept. 1) With college campuses across the nation reporting everything from individual cases to full-on COVID-19 outbreaks, Molloy College is tightening up its D with a multimedia public information campaign.

Targeting students, faculty and staff, #MaskUpMolloy features short- and long-form videos explaining the Rockville Centre college’s masking, handwashing and social-distancing requirements, including a short-and-silly demo pairing new Molloy President James Lentini and Victor E. Lion, the Molloy College mascot. A longer, more somber video dives deeper into the college’s COVID-19 strategy, including information on residential quarantines, daily temperature-testing requirements for all community members (“temperature kiosks” await inside every campus building) and other facets of Molloy’s multifaceted pandemic plan.

The videos are making the rounds on the college’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. “We’re using video and social media to get to students where they spend most of their time, which is on their phones,” noted Destinee Day, Molloy’s associate social media director. “We can make something informative and fun at the same time.” – GZ

 

Oneonta party crowd earns an early ‘F’

The party’s over: See you in (late) September.

(Aug. 31) In a true Age of Coronavirus cautionary tale for younger campus crowds, the deaf-and-dumb party set at SUNY Oneonta has managed to close down the entire campus for two weeks – new SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras’ trial-by-fire call – and forced Albany to dispatch a COVID-19 “SWAT team” to try and contain a new outbreak.

Just days after the Otsego County campus reopened, “reports of several large parties of our students” were followed by 20 new positive cases among the SUNY Oneonta community, according to Malatras, who wasted no time shutting down the entire school. “We’re taking this action because we think it’s necessary in order to show folks that this can spread quickly, and we have to address it quickly,” the chancellor noted Sunday. “We’re going to be tough not because we want to ruin their fun, but this is a different time.”

Also tough and not wasting time is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who’s dispatched 71 contact tracers and eight case investigators to the City of Oneonta and ordered the opening of three free rapid-testing sites this week. “This should be a message to the private colleges also,” the governor said. “I understand college life … and I understand the tension between the school administration and the student population. (But) if you are not prepared, if you don’t have the right precautions or if you don’t enforce the precautions, then the virus spreads and then you have to take more dramatic action, which is more disruptive.” – GZ 

 

Record testing and good health for NY, and a warning  

Yes, Virginia: The pandemic continues, as of Sunday.

(Aug. 30) Further shredding the fantasy that more tests equal more positive cases, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday trumpeted a new one-day record-high for statewide COVID-19 tests and a five-month low for statewide coronavirus hospitalizations, even as the pandemic rages in other national quarters.

Painting New York as “the exception to what’s going on around the world,” Cuomo counted off 100,000-plus COVID-19 tests administered Saturday, when there were 429 statewide hospitalizations (the fewest since March 16), 47 intubations (the lowest since March 14) and a new-positives testing rate of 0.69 percent, New York’s 23rd straight day below 1 percent, the governor proudly noted. “There is no mystery as to how this happens – it’s a social action,” Cuomo said. “That is really great news, especially when you consider what’s going on around the country and around the world.”

To wit: regions throughout Europe and the United States “where you’re seeing numbers tick up,” according to Cuomo, plus the additional challenge of breakouts on college campuses in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and upstate Oneonta, among other places. “There are already 25 colleges across the country that are having significant issues, over 250 cases,” the governor said. “Colleges to me are very much a canary in the coalmine … [they] show what happens when you bring back a concentration of people, even with all the precautions, even with everything we know, because you still run into human behavior.” – GZ

 

Enzo, SBU partner on walk-up COVID tests

(Aug. 29) With COVID-19 breakouts on college campuses making headlines, Stony Brook University is ramping up on-campus student safety, including the introduction of a student-only walk-up COVID testing site.

Through busy Farmingdale-based biotech and program partner Enzo Clinical Labs, the site – and a second testing location, inside the Student Health Services facility on the Stony Brook West campus – will provide ongoing, by-appointment professional testing for students exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus. The tests are designed to be turned around within four days maximum, according to the university.

The walk-up test site is not Enzo Clinical Labs’ first COVID-19 dance with a Long Island school. In July, the molecular-diagnostics pioneer and subsidiary of parent Enzo Biochem – a longtime commercialization partner of the Research Foundation of The State University of New York – announced a comprehensive molecular and antibody testing program for students and staff returning this summer to Farmingdale State College. – GZ

 

COVID strikes back, ‘SWAT’ swings in, colleges tighten up 

SWATs the matter: Climbing COVID-19 rates, that’s what … and Albany is wasting no time in response.

(Aug. 27) The novel coronavirus remains down in New York State – Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday proudly trumpeted a 20th straight day with a statewide new-infection rate below 1 percent – but it’s not out, prompting Albany to take new actions.

The governor has dispatched a “testing SWAT team” to Western New York, where a 2 percent new-infection rate was calculated on Wednesday – a statistical divergence alarming enough for regional providers, in concert with state officials, to establish eight free rapid-testing sites, which expect to be up and running by 9 a.m. Saturday.

Cuomo also updated guidance for infection rates and “mitigation actions” on college campuses – specifically, that 100 new COVID-19 cases or an infection rate greater than 5 percent of students requires a switch to all-remote learning for a minimum of two weeks. The new rules follow reports of unauthorized student gatherings in New York and large-scale outbreaks at out-of-state schools. “We’ve seen troubling reports of students congregating on college campuses,” Cuomo noted. “We should anticipate clusters, and that’s what we’re seeing.” – GZ

 

Five states earn late-summer ‘advisory’ reprieve

Free state: Maryland has been removed from New York’s COVID-19 “travel advisory.”

(Aug. 26) Start booking those last-minute Labor Day getaways – five states have been removed from Albany’s COVID-19 watch list, meaning travelers arriving (or returning) from those states don’t have to quarantines for 14 days.

The list is rich with intriguing vacation destinations, from the beaches of Maryland and Delaware to the mountains of Montana to the wilds of Arizona and Alaska. Each state has satisfied the required metrics (fewer than 10 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a positivity rate below 10 percent over the previous seven days), so travelers arriving in New York directly from those departure points will not be met by multidepartment state enforcement teams at the airport gate, nor required to isolate.

The five removals – plus Tuesday’s addition of Micronesian U.S. island territory Guam –  leave 31 states and U.S. territories on New York’s “travel advisory” list. “While it’s good news that five states have been removed from the travel advisory, the list remains far too long as America continues to struggle with COVID-19,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “The pandemic is not over.” – GZ

 

Cuomo to LI: Why can’t you be more like Westhampton?

Cuomo: Good job, Westhampton Beach.

(Aug. 24) Long Island lawmakers earned some personal praise Monday from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who thanked Island leaders for assisting Albany’s social-distancing efforts.

Recapping a weekend in which 34 additional violations were handed out by a New York State Police/New York State Liquor Authority COVID-19 task force, the governor – lamenting prior “bad experiences with several towns and villages on Long Island” – said a drive-in concert series in the Village of Westhampton Beach was a “matter of concern” for state officials. But regional leaders and local law enforcement stepped up, according to Cuomo, who credited what proved to be a largely compliant concert to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore and the Westhampton Beach Police Department.

“The problem becomes when you stage the event … and people don’t comply, and the local authorities aren’t prepared to deal with it,” Cuomo said Monday. “We’ve seen that in Southampton. That’s not the case in what happened at Westhampton. The exact opposite happened. That’s why I want to thank them very much.” – GZ

 

Islip IDA offers grants, loans to aid small-biz recovery

William Mannix: Apply yourself.

(Aug. 21) The Town of Islip Industrial Development Agency is making $250,000 in grants and loans available to local businesses still stuck in a COVID-19 fiscal crunch.

In accordance with Albany’s disaster-recovery efforts, the IDA is offering interest-free loans of up to $25,000 to Islip-based small businesses (three to 50 employees) that were financially viable prior to the pandemic (no startups) and can prove a financial need caused by the COVID crisis. Veteran-, minority- and women-owned enterprises get first look, and all selected businesses must commit to job retention and to repaying the loan within 12 months, enforced by law.

The grant program, which maxes out at $10,000 per business and follows similar staff-size and financial-viability parameters, is focused on helping Islip-based small businesses purchase Personal Protective Equipment and install new systems designed to prevent COVID-19’s spread. “We encourage those small businesses that truly need this financial assistance to visit our website and make an application to the agency,” noted Islip IDA Executive Director William Mannix. – GZ

 

State extends bans on commercial, residential evictions

Eviction restrictions: And foreclosures forbidden.

(Aug. 20) Good news for commercial property owners and tenants: Albany is extending the state’s moratorium on COVID-related commercial evictions and foreclosures.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed on executive order Thursday extending the freeze one additional month, to Sept. 20, lengthening preexisting protections for commercial tenants and mortgagors created in response to the national pandemic, which has taken a severe toll on small-business owners, particularly restaurants and retail shops.

Cuomo first announced a state moratorium on residential and commercial evictions March 20 and previously extended the commercial eviction/foreclosure freeze through Aug. 20; last week, the New York state court system extended the residential-eviction moratorium through Oct. 1. “This pandemic is not over,” Cuomo said Thursday. “And as we continue to fight the virus, we are continuing to protect New York businesses and residential tenants who face financial hardship due to COVID.” – GZ

 

At Stony Brook, mindful of the providers’ state of mind

Adam Gonzalez: Lessons learned, and taught.

(Aug. 19) Stony Brook Medicine implemented a series of staff-side mental-health support initiatives during the height of the pandemic – potentially, a model for how other healthcare institutions can safeguard their own, according to a recent paper in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The paper details initiatives by Adam Gonzalez, director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center in the Renaissance School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health, and teams of psychologists, nurses, social workers, physicians, physical therapists, chaplains, IT professionals and others, designed to support the mental health of overworked healthcare providers during COVID-19’s tragic peak on Long Island.

Among those efforts: the creation of a centralized respite area, the distribution of “comfort packages” and support and wellness messages posted throughout Stony Brook University Hospital. “The mental healthcare needs of our staff varied in need and intensity at various times during the pandemic,” Gonzalez noted. “We learned that creating a full mental health-support program for our colleagues requires a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort.” – GZ

 

Thin ice: State flags Alaska, Nassau ristorante

Posto-poned: Long Beach eatery Mio Posto has had its liquor license suspended for violating state COVID-19 regulations.

(Aug. 18) From the Department of Slow Learners come two new additions to Albany’s quarantine-mandated state-by-state “travel advisory,” and another Nassau County bar that can’t count.

New York on Tuesday added Delaware and Alaska to its COVID-19 no-fly list, meaning those states have tripped the metrics (10 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over the previous seven days) and travelers arriving in New York from those departure points must quarantine for 14 days. Multidepartment state enforcement teams are standing by.

The additions follow 16 fresh liquor license suspensions for “egregious violations of pandemic-related executive orders” at establishments across the state, including Long Beach favorite Mio Posto. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, the Long Beach Police Department – after previously issuing two warnings to the West Beech Street restaurant – responded to a loud-music complaint Aug. 8 and observed approximately 200 patrons inside Mio Posto, which has a coronavirus-limited maximum occupancy of 145, with “approximately half … standing, drinking, ignoring social-distancing guidelines and not wearing facial coverings.” New York has now suspended 148 liquor licenses during the pandemic. – GZ

 

Let it roll: New York bowling alleys back Aug. 24

You don’t spray: Oh, yes you do.

(Aug. 17) Bowling alleys across New York State can reopen next week, albeit a few boards to the left of the pocket.

Mandatory masks (worn at all times, even on the approach), strict lane assignments (stay in your lane) and a pro shop’s worth of cleaning and disinfecting regulations for operators are all in play. Alleys will only be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity and forget about the snack bar, at least in New York City – as per Albany’s indoor-dining restrictions, food and beverage services will not be permitted in NYC bowl-a-ramas (alleys in other jurisdictions must obey state-issued food service guidance, including compulsory food orders with all alcoholic-beverage orders).

Other low-risk New York City cultural institutions, including museums and aquariums, have also been greenlighted for an Aug. 24 reopening (subject to state guidance, including 25 percent capacity limitations). “It was especially heartbreaking to see [New York cultural institutions] close their doors,” noted Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “This pandemic is far from over, but we’ve determined that institutions can reopen if they adhere to strict state guidance and take every precaution to keep visitors safe.” – GZ

 

Cuomo skewers federal response, predicts GOP wipeout

Both barrels: From Sen. Mitch McConnell to President Donald Trump, Gov. Cuomo has unloaded on Washington’s COVID-19 response.

(Aug. 15) Predicting it would reverberate throughout the country – on every governmental level – in this November’s elections, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has lambasted President Donald Trump and the entire federal government for their ongoing failures in response to the global pandemic.

From mishandling disaster-relief funding (“playing politics”) to the president forcing cash-strapped states to chip in on unemployment insurance as part of his COVID-19 strategy (“makes absolutely no sense”), Cuomo labeled Washington’s overall response to the novel coronavirus threat “a total disgrace” – and said it would prove to be the “main factor” in a November election not destined to go well for Trump and his Republican Party enablers, according to the governor.

Also in Cuomo’s sights: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for his idea to let pandemic-crippled Democrat-run states go bankrupt.  “COVID-19 didn’t bring any responsibility to Washington,” the governor said. “They started early on, ‘We’re not going to do any blue state bailouts’ … Washington is going to fail the leadership test on COVID-19, and you will see it in all elections – Congressional, Senate and presidential.” – GZ

 

New York winning, but coronavirus hangs tough on LI

Sticking around: Long Island recorded more than 70 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday.

(Aug. 13) New York State has the novel coronavirus on the ropes, for now – although Nassau and Suffolk counties are still taking it on the chin, with two of the state’s highest daily new-positives rates.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office reported that a record-high 87,900 statewide COVID-19 tests were administered Wednesday, and only 737 – just 0.84 percent – came back positive. The most new positives, by far, were found in New York City (438); second-most were in Monroe County (44) , where recent spikes have been detected among young adults.

But densely populated Suffolk (39 new cases discovered Wednesday) and Nassau (34 new cases) are just a step off that pace, highlighting the importance of sustained social-distancing vigilance across the state, according to Cuomo. “New Yorkers shouldn’t get complacent,” the governor said. “Wear masks, stay socially distanced and wash your hands. And local governments must continue to enforce our guidance throughout the state.” – GZ

 

Coronavirus task force sweeps up Freeport bar, 37 other

Crowded house: So says Albany, which has suspended E.B. Elliot’s liquor license for “egregious” violations of state social-distancing mandates.

(Aug. 12) A Freeport hotspot will cool its heels for a bit, courtesy of a multiagency state task force that cited the tavern for violating Albany’s coronavirus-related regulations – then returned hours later to discover even more egregious infractions afoot.

Around midevening Aug. 5, investigators representing the New York State Liquor Authority and the New York State Police reportedly observed kitchen staff at Elliot’s Waterfront Restaurant & Bar (a.k.a. Elliot’s on the Mile, E.B. Elliot’s or just Elliot’s) without facial coverings and alcohol being served to customers without accompanying food orders. According to investigators, after the manager on duty attempted to pass off false receipts with food orders, the establishment was issued multiple violations.

But two hours later, the task force returned to the Woodcleft Avenue business and found “approximately 100 patrons crammed into the location,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, many “standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the crowded outside bar, drinking and ignoring social distancing.” That earned Elliot’s a suspended liquor license – one of 38 suspensions across the five boroughs and Long Island over the last week alone. “We will not allow a handful of bad actors or reckless businesses to halt or reverse New York’s progress,” Cuomo noted. – GZ

 

Dream vacations include mandatory quarantine, for now

Little difference: As of Tuesday, they’re both on Albany’s no-fly list.

(Aug. 11) Your vacation to Hawaii or the Virgin Islands – or to South Dakota – will have to wait, as per the latest expansion of New York’s “travel advisory.”

Those three locations have triggered Albany’s warning metrics (10 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over the previous seven days), meaning travelers arriving in New York from those departure points must quarantine for 14 days. “This virus will respond to an approach based on science, not politics,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, while announcing the new additions. “In order to protect [our] progress, we must keep up our efforts.”

The good news: Alaska, New Mexico, Ohio and Rhode Island – all lovely vacation spots – have been dropped from the list. As of Tuesday’s update, 33 states/U.S. territories were flagged, with state law enforcement/health official “enforcement teams” stationed at regional airports to collect mandatory traveler forms from arriving passengers. – GZ

 

‘Virtual support’ comes together for COVID-19 patients

(Aug. 10) Stony Brook Medicine has created a series of “virtual support groups” to extend professional care to coronavirus patients, or those who might otherwise be struggling with isolation.

Organized by the Stony Brook Neurosciences Institute’s Mind-Body Clinical Research Center, the hour-long group sessions focus on coping mechanisms meant to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on personal and professional lives. Common topics include feelings of distress, the loneliness of isolation, fears of spreading the virus to loved ones and uncertainty about long-term effects, among others.

Sessions are offered from 6-7 p.m. Thursdays via Microsoft Teams videoconferencing, with pre-registration required – call (631) 632-8657 – and groups limited to 10 patients each. “Our goal is to provide a telehealth platform for patients to come together to support one another, exchange information and learn skills to cope with the stress associated with having COVID-19,” said Adam Gonzalez, director of behavioral health and founding director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center. – GZ

 

Cuomo: See you in September

Education determination: All New York schools can open next month — whether they remain open depends on regional infection rates.

(Aug. 8) Schools across the state are permitted to open this fall and remain open as long as regional infection rates make the grade – and right now, that’s everywhere in New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo waved the green flag Friday, announcing that schools can open safely in September with local districts determining their own fates insofar as in-person, distance-learning and hybrid models. As of Aug. 7, out of 749 statewide school districts, more than 100 had not yet submitted their reopening plans to state education officials, and roughly 50 plans were deemed incomplete or otherwise deficient, as per strict New York State Department of Health guidelines.

While a large percentage of statewide districts failed to meet Albany’s deadline for a reopening plan, and so many other plans came up short, there’s still time for districts to host required public meetings (including virtual access) and post their teacher- and student-tracing plans, noted the governor, who applauded the fact that New York is even in a position to reopen schools. “Every region is below the threshold that we established, which is just great news,” Cuomo said. “If anyone can open schools, we can open schools. That’s true for every region in the state, period.” – GZ

 

Hempstead CARES, and regional colleges love it

Donald Clavin: Big spender.

(Aug. 6) The Town of Hempstead has funneled $8 million in federal funds to four Long Island colleges and universities, to assist with the schools’ Fall 2020 reopening plans.

Adelphi University, Hofstra University, Molloy College and Nassau County College each landed $2 million Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Stimulus Act grants from the town, which in May secured a $133 million package through the CARES Act. The funding is earmarked for uses that ease the sting of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while some lawmakers have called for an oversight committee to watch how Hempstead spends it, the town has certainly been spreading it around.

Last week, Hempstead announced a similar $2 million stipend to help Northwell Health bolster testing and virus awareness across Nassau County. That followed a $2 million pandemic grant for Island Harvest Food Bank and a similar $2 million award to help Nassau purchase PPE kits for regional small businesses. “The CARES Act funding has allowed us to help ease the burdens on thousands of residents throughout the town,” Hempstead Supervisor Donald Clavin said. – GZ

 

Back to normal, sorta, at SBU

Rick Gatteau: Extended engagement.

(Aug. 6) “Campus life” has been changed, maybe forever, by COVID-19, and Stony Brook University is working hard to ensure new and returning students “feel the embrace of the campus community” in the new normal.

The university is planning a number of virtual events, along with carefully selected and planned in-person experiences, “to keep our campus community connected and engaged,” according to Rick Gatteau, SBU’s vice president of student affairs. In-person programming will be sporadic throughout the Fall 2020 semester – and always in step with prevailing social-distancing laws – but online events will ironically set the tone, at a time when students are disrupted most by distance learning.

Topping the list is SBU’s twice-annual Involvement Fair, now the Virtual Involvement Fair, which serves as a gateway to Stony Brook clubs and other university activities at the beginning of every semester. The university is also planning a virtual job and internship fair, among other online group activities. “We’re planning lots of large virtual and small in-person events,” Gatteau added. – GZ

 

States loans fill in the small-business gaps

(Aug. 4) Albany is swooping in to assist statewide small businesses that missed out on federal pandemic-stimulus funding.

The New York Forward Loan Fund has already arranged some $2.3 million in low-interest, fixed-rate loans to 61 small businesses and residential landlords (including 54 registered Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses and two veteran-owned businesses) and is still accepting applications. The fund was established in cooperation with Apple Bank, BNB Bank, Evans Bank, HSBC, M&T Bank, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo, and with “philanthropic commitments” from the BlackRock Charitable Fund, the Citi Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

Eligible small businesses and small residential landlords who did not receive funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program or receive an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan can apply for a 60-month, no-fee loan with a 3 percent fixed interest rate (2 percent for eligible nonprofits). The maximum loan amount is $100,000, with the funds earmarked for uses such as payroll, emergency maintenance, property taxes and physical refits to accommodate social-distancing rules. – GZ 

 

Delaware, D.C. earn reprieves, but Rhode Island flagged

Andrew Cuomo: Rhode Island, less traveled.

(Aug. 4) It’s two steps forward, one step back for Albany’s “travel advisory,” which has flagged Rhode Island but dropped two regions from its mandatory-quarantine list.

Delaware and the District of Columbia no longer meet the metrics for the incoming travel restrictions (10 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over the previous seven days). But Rhode Island has crossed the line, meaning incoming travelers must sequester themselves for 14 days upon arrival in New York, as imposed by law enforcement/health official “enforcement teams” stationed at statewide airports.

The three-zone two-step leaves 35 regions on New York’s naughty list, including 34 states and Puerto Rico. “We cannot go back to the hell we experienced just a few months ago, and surging infection rates across the country threaten to bring us back there,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “So, we must all remain vigilant.” – GZ

 

Fore! New York will host fan-less U.S. Open

(July 29) The way things are going with Major League Baseball, you might want to keep your fingers crossed on this one – but the plan for now is to hold the 120th U.S. Open golf tournament, without fans, in Mamaroneck in September.

Not to be confused with the U.S. Open Tennis Championships – a Grand Slam hard-court tournament scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 13 in Queens, similarly sans audience – the United States Open Championship is the third of four annual major golf championships (along with The Masters, the PGA Championship and the British Open) and the rare tournament that graces both the PGA Tour and European Tour official schedules.

This year, it’s slated to run Sept. 17-20 at Mamaroneck’s Winged Foot Golf Club, where New York State Department of Health staffers will work hard with tournament organizers “to ensure health and safety of all the golfers and staff,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “That is a great event, a national event … and people will get to enjoy that,” the governor said. “It’s not onsite, you’ll be able to watch it on TV.” – GZ

 

Restrictions hammer regional, national tourism

Naptime: The city that never sleeps is taking a summertime siesta.

(July 28) Disney World and other travel hotspots (in more ways than one, potentially) may be open, but national travel and hospitality industries are suffering the pandemic’s wrath – and nowhere worse than in New York, where a $70 billion tourism industry is in deep-freeze and Albany’s “travel advisory” was expanded, again, on Tuesday.

Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have been flagged – each eclipsing either 10 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over the previous seven days. New arrivals from those destinations must now quarantine for 14 days, as enforced by multidepartment “enforcement teams” waiting at airport gates; hefty fines (and worse) await noncompliant visitors, with the state’s naughty list now including 34 states, the nation’s capital and Puerto Rico.

The new additions were announced the same day Britain delivered a sharp blow to the global tourism industry, and one day after Washington – traditionally, a major summertime tourism destination – expanded its own travel restrictions to cover 27 total states, with similar two-week quarantines awaiting “nonessential” travelers to and from D.C. “On the situation across the nation, it is still very bad,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “In terms of enforcement, I once again appeal to the local governments to do their job.” – GZ

 

You do you: Continuing-ed class stresses stress relief

Nina Tantillo-Elton: Family affair.

(July 27) Self-care in the Age of Coronavirus will take center stage in a three-part Adelphi University workshop, where “creative relief” is the crux.

The three-part class (Aug. 4, 11 and 18, slated to meet for 4.5 total hours) offers participants four-and-a-half Continuing Teacher and Leader Education credits, not to mention a clearer path to overcoming stress, frustration and sadness; correcting disrupted sleep patterns; and otherwise restoring one’s creative flow through sharper mind and body connections. Spiritual enlightenment can spontaneously occur anytime – to earn the credits, participants must attend all three sessions.

The online workshops are scheduled to be led by Adelphi alumna Nina Tantillo-Elton, an adjunct professor in the Garden City university’s College of Education and Health Sciences, with visits from artist Alexis Elton and Reiki ace Machi Tantillo. Registration and more information available here. – GZ

 

Dancers take it all off, state takes liquor license

(July 25) The dancers in a Long Island strip club weren’t even wearing masks – triggering suspension of the club’s liquor license, for violating Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders on social distancing and PPE.

Deer Park’s Secrets Gentleman’s Club has been slapped with an emergency order of summary suspension by the State Liquor Authority, after undercover agents from a newly announced, multi-agency statewide task force observed dancers without state-mandated face masks “sharing the same stage pole and giving lap dances,” according to the governor’s office. The Saxwood Street establishment was one of 1,100 bars and restaurants spot-inspected last week and one of 10 to lose their liquor license during a July 21-23 sweep of New York City and Long Island.

But the SLA/State Police squad – which checks for social distancing compliance, ensures food orders accompany booze orders and can hand out fines up to $10,000 per violation – is actually on the job to safeguard business owners and consumers, according to the governor. “We have to protect our progress, because nobody wants to [shut down] again,” Cuomo noted. “That’s why we’re watching the bar and restaurant violations and the congregations in front of these establishments, as we believe it’s connected to the increased infection rate with young people.” – GZ

 

Canceled cancer screenings scare St. Francis surgeon

David Samadi: Big screen.

(July 22) The disruptions emanating from the height of the Long Island regional shutdown in mid-to-late March are still being felt in a disturbing way – a potentially disastrous drop in cancer screenings.

That’s the word from a new study of 39 health systems across 23 states, which found an alarming 60 percent drop in prostate cancer screenings during the pandemic – a trend that continues now right here on Long Island, according to urolic oncologist David Samadi, director of men’s health at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, who notes early-stage prostate cancers “can withstand a delay of a few months in screening due to their slow-growing nature,” but warns with more advanced or aggressive prostate cancers, “long delays in screenings can mean the difference between life and death.”

“In my years as a urologist and prostate cancer surgeon, I’ve never been more concerned for my patients than now,” Samadi said in a statement. “Putting off preventive services and screenings to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19 will very likely lead to another huge health crisis of a significant increase in undiagnosed cancer cases in the next few years.” – GZ

 

Ten states added to New York’s traveler-quarantine list

(July 21) Stop right there – Albany has added 10 more states to its traveler-quarantine list.

Travelers from Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia and Washington State must now quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival in New York, according to the state’s “travel advisory,” which flags states where COVID-19 positives have crossed the line (10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over the previous seven days).

As of Monday, 31 states found themselves on the list, with “enforcement teams” – combining health and law-enforcement officials – greeting planes at New York airport gates to collect “traveler forms” and implement restrictions as necessary. “As infection rates increase in 41 other states, our (statewide) numbers continue to steadily decline, thanks to the hard work of New Yorkers and our incremental, data-driven opening,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. “While today’s numbers are encouraging, we must remain vigilant.” – GZ

 

Northwell nurses hit the road as national crisis deepens

(July 20) After months of dealing with crisis-level conditions in their home hospitals, five nurses from the Northwell Health system have made their way to Texas, where they’re assisting healthcare workers overwhelmed by the COVID-19 virus.

North Shore University Hospital RNs Anjanette Rosario, Shiney Paul, Timothy Verhey and Kristine Chan, along with RN Lauren Ann Henry of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, responded to a call from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appealed to New York healthcare workers – still recovering themselves from the tumult of the Empire State’s months as the pandemic’s “ground zero” – to provide assistance in other regions now suffering COVID-19 spikes.

The five nurses have been busy establishing satellite testing sites in underserved Lone Star State communities, logging test results and – most importantly – sharing their frontline knowledge of the nefarious virus and their firsthand experiences dealing with it. “We came down here together as a team,” Paul said Monday, in a Zoom conference with Cuomo’s office featuring all five nurses. “Back in New York, we were hit very hard by COVID-19 at the beginning. We felt it was our time to give back to the communities that are going through this now.” – GZ

 

As “stupid” does: Positive cases slowly climbing on LI

Hey, stupid: Governor Cuomo has some tough words for New Yorkers who ignore social-distancing restrictions.

(July 20) Here we go again? Let’s hope not – but according to the New York State Department of Health, except for densely populated New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties have the highest numbers of new COVID-19 positives in the state.

On Monday, 9,232 people were tested for the novel coronavirus across Nassau and Suffolk counties, with 130 positive results – more than in any other of the state’s 10 economic zones, save NYC (where 28,570 tests resulted in 391 new positives). Those numbers followed a trend from Sunday, when Cuomo’s office reported that Nassau (56 new confirmed cases) and Suffolk (30) trailed only NYC (284) in newly confirmed cases.

While Cuomo continues to praise the state’s (and state residents’) response to the novel coronavirus, the rising numbers – and a blatant disregard for continuing social-distancing regulations – are clearly irritating the governor. “One of the main threats to our progress is the number of congregations that we’re seeing across the state, but especially in downstate, primarily of young people, and we saw it again over the weekend,” noted Cuomo, who has more than once threatened to roll back phased reopenings if those trends continue. “It is a problem, and I’m telling you in plain New York speak that it’s stupid and it has to stop.” – GZ

 

Suffolk EOC steps up for struggling Brookhaven families

(July 16) Town of Brookhaven residents suffering financially because of COVID-19 may be eligible for help with their rent through a new program directed by the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk.

The EOC is dispersing an $80,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to low-income Brookhaven households teetering on the brink of homelessness because of the pandemic. The funds – funneled through the Town of Brookhaven from the HUD’s Emergency Solutions Grants Program – are earmarked for families threated by job loss, wage reduction, illness or “other hardships associated with COVID-19,” according to the EOC.

To qualify, applicants’ total household income must not exceed 50 percent of the HUD area median income ($63,300 for a family of four). For more information, call EOC Director of Health Outreach Services Halim Kaygisiz at (631) 241-2119 or e-mail hkaygisiz@eoc-suffolk.com. – GZ

 

Class-action suits eye tuition reimbursements

Canceled class action: NYIT, which closed its Westbury campus to students in March, is among the schools targeted in new lawsuits.

(July 16) A Long Island law firm has filed a dozen proposed class-action lawsuits on behalf of students and their families looking to recover tuition payments from colleges and universities that switched to distance learning at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the virus still raging across the nation and the fate of the 2020-2021 academic year still uncertain, Carle Place-based Leeds Brown Law PC is already planning additional filings on behalf of students who claim they’re being shortchanged by the academic alteration. The firm, known best for its expertise in employment law, has already sued the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury and the City University of New York system, along with prominent colleges and universities in California, Florida, Arizona, Michigan and several other states.

Those suits are part of a growing national trend of students suing schools for pandemic-related tuition reimbursements. “Colleges do not get to keep students’ monies if they are unable to provide services,” said Leeds Brown partner Jeffrey Brown. “Students should not be left holding the bag if the schools are unable to provide the promised services because of the COVID-19 situation.” – GZ

 

New York ‘travel advisory’ expands, muscles up

You’ve been warned: Travelers from “advisory” states had better quarantine, or else.

(July 15) “Enforcement teams” have taken positions at statewide airports to ensure travelers from flagged states are following New York’s 14-day quarantine restrictions.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office instituted the heightened enforcement efforts this week, with New York Department of Health staffers – backed up by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police and “peace officers from state agencies” – greeting disembarking passengers at airport gates to collect state DOH traveler forms. The forms, physically distributed by airlines and also available electronically, are now mandated by the Department of Health for travelers from states on New York’s “travel advisory” list (as of Wednesday, 22 and counting).

Travelers from said states who leave the airport without completing the form are subject to a $2,000 fine and may be summoned to a hearing and/or ordered to complete the mandatory two-week quarantine. “We have already implemented a quarantine order for travelers coming in from states with the highest infection rates,” Cuomo noted. “But we are experiencing non-compliance with the order that can lead to outbreaks and threaten the tremendous progress we’ve already made.” – GZ

 

From Studio 6-A, it’s “The Tonight Show,” with Gov. Cuomo

Heeeeere’s Andy: “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon (right) chats up Gov. Cuomo.

(July 14) If Dr. Fauci’s good press irritates President Trump, this will surely spark a tantrum: On a day when he lambasted the “gross negligence” of Trump’s coronavirus response and suggested “Trump’s COVID scandal makes what Nixon did at Watergate look innocent,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued his star turn Monday with a guest shot on “The Tonight Show.”

Production of the long-running talk show returned to Studio 6-A in Rockefeller Center Monday with limited staff and no studio audience, thereby becoming the first U.S. late-night talk show to return to studio tapings since they were suspended by the COVID-19 crisis. Among the guests was Cuomo, who appeared via video remote and chatted with in-studio host Jimmy Fallon about New York’s pandemic response (“I had nothing to do with it except explain the situation to the people of the state and ask them to do the right thing”), police reform in the wake of the George Floyd murder (“In many ways, I’m surprised it took so long”) and his “free time” since he’s cut back after months of extensive daily briefings (“I slept”).

The governor’s sharpest commentary, however, was reserved for Trump and his national pandemic response. “You had the President of the United States basically denying that the virus existed,” Cuomo told Fallon. “I believe he played politics with it … it was never going to work to deny it, hope that it was magically going to disappear or have states reopening without following science whatsoever.” – GZ

 

The data says: See you in September

Rolling out: Expect to see these again on Long Island roads come September.

(July 13) The data will determine the fate of the 2020-2021 school year in New York State, which will begin the school year in-person and on-time in regions that have reached Phase 4 of the state’s recovery protocols – and stay there.

Trumpeting copious testing and “more data than any state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday laid out a complex plan for statewide public schools, which can actually reopen right now – if their region is in Phase 4 and their regional infection rate is below 5 percent, using a rolling 14-day average. After Aug. 1, schools will close again if regional infection rates rise above 9 percent over the previous seven days.

Meanwhile, the NYS Department of Health is working closely with the state Department of Education and the governor’s office to update “education guidance” covering student and staff screening, disinfection requirements, masks, social distancing, classroom restructuring, food services and other critical factors in the new normal. “Everybody wants to reopen schools, but you only reopen if it’s safe to reopen,” Cuomo said. “That’s determined by the data. You don’t hold your finger up and feel the wind, you don’t have an inspiration, you don’t have a dream, you don’t have an emotion. Look at the data.” – GZ

 

Science meets religion: Churches host Northwell antibody tests

(July 13) With the intervention of some higher powers, Northwell Health is offering free testing for COVID-19 antibodies this week at six locations throughout Queens and Suffolk counties.

Through Friday, free testing will be available at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Greenport, the First Baptist Church in Bay Shore, the New Bethel First Pentecostal Church in Bellport and the St. Hugh of Lincoln R.C. Church in Huntington Station, along with two houses of worship in Queens. Call (833) 422-7369 for schedules and appointments.

Since May, the state’s largest healthcare system and the New York State Department of Health have partnered with the heads of more than 50 faith-based organizations to provide antibody testing for underserved communities at local churches, with some 40,000 people tested so far. Antibody testing can determine if a person who had COVID-19 symptoms but wasn’t tested actually contracted the novel coronavirus; antibodies are also important to patients scheduled for medical procedures and those who want to donate antibody-rich plasma to help treat the severely ill. – GZ

 

Ready, set, go: St. Joe’s covers all the bases

(July 10) They’re mixing it up at St. Joseph’s College, which has joined other regional colleges and universities in announcing a multifaceted scheduling plan for the Fall 2020 semester.

St. Joseph’s College President Donald Boomgaarden, who initially ordered up four different strategies for the college’s Patchogue and Brooklyn campuses, on Friday announced an amalgamation of remote, hybrid, on-ground and online courses, set to kick off Sept. 9. The combo package is designed to “provide students with the same high-quality, affordable education as always,” according to St. Joe’s, “while continuing to offer an array of opportunities, academically and through a rich student-life experience.”

Before the semester begins, students will be provided with a schedule indicating which courses will be offered in which modalities, allowing them to adjust accordingly. “The health and safety of the college community is our highest priority,” Boomgaarden said. “Our return-to-campus plans will closely follow New York State Department of Health guidelines to ensure we provide the [St. Joseph’s] community with an enhanced safe and secure place to learn, teach and work.” – GZ

 

Comptroller: The coronavirus ate my economic progress

Jack Schnirman: X factor.

(July 8) The good news, according to Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, is Nassau has made significant gains over the last two years in its operating deficit, rainy-day fund and other fiscal columns. The bad news: COVID-19 has completely wiped them away.

That’s the unfortunate word from Schnirman, who this month released his office’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (on-time, despite the pandemic’s logistical nightmares). According to the CAFR, Nassau ended 2019 with a $145.3 million surplus in its three primary operating funds – lightyears better than the $27.5 million deficit recorded at the end of 2018 – and a $112.2 million balance in its “unassigned fund,” a rain-day reserve that swamps the $22 million deficit reported 12 months earlier.

But that bottom-line progress – driven by higher sales-tax revenues, reduced personnel costs and OTB/Video Lottery Terminal receipts eclipsing $15 million – has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus crunch, which has shriveled county sales taxes and effectively wiped out the gains of the last two years. “While a global pandemic is an unprecedented variable, consistency in showing the public the trajectory of the county’s finances will help us best plan ahead as we work to recover from this crisis,” Schnirman noted. – GZ

 

Molloy mixes it up, signs on for Fall 2020

(July 8) From the Trial By Fire File comes new Molloy College President James Lentini, who’s announced a slew of welcome-back plans and procedures for Molloy’s Rockville Centre campus, where in-person classes resume Sept. 8.

Lentini – an internationally recognized composer and classical guitarist who last month succeeded former 20-year President Drew Bogner, a career biologist – took the reins, of course, in the midst of the campus-crippling global pandemic. This week, he laid out Molloy’s Fall 2020 response, which blends in-person, online and “HyFlex/hybrid” classes; the college is also reconfiguring classrooms and public spaces “to accommodate students in a socially distant and medically responsible manner.”

Molloy, which previously announced a tuition freeze for the coming academic year, is also planning to open its three residential dormitories – limited to single and double rooms – with increased signage addressing social-distancing guidelines and facemask requirements. See the college’s entire Fall 2020 strategy right here. – GZ

 

You’re not in Kansas anymore, so stay inside

Staycation: Travelers from the Sunflower State, along with those from Delaware, Oklahoma and 16 other states, must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New York.

(July 7) Add three more states to the Empire State’s “travel advisory” list, which requires travelers from high-rate COVID-19 states to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New York.

Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma have crossed the COVID-19 line, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday, bringing the total number of travel-advisory states on Albany’s list to 19. The advisory applies to states where positive test rates are 10 per 100,000 residents (or higher) over a rolling seven-day period; in states with smaller populations, the metric is a statewide 10 percent or higher positivity rate over the prior seven days.

Noting that “our entire response to this pandemic has been by the numbers,” Cuomo delivered some very good ones Tuesday – including a tiny 1.04 percent positive rate in statewide COVID-19 testing and an even tinier 0.9 percent rate across Long Island – and said New York would continue to guard against new outbreaks. “As states around the country experience increasing community spread, New York is taking action to ensure the continued safety of our phased reopening,” the governor noted. “We went from the worst infection rate in the United States to one of the best, and the last thing we need is to see another spike of COVID-19.” – GZ

 

Startup mines data to predict COVID-19 spikes

Klaus Mueller: Forward thinking.

(July 3) A Stony Brook-based data-mining startup has developed a machine-learning tool that may be able to predict which areas are most at risk for viral outbreaks and death-rate spikes.

The software – developed by the big brains at AI specialist Akai Kaeru LLC, a 2016 startup grown out of the Stony Brook University’s Department of Computer Science and Institute for Advanced Computational Science – analyzes massive amounts of data from the roughly 3,100 counties across the United States. Essentially, it has found that factors such as poverty, education, locale (rural vs. urban), debt and even sleep deprivation all have profound effects on the spread of COVID-19 and related death rates.

That’s bad news for some 1,000 Southern U.S. counties – in Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, primarily – deemed “high risk” for new outbreaks and more COVID-19-related deaths, based on these and about 500 other key metrics. But it’s good news for medical science, according to SBU Professor of Computer Science Klaus Mueller, an IACS faculty member and CEO of Akai Kaeru. “We cannot say that a specific county will have a higher-than-usual death rate,” Mueller noted. “But we can predict this for the sets of counties that fit certain conditions.” – GZ

 

Albany may ‘empower’ shop owners on masks

No mask, no service: Albany might “empower” retailers to toss out the unmasked.

(June 27) Lawmakers are taking steps that encourage businesses to require facemasks to enter their brick-and-mortar stores – and “empower” employees to toss out customers who won’t.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Rockville Centre) has officially introduced legislation that would allow businesses to require customers to wear face coverings while in stores and other establishments, such as hair salons, and to empower employees to ask customers who refuse to comply with mask policies to hit the bricks. The proposed law follows a wave of fraudulent “exemption cards” being flashed by the mask-less, and according to Kaminsky is meant to protect storekeepers, employees and shoppers as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The science is clear – wearing a mask or face covering is among the most effective steps we can take to stop the spread of COVID-19,” noted the state senator, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “As New York’s economic recovery continues, it is vital that we all work together to keep one another safe and healthy – and that is precisely what this legislation will do.” – GZ

 

Suffolk EOC offers federal funds for rent, food

(June 25) A regional nonprofit focused on minority communities is providing financial assistance to individuals and families facing pandemic-related economic hardships.

The Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk Inc., a registered 501(c)3 and community-based organization, has received $1.7 million in federal CARES Act funding, now available to eligible county residents who’ve lost their jobs, became temporarily unemployed or otherwise suffered financial difficulties due to COVID-19. To qualify for assistance, household income cannot exceed 200 percent of poverty guidelines; those who qualify are still eligible for unemployment insurance, stimulus payments and other relief funding.

Lamenting “the most damaging economic crisis America has faced in some 80 years,” EOC of Suffolk CEO Adrian Fassett said the CARES funding was critical for county residents needing help with food, rent, utilities, medical bills, funeral costs and more. “During this difficult period, these federal funds will help our organization fulfill our mission of promoting the economic self-sufficiency of Suffolk County residents,” Fassett added. – GZ

 

NICE while it lasted, but bus fares return Saturday

(June 25) Get ready for an exact change, Nassau commuters: The county’s public bus and paratransit transportation provider will resume fare collections this weekend.

Nassau Inter-County Express/NICE Bus, which temporarily suspended fares for fixed-route and Able-Ride paratransit services during the regional height of the COVID-19 pandemic, will start charging passengers again June 27. The fare is $2.75 for fixed-route service and $3.75 for Able-Ride service, and customers transferring from Metropolitan Transportation Authority services will also be required to pay up, according to NICE Bus.

The bus company – which also serves portions of Queens and western Suffolk County – offers several on-board payment options, including traditional fareboxes (coins only). Riders are encouraged to use the NICE GoMobile smartphone app, which provides touch-free payment and real-time route information, while the MTA MetroCard is also accepted. – GZ

 

‘Advisory’ targets travelers from high-infection states

Strength in numbers: Govs. Cuomo, Murphy and Lamont announce the new travel restrictions.

(June 24) The tired and the poor are still welcome. The huddled masses will have to think twice. And anyone coming to New York from a state with a “significant community spread of COVID-19” must quarantine for 14 days, according to a “joint incoming travel advisory” issued Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his counterparts in New Jersey and Connecticut.

The quarantine, effective midnight tonight, applies to persons arriving from states with positive-test rates higher than 10 per 10,000 residents – a rolling average, based on the previous seven days – and requires them to lock down for two full weeks (from their last contact within the identified state). The uniform, tri-state plan includes messaging on highway and airport signs, websites and social media platforms, and all three states are “asking hotels to communicate the 14-day quarantine to guests” arriving from flagged states, according to Cuomo’s office.

The three states will continually update and publish lists of states to which the new advisory applies; Florida, Texas, the Carolinas and Arizona are among the regions flagged as of midnight tonight. “People coming in from states that have a high infection rate must quarantine for 14 days,” Cuomo said Wednesday, flanked (virtually) by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont. “I think it’s right, I think it’s smart and I’m glad that we’re doing it together.” – GZ

 

Albany channels CARES Act funds to childcare

Growing fast: Albany is funneling federal CARES Act funds straight into childcare expansion.

(June 23) Albany is channeling about $65 million in federal funds to childcare providers through its NY Forward pandemic-recovery plan.

The funding, flowing from the federal CARES Act through the New York Forward Child Care Expansion Incentive program, includes $45 million to cover up to 50 percent of construction costs for new classroom spaces and $20 million to help statewide childcare programs reopen, expand capacity and adapt “a more socially distant model,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, including the “short-term rental” of additional square footage.

The expansion-minded funding is both a reward for the 65 percent of Office of Children and Family Services-licensed childcare programs that remained open – providing essential services during the height of the pandemic – and a rallying cry for childcare businesses that were forced to close. “As we move further into the reopening and more parents go back to work, we’re also making sure childcare programs across the state have the support they need to reopen safely,” Cuomo said Tuesday. – GZ

 

SBU reaches out to post-pandemic public educators

Patricia Malone: Marshaling resources.

(June 22) Stony Brook University is reaching out to superintendents, school boards and other public-school administrators struggling to incorporate new educational norms.

As they begin to reopen around the region and the nation, schools will be looking to create safer spaces for students, staff and visitors, while also fulfilling the requirements of primary and secondary education. To help school officials transition safely and efficiently, SBU’s School of Professional Development is planning a series of online workshops – and a virtual symposium – designed to keep them on target.

Workshops focused specifically on facilities, transportation, instruction, collective bargaining with unions and other key issues are on the schedule. “During this challenging time, SPD has been fortunate to be in position to marshal the resources and expertise to quickly develop and deliver programs to help educators manage their response to the crisis,” noted Patricia Malone, SBU’s associate vice president for professional education and head of the School of Professional Development. – GZ

 

Babylon Town, IDA give downtowns a hand

“Downtown” Rich Schaffer: Thinking small.

(June 18) The Town of Babylon and the Babylon Industrial Development Agency are going all-in on economic re-openings, and prevention of future shutdowns, through the Babylon is Back Initiative.

The town and the IDA announced this week they will place 16 total public hand sanitizers at strategic downtown locations in the villages of Babylon, Amityville and Lindenhurst and the Hamlet of Wyandanch. Upkeep and maintenance of each unit is being coordinated with local mayors and participating businesses, according to Babylon Town.

The town is also providing up to $200,000 to help local businesses purchase necessary personal protective equipment, or reimburse businesses that already have. “The strategic installation of hand-sanitizer stations … will help keep everyone safe and provide an added level of comfort when walking around our downtowns,” said Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer. “Our small businesses have already been hit so hard during the shutdown … anything we can do to help them safely reopen, we are going to do.” – GZ

 

This little piggy went to the salon, on June 24

Cuomo: Worst to first.

(June 17) Hang on, Long Island – the mani-pedis are coming soon.

Nassau and Suffolk counties remain on course for Phase 3 reopening protocols – including socially distanced indoor dining and the long-awaited return of personal-care businesses like beauty salons – starting June 24. That was just part of the good news delivered today by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said New York City (still stuck in Phase 1) should move forward Monday and praised the continued enforcement of statewide distancing and PPE requirements through the rolling reopening.

It’s working, according to the governor, who noted the lowest daily percentage of positive COVID-19 tests – just 1 in 567 statewide – since the pandemic began. “We’ve gone from the worst infection rate in the country to the best infection rate in the country,” Cuomo said. “Those are not words. Those are powerful facts. We had the worst infection rate. The rate of transmission was the highest. We now have the lowest rate of transmission.” – GZ

 

Advantage, tennis fans: The U.S. Open will go on

(June 16) When they return, sans spectators, professional sports are going to be very different – more intense competition, from some perspectives, more pure athleticism and love for the sport, without the undeniable distractions (and shenanigans) of a roaring crowd.

Nowhere is this more likely to be noticed than up-close events like professional tennis, where cheering (and jeering) fans are usually just a short lob from the on-court action. But the world’s best racquet-eers will have to make do without that adrenaline boost – or capitalize on the absence of a nerve-wracking crowd – between Aug. 31 and Sept. 13, when the U.S. Open Tennis Championships will proceed as scheduled in Forest Hills, with no fans in attendance.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the plan Tuesday – including “extraordinary precautions” by the United States Tennis Association – and while Greater New York is losing out on a huge annual tourist draw, organizers and state officials are still pleased the show will go on, according to the governor. “We’re excited about the U.S. Open,” Cuomo said. “It will be held without fans, but we can watch it on TV, and I’ll take that.” – GZ

 

Holy goblet cells! Scientists studying bat-immunity  

By a nose: Why does the novel coronavirus affect bat noses differently than human noses? That’s what scientists want to know.

(June 15) More than one bat species carries the coronavirus but doesn’t develop a symptomatic disease – and scientists want to know why.

To that end, a one-year, $59,000 National Science Foundation grant will support research led by principal investigator by Liliana Dávalos, a professor in SBU’s Department of Ecology and Evolution who’s dissecting how viruses affect the nasal passages of host bats. Specifically, Dávalos – in cahoots with scientists from Yale University and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Department of Sciences – will focus on goblet cells, which produce mucus in both bat and human nasal passages, but appear to react differently to the novel coronavirus from species to species.

The Colombian-born evolutionary biologist, who earned her PhD at Columbia University, believes the flying rodents have much to teach humans about both the novel coronavirus and evolution. “Because of the acute respiratory symptoms and the curious loss of the sense of smell in some human patients … there is a hint that cells in the nasal passage are afflicted first,” Dávalos noted. “We suspect that the receptors coronaviruses use to enter cells are distributed differently in bats that have, for many generations, faced the challenge of circulating coronaviruses.” – GZ

 

As pros fiddle and MLB burns, children shall lead

Play ball: Youth sports return to most of New York State on July 6.

(June 14) Add New York State youth sports to the list of sporting entities that got its act together faster than Major League Baseball.

While the national disgrace – which, essentially, boils down to billionaires squabbling with millionaires in front of 35 million unemployed Americans – continues to dismantle the one-time national pastime, one of the purest expressions of athletics and the love of competition will return to New York July 6, when regions in Phase 3 of the NY Forward recovery plan can restart “low risk” youth sports operations. Long Island, currently slated to begin Phase 3 on or about June 24, figures to make the cut.

The “low-risk” slate includes baseball, softball, gymnastics, field hockey, cross country sports and crew, and while the stands will be open, they won’t be packed: Just two spectators per player per event, according to the Phase 3 rules. That’s restrictive, but worth it, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “Young people can engage in sports,” the governor said Sunday. “So that’s another step toward return to normalcy.” – GZ

 

Father, soldier, survivor: A miracle in Stony Brook

Miracle man: After seven weeks on a ventilator and several scrapes with death, Gary Degrijze of Bellport reunites with this wife, Ana.

(June 12) A 15-year veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves and father of four is on the mend after beating some very long odds at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Admitted to SBUH March 22 due to coronavirus complications, Gary Degrijze of Bellport would take what trauma doctor Jerry Rubano of Stony Brook Medicine’s Department of Surgery called “an exceptionally rocky course”: seven weeks on a ventilator, a tracheostomy (breathing tube inserted into the throat) and at least two occasions where his pulse stopped. “His ventilator was on salvage mode,” Rubano noted. “His kidneys stopped working for about a month where he was on continuous dialysis and his lungs were probably some of the worst that we’ve seen.”

Refusing to open death’s door, Degrijze weaned off the ventilator with the help of the temporary tracheotomy tube. With the virus having run its course, the tough-as-nails dad is now in physical rehab – he lost use of one arm while down, but the prognosis is good – and is a living testament to both his own determination and the care of SBUH staffers, according to Rubano. “He’s one of those people who’s really not just lucky to be here, but it’s kind of incredible that he’s still alive and doing as well as he is after all he’s been through,” the doctor said. “He was as sick as can be.” – GZ

 

Phase 3 sighting: Five NY regions gearing up

Cuomo: Slow and steady.

(June 11) Even as confirmed COVID-19 cases spike in other national quarters, New York State’s rolling recovery continues apace, with five statewide regions sprinting toward Phase 3 reopening protocols.

The Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country and Southern Tier regions have all been cleared by the New York State Department of Health to engage Phase 3 of Albany’s NY Forward reopening strategy. For those keeping score, Phase 3 is a big one, removing remaining restrictions on indoor restaurants and food services (and nail salons, tattoo shops and massage parlors, too), though New York On Pause social-distancing and PPE rules still apply. Long Island entered Phase 2 Wednesday and figures to hang there for a week at least.

With Albany, as of June 11, also allowing local municipalities to open playgrounds and public pools at their discretion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauded New Yorkers for helping to lower COVID-19’s contamination rate – but again warned that the pandemic is not over. “I know businesses are anxious to open, everybody’s anxious to get the economy going,” Cuomo said Thursday. “Please follow the guidelines and do what is permissible to do. Short-term gain isn’t worth long-term pain.” – GZ

 

National Grid, NY-MEP back biotech’s COVID-19 crusade

(June 10) One of Long Island’s busiest (and most pandemic-focused) biopharmas has received a shot in the arm from the region’s natural-gas kingpin.

Stony Brook-based Applied DNA Sciences has received a $40,000 stipend through National Grid’s Manufacturing Productivity Program, a collaboration with the New York State Manufacturing Extension Partnership that reimburses National Grid commercial customers for the costs of transitioning existing manufacturing facilities into production hubs for critical medical equipment and other supplies related to the pandemic response. The “fast-track funding” is one of multiple ways the utility, Long Island’s primary natural-gas provider, is “helping win the war against COVID-19,” according to John Bruckner, National Grid’s New York president, who trumpeted increased productivity and stronger small-business resiliency through the recovery.

Applied DNA – which quickly produced an FDA-approved diagnostic kit for detecting the novel coronavirus behind COVID-19, while assisting an Italian biopharma on the road to a vaccine – is grateful for the grant, said President and CEO James Hayward, with partner Takis Biotech commencing preclinical trials and the diagnostics assay now available for mass-testing use. “Our National Grid grant, with NY-MEP support, will help us ensure regulatory compliance and operations efficiency as we move to commercialize our COVID-19 development efforts,” Hayward added. – GZ

 

Hempstead steps up for county’s small-biz PPE effort

PPE parade: Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (left), Hempstead Supervisor Donald Clavin and Nassau County Local Economic Assistance Corp. Chairman Richard Kessel (right) mark the distribution of 4,000 PPE kits for reopening small businesses.

(June 9) The Town of Hempstead will contribute $2 million to a Nassau County effort providing countywide nonprofits and small businesses with free PPE kits – a critical effort, regional lawmakers say, as Phase 2 reopening protocols kick in across Long Island.

Nassau County launched the program earlier this month with a $500,000 stake, covering approximately 1,000 PPE kits, each containing a contactless infrared digital thermometer, five employee face-shields, 400 three-ply masks, two gallons of hand sanitizer and other personal protective equipment. Other sources – including federal funding, the Nassau County IDA and the Nassau County Local Economic Assistance Corp. – combined to help circulate 5,000 PPE kits; Hempstead’s $2 million buy-in will distribute 4,000 more.

“The success of our small businesses depends on employees feeling safe to return to work, and customers feeling confident to once again shop and dine in our malls and our downtowns,” noted Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who joined LEAC Chairman Richard Kessel and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Donald Clavin Monday to announce the new funding. “Small business is the cornerstone of our communities,” Clavin said. “This effort will help make it easier for our small businesses to reopen and operate in a way that keeps customers and employees safe.” – GZ

 

Outdoor graduation ceremonies coming June 26

Degree of separation: The Class of 2020 can walk the walk beginning June 26.

(June 7) They will be outdoors only, they will be socially distanced and they will accommodate only 150 people at a time, but the Class of 2020 will have its graduation ceremonies, or something close.

Albany is bending over backwards to make it happen, with a close eye on the statistics and the best advice of global experts charged with containing a second wave as well as possible. And as of now, the plan is to allow public and private schools to host outdoor commencement ceremonies beginning June 26 – notwithstanding any sudden dramatic shifts in regional metrics, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Based on today’s numbers, we can continue to advance our reopening, and we will now allow outdoor graduations of up to 150 beginning June 26,” Cuomo announced on Sunday. “New Yorkers have worked together to bend this curve quickly, and if we continue on this trajectory, remain responsible and follow all social distancing protocols, we can keep accelerating our reopening strategy.” – GZ

 

Farmingdale State nursing students establish a trace

Lori Goodstone: Unique opportunity.

(June 5) A battalion of nursing students from Farmingdale State College’s nursing school is filling a critical need in the regional battle against COVID-19 – specifically, in Long Island’s recovery efforts.

The 56 students, all volunteers and all seniors at the Theresa Patnode Santmann School of Health Sciences, have been trained as contact tracers, who interview COVID-19-positive patients, identify who they’ve been in contact with and notify those potential carriers. The volunteers – who actually helped Long Island qualify for its Phase 1 reopening, which required a minimum of 30 contact traces per 100,000 residents – receive no pay, but instead earn clinical credit for the effort.

However they’re compensated, their contributions are important, according to Lori Goodstone, chairwoman of Farmingdale State’s nursing program. “I am so pleased to have received approval from the [NYS Department of Education] to allow students to participate in public health, case-finding/tracer efforts related to COVID-19,” Goodstone noted. “This is truly a unique once-in-a-lifetime situation, and I am so excited that our students will play a role in the health, safety and recovery of Long Island.” – GZ

 

Phase 2 approaches LI, but Cuomo urges caution 

Slow and steady: Phase 2 is spreading, but a “boomerang” looms, according to Cuomo.

(June 4) Hang on, Long Island – Phase 2 is just a week away.

Following a “review of regional data by global health experts,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, the Mid-Hudson Valley is on track to enter Phase 2 of Albany’s NY Forward plan on June 9, with Long Island following on June 10 – meaning expanded outdoor dining, on-site retail, beauty salons, traditional real estate services and office functions may return to Nassau and Suffolk counties as early as Wednesday (New York On Pause social-distancing and PPE rules still apply).

If all goes according to plan, the entire state will be observing Phase 2 protocols by next week, with New York City finally cracking Phase 1. While the progress is clear, Cuomo is warning against residents and business owners taking too many liberties. “Reopen with caution,” the governor said Thursday. “We’ve seen too many examples of reopening where they didn’t do it right and it boomeranged … you look at the states that opened fast without metrics, without guardrails, it’s a boomerang.” – GZ

 

Molloy teleconference eyes first-responder mental health

Kellyanne Brady: Grief relief.

(June 4) With an eye on the emotional wellbeing of doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers and others who served – and are still serving – on the pandemic’s front lines, the Molloy College Mental Health and Wellness Center has scheduled a special virtual workshop for June 15.

Beginning at 7 p.m., the free COVID-19 Mental Health and Wellness Workshop will provide awareness of existing services and brush up coping skills for professionals dealing with significant emotional and mental fallout from the global pandemic, which hit Long Island harder than most areas. The event will be facilitated by licensed professionals from Molloy’s MHWC, with first responders joining via Zoom teleconferencing or simply calling a toll-free number.

With an “increase in stress due to the demands placed on first responders,” the virtual workshop is a virtual necessity, according to Molloy MHWC Clinical Director Kellyanne Brady. “Not only do they fear being exposed to the illness, they also fear for their families and co-workers,” Brady noted. “Grief and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness is a prevalent experience for these individuals, who want so badly to save lives but are often unable to due to the severity of the virus.” – GZ

 

Arrow Exterminating donation extremely on-point

Close to the heart: Arrow Exterminating’s $15,000 gift really hit the spot for the Island Harvest Food Bank.

(June 3) All donations to the Island Harvest Food Bank come from the heart, but a recent $15,000 gift earmarked for the nonprofit’s pandemic relief effort held special meaning for the executives presenting it, who both recovered from COVID-19.

Debby Tappan, co-owner of Lynbrook-based Arrow Exterminating Company, and Arrow General Manager Thomas Jordan, who is also a volunteer with the North Babylon Fire Department, were both laid up by the novel coronavirus – and, upon recovering, were joined by Arrow co-owner Jackie Grabin to present a $15,000 check in support of the food bank’s hunger-relief programs, which have taken on added importance during the employment-challenging, food supply-threatening pandemic.

“We are grateful for Arrow’s generous donation, which will help us provide much-needed food support for Long Islanders,” noted Island Harvest President and CEO Randi Shubin Dresner. “Most important is that Debby and Thomas overcame their bout with the coronavirus, and were able to attend the check presentation with us.” – GZ

 

Camp in: Albany greenlights statewide day camps

Safety first: Melville’s Kenwal Day Camp is among the Long Island camps opening for business June 29.

(June 2) Western New York has entered Phase 2, New York City is still locked down and none of that matters right now to parents who today heard four of the most important words from Albany in months: Summer camps will open.

Yes, if it’s not too late, make those camp reservations now – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced that summer day camps will open across the state June 29, with a decision on sleep-away camps coming later this month. While a certain percentage of parents will be understandably anxious about sending their kids out into the post-pandemic world, many will be rushing to sign up kids who have essentially been locked inside since March.

The governor also signed an executive order allowing “low-risk outdoor recreational activities” and the businesses that provide them to crank back up in regions that have qualified for Phase 1 reopening protocols (which is everywhere except New York City, which should catch up before June 29, according to the governor’s office). “It’s breathtaking, how far and how fast we’ve come,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “The number of hospitalizations is down, the number of new COVID cases walking in the door is at an all-time low and the number of deaths is just about as low as we have seen it.” – GZ

 

There’s even COVID-19 over the rainbow (but Molloy adapts)

No place like home: Outgoing Molloy College President Drew Bogner, possibly returning to Kansas.

(June 1) The Molloy College community traveled to the Land of Oz (kinda) to bid farewell to retiring college president (and Kansas native) Drew Bogner, who has wrapped up a 20-year run as leader of the Rockville Centre college.

Adhering to social-distancing rules and embracing the recent trend of drive-by celebrations, Molloy students, faculty and staff paraded past the college’s Kellenberg Hall May 29, with Bogner – decked out in green duds recalling “The Wizard of Oz” – waving at well-wishers from a balcony done up to look like the balloon basket the Wiz rides back to Kansas at the end of the classic 1939 film.

While Bogner’s farewell embraced the lighter side of the COVID-19 pandemic and its new social norms, his two decades of leadership – covering the construction of three Molloy residence halls, significant enrollment growth and annual placement in prestigious collegiate rankings – were no joke. “I have loved leading the faculty, employees, staff and students of this big-city college,” Bogner said. “Our challenges now are larger than ever, and I know the college has chosen the right leadership to sustain and thrive in the days and years ahead.” – GZ

 

Albany unveils COVID-19 ‘early-warning’ system

Before you know it: Forewarned is forearmed.

(May 31) A new early-warning system will help state health officials get a jump on a potential COVID-19 second wave.

Albany’s expansive coronavirus data collection is now aggregated into an Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard, designed specially to help government officials and state residents track and review virus containment. Featuring daily monitoring of infection rates, the severity of reported cases, regional hospital capacity and other critical metrics, the dashboard was “developed in consultation with internationally known experts,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, and will prove a key tool as New York State recovers from the pandemic, according to the governor himself.

“You can see remarkably clearly what is happening in terms of the spread of the virus, the severity of the new infections [and] new infections in the region, so everyone will know exactly what’s happening and … what we’re planning to do,” Cuomo said. “This is all about opening smart, which … means you’re tracking the virus.” – GZ

 

Interphase NY: Five regions advance, NYC still trails

Ask not what phase it is: Things have permanently changed, Cuomo says.

(May 30) Today’s phased reopening scorecard sees five New York State regions entering Phase 2, Long Island entrenched in Phase 1 and New York City – where the percentage of COVID-19-available hospital beds remains too low – still trailing the pack.

Welcoming back office workers, on-site retail, beauty salons and traditional real estate services, among other sectors, Phase 2 is now in effect in Central New York, the Finger Lakes, the Mohawk Valley, North Country and the Southern Tier. Long Island has been in Phase 1 since May 27, while Albany’s tracking system shows NYC still two metrics short of that opening recovery stage (the city also has not established a minimum of 30 contact tracing cases per 100,000 residents, which it is expected to do soon).

Phase 1 is an important step for the Big Apple, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said clearing the hurdle would immediately add 400,000 jobs back to regional employment rolls. But nobody should have any illusions about Phase 1, Phase 2 or anything that follows, according to the governor. “Reopening does not mean we’re going back to the way things were,” Cuomo said Saturday. “Life is not about going back. We go forward. It is reopening to a new normal, a safer normal. People will be wearing masks, people will be socially distanced … it’s just a new way of interacting, which is what we have to do.” – GZ

 

Cuomo: No mask, no service in New York State

Cover charge: Cuomo has authorized New York shopkeepers to kick out the unmasked.

(May 28) Most of the state might be in the throes of Phase 1 reopening protocols, but Albany is reminding residents that New York On Pause rules regarding social distancing and PPE still apply – and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is throwing the weight of the law behind those regulations.

On Thursday, the governor signed an executive order authorizing businesses to deny entry to individuals who do not wear masks or face-coverings. The governor also announced that Albany would begin distributing 1 million masks across “New York City’s hardest-hit neighborhoods” today, and urged residents to use them, calling the facemasks both “deceptively effective” and “amazingly effective.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo has enlisted celebrities Rosie Perez and Chris Rock in a (clearly multicultural) effort to “build communication” on the importance of masks and social distancing. “We’re giving the store owners the right to say, ‘If you’re not wearing a mask, you can’t come in,’” the governor noted. “[Store owners have] the right to protect themselves … and the other patrons in that store. You don’t want to wear a mask, fine – but you don’t then have a right to then go into that store.” – GZ

 

Pandemic promotes busy hands, minds at SBU

Richard Reeder: SBU’s “overwhelming” expertise.

(May 28) No single institution, at least on Long Island, has initiated more pandemic-related action than Stony Brook University, where more than 180 different COVID-19 studies have launched since early March.

The university on Thursday counted up a body of work covering 45 academic departments across eight different colleges and schools, including “52 clinical trials centered on prevention, treatment and care of patients with COVID-19” – among 75 studies commenced at the Renaissance School of Medicine, where N95 respirator disinfection protocols, a “COVID-19 biobank” and other innovative ideas are being put through their paces.

Another 40 trials have started at the College of Arts and Sciences, with campus contributors also focusing on the pandemic’s psychological and socioeconomic effects. The scope and range of Stony Brook’s COVID-19 efforts should surprise no one, according to Vice President of Research Richard Reeder. “The overwhelming response from our researchers in this time of need shows the breadth of Stony Brook’s expertise, which spans healthcare, physical and social sciences and many other academic disciplines,” Reeder said. “Their innovative work during this crisis will help to solve many of the challenges we face now and in the future.” – GZ

 

Long Island, set Phase 1 and fire

(May 27) Congratulations, Long Island – Phase 1 has finally arrived.

On Wednesday, the metrics clicked into place and the Long Island region officially met the requirements for Phase 1 reopening protocols, as laid out by Albany’s NY Forward plan. With the Island’s final two metrics – a 14-day decline in COVID-19-related hospital deaths and at least 30 contact tracings per 100,000 residents – now in the books, all of New York has reached Phase 1 except New York City, where a deficit in available hospital beds is the holdup.

Before you burn your N95s in a burst of delirious liberation, please note: The Phase 1 reopening only covers construction, manufacturing, agricultural and forestry/fishing businesses, plus outdoor dining at some restaurants and curbside services at some retail locations. Those hoping to hit the mall (Phase 2) or the bar (Phase 3) still have some waiting to do, as do theatergoers, sports fans, students and teachers (all Phase 4) – and for now, New York On Pause mask and distancing requirements still apply. – GZ

 

Hall of Fame telethon backs LI ‘Health Care Heroes’

Ernie Canadeo: A really big show.

(May 27) Recorded contributions from A-list performers will highlight a Sunday evening telethon benefitting Long Island’s front-line healthcare workers.

The Long Island Music Hall of Fame and News 12 are co-producing the 90-minute concert, which features LIMHOF inductees and is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. May 31 on News 12’s Altice USA and Verizon Fios channels. Participating bands and artists have each recorded a performance for the show, “with most performed exclusively for this broadcast,” according to the Melville-based HOF.

Joan Jett, Blue Oyster Cult, Pat Benatar, Gary “U.S. Bonds,” Debbie Gibson, Kurtis Blow, Lisa Lisa (of Cult Jam fame) and members of the Stray Cats are among the dozen-plus performers stepping up for the concert, which directly benefits the United Way of Long Island’s United Together for Health Care Heroes program. “We are thrilled that so many of our Long Island Music Hall of Fame Inductees are contributing such high-quality performances to help support Long Island’s healthcare heroes,” noted LIMHOF Chairman Ernie Canadeo. – GZ

 

Cuomo comes out ringing; LI almost ready

Floor plan: The famous floor of the New York Stock Exchange partially reopened Tuesday.

(May 26) Hearts are set on reopening, freedom and “normalcy.” Minds are locked on science, rising death tolls and second waves. Reality is somewhere in between.

Against this dramatic backdrop, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a significant symbolic step Tuesday, ringing the opening bell as the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange opened for the first time since March 23. Although New York City, as of Tuesday morning, was still three metrics short of a Phase 1 reopening, the NYSE is back in business – an important “first step,” according to the governor, who said resuming action on the “iconic floor” for the first time in two months “show[s] the nation that we will lead the way.”

While New York State leads, Long Island still trails the pack. As of Tuesday, the region was still working toward two required reopening metrics: a 14-day decline in COVID-19-related hospital deaths and 30 contact-tracing cases per 100,000 residents. Over the weekend, when announcing that the Mid-Hudson Valley region was expected to meet the Phase 1 requirements of Albany’s NY Forward plan early this week, an optimistic Cuomo said Long Island “could be ready to open by Wednesday.” – GZ

 

At Huntington Hospital, lunch is on the LIASB

Feed bags: Graits meals courtesy of The Sexy Salad and the LIASB arrive at Huntington Hospital.

(May 25) As the pandemic ravaged Long Island, a top regional business-networking group made sure frontline healthcare workers felt the love – with a small-business restaurateur right out in front.

Long Island Advancement of Small Business responded to the “undaunting devotion” of Huntington Hospital staffers with 135 free lunches, made possible by LIASB members and friends through a quick-but-heartfelt GoFundMe effort. John Robertson, owner of Hauppauge-based The Sexy Salad and a longtime LIASB booster, led that effort, and the not-for-profit networking group responded enthusiastically, according to President and CEO John Hill.

“Everyone on Long Island is talking about the coronavirus and how overworked the hospital workers are,” Hill noted. “I just thought it would be a nice gesture to show these heroes how much we appreciate them.” – GZ

 

Play ball! And take a disinfected train to the game

Long run: Extra cars will be added to LIRR trains to accommodate social distancing.

(May 24) This was not the Memorial Day holiday weekend anyone would have anticipated or hoped for, but there’s a definite light at the end of the train tunnel, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who today delivered a mass-transit update and an announcement sure to delight action-starved sports fans.

The governor’s daily coronavirus briefing touched on a number of topics near to Long Islander’s hearts – for instance, some 10,000 Island households have now received Nourish New York products, according to Cuomo, with six additional NNY distributions scheduled across the Island this week. But most likely to score with regional residents was the governor’s announcement that professional sports teams can begin training-camp operations across the state: “We are … encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible, and we will work with them to make sure that can happen.”

Also of particular interest to LI are new public-safety measures being enforced by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as the region prepares to reopen, including mask requirements, extra cars added to Long Island Rail Road trains to accommodate social distancing requirements and a daily cleaning/disinfecting plan for every train and bus in service, unprecedented in the MTA’s annals. “First time ever,” Cuomo noted. “We never disinfected buses and trains before. We never thought we had to. But we get it now, and they’re doing it every day.” – GZ

 

Renaissance School researchers eye existing inhibitors

(May 21) A $450,000 research grant will fuel a team of Stony Brook University microbiologists hot on the trail of new COVID-19 inhibitor drugs.

The Rye Brook-based G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Foundation (colloquially, the Mathers Foundation) has gifted researchers in the Renaissance School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology led by Professor Nancy Reich, cytokine-signaling expert and recent president of the International Cytokine and Interferon Society. Their mission: to investigate the use of bradykinin and interferon-lambda inhibitor drugs – both FDA-approved for other uses – for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Reich and colleagues are optimistic for two key reasons: interferon is a natural antiviral hormone – and the only known cytokine that inhibits virus replication – and bradykinin inhibitors are boffo at reducing lung inflammation due to viral infection. “Safe and effective vaccines take months to years to develop, if even attainable,” Reich noted. “There is an urgent need to identify first-line, broad-spectrum therapeutic agents that will block viral replication and alleviate the effects of … COVID-19.” – GZ

 

Zucker volunteers, Hempstead innovators exchange affections

Takes a village: The Hempstead School District returns the kindness of Janay Parrish (far right) and other Zucker School of Medicine volunteers.

(May 20) A mutual admiration society has formed between the Zucker School of Medicine and the Town of Hempstead’s diverse community.

Students from the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell have been volunteering for a social-distancing-approved “drive-through” delivery system that distributes much-needed meals throughout the Hempstead community, where food insecurity is common and schools traditionally provide a nutritional cornerstone. Since April, the volunteers have delivered 1,000-plus meals to Hempstead’s hungriest, according to the Zucker School.

In response, the Hempstead School District this week presented the medical school and other Long Island organizations, including the Island Harvest Food Bank, with facemasks created by Hempstead High School junior Fortuntatus Adeyemi, who led a 3D-printing effort in the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School STEAM Lab. “Hempstead is full of children and families who have fought for many years to make the best of their circumstances, despite constant barriers such as food insecurity and health disparities,” noted third-year Zucker School student Janay Parrish. – GZ

 

Visitors, elective surgeries return to Nassau hospitals

Good news: It’s not a Phase 1 reopening, yet, but Gov. Cuomo had good news for Long Island on Tuesday.

(May 19) The seventh New York economic region to begin reopening procedures will be the Capital Region, but while Long Island remains two steps behind the Phase 1 pack, there’s some good news for Islanders as well: Elective surgeries and ambulatory care can resume in Nassau County.

The Capital Region (including, obviously, the City of Albany) joins the Western New York, Central New York, North Country, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley regions, all of which have met the seven metrics required for a Phase 1 reopening under the state’s NY Forward plan. Long Island is still two metrics short – combined, Nassau and Suffolk have yet to achieve 30 trace cases per 1,000 residents and a 14-day decline in COVID-19-related hospital deaths.

However, Nassau is joining 49 other counties around the state where the near-term risk of a COVID-19 surge has been deemed low enough to resume elective surgeries and ambulatory care, one of two good pieces of hospital-related news Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered Tuesday. In collaboration with the Greater New York Hospital Association and the Healthcare Association of New York State, Cuomo also announced a two-week pilot program at 16 statewide hospitals – including Northwell Health’s Plainview Hospital and Huntington Hospital – that will increase patient visitations, with vigorous testing of visitors for subsequent coronavirus symptoms. – GZ

 

Western New York meets reopening metrics

Shuffle off to Buffalo: The Queen City is ready for Phase 1.

(May 18) Western New York will be the state’s sixth economic region to engage Phase 1 reopening protocols, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.

The zone – which includes the cities of Buffalo, Rochester and Niagara Falls, among others – will commence Phase 1 on Tuesday, joining the Central New York, North Country, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley regions in meeting the seven metrics required to begin a phased reopening, as per the state’s NY Forward plan. Phase 1 covers most construction, manufacturing, agricultural and forestry/fishing businesses, plus additional retail businesses, including outdoor dining at some restaurants.

According to Albany’s Regional Monitoring Dashboard, as of Monday afternoon, Long Island remained two monitoring metrics short of a Phase 1 reopening – though it was on the verge of clearing one of those hurdles, with contact tracing rates approaching 30 trace cases per 1,000 residents. Combined, Nassau and Suffolk also have not posted a 14-day decline in hospital deaths related to COVID-19. – GZ

 

Old Westbury faculty unite for virtual sendoff

(May 17) In some parallel universe, the SUNY College at Old Westbury ushered more than 1,200 students – the school’s second-largest graduating class to date – to their post-graduate destinies in a traditional commencement ceremony, flying mortarboards and all.

In this one, SUNY Old Westbury did what quarantined campuses do – a virtual graduation event, which beamed well wishes and more to the Class of 2020 from President Calvin Butts III and dozens of remote faculty members. A conventional commencement may convene at a later date, but at precisely 9 a.m. Sunday, when the regularly scheduled ceremony would have begun, graduates got their dues from Butts and some 60 participating professors.

In the nearly 30-minute prerecorded presentation, the professors chime in from disparate locations throughout an extended music-video montage, offering congratulations, advice and good luck (Assistant Biology Professor Jillian Nissen notes the Class of 2020 “will have a great story to tell”). Butts – resplendent in academic robes, at a podium in his office, with “Pomp and Circumstance” playing quietly – also commends the “amazing achievement” of both students and staff, telling graduates that “all associated with our college are proud of what you have accomplished.” – GZ

 

Stony Brook, Applied DNA speed top test to clinics

Silvia Spitzer: This is a test.

(May 16) A new, “highly sensitive” clinical test for detecting COVID-19 is in play at Stony Brook Medicine, courtesy of Applied DNA Sciences.

The trailblazing Stony Brook-based biotech collaborated with Stony Brook University on the new testing assay, which has received FDA Emergency Use Authorization and is quite good at sniffing out the RNA of SARS Cov-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease. The FDA’s emergency approval was based on clinical studies at Stony Brook University Hospital’s Molecular Pathology Laboratory, where Applied DNA’s testing protocol was put through its paces by Laboratory Director Silvia Spitzer and a team of pathology residents and students.

In addition to providing a critical weapon now and in case of future COVID-19 outbreaks, the new test cements the importance of scientific collaboration, according to SBU Senior Vice President and Renaissance School of Medicine Dean Kenneth Kaushansky. “It firmly represents an outstanding example of the academic-industrial collaborations that are enhancing our ability to provide the best possible care for our patients,” Kaushansky noted. – GZ

 

Eye candy meets commercial viability in FSC Design Expo

(May 14) They’re keeping their peepers on the prize at Farmingdale State College, where the campus is closed but the Senior Project Virtual Design Expo will still open some eyes.

Like so many other events this spring, Farmingdale State’s annual eye candy exposition has been rejiggered for your online pleasure, now slated to run here from noon to 11: 30 p.m. May 19. The half-day showcase will highlight the work of 38 students graduating from the college’s Visual Communications program, who will present “commercially viable products executed through graphic, interactive, web and product design,” according to Farmingdale State.

The expo will also peek behind the curtain to show each artist’s creative process and pandemic-induced pivot to digital learning. “We thought that instead of simply canceling the expo, we could celebrate the culmination of their work by being creative,” noted Associate Processor Donna Proper. “Having them share their work digitally [touches] those across the globe right from the comfort of home.” – GZ

 

SBU improves connections with non-verbal COVID-19 patients

Michelle Ballan: Good form.

(May 13) A “COVID Disability Form” designed by Stony Brook University developmental-health experts to help providers better understand and care for communication-limited patients is rapidly making its way around the country.

Noting that New York State patients with disabilities have a COVID-19 fatality rate 2.2 times higher than the overall COVID-19 rate, SBU School of Social Welfare Associate Dean of Research Michelle Ballan created the Disability Form to “reduce healthcare barriers and to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities communicate their needs, whether the patient is verbal or non-verbal.” The form – designed to be completed by an adult with IDD or the patient’s caregiver, with space to explain specific communication patterns, triggers and other valuable information – has since been translated into Spanish and “amended for all 50 states,” according to SBU.

Ballan collaborated with Andrew Wackett, a clinical associate professor in the SBU Renaissance School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine, who played a key role in vetting the form as it took shape. “As an emergency medicine physician and educator, I realize the importance of providing compassionate, appropriate and effective care to a range of patients, and especially including those who are unable to easily communicate for themselves,” Wackett said Wednesday. – GZ

 

Fourth NYS region hits Phase 1 reopening metrics

Cuomo: Set phases.

(May 13) A fourth New York State economic/geographic region has met the qualifying metrics for a Phase 1 reopening under Albany’s NY Forward plan – and no, it’s not Long Island.

Assuming current numbers hold through May 15, North Country will join the Finger Lakes, the Southern Tier and the Mohawk Valley regions in taking the Phase 1 reopening steps, meaning construction, manufacturing, agricultural, forestry/fishing and certain additional retail businesses can get back to it. But that’s only if the seven metrics – which cover new COVID-19 confirmed cases, new hospital admissions, real-time death rates and other factors – don’t turn south before Friday, when current NYS on PAUSE orders are set to expire.

As of Wednesday, Long Island was still a metric or two away from Phase 1 qualification. Between Monday and Tuesday, Suffolk County confirmed 243 new COVID-19 cases and Nassau County confirmed 153, trailing only New York City (1,127), according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. “As the numbers continue to decline and we are coming down the other side of the mountain, a lot of attention is now on reopening,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “Four regions have now met all seven metrics required to begin reopening, and we will continue to keep New Yorkers informed as this process goes forward.” – GZ

 

Hofstra/Northwell brass salute battle-hardened grads

(May 12) A month after they officially became doctors (which was actually a couple of months ahead of schedule, but let’s focus), the newest graduates of the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell got their just academic rewards on Monday – or at least virtual ones.

The 102-member Class of 2020 participated in an online commencement ceremony featuring Zucker School of Medicine Dean Lawrence Smith, Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling and Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz, who acknowledged that “this is not the commencement that we all imagined for you,” but noted that the new doctors – pressed into early service by the coronavirus pandemic – “know better than anyone how COVID-19 has changed our lives, in countless ways.”

The Class of 2020 will officially enter residency programs in 19 different states (including 30 entering Northwell Health programs) in July, but many have already earned their stripes, according to Smith, the Zucker School of Medicine’s founding dean. “Medical students and residents who’ve had the opportunity to work in the most disruptive environments, with dangerous illnesses, are different physicians because of that experience,” he told graduates Monday. “You worked and lived in the bullseye of this pandemic.” – GZ

 

Northwell steps up regional antibody testing

Dwayne Breining: Economic imperative.

(May 12) With Long Island closing in on the required metrics of a Phase 1 reopening (as defined by Albany’s NY Forward plan, see below), Northwell Health is working with public health officials on a complex antibody-testing plan aimed at protecting at-risk populations from new outbreaks.

Targeting first responders across Long Island and Westchester County, Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees and regional low-income communities, the blood tests detect previous COVID-19 infections, helping researchers understand the coronavirus’ path and prevalence within certain communities – potential keys to mitigating its future path.

Northwell Health Labs – which can now handle thousands of antibody tests daily – has already processed more than 2,500 antibody tests from Long Island first responders and was scheduled to begin testing their Westchester compatriots Tuesday, with an MTA testing plan on the way. “It’s imperative that we provide this critical testing to our frontline heroes and the local communities that have been hardest hit by this,” said Northwell Health Labs Executive Director Dwayne Breining. “This testing provides quick and reliable results which … will be critical to opening up our economy.” – GZ

 

Three NY zones set to reopen, two more to follow 

“Forward” march: Albany has a plan.

(May 11) Strap yourselves in, dear readers – New York State is reopening, at least in spots.

Three of the state’s economic zones (the Southern Tier, the Finger Lakes and the Mohawk Valley) have hit all seven of the metrics (lower hospital admissions, fewer reported cases and others) required to engage Phase One of NY Forward, Albany’s comprehensive reopening strategy – and if those numbers hold through May 15 (when current NYS on PAUSE orders expire) will become the first state corners to begin the long voyage back to “normal.” In accordance with state and federal health restrictions, counties and municipalities within the cleared zones will be able to kickstart construction, manufacturing, agricultural, forestry/fishing and additional retail businesses.

The North Country and Central New York regions have met six of the seven metrics and could also be deemed ready this week, while Albany has launched a real-time Regional Monitoring Dashboard to keep other areas in the reopening loop. “We are starting a new chapter in the fight against this virus,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. “We’ve worked together as a state to flatten the curve and the decline has finally reached a point where … we can turn to reopening.” – GZ

 

Online bereavement groups help fill grieving gaps

(May 10) Adding sharp insult to the pandemic’s grievous injury, COVID-19’s mounting death tolls are being met by a deafening, heart-rending religious silence: No Christian wakes. No Jewish Shivas. No three-day mourning, always a time to receive family and visitors, for Muslims.

Two of Long Island’s leading mental-health organizations – the Mental Health Association of Nassau County and the Association for Mental Health and Wellness – have united to meet this forlorn challenge, creating a series of Online Bereavement Support Groups specifically for loved ones of COVID-19 victims who are unable to grieve in conventional ways because of social distancing and quasi-quarantines. Remote weekly sessions catering to veterans, peers and other specific adult groups are scheduled to kick off May 19; more information here.

Association for Mental Health and Wellness CEO Michael Stoltz noted the sessions would be led by “skilled and sensitive grief counselors who are well-qualified to help participants build comforting pathways for healing, even in a technologically remote setting,” while MHA of Nassau County Executive Director Jeffrey McQueen said the teams were dedicated to helping Long Islanders through this sad chapter of the pandemic. “Grieving remotely can’t fully replace the face-to-face experience,” McQueen noted. “But it can help reinforce feelings of hope and help fill the void.” – GZ

 

Bethpage warns of COVID-19 text, phone scams

Sorry, wrong number: Won’t be fooled again.

(May 7) New York’s largest credit union is warning its members, and everyone else, that widespread financial scams are on the rise, with grifters leveraging common coronavirus concerns to swindle unsuspecting victims.

Bethpage Federal Credit Union on Thursday cited “an increase in fraudulent incidents involving both consumers and businesses,” including an “exceedingly prevalent COVID-19 financial scam” that sees fraudsters impersonating financial institutions to harvest personal information. The con involves a text message that appears to be from a financial institution (false), asking the victim to verify a “suspicious” transaction (nonexistent); when the victim denies the transaction, a call from the financial institution follows (it’s not), with the caller (the crook) fishing for Social Security numbers, account PINs and more.

In response, Bethpage is proactively reaching out to members and offering several general antifraud tips: don’t trust your caller ID, avoid Western Union and MoneyGram payments, always hang up on robocalls. “New Yorkers need to be aware of the increased risk of attempted fraud and heightened vulnerabilities created by the coronavirus,” said Bethpage Chief Risk Officer Scott Gyllensten. “Consumers should be especially vigilant now, as New York is experiencing an increase in the frequency and sophistication of fraud attempts during this unprecedented time.” – GZ

 

Wary PM Pediatrics adds antibody testing, keeps guard up

(May 7) Confirmed current COVID-19 cases and related deaths are both in blessed decline in New York State – but with numbers rising in other national hotspots, increased talk of an autumnal resurgence and a new coronavirus-related illness slowly hospitalizing children, the nation’s largest provider of pediatric urgent care is taking no chances.

New Hyde Park-based PM Pediatrics, which operates eight Long Island offices and 55 total facilities across 13 states, announced this week that COVID-19 antibody testing is now being offered at 36 of its offices nationwide (including offices in Manhasset, Selden, Commack, Massapequa Park, Syosset and Carle Place), while coronavirus testing is still being offered at 21 offices (including the Selden office) and potential COVID-19 symptoms are still being assessed virtually via the PM Pediatric Anywhere telehealth platform.

Meanwhile, the practice group is joining other healthcare professionals warning patients who might need non-coronavirus-related medical attention not to avoid it because of pandemic-induced fear. “Some injuries still need to be seen in person in a timely fashion, such as large lacerations, burns, broken bones and other non-coronavirus-related conditions,” noted PM Pediatrics Senior Medical Advisor Christina Johns. “Telemedicine can also provide an excellent gateway to help families determine what level of in-person care they may need, if any.” – GZ

 

Adelphi opts out of SAT, ACT application requirements

Kristen Capezza: Holistic scoring.

(May 6) A growing movement to do away with standardized testing as a college-application measure – strengthened by the pandemic’s haywire fritzing of education on every level – has added a prominent Long Island institution.

Adelphi University said Wednesday it will adopt a “test-optional policy” for Fall 2021 admissions, meaning current high school juniors can opt out of standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT and still apply – and possibly gain admission – to the Garden City university. The Adelphi Faculty Senate approved the measure this week, giving the coast-to-coast movement toward temporary (and permanent) opt-out protocols fresh momentum; national data aggregator FairTest now counts more than 1,160 accredited four-year colleges and universities with SAT/ACT-optional policies for Fall 2021 admission.

For now, Adelphi’s opt-out policy is temporary, covering Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 admissions only. “Adelphi has long held a commitment to the holistic review of applications for admission, recognizing that a test score does not always reflect the potential of an individual,” noted Kristen Capezza, vice president for enrollment management and university communications. “We believe a shift to test-optional offers the flexibility needed during this unprecedented time and removes barriers for our applicants.” – GZ

 

Analysis: New York among nation’s most coronavirus-restrictive

Strictly speaking: New York is one of the most restrictive states regarding the reopening of non-essential businesses.

(May 5) Break out the camouflage and strap on a semi, citizen – it may be time for a peaceful protest in New York, which a recent study pegs as one of the most restrictive states in the union regarding coronavirus controls.

Based on information available through midday May 4, data aggregator Wallethub’s latest analysis places the Empire State below the national curve (or ahead of it, depending on your politics) in several key categories: 12th-most-restrictive on large gatherings (out of 50 states and the District of Columbia), 16th-most on the reopening of non-essential businesses and 20th most on public facemask requirements. Add it all up, and New York is the nation’s seventh-most restrictive state; only Hawaii, Rhode Island, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have a tighter grip, according to the study.

Before we liberate Albany, though, consider that New York’s tougher-than-most approach is influencing another key metric: In addition to being the nation’s seventh-most-restrictive state, New York – the first U.S. coronavirus epicenter – posted the third-lowest COVID-19 death rate over the past week, according to Wallethub. – GZ

 

Feds praise half-trillion-dollar (and counting) PPP

Steve Mnuchin: PPP on-point.

(May 3) United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin praised the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program on Sunday, noting half-a-trillion dollars has already been floated to small businesses across the country.

In a joint statement issued with U.S. SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza, Mnuchin said the PPP is “providing critical support to millions of small businesses and tens of millions of hardworking Americans,” and shared some remarkable statistics, including some 2.2 million loans (totaling more than $175 million) already executed in Round 2 of the PPP – which only began on April 27 – and about 3.8 million loans processed since the program officially kicked off April 2.

Most notable, according to the joint statement, is not necessarily the half-trillion-dollars-or-so lent to U.S. businesses, but that the average Round 2 loan size was around $79,000 – indicating the PPP is reaching its intended target, the smallest of small U.S. businesses. “We are fully committed to ensuring that American workers and small businesses continue to get the resources they need to get through this challenging time,” Mnuchin and Carranza said in their statement. – GZ

 

Gold Coast Arts Center soothes slowdown with select streaming

(May 2) Some Hollywood studios are in hot water with national theater chains for a particular pandemic pivot: skipping theatrical releases altogether and streaming new releases for home viewing.

But there’s little doubt that at-home movie-watching, including a selection of first-run flicks, has been a soothing balm on COVID-19’s wounds – and to that end, the Great Neck-based Gold Coast Arts Center has stepped up its streaming game, partnering with distributors and filmmakers to present the Gold Coast Arts Virtual Cinema Series. Between May 4 and May 31, for instance, the coronavirus-inspired series will feature “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael,” a 2018 documentary about the work and life of controversial film critic Pauline Kael and her profound effect on 20th century cinema.

The Virtual Cinema Series is also taking time this pandemic to remember beloved Hollywood actor Brian Dennehy, who passed away last month at the age of 81. This week, Gold Coast Arts – which welcomed Dennehy in 2013 for an on-stage one-on-one conversation with producer and media personality Phil Donahue – will roll out “Driveways,” a 2019 independent drama that would be the Chaminade High School graduate’s final performance. Learn more here about the flick and the Virtual Cinema Series. – GZ

 

‘Western’ medicine proves a godsend for Northwell

Mountain folk: As COVID-19 peaked, volunteer doctors, nurses and other providers from Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare rode to Northwell Health’s rescue.

(May 1) Like heroes riding off into the sunset, dozens of volunteer healthcare professionals have returned home to Utah after helping Northwell Health through the teeth of the coronavirus crisis.

Doctors, nurses and other providers employed by the Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare system were thanked in person by Northwell Health executives in an informal ceremony Friday, before 36 of the 48 volunteers headed home. The healthcare professionals had worked alongside Northwell staffers at New Hyde Park’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Manhasset’s North Shore University Hospital and Bayshore’s Southside Hospital – three of the region’s hardest-hit facilities, according to Northwell.

And since arriving on Long Island April 14, the volunteers – including a pharmacist and three respiratory therapists, along with six doctors and 28 nurses – “have been absolutely terrific,” according to Northwell Health President and CEO Michael Dowling, among the Northwell execs thanking the Utah contingent and wishing them a safe journey home. “We were hit by a tsunami,” Dowling told them Friday. “When we reached out, Intermountain could not have been more helpful and moved very quickly. The assistance you provided was extraordinary.” – GZ

 

…and all for one at hardworking Farmingdale State

Jorge Osario: Call to action.

(April 30) It’s no surprise that major-league universities like Stony Brook (with its cutting-edge laboratories and additive-manufacturing facilities) and Hofstra (BFF with Northwell Health and its intense research capabilities) have risen to COVID-19’s challenge. But on Long Island, virtually every educational institution has pitched in – particularly Farmingdale State College, where service to staff, students and community has been the pandemic mantra.

For example: FSC alum Jorge Osorio, now part of the college’s Human Resource Department and the U.S. Naval Reserve, who’s been helping the New York State Naval Militia test community members for the disease at a drive-through Jones Beach station. And the college’s Medical Laboratory Science and Nursing departments, which have jointly contributed crates of alcohol wipes, facemasks, hand sanitizer and more to hospitals in Plainview and Syosset.

Not to mention the Biology Department, which donated lab coats and face shields to frontline healthcare providers; a quickly and smartly organized Farmingdale College Foundation emergency fund for students in financial crisis, which raised and distributed upwards of $14,000 in mere days; and the Farmingdale State Small Business Development Center, which has already helped more than 200 startups and early-stage enterprises identify and pursue emergency federal funding. Learn more here about Farmingdale State’s busy pandemic. – GZ

 

LI cosmetic surgeon taps rich vein ‘above the mask’

Stephen Greenberg: Definitely accepts plastic.

(April 30) Carefully balancing cynical opportunism, savvy business promotion and bona fide innovation, a Hamptons plastic surgeon has reported a sharp spike in virtual “above the mask” consultations – a rising concern, according to cosmetic surgeon Stephen Greenberg, with a “masked summer” approaching.

Yes, the pesky pandemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and crippled the national economy also has focused some Americans on “areas like the eyebrows and forehead, which remain visible when wearing a facemask to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus,” according to a release from the University of Pennsylvania- and Albert Einstein College of Medicine-educated MD.

And with the national lockdown slowly unlocking, “thousands” of clients are now seeking online consultations, noted the highly rated cosmetic surgeon, who maintains offices in Southampton, Woodbury and Florida. Belying his normal springtime work – usually a busy season for lip fillers, chin surgeries and neck lifts – Greenberg now finds himself neck-deep in virtual consultations about foreheads and cheekbones, with special attention on reversing aging effects around the eyes. Face the facts here. – GZ

 

Feds, state unite for essential-worker childcare effort

(April 29) As the pandemic drags on, many still-on-the-job essential workers face an endless double dilemma: Not only are they risking themselves and their loved ones to viral exposure, but virtually all traditional childcare options have suddenly blinked away.

The Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk is notifying qualified parents about “tuition scholarships” that can send their children to the Way to Grow Child Care/Learning Center, an East Patchogue childcare- and early childhood education-services provider greenlighted to operate through the lockdown. The center, which is focused now on essential workers’ kids, follows CDC-recommended COVID-19 safety precautions and is stocked with essentials such as masks, gloves, diapers and baby formula.

The scholarships are covered by a $30 million New York State allocation, through the federal CARES act, to provide for the childcare costs of government-designated essential workers including healthcare providers, pharmaceutical staff, grocery store employees, police and fire personnel and others (complete list here, income restrictions apply). Interested parents can apply here and expect a response from the Child Care Council of Suffolk within 24 hours. – GZ

 

This pandemic, get in touch with your inner Caligula

(April 29) Offering “discreet hookups” for “singles and swingers,” AdultFriendFinder makes no bones about its carnal nature (the occasional pandemic-induced pivot toward committed unions notwithstanding, see below).

Now, the matchmaker – think SnapSext with a modicum more class, or Ashley Madison with a smidge less – is embracing its erotic self with Virgy, billed as “a safe environment for people looking to explore orgies during COVID-19.” And lest you think Virgy is just some dime-a-dozen videoconferencing platform stripped down for some pandemic-panky, think again: Not only are many would-be online orgists “unsure if traditional platforms like Zoom or Google Hangouts are best to host NSW events,” AFF notes, but “Zoom recently announced that it’ll be cracking down on virtual sex parties to limit nudity.”

Enter Virgy, a sex-party platform where users can feel comfortable (“stress and fear are major libido buzzkills”) and there’s bandwidth aplenty to avoid lags or other “mood-killing glitches,” according to AFF. “With large gatherings banned across the country … we wanted to create a venue geared specifically for virtual orgies,” said AFF strategy director Gunner Taylor. “We’re all about embracing sex positivity and providing an engaging platform for people looking to find quick flings, casual partners [or] long-term relationships.” – GZ

 

Exhausted ‘essentials,’ you are not alone

Lisa Burch: How was your day?

(April 28) The great 2020 pandemic is challenging different groups in different ways, whether they’re trapped at home by the quasi-quarantines or braving the front lines and remaining at their “essential” posts.

That second group – essential workers, and not only brave healthcare providers but supermarket clerks, gas station attendants, take-out chefs and many others still reporting for duty – can now find a sympathetic ear and more on a new helpline from one of the coronavirus crisis’ busiest Long Island innovators: the Mineola-based Family & Children’s Association, which has flipped the switch on the Essential Worker Support Line, a call-in support system for the overworked, frightened or otherwise stressed out.

Available Monday to Friday between 7 a.m. and midnight, the helpline – at (516) 281-0202 – is designed to offer mental health and wellness resources, provide a friendly voice or just let overwrought front-liners let it all out. “Many of us have watched those we know and love break down after long shifts in hospitals and nursing homes, or be filled with anxiety after spending all day trying to keep the shelves stocked at the local market,” noted FCA Chief Operating Officer Lisa Burch. “Sometimes you just need to pick up the phone and talk to someone about your day.” – GZ

 

Tourism agency discovers new ways to help Long Island

Survivor Island: Nautical theme, noble cause.

(April 27) With regional tourism at a “crippling halt,” Long Island’s primary visitor’s bureau is finding new ways to support its target industries and otherwise stay useful – including some big assists for a specific at-need population.

Discover Long Island has adopted “Hold Fast” (originally a Dutch nautical term) as its pandemic mantra and slapped it onto a T-shirt with an image of a figure-8 knot (an essential sailing knot), and is selling the shirts online with proceeds directly benefitting Island hospitality employees caught in COVID-19’s gears. (Regional employers can visit here to nominate workers in need.)

The agency has also teamed up with the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association to distribute protective masks to regional hospitality and tourism workers still on the job. “This is a very difficult and heartbreaking time for our industry, and many of our hospitality and tourism partners are being forced to make unthinkable choices related to their businesses and their employees,” noted Discover Long Island President and CEO Kristen Jarnagin. “We are proud to provide this assistance to our hospitality employees, many of whom are working to provide lodging for essential healthcare workers.” – GZ

 

Cuomo outlines multiphase NYS reopening plan

Cuomo: Step by step.

(April 26) Set phases for restart: Albany has a plan to reopen New York – and “re-imagine a new normal for the state” – that will bring back businesses gradually, starting with construction and manufacturing industries.

The strategy, laid out Sunday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, kicks off with a required 14-day decline in regional coronavirus hospitalization rates. Once that metric is met, regions can begin a phased reopening, starting with those employee-heavy, economically critical building trades. After a two-week monitoring phase, the region can then move on to Phase 2, with businesses that are both “more essential” and carrying inherently low risks of workplace and customer infections greenlighted next.

The plan – which also coordinates the revival of transportation systems, schools, parks, beaches and certain seasonal businesses – will be executed in conjunction with other regional states, Cuomo said Sunday. “The great achievement in this period has been that when people get the facts, and they trust the facts, and they understand the facts, they do the right thing,” the governor noted. “And we talk about reopening, we talk about re-imagining … let’s start to put some meat on the bones of what we’re talking about so people understand.” – GZ

 

SBUH stars earn bucks in runaway coffee fundraiser

Turbo shot: No last drop, yet, for caffeinated fundraiser.

(April 25) Grassroots generosity is in overdrive around Stony Brook University Hospital, where a community effort to support hospital heroes has gone venti-sized – or is it “trenta-sized?”

Whatever, it’s huge – $18,000-plus (and counting), all of it earmarked for complimentary Starbucks coffee and products for SBUH staffers, and way more than fundraiser organizers originally targeted. That’s according to Holly Smugala, who joined friends Patti Kozlowski, Nicole Volpini and Stefanie Devery to form Starbucks for Stony Brook Hospital Superstars with the kindly goal of raising $1,000 and distributing a few coffeehouse gift cards around SBUH facilities.

But the social media fundraiser took off immediately – “We reached [$1,000] in about an hour,” Smugala said – and is now pumping Starbucks steadily to SBUH, with employees sharing a multitude of $250 gift cards and the java flowing. “Now, we just want to see how much it will grow,” the co-organizer noted. “We don’t know how long this is going to go on, and we don’t want to stop until it stops.” – GZ

 

Adelphi International Services steps up for stranded students

Wendy Badala: The comforts of home.

(April 23) “Shelter at home” is a particular challenge for international travelers caught in the switches by the coronavirus – including foreign students studying in the United States, many of whom are stuck thousands of miles from home at the height of a protracted global crisis.

To that end, Adelphi University’s Office of International Services has expanded its slate of services (virtually, of course) to provide assistance and comfort to some 700 members of Adelphi’s international community. That includes 111 registered Adelphi students who were able to return to their home countries before the lockdowns and quasi-quarantines kicked in and 553 who’ve remained in the States – including 33 still hunkered down on Adelphi’s Garden City campus.

Access to on-site food options for those campus-bound students and informal videoconferences for all international students – featuring regulatory updates and other COVID-19 information – are just part of the effort, which is critical to a population that faces “distinct challenges” during the pandemic, according to Wendy Badala, Adelphi’s director of international services. “We have successfully transitioned to be fully operational externally,” Badala said Thursday. “It is important to me personally that the international community knows that International Services is committed to supporting you.” – GZ

 

Spud finder: Bushwick drops 15 tons on Island Harvest

You say potato: Mark Watney knows all about that.

(April 22) In a coronavirus response that’s part agricultural, part “The Martian” and all heart, one of Long Island’s busiest foodbanks – made even busier by the hardships of the pandemic – has received a massive donation of potatoes.

Approximately 30,000 pounds of them, actually, gifted by the Bushwick Potato Commission – a Farmingdale-based produce grower and distributor – to Island Harvest Food Bank, where the spuds will go a long way for “people across Long Island struggling to feed their families because of the economic havoc created by the pandemic,” according to Island Harvest President and CEO Randi Shubin Dresner.

Potatoes, of course, were the primary survival sustenance of food-insecure astronaut Mark Watney, accidentally stranded on Mars in the Andy Weir novel (and subsequent motion picture) “The Martian.” On Earth, they’ll be key to Hauppauge-based Island Harvest’s ongoing efforts, which have distributed more than 1 million pounds of food – at more than 330 pick-up sites – across Nassau and Suffolk since early March. “We are proud to be able to give back when Long Islanders need it most,” noted Bushwick Potato Commission VP Ken Gray. – GZ

 

SBU goes full MacGyver with spare-parts ventilator

Kenneth Kaushansky: Mergers and academicians.

(April 21) From the Work With What You’ve Got File comes the CoreVent 2020, an emergency backup ventilator machine designed, prototyped and tested on an advanced lung simulator – in just 10 days – by an industrious crew of Stony Brook University faculty, physicians and engineers.

Combining resources from SBU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, School of Health Technology and Management and Renaissance School of Medicine, the innovative team – led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Jon Longtin, the CEAS’s associate dean of research and entrepreneurship – worked day and night along an “aggressive timeline” to create the CoreVent 2020, a pressure-cycled, time-limited ventilator complete with assisted-breathing mode, low- and high-pressure alarms, visual status indicators, a menu-based computer interface and more.

Assembled from non-proprietary parts readily available from multiple vendors, the CoreVent 2020 is hardly slapdash, but rather scientifically designed to come together easily and function simply – the ideal emergency standby at a time when ventilators are in critical need and short supply, according to Renaissance School Dean Kenneth Kaushansky. “It is vital that all corners of a research-oriented university be engaged to solve the myriad problems facing healthcare professionals,” noted Kaushansky, also Stony Brook Medicine’s vice president for Health Sciences. “The merging of the talents of the faculty and staff of the three schools defines Stony Brook very well indeed.” – GZ

 

With barrier-bucking helpline, FCA también habla español  

(April 21) With official Nassau and Suffolk county agencies working to provide digital pandemic-related resources for Spanish-speaking audiences (see below), several private and not-for-profit groups are doing the same – including the Mineola-based Family & Children’s Association, which has launched a bi-county, bilingual COVID-19 Crisis Helpline.

Noting that Long Island immigrant communities are “especially shaken” by the healthcare emergency and its resulting lockdowns, the FCA – a 135-year-old nonprofit servicing some 30,000 Long Island children, seniors and families annually – has two goals with its English- and Spanish-speaking helpline: provide information on emergency resources to everyone who needs it, and remove “barriers to care” around immigrant populations.

The helpline – available at (516) 546-0357 – is part of the FCA’s new Immigrant and Refugee Support Services program, which is funded by the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation and the Hearst Foundation and also includes medical advocacy information and referrals to food programs and legal services, among other resources. “FCA has a long history of assisting our region’s Spanish-speaking populations and recently arrived immigrants,” noted Family & Children’s Association President and CEO Jeffrey Reynolds. “Naturally, we wanted to fill this gap in service delivery.” – GZ

 

Northwell staffers earn bonus checks, extra PTO

Michael Dowling: Couldn’t do it without you.

(April 20) Acknowledging “the bravery of its front-line staff” during the pandemic, Northwell Health on Monday announced a handsome bonus and an extra week of paid vacation time for health system staffers.

For New York State’s largest healthcare provider (by number of patients and number of providers) and largest private employer (68,000-plus), this is no mean feat: Including nurses, physicians, environmental-services workers, housekeepers, corporate staffers and other union and non-union employees, New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health estimates that some 45,000 “team members” are eligible for the lump-sum payment and supplemental paid time off, which employees can cash in “at any time during their employment with the health system,” according to Northwell.

But it’s a worthwhile investment, noted Northwell Health President and CEO Michael Dowling, who thanked Northwell’s trustees for their generosity, trumpeted a system-wide pandemic response that’s “been nothing short of heroic” and said Northwell’s front-line caregivers and back-office support staff have more than earned the accolades. “We want to continue to support, motivate and inspire our team members,” Dowling added. “We celebrate their wins, recognize their heroic work and amplify the outpouring of community support they are receiving for their courageous actions.” – GZ

 

Stony Brook eyes COVID-19, diabetes connection

Joshua Miller: Pandemic, with sugar on top.

(April 19) Scientists unravelling the mystery of the novel coronavirus have made an intriguing and important discovery: The COVID-19 disease has a significant impact on blood-sugar levels in both diabetic and non-diabetic patients.

Now, Stony Brook University researchers are working with California-based diabetes-management expert Dexcom to recognize and treat COVID-19 patients who may also be suffering a blood-sugar crisis, or are approaching one. The Stony Brook Medicine Diabetes Program is modifying its reporting platform using FDA-approved, wearable Decxom technology that tracks glucose levels in coronavirus patients, even remotely – potentially, a life-saver for patients and healthcare workers alike.

The new system will both reduce PPE usage and limit viral exposure, according to Stony Brook Medicine, while potentially staving off blood-sugar crises in coronavirus patients. “COVID-19 has profound and unprecedented impact on glycemic control in patients both with and without a known history of diabetes,” noted Joshua Miller, an assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the Renaissance School of Medicine and director of Stony Brook Medicine’s diabetes unit. – GZ

 

Masks, in 3D: SUNY, CUNY makers churn out PPE

Face it: David Ecker, director of SBU’s iCREATE program.

(April 18) College campuses across Greater New York are cranking out the PPE, with State University of New York and City University of New York facilities producing upwards of 2,400 face shields per day.

The personal protective equipment, critical to healthcare workers on the COVID-19 front, is rolling out of SUNY and CUNY 3D-printing facilities, with 18 state university campuses – including Stony Brook University – manufacturing 2,100 per day and six CUNY schools supplying the rest. And production across both systems is expected to rise this week, as 3D-production materials make their way to additional SUNY and CUNY campuses.

“Our talented faculty and students are using their time, energy and ingenuity to make a significant contribution to our battle against COVID-19,” noted SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, while CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez suggested “no greater cause at the moment,” adding, “We are proud to stand with New York City and do what we can to help those on the front lines of the war against COVID-19.” – GZ

 

Small-business advice from NYCB LIVE, on tape

(April 17) NYCB LIVE – the home of, or the outer shell surrounding, or whatever, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – has assembled a virtual panel of regional business owners, executives and entrepreneurs for an online panel discussion considering “The Importance of Team,” a critic topic at the height of the pandemic.

Moderated by Discover Long Island President and CEO Kristen Jarnigan, the panel – including Pipeline Coffee owner Pat Tighe, Hal’s New York Director of Brand Development Stephanie Reda and regional property developer Nick Galanis – features NYCB LIVE partners who understand that “teamwork is essential to running any successful company,” according to NYCB LIVE Senior Vice President Nick Vaerewyck. The discussion, in its entirely, is streaming here.

“This discussion with local business leaders will enable us to explore ways to make teamwork more effective and be a resource for other businesses in the region,” Vaerewyck said Friday. “It’s imperative, especially now as many businesses adapt … to meet new demands.” – GZ

 

Hold that pause: Freeze extended through late spring

Freeze frame: Hold that homebound thought.

(April 16) The light at the end of the tunnel is a little farther off than you might have hoped: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is officially keeping his finger on the state’s pause button for another month at least.

The governor, “in consultation with other regional states,” announced Thursday that all New York State on Pause restrictions – the closure of nonessential businesses, moratoriums on residential evictions and more, all detailed in a 10-point plan effected March 20 by executive order – will be extended until May 15. New York and its Northeast partner states will reassess at that time, noted Cuomo, who said he doesn’t want to jump too far ahead and promised “the experts will tell us the best course of conduct based on [the] data.”

“One month is a long time,” the governor added. “Tell me what our infection rate spread is … tell me what the hospitalization rate is. No political decisions, no emotional decisions. Data and science. We’re talking about human lives here.” – GZ

 

Mobile Stroke Unit relieves pressure on packed hospitals

David Fiorella: Stroking the numbers.

(April 16) To ease the burden of overwhelmed regional hospitals, Stony Brook Medicine’s Mobile Stroke Unit is maintaining its appointed rounds through the teeth of the pandemic.

Founded in late 2018 by neurosurgery/radiology professor David Fiorella, director of the Stony Brook University Cerebrovascular Center, the MSU dispatches two specially equipped ambulances to treat stroke victims in the field. While the units are only available within specific zones at specific times, they aim to reach victims within 20 minutes of their stroke – a critical treatment window – and keep them out of emergency rooms, especially important now.

The MSU’s “mobile stroke emergency rooms” respond to calls within 10 miles of their two bases – at Long Island Expressway exits 57 in Islandia and 68 in Yaphank – between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week. The latest “Beyond the Expected” podcast, featuring Fiorella and Interim Stony Brook University President Michael Bernstein, has more. – GZ

 

Counties keeping Spanish-speakers en el lazo

Gregson Pigott: El habla español.

(April 15) Both Nassau and Suffolk Counties are working to give Spanish-speaking residents access to up-to-date information and local, state and federal services related to the coronavirus.

Nassau County’s Office of Hispanic Affairs has created a coronavirus landing page that outlines, in Spanish, the county’s COVID-19 response actions. The page, which includes contact information for Executive Director Amy Flores, links to a number of pandemic-related resources for residents and small-business owners – including U.S. Small Business Administration pages presented in both English and Spanish – and directs visitors to OHA services temporarily being conducted by phone, email and the multimedia communications platform WhatsApp.

The Suffolk County Department of Health, meanwhile, has posted a similarly stocked landing page of residential and commercial coronavirus resources – including a link to a Harvard Health Publishing project that translates critical COVID-19 information into 37 languages, including Spanish. The Health Department page also includes a video message from newly appointed (and multilingual) Suffolk County Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott, who speaks in Spanish about the county’s pandemic response. – GZ

 

Suffolk IDA heads tax-break effort for PPE manufacturers

Steve Bellone: Smart move all around.

(April 15) A coalition of Suffolk County economic-development agencies has developed a tax-relief program for manufacturers cranking out personal protective equipment, disinfectants and other products aiding the public and front-line pandemic responders.

The Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency, “in collaboration with Suffolk County’s broader economic development agencies,” on Tuesday announced the COVID-19 Sales Tax Relief Equipment Program, which establishes sales- and use-tax exemptions of up to $100,000 for manufacturers, suppliers and distributors helping get essential equipment to ERs and priority PPE to the people. Tax abatements of up to six months (maybe extensions, too) are in the offing, with all Suffolk-based manufacturers engaged in the pandemic response eligible to apply and county economic-development officials making case-by-case calls.

Businesses who fit the criteria are encouraged to contact the Suffolk IDA at info@suffolkida.org or (631) 853-4802 to learn more about the new program. “This new County IDA program will help provide the financial relief our businesses need,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday, “all while helping to save lives and bolster the county’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.” – GZ

 

Study: NYS tourism managing crisis better than most

Vacancy: That empty feeling, at iconic Southampton motel The Atlantic.

(April 14) A new analysis of COVID-19’s travel and tourism consequences suggests New York’s tourism industries have weathered the pandemic better than counterparts in 40 other states.

With spring weekends falling fast and the summer season in serious jeopardy, that’s small solace to East End hoteliers and vineyard owners. But it’s also a passing grade of sorts for Albany, charged with managing the coronavirus’ national epicenter in a state that is very much a tourism magnet, including the capital city of Earth, Hamptons hotspots, Long Island’s delightfully day-trippy wineries and 50,000 square miles of lakes and mountains.

With all that on the line, the Empire State has done a better job responding to the crisis, travel-wise, than other high-tourism states, according to statistical aggregator WalletHub, which calculated metrics such as travel/tourism dependency and presence of stay-home orders to rank New York’s tourism industry as the nation’s ninth-most-affected – faring better than tourism operations in Hawaii, Nevada and Florida, among other popular destinations. Check out WalletHub’s full tourism-impact study here. – GZ

 

Seven states join Northeast’s COVID-19 recovery coalition

Cuomo: It takes a region.

(April 13) From the Department of Hang Together or Hang Separately comes Charlie Baker, the latest Northeast governor to hitch his state’s wagon to a regional coalition targeting smart and effective methods for restarting the U.S. economy.

Baker, chief executive of Massachusetts, joins the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware on the Northeast council, which will include one health expert and one economic-development expert from each state – as well as each governor’s respective chief of staff – in ongoing discussions to “develop a fully integrated regional framework to gradually lift the states’ stay-at-home orders while minimizing the risk of increased spread of [COVID-19],” according to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

The now seven-state council will focus on testing, contact tracing, treatment and social distancing and will rely on the best-available scientific, social and economic information to formulate its strategy, Cuomo said Monday. “It is time to start opening the valve slowly and carefully while watching the infection rate meter, so we don’t trigger a second wave of new infections,” the governor added. “We have to come up with a smart, consistent strategy to restart the systems we shut down and get people back to work – and to the extent possible we want to do that through a regional approach, because we are a regional economy.” – GZ

 

Albany issues employer mask, expanded antibody orders

Drop zone: Masked employees and more antibody testers … Easter in 2020.

(April 12) The days of waiting a respectful six feet behind the next person in line, ordering your cold brew with unsweetened blueberry and two Splendas through a virus-proof plexiglass shield and wondering why the dude making your coffee isn’t wearing a mask are over.

On Easter, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring all New York employers to provide essential workers with cloth or surgical masks, free of charge, to wear when directly interacting with the public. The order coincides with a new state directive expanding the number of people eligible to conduct antibody tests – essentially, allowing laboratory employees to conduct them individually, accelerating the search for a COVID-19 cure.

“The big question for everyone right now is when do we reopen the economy, but first we need to make sure we have a smart, safe and coordinated plan in place to do it without risking public health,” Cuomo said Sunday. “These measures will be key to getting people back to work and making sure they are protected when they do go back.” – GZ

 

Nixon Peabody serves response course for restaurateurs

(April 11) As part of its Coronavirus Response Team, Nixon Peabody tracks funding opportunities and regulatory developments and chops them into industry-specific, bite-sized web articles – including a recent review of “special considerations” for restaurants under the CARES Act, the federal government’s coronavirus economic-relief plan.

The article – by Corporate Practice Group associate Wesley Gangi and Keri McWilliams, co-leader of Nixon Peabody’s Franchise & Distribution team – technically applies to all franchised businesses, earning it the “franchise law alert” the international law firm issued with its April 7 release. But Long Island’s restaurateurs, winemakers and craft brewers will be especially interested in its content, which covers CARE act provisions applicable across the food and beverage industries.

Among the highlights: breakdowns of the emergency law’s Paycheck Protection Program and critical changes to the SBA’s lending rules, among other provisions important to food businesses suffering the full brunt of the great pandemic. “While few sectors are likely to be spared from the economic consequences of COVID-19, the leisure and hospitality segments have been among the hardest hit,” the authors note. – GZ

 

Chembio adds point-of-care expertise to SBU blood shot

(April 9) A Long Island biotech known for putting assays in the seats is partnering with Stony Brook Medicine on an ambitious coronavirus-treatment trial.

Medford-based Chembio Diagnostic Systems – the veteran point-of-care diagnostics specialist known best for rapid field tests detecting dengue, zika and other contagions – is collaborating with a Stony Brook team on an ambitious effort to extract precious antibodies from the blood of COVID-19 survivors and brew up a “convalescent serum” (see next story below). Chembio’s patented Dual Path Platform, which is aces at detecting and measuring immunoglobulin M (the first antibody produced against an infection) and immunoglobulin G (the most abundant antibody) is SBU’s “assay of choice,” according to the company.

The collaboration is a welcome opportunity for Chembio, which has received FDA clearance to market its Dual Path Platform IgM and IgG assay system. “[The DPP] read(s) the test results for both IgM and IgG from finger-stick blood in 15 minutes and give(s) a numerical result related to the amount of antibody in the sample,” noted Executive Vice President Javan Esfandiari, Chembio’s chief science and technology officer. “This takes away the individual subjectivity of results and increases the sensitivity and specificity of the test.” – GZ

 

Survivors bring new blood to COVID-19 fight

Is antibody out there: Stony Brook Medicine professor and researcher Elliott Bennett-Guerrero plans to treat 500 Long Island-area COVID-19 patients with a serum derived from the blood of coronavirus survivors.

(April 9) Attention, COVID-19 survivors: Stony Brook Medicine wants you. At least, your blood.

In league with researchers across the land, and in collaboration with Medford-based point-of-care diagnostics specialist Chembio Diagnostic Systems, Stony Brook scientists are banking blood from those who’ve come through the coronavirus (there are many, of course, in New York and beyond) and distilling it into a “convalescent serum” for an experimental COVID-19 treatment. The call is out for volunteer donors with antibody-rich blood, and SBU – which received FDA approval this month to administer the serum to clinical patients in a randomized, controlled trial – plans to treat up to 500 Long Island-area coronavirus patients.

Such clinical trials routinely incorporate a 50-50 split – half the patients receive the experimental treatment, half don’t – but 80 percent of the patients in this study will receive the convalescent serum, according to Elliott Bennett-Guerrero, medical director of perioperative quality and patient safety at the Renaissance School of Medicine. “We are fast-tracking this large-scale clinical trial,” noted the project lead, who also serves as vice chairman of clinical research and innovation in the Renaissance School’s Department of Anesthesiology. “Every second counts when seeking lifesaving treatment for these critically ill patients.” – GZ

 

Trojan war pits condom king against online retailers

Battle hardened: “Essential” Trojan is taking the fight to online retailers.

(April 8) From the Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth Department comes Trojan, Earth’s prophylactic pacesetter, now saddling up against online retailers classifying condoms as “non-essential” – an insult, sayeth the contraceptive king, upon the injury that is the global pandemic.

There’s scant evidence of online retailers going out of their way to diss condoms (though there are troubling signs of a coming condom shortage). Still, Trojan’s innovative marketing tact earns a nod – particularly with its wares already in high demand, according to parent company Church & Dwight, the major league New Jersey-based manufacturer behind such powerhouse products as Arm & Hammer baking soda, Arrid deodorants and a medicine cabinet’s worth of toothpastes, vitamin supplements and stain removers you surely know.

Bruce Weiss, Trojan’s vice president of marketing, put a finer tip on it: “More time together spells more sex.” To that end, condoms “should be considered essential products amid the COVID-19 outbreak,” according to Weiss, who said Trojan is working “at a fast and furious speed” to meet the increased demand at brick-and-mortar retailers, but needs digital distributors to step up. “We urge online retailers to consider reclassifying condoms as ‘essential,’” Weiss added, “and speed delivery to all during this unprecedented time.” – GZ

 

At SBU and elsewhere, new MDs arriving a little early

Not this year: The Renaissance School of Medicine did it old-school last year, but graduation will be virtual for the Class of 2020.

(April 7) As the COVID-19 pandemic swells on Long Island, overworked Stony Brook Medicine is about to welcome some reinforcements – from within.

Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine has scheduled a virtual graduation ceremony for Wednesday evening, during which 122 medical students – “having now met all graduation requirements,” according to SBU – will be awarded their medical degrees, two full months ahead of schedule. The April 8 event is slated to feature an address by Renaissance School Dean Kenneth Kaushansky, a keynote by molecular geneticist Michael Brown of UT Southwestern Medical Center and presentations by members of the Renaissance School’s Class of 2020.

Of the 122 graduates, 52 are scheduled to commence residencies at Stony Brook University Hospital and will do so July 1, according to SBU, which is not the only university wrapping up its 2020 medical program a little early. Several regional schools, including the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, have also announced plans to accelerate graduation protocols and get their young MDs into the coronavirus fight. – GZ

 

All hands on deck in New York Tech PPE push

Eve Armstrong: Theoretical physicist, practical thinker.

(April 7) New York Institute of Technology faculty are finding innovative ways to support the regional coronavirus response, including a unique game of tag that has directly contributed critical personal protective equipment to area hospitals.

It started with Assistant Physics Professor Eve Armstrong, who heard in March about desperate PPE shortfalls directly from family in the medical profession and reached out to colleagues in the NYIT College of Arts and Sciences, who quickly inventoried available supplies on New York Tech’s Long Island and Manhattan campuses. Word spread fast to other NYIT schools and programs, and within weeks a donation-and-supply chain was established, funneling goggles, face shields, dozens of boxes of gloves and more to various hotspots, including Huntington Hospital and New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Armstrong’s husband, who works in the theater industry, even collected protective gear – including precious N95 respirator masks – used in set production by off-Broadway theatre company PunchDrunk NYC, while Armstrong personally delivered supplies to New York Presbyterian. “The looks on the ER doctors’ faces when they learned I had face shields … I believe I will remember those looks for the rest of my life,” the professor said. – GZ

 

Brookhaven Lab channels federal resources, LI expertise  

John Hill: BNL is pandemic central.

(April 6) A Long Island cornerstone of international brainpower and high-powered scientific collaboration, all fueled by the vast resources of the U.S. Department of Energy, is focusing its multifaceted might on the coronavirus pandemic.

The DOE’s national lab network is marshalling its expertise and other key resources in the battle against COVID-19, and that most definitely includes Brookhaven National Laboratory, where a “minimal staff” of scientists is combining “expertise across disciplines to address drug development, medical supplies, information processing and more,” according to a BNL statement issued Monday. Out in front: molecular-level studies to better understand COVID-19’s interactions with human cells and computational simulations designed to speed up the identification of potential vaccine candidates.

The laboratory is also serving as a clearing house for federal supplies moving through the pandemic pipeline, and exploring innovative options for 3D printing much-needed equipment like face shields and maybe even ventilators. “Brookhaven Lab has exceptional resources for addressing some of the most urgent scientific and logistical challenges of this pandemic,” noted John Hill, director of BNL’s National Synchrotron Light Source II, who chairs a workgroup coordinating the laboratory’s COVID-19 response. “The speed with which the entire scientific community is attacking this problem is amazing, and the whole lab, whether working off-site or on, is part of this effort.” – GZ

 

Toothy telehealth effort drills deep into proper oral hygiene

(April 6) DIY root canal? Not quite. But oral hygiene can’t take a break during the quasi-quarantine, so a regional dental practice is sinking its teeth into a pandemic-friendly telehealth effort.

ProHEALTH Dental, a Lake Success-based affiliate of the Mount Sinai Health System that networks offices throughout Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and Westchester, has launched a “teledentistry program” offering by-appointment consultations “to both existing and new patients.” While DDSes won’t be talking patients through complicated procedures, they will be available to answer questions about pain and numerous dental-related issues, and to refer patients as necessary to ProHEALTH Dental offices still open for emergencies in Lake Success, Huntington and elsewhere.

Bruce Valauri, the practice group’s chief dental officer, said lax oral hygiene – during the pandemic or anytime – dramatically increases the risk for serious chronic diseases including diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and more, plus of course a wide range of oral ailments, giving the by-appointment teledentistry sessions real bite. “Let’s use this unique opportunity to improve our oral health habits and keep ourselves and our families as healthy as possible,” Valauri said Monday. – GZ

 

Reinforcements arrive as numbers ‘shift’ to Long Island

Tsai of relief: Nets fans Clara and Joe, generous gifters.

(April 5) Much-needed emergency equipment and medical personnel bolstered the region this weekend, with 1,000 donated respirators and the first battalion of federally assigned medicos arriving in New York State.

The ventilators were among several coronavirus-related donations made recently by the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation, the private foundation started by Canadian billionaire Joseph Tsai, who co-founded Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and owns the Brooklyn Nets. The first 300-plus federalized doctors, nurses and respiratory technicians, meanwhile, were deployed Sunday in New York City, with another 700 expected this week – good news for the state’s overwhelmed hospitals, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, particularly with “a shift to Long Island” underway.

According to the NYS Department of Health, as of Sunday, Nassau County had 14,398 confirmed COVID-19 cases, second in the state to NYC (67,551). Suffolk County (12,405) was fourth statewide, trailing NYC, Nassau and Westchester County (13,723). But “new positive” cases – confirmed within the prior 24 hours – were rising fastest in NYC (4,245), Nassau (1,052) and Suffolk (1,035). “Upstate New York is basically flat,” Cuomo said Sunday. “And as Long Island grows, the percentage of cases in New York City has reduced.” – GZ

 

We are farmers: EEFI’s virtual market serves up solutions

(April 3) Noting “it’s more important than ever to know where your food comes from,” the East End Food Institute has organized a virtual farmer’s market with a two-pronged mission.

Job No. 1: Support local vendors with an online portal that facilitates farm-to-table sales and other direct-to-consumer marketing. The EEFI’s collaborative network of growers and other producers is making its wares available for pick-up (this afternoon at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus, more to come) and delivery (Wednesdays and Fridays, within the Town of Southampton for now), with new vendors and expanded delivery routes coming soon.

With an online menu of ready-to-go meals, craft beverages, snacks, desserts, pantry staples, condiments and more – including “additional items added by request” – the virtual farmer’s market, hosted by the EEFI via California merchant-services aggregator Square Inc., also addresses growing supply-chain concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, trumpeting the “clear origins” of its locally sourced products. Learn more here. – GZ

 

Wartime ‘warmline’ helps parents, caregivers lighten the lockdown

Joaniko Kohchi: Parental guidance suggested.

(April 2) Parents, caregivers and educators of young children have some very specific questions as the new world takes shape, and Adelphi University’s Institute for Parenting has answers.

The institute, designed to promote the mental health and wellbeing of young children and developing families, has dialed up a “warmline” to help caregivers nurture and educate young children, a challenge exponentially exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak. The warmline welcomes calls from parents and caregivers with non-emergency questions about adjustments, activities and how to talk to youngsters about all the recent changes, with callers invited to leave messages and specialists returning calls on Mondays and Thursdays.

“We responded to the coronavirus crisis by launching a community resource,” noted Institute for Parenting Director Joaniko Kohchi. “We are and will be available to support families as their together time extends and questions arise about development, social-emotional growth, age-appropriate communication, family dynamics, routines, transitions and adjustment to new patterns and places.” – GZ

 

IT ace, PR pro team up for free COVID-19 consults

Bill Corbett Jr.: Guiding light.

(April 1) A Farmingdale IT specialist and a Floral Park PR veteran are teaming up to offer free technology and communications consultations for small-business owners struggling through the economy-eating epidemic.

Sandwire Managed IT is offering no-cost, virtual review-and-strategy sessions focused on technology and connectivity, while the consultants at Corbett Public Relations are logging on for gratis PR stratagems, all focused on business during and after COVID-19. The 30-minute sessions, requiring no further obligations to either company, are both helpful to regional entrepreneurs and on-par with the sudden new world, according to Sandwire President Adam Schwam, who marveled that, “within a matter of weeks, [the United States] mobilized a remote workforce.”

“We want to assist businesses that still need guidance to work safely and remotely,” added Schwam, while Corbett PR President Bill Corbett predicted brighter days at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. “We will emerge from this crisis stronger than before,” Corbett said. “And will continue to move forward together as a community and as a nation.” – GZ

 

Kids’ clinic opens LI’s first pediatric-only COVID-19 swab sites 

(April 1) A major national provider of pediatric urgent care has opened two additional drive-up COVID-19 testing centers for pre-screened pediatric patients, including its first on Long Island.

Massapequa-based PM Pediatrics, which last week announced a dramatic expansion of its online telehealth services (see below), has opened drive-up COVID-19 testing centers in Manhasset and North Brunswick, NJ, adding them to drive-up pediatric testing sites already operating in New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Four more drive-ups (parents, ostensibly, should do the driving) are scheduled to open Thursday across the country, including Long Island’s second, in Selden.

Only patients who have been previously evaluated by PM Pediatrics specialists – either in person or via those ramped-up online services – are eligible for the drive-up tests. Nose swabs are taken in temporary parking lot tents at each location, with results reported in about four days. “While early anecdotal evidence points to children being less susceptible to severe COVID-19 illness, we still want to offer a test to children presenting the specific symptoms,” noted PM Pediatrics co-CEO Jeffrey Schor. “For those not presenting these symptoms, our PM Pediatrics Anywhere app can provide medical guidance and peace of mind, as well as keep children and their parents from visiting our offices unnecessarily.” – GZ

 

Vulnerable schmulnerable: Jefferson’s Ferry stuffs a bus

(March 31) Some of the pandemic’s “most-vulnerable” (also members of the Greatest Generation) have rolled up their sleeves to pitch in, collecting more than a quarter-ton of foodstuffs for the Island Harvest Food Bank.

During the first two weeks of March, residents of the Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket held a “Stuff a Buss” food drive, collecting 527 pounds of nonperishable food items for donation to, and distribution by, Hauppauge-based Island Harvest. The effort was keyed by resident Jan Parker, who stocked the Jefferson’s Ferry community’s on-campus Country Store with Island Harvest wish-list items, allowing community members to do their part without undue exposure to the rampaging coronavirus.

The “tremendous and immediate” response was deeply appreciated, according to a statement from Island Harvest, and not at all surprising, according to Jefferson’s Ferry President and CEO Robert Caulfield. “The enthusiasm of our residents and staff is matched by their generosity,” Caulfield said Monday. “Our residents are invested in the wellbeing of the Long Island community-at-large and eager to give back.” – GZ

 

Adelphi undergrads get ‘pass/no credit’ reprieve

Steve Everett: A for effort.

(March 31) The swift switch to distance learning has not been completely painless. The tumult will dent the GPAs of thousands of collegians – a real risk for the scholarship set, with failure a sudden option for many others.

Enter Adelphi University, which has adopted a “pass/no credit” grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester. The policy gives undergraduates the option of converting grades of C-minus or higher to “P” (for “pass”) and lower grades to “NC” (a “no credit” designation). Both switches spare the student’s grade point average, a critical consideration impacting financial aid, NCAA eligibility, graduate school applications, Dean’s List eligibility and much more.

Before submitting grade-change requests, students will consult with academic advisors and Adelphi’s Student Financial Services office for a better lay of the land. “This approach supports you in working to your highest potential, but does not penalize you with an ‘F’ if the sudden conversion to remote learning results in unexpected challenges,” noted Provost and Executive VP Steve Everett. – GZ

 

Already innovating, SBU seeds COVID-19 research

Richard Reeder: Shot in the arm for SBU innovators.

(March 31) Stony Brook University has established a $500,000 seed fund to kickstart university-based researchers and clinicians tackling the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 Seed Grant Program will stake a half-million-dollar’s worth of pandemic-related innovation, courtesy of SBU’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the university’s Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine. A straightforward application process is designed for a quick turnaround, with applications from tenured or tenure-track faculty (with exceptions) and full-time, non-tenure track faculty due by April 10.

Stony Brook staffers have already responded to the resources-devouring pandemic with 3D-printed masks and a new World Health Organization-approved hand sanitizer, shipped by the gallon to regional facilities (details below). “We’re seeing an unprecedented need for researchers across the country to provide innovative solutions to combat COVID-19,” noted SBU Vice President for Research Richard Reeder. “We want to do everything possible to support our outstanding researchers.” – GZ

 

Risk reward: Insurer feeds workforce at ‘front-line’ nursing homes

Geraldine DelPrete: The feast we could do.

(March 30) A top-40 national insurance brokerage with a long history of volunteerism and altruistic community support is picking up lunch for staffers at Long Island’s largest senior-care facilities – “front-line personnel” in the war against COVID-19, according to SterlingRisk Insurance.

The Woodbury-based firm has engaged “Lunch Is On Us,” a campaign delivering catered meals to employees of nursing homes and other senior facilities “keeping residents safe, comfortable and comforted during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to SterlingRisk. The longtime affinity-programs administrator – which has raised thousands for regional charities in recent years, primarily the American Heart Association – has already fed staffers at Roslyn’s Sunharbor Manor, Kings Park’s St. Johnland Nursing Center and Smithtown’s St. Catherine of Siena Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The moveable feast lands next at Jefferson’s Ferry of Centereach, with SterlingRisk now accepting suggestions for additional senior-living facilities worthy of a lunch break. “This is clearly an opportunity to mobilize and make a difference,” noted SterlingRisk Programs President Geraldine DelPrete. “In the best of times, our programs provide peace of mind to restaurant owners, mental health professionals and others who are now impacted by today’s events. We wanted to do more.” – GZ

 

Island law firms digitize their coronavirus response efforts

(March 30) From the When in Rome Department comes a bevy of Long Island lawyers generating online “resource centers” for coronavirus compliance and COVID-19 news.

Uniondale-based Rivkin Radler is the latest to wade in, announcing Monday its online Coronavirus Resource Center, a running log of news updates focused primarily on litigation and insurance issues. Rivkin Radler joins several Island firms creating online hubs specifically to inform clients about the virus and its fallout, including:

Myriad Long Island-based, non-law enterprises have also crafted webpages designed to help Islanders navigate the pandemic, including Stony Brook Medicine, accounting giant EisnerAmper – which maintains a busy Syosset office – and of course Northwell Health. – GZ

 

Smut site cleans up its act for livestreamed weddings

They do: Eyes up here, mister.

(March 28) A libidinous online broker of “discreet hookups” between “adult singles and swingers” is getting all dressed up, offering online wedding ceremonies for lovers who just can’t wait out the pandemic.

California-based AdultFriendFinder, an even-more-blunt Tinder with a coast-to-coast membership and a two-decade legacy of catering to the randy, has also done its share of full-frontal matchmaking, with “hundreds of our members [finding] their special someone and [tying] the knot,” according to the website. Now, with COVID-19 canceling ceremonies and celebrations across the land, the self-billed “world’s largest sex & swinger community” is dramatically redefining “camming,” reaching out to brides and grooms with this heartfelt message: “Don’t postpone your dream wedding.”

While a livestreamed ceremony and virtual reception on AdultFriendFinder is almost nobody’s idea of a dream wedding, the innovative pivot is undeniable. For more information on the wedding packages – including private channels for friends and family and public channels that invite the world to watch, all in “crisp 4K and 1080p” – come hither. – GZ

 

SBU chemists churn out WHO-approved hand sanitizer

There’s the rub: Shabnam Davoodi (left), Xinxin Yang and the Stony Brook University Chemistry Department’s homemade sanitizer.

(March 27) Multiple laboratories within Stony Brook University’s Department of Chemistry have united to produce a government-approved hand sanitizer from “raw health-grade materials,” with gallons of the rub already being bottled for frontline healthcare workers.

Manufactured with contributions from six different laboratories – including labs directed by SUNY Distinguished Professors Nicole Sampson, SBU’s dean of the sciences, and Peter Tonge, chairman of SBU’s Chemistry Department – the sanitizer, which adheres to World Health Organization protocols regarding reagents and bottling, is being packed into 4-liter containers and shared with staffers at both Stony Brook University Hospital and the Long Island State Veterans Home, located on the SBU campus.

“We are in a traumatic community emergency and people have come together and said, ‘We’re going to get this done,’” noted Interim Stony Brook University President Michael Bernstein. “It’s quite amazing.” – GZ

 

PSEG temporarily suspends nonpayment shut-offs

Ralph Izzo: PSEG doing what it can.

(March 27) Long Island’s primary electricity utility announced this week that, for the length of the coronavirus pandemic, it won’t turn off electricity for customers who don’t pay their bills.

In additional to keeping the lights on by ensuring key facilities are staffed and running, Public Service Electric Group, the New Jersey-based parent of PSEG Long Island, has taken several innovative actions in response to the health crisis and its widespread societal effects. Among them: new remote account-access tools for customers and a pair of $45,000 grants for Hauppauge’s Island Harvest Food Bank and the FoodBank of New Jersey.

On Thursday, PSEG President and CEO Ralph Izzo said the utility would further support customers by “suspending shut-offs for nonpayment” during the pandemic. “It’s more important than ever to find ways to send help to those in our communities who need it most,” Izzo said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that people are still able to charge their phones to call loved ones, stay warm and comfortable in their homes, and provide a hot meal for their families.” – GZ

 

Nassau IDA/Hofstra poll eyes pandemic’s economic impact

Richard Kessel: Playing past the pandemic.

(March 27) An online poll will attempt to determine the true effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the Nassau County business climate.

The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency is working with the county’s newly established Coronavirus Economic Advisory Council, led by Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz and Nassau IDA Chairman Richard Kessel, to “assess the countywide impact on both small and large businesses,” according to the IDA. The online poll – comprised of a “10-minute survey” with specific questions regarding operations, finances and employees – is being conducted now through April 1 by Hofstra University.

The idea is to “inform advocacy for economic relief,” according to the IDA, with data ultimately relayed to Albany and federal representatives – a unity-in-a-time-of-need effort with forward-thinking ambitions, according to Kessel. “Working together as a business community will be critical to our future success once the crisis subsides,” the IDA chairman noted. – GZ

 

Albany exploring additional emergency hospitals for LI, NYC

Bed and beyond: Lots more than linens.

(March 26) The need for additional hospital beds is rising, and Albany is scouting multiple downstate sites – including Long Island locations – for new emergency hospitals, in addition to facilities already planned for the Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury campuses.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that health officials were targeting new facilities by mid-April for each of New York City’s five boroughs and Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk counties, each ready for a “1,000-plus patient overflow.” The state is also preparing hotels and college dormitories for emergency “beds” – a catch-all phrase covering physical beds, critical-care equipment and trained staffers – and recruiting a 12,000-strong “surge healthcare force,” including retirees and medical students.

As of noon Thursday, New York had soared past 37,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases – eight times more than second-sickest New Jersey (about 4,400), with 3,914 cases in Nassau, 2,735 in Suffolk and regional hospitals crowding fast. “We are continuing to work aggressively to increase our state’s hospital capacity and flatten the curve,” Cuomo said. “Our top priority is finding more beds for patients and getting the ventilators we need to ensure our most vulnerable patients are being treated properly, and we are actively scouting new locations for temporary hospital sites.” – GZ

 

As layoffs pile on, a Long Island job board rises

(March 26) As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the job market, the self-billed “most popular website destination” for all things Long Island is leveraging its popularity for an employment-focused coronavirus countermeasure.

LongIsland.com on Thursday flipped the switch on a free job-listings board designed to connect out-of-work Islanders with much-needed job opportunities. The help-wanted page features customizable searches (by company, industry, job type, location and other factors), along with functions that allow registered users to submit résumés directly to employers, or upload their CV into a database for hiring agents on the hunt.

“LongIsland.com is a resource for the community in both good and challenging times, and now is certainly a challenging time,” noted LongIsland.com Publisher Andrew Hazen. “We want to support Long Islanders and Long Island businesses in every way we can.” – GZ

 

High-tech heart bus sets house calls for LI cardiac patients

Roll with it: A mobile cardiac unit will help monitor LI heart patients during the pandemic.

(March 26) A Long Island cardiovascular team known for its mobility is scheduling house calls to help keep Island cardiac patients safe and sound during the quasi-quarantine.

New Hyde Park-based Advanced Cardiac Diagnostics provides on-site cardiac testing aboard its 40-foot mobile unit, a bright blue, tech-stocked bus that regularly visits police departments, churches and large corporations. Now, the bus – capable of administering lab tests, EKGs, echocardiograms, carotid studies, stress tests and more to up to six patients simultaneously – is adding at-home, by-appointment stops to its itinerary, first on Long Island and eventually around the entire state.

“Everyone is worried about coronavirus, but heart attacks remain the No. 1 cause of death in America,” noted Perry Frankel, a board-certified cardiologist and founder of Advanced Cardiac Diagnostics. “A heart attack occurs in the [United States] every 42 seconds. Those people can’t wait for coronavirus to pass to see a doctor – and we can’t risk them becoming patients for coronavirus themselves.” – GZ

 

Student Emergency Fund pulls together at New York Tech

(March 25) Even tomorrow’s professionals – today’s college students – are feeling the pandemic’s financial pinch, and the New York Institute of Technology is responding.

New York Tech has created a new Student Emergency Fund for students who subsist on financial aid and part-time jobs – income directly threatened, if not outright eliminated, by the coronavirus outbreak. Already stepping up are the school’s two American Association of University Professors chapters (which collectively donated $50,000) and New York Tech’s annual Big Give marathon fundraiser (which will be held virtually April 1, but is channeling donations made before the actual event straight into the Student Emergency Fund).

The fund is more than a token effort, notes New York Tech, which calculates that 98 percent of its student body receives financial aid and/or works at least part-time. “Thanks to the New York Tech community’s generosity, resiliency and dedication, we will get through this together,” noted New York Tech President Hank Foley. “We will not let this pandemic prevent our students from becoming the doers, makers, innovators and healers who are tackling today’s challenges and reinventing the future.” – GZ

 

Cradle of Aviation Museum spreads its virtual wings

Put your helmet on: Ground control to “Educator Tom,” Cradle of Aviation TikTok sensation.

(March 25) A little thing like the global shutdown of human society won’t stop the Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center from reaching new heights.

In fact, the Garden City-based historical hub – on a continuing mission to “collect, preserve and interpret Long Island’s rich aerospace heritage” and inspire future generations of scientists and technologists – is boldly going where it’s only kinda gone before, with a dramatic expansion of its online offerings. Remote learning sessions, 360-degree virtual tours and a smorgasbord of at-home activities stand ready, all designed to keep minds – especially young minds – reaching toward the future, according to Catherine Gonzalez, the museum’s director of education.

“Learning takes place beyond the four walls of a classroom,” Gonzalez said. “It can be fun and exciting in any environment. During this time, when families are learning at home … we look forward to being a free resource for our community, and to bringing STEM to everyone.” – GZ

 

Regional SBDCs funneling state, federal small-biz resources

Martha Stansbury: Resourceful.

(March 25) The U.S. Small Business Administration is stepping up its local coronavirus countermeasures, with the Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College Small Business Development Centers standing by to assist entrepreneurs and early-stage enterprises.

The SBA has made information on a host of small-business resources – including the administration’s Coronavirus Economic Injury Disaster Loan, state employee-retention grants and more – available here, along with virtual-appointment scheduling with the Stony Brook and Farmingdale State SBDCs.

“America’s SBA’s slogan right now is, ‘Keep Calm and Small Business On,’” Stony Brook SBDC Administrator Martha Stansbury told Innovate LI. “A lot of businesses are hurting right now with the lack of revenue, and this is where we come in – providing information about the resources that are available to them.” – GZ

 

Networking moves online with ‘Virtual Breakfast Club’

Hilary Topper: Bring your own bagel.

(March 24) A self-made stalwart of Long Island marketing is embracing re-invention in the Age of Coronavirus, and inviting Long Island’s networking-deprived business professionals along for the virtual ride.

The Virtual Networking Breakfast Club – brainchild of marketer, author, blogger and adjunct Hofstra University Professor Hilary Topper, also the founder of Long Beach-based HJMT Public Relations – is scheduled to kick off March 26 via videoconferencing platform Zoom (advanced registration required). Featuring short business pitches and tons of social-distancing-appropriate interaction, the weekly, members-only gatherings will help regional professionals “connect with others, share concerns and brainstorm ideas on how to stay relevant,” according to Topper, author of “Branding in a Digital World” (2019, iUniverse).

“I think that it’s more important now than ever before to stay connected with the business community,” Topper told Innovate LI. “Everyone is isolated and concerned about the future of their business. This is a way for people to … get advice from other businesspeople who are going through the same thing.” – GZ

 

With protective gear dwindling, SBU jumpstarts 3D printing

Charlie McMahon: Happy to help.

(March 24) Supplies of personal protective gear – the masks, gloves, etc. keeping healthcare professionals safe as they battle the pandemic – are running low, and an innovative Stony Brook University program is heeding the call.

Part of SBU’s Division of Information Technology, the iCREATE laboratory provides the tools (and reinforces the ideology) necessary for collaboration, with the ultimate goal of “redefining technological boundaries.” The lab is now focusing its 3D-printing resources on manufacturing much-needed face shields for the medicos on COVID-19’s front lines, with enough materials on-hand to produce 800 “medically compliant” masks – reviewed and approved by Stony Brook University Hospital experts – and plans to acquire the necessary materials for about 4,000 more.

“We are doing something positive to protect the health of the medical professionals that are helping the community,” noted SBU Interim Senior Vice President and Enterprise CIO Charlie McMahon. “Being able to be a part of keeping our medical professionals safer is a really good feeling.” – GZ

 

PM Pediatrics deploys new kids online options

Jeffrey Schor: House calls.

(March 24) The self-billed nation’s largest provider of pediatric urgent care has dramatically expanded its telehealth services.

New Hyde Park-based PM Pediatrics – which boasts 55 total offices across 13 states, including eight on Long Island – has extended its telemedicine program to include its entire coverage area, adding new online options in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other regions. The practice group, which last month launched an ambitious pilot program offering in-depth telehealth diagnoses and treatment options in real time, says it rolled out the new digital services in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 10,000 parents have signed up for the telehealth services since March 1, according to PM Pediatrics, which treats roughly 175 daily patients – a number that spiked closer to 280 per day this past weekend. “Many patients don’t need to come in but do need to be evaluated,” Jeffrey Schor, co-CEO of PM Pediatrics, said Tuesday. “For people who can or want to avoid coming into an office, it’s an effective option, especially when people are practicing social distancing.” – GZ

 

Suffolk wellness group expands ‘tele-mental health’ services

(March 23) The Association for Mental Health and Wellness, the Suffolk County chapter of both Mental Health America and the Mental Health Association of New York State, is steadily transitioning its menu of services to “tele-mental health platforms.”

In a world suddenly filled with frightening messages and “the negative effects of social isolation,” the MHAW is expanding the hours of operation of its Peer Support Line and Healing Connections Peer Support Group, both available to all Suffolk County residents and staffed by trained specialists.

The Ronkonkoma-based association is also planning additional online group sessions, including virtual meetings facilitated by its Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project. – GZ

 

Long Island media consultant reaches out to small business

Ian Busching: Options for small businesses.

(March 23) From the Department of Pulling Together comes an Oyster Bay-based small business with a plan to help other small businesses weather the coronavirus crunch.

Dig Down Media, a content specialist and media-solutions provider located in the Village of Sea Cliff, announced March 23 it will provide free online training, no-charge one-on-consultations and other gratis, customized technology resources to business owners with fewer than 50 employees, to help them “transition to remote operations, open new revenue streams and continue employee payroll.” The free-for-some is scheduled to kick off with “Remote Work and Productivity Solutions,” a webinar slated for March 26.

“Small and family-run businesses are disproportionately affected by shutdowns and social distancing,” Dig Down Media CEO Ian Busching said in a statement. “Many business owners don’t know they have options. We provide practical advice companies can start using today to help get back on track.” – GZ

 

SBU ramps up employee online wellness programs

Joshua Hendrickson: Everything on the line.

(March 23) Stony Brook University’s Healthier U – a preventative-health program designed specifically for the university community – is planning daily “wellness programming” sessions for SBU employees, to be livestreamed via Facebook.

A team led by Stony Brook alum Joshua Hendrickson, an adjunct professor of social welfare and licensed clinical social worker who earned his PhD in philosophy from Saybrook University, will lead 30-minute sessions focused on meditation, nutrition and stress reduction. Daily programs, beginning at 3 p.m., are scheduled now through April 10 and “possibly longer,” according to SBU.

“We hope the streaming programming provides some comfort and stress relief for the healthcare providers and support staff at our hospital who are working around the clock to save lives and keep us all safe,” noted Healthier U Director Cathrine Duffy. “We also want to forge connections and a sense of community wellbeing to all staff now working remotely.” – GZ

 

 


1 Comment on "Innovation in the Age of Coronavirus"

  1. FYI, bats are not ‘flying rodents.’ Instead, bats are in a different order of mammals called Chiroptera. The ancestor of bats separated from the ancestor of rodents before the time when dinosaurs went extinct.

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