EDITORIAL

Calarco: A call for vigilance as society reopens

Rob Calarco, Suffolk County Presiding Officer
Posted 6/4/20

After Memorial Day, the unofficial onset of the summer sea- son, the island seems to come to life. The air is filled with the sounds of ice cream trucks and bicycles hitting the pavement. We are …

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EDITORIAL

Calarco: A call for vigilance as society reopens

Posted

After Memorial Day, the unofficial onset of the summer sea- son, the island seems to come to life. The air is filled with the sounds of ice cream trucks and bicycles hitting the pavement. We are beckoned by the shores of our beaches and trails of our parks. The sun seems to shine a little brighter; lawns seem a more vibrant shade of green.

This year, as we feel the start of summer upon us, we are also experiencing a restart of something else – our economy. After nearly three months of stay-at-home orders, closures of businesses and schools, and a transformation of our everyday lives, we are starting the process of reopening society. New York State has laid out a plan for reopening, one that balances our duty to protect public health with the needs to get people back to work and restore some sense of normalcy.

The plan relaxes “New York State on Pause” mitigation efforts in four phases. More and more businesses will open in each phase, with industries that pose the lowest risk of infection opening first. We expect there will be about two weeks between each phase to allow officials to monitor the effects of reopening and ensure we are not seeing a resurgence of the virus.

Long Island entered Phase 1 of reopening on May 27, joining all New York regions except New York City. Phase 1 allows for the reopening of construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and retail limited to curbside or in-store pickup or drop-off. Additionally, dentists were able to reopen starting June 1, subject to state guidance on best practices for safety and social distancing. Also as of June 1, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles resumed limited remote services such as processing vehicle registrations.

A region’s eligibility for reopening is determined by health metrics. For Phase 1, those metrics include a decline in hospitalizations and deaths, availability of ICU beds, and increased testing. Another metric to enter Phase 1 is employing an adequate number of contact tracers, who help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by identifying and notifying people who may have been exposed to the virus. For Long Island to reopen, both Suffolk and Nassau counties were required to have 30 tracers for every 100,000 residents, depending on the infection rate. I am proud to say a couple dozen Suffolk County Legislature employees heeded the call to be trained as contact tracers to help our region meet the required metrics. Government work at its core is about serving the public, and this is just one of many ways county employees have been pitching in to help their communities navigate this crisis.

Phase 2 will allow all office-based jobs, real estate services, retail in-store shopping, vehicle sales, and limited barbershop and hair salon services to resume. It will be a momentous change given the broad categories of office-based jobs and retail.

In Phase 3, restaurants and other food-service businesses will be allowed to reopen for dine-in service. Around this time, the DMV expects to start resuming road tests for all drivers and begin offering limited in-person transactions by reservation only. The final phase, Phase 4, will see arts, entertainment, and recreation businesses back open as well as schools.

Reopening, however, does not mean business as usual. For now, each industry is subject to specific state guidelines put in place to maximize safety and social distancing. Before reopening, all businesses must read the guidelines for their industry and submit an affirmation. The state’s “NY Forward” website, https://forward.ny.gov/, has information about the different phases, summaries of guidelines, a business affirmation link, and a printable safety template. Additionally, businesses can use the look-up tool at www.businessexpress.ny.gov/app/nyforward  to determine if they are allowed to be open and what restrictions are in place.

Changes are also on the horizon for the Suffolk County Legislature, which has been meeting and taking votes remotely for the last two months as allowed by executive order of the Governor. While our Hauppauge building has remained closed to the public for everyone’s safety, we have had to suspend the part of our meetings called the “public portion,” which allows for speakers to address legislators on any topic they wish. Fortunately, we have been able to continue holding public hearings through Zoom, allowing members of the public to share their input on specific proposed local laws.

I am excited to announce that we will resume holding a public portion at our next general meeting on June 9 through Zoom. This will give members of the public the chance to speak on any topic, not only those in public hearing. Those interested can sign up to speak at www.scnylegislature.us/publicportion. We will continue to welcome public hearing speakers at www. scnylegislature.us/publichearing. Looking forward, we hope to hold our next round of legislative committee meetings from June 15-18 in person in our legislative auditorium, and we are developing a strategy to resume all meetings safely in person under the “new normal.”

I must emphasize that spreading the virus is still a concern, and therefore it is critical that we all follow the guidelines set forth by the state. The number of cases may be dramatically reduced, but that does not mean the virus is gone, and if we are not careful we could find ourselves right back where we started.

We have made tremendous progress, and our vigilance is why we are able to start reopening. Now is not the time to let up.

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