Since just one week ago, the coronavirus crisis has rapidly spread in Suffolk County and New York. The number of confirmed cases has exceeded 1,000 in the state, with many more people suspected of carrying the disease. It is fair to say that American life has changed drastically in ways that seemed unimaginable only weeks ago. Although the stories may be alarming, I would like to reiterate my message from last week: We do not need to panic. Suffolk County and New York State are taking actions to help limit the spread of the disease. And if we all take sensible measures to help limit the spread of the virus, then we can protect our vulnerable populations.
Earlier this week, County Executive Bellone ordered the closure of all K-12 schools for the next two weeks. We know that COVID-19 has been relatively unharmful to kids. While that is something to be thankful for, it does not mean that children cannot carry the virus. In fact, many children and young adults can carry the disease without displaying any symptoms at all. During that time, they can unknowingly spread the virus to older people or people with underlying health conditions that are more susceptible to its effects. Closing schools, which can be a hotbed for the disease to spread, can be very effective at limiting the number of infected people.
New York State has also instituted restrictions on many public gathering places. The governor ordered that all gyms, movie theaters, casinos and racetracks be closed. He also ordered that all restaurants close their dining rooms to the public and remain open only for delivery and takeout meals. Furthermore, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, he ordered that all gatherings with 50 persons or more be canceled or delayed for at least the next eight weeks. News reports from Europe and Asia make the cost of inaction clear. Curbing the spread of the disease so that it does not overwhelm our health care system is critical.
While testing has been limited, the state is actively working to greatly expand our capacity, with drive-thru testing centers to come online soon. If you have symptoms and would like to be tested, the state has established a hotline where trained health department professionals will screen callers and issue appointments when appropriate. That hotline number is 1-888-364-3064.
At the Suffolk County Legislature, we are taking every precaution, including deeper cleanings of legislative buildings and offices; limiting use of the legislative buildings and conference rooms; making hand sanitizer widely available; and postponing nonessential meetings of ad-hoc committees, task forces, panels and the like through April 30. Regular General Meetings and Committee Meetings of the Legislature will be held as scheduled; however, we are trying to minimize the number of people coming.
We postponed presentations and the distribution of proclamations at our General Meeting held on March 17. In accordance with the governor’s executive order, I also suspended the public portion and postponed all public hearings until April 28. The Legislature must convene because Suffolk County must continue its day-to-day operations, but it is just not worth the risk to have members of the public sitting in close quarters and speaking into the same microphones when there are numerous ways to participate in the legislative process from home by watching our livestream and submitting testimony in writing.
We are reminding those who wish to comment on any matter that they always have the option of sending their testimony in writing. The testimony will be distributed to legislators and added to the record. Testimony may be emailed to clerk. firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the attention of the Clerk’s Office at the Suffolk County Legislature, William H. Rogers Building, 725 Veterans Memorial Highway, Smithtown, NY 11787.
Gov. Cuomo has ordered that all state and local governments reduce on-site staff by 50 percent in order to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. To that end, I have reduced my staff’s presence at my district office for the time being. My office will remain open, with one person present Monday through Friday during business hours, while everyone else works from home. I ask the public to try to limit in-person visits if possible. My office can be reached by phone at 631-854-1400.
These are difficult and unprecedented times for our country. It is important that each and every one of us takes measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That means practicing social-distancing measures meant to protect our health. Avoid large crowds and unnecessary interaction with others. If you must conduct in-person meetings, avoid shaking hands and keep distance from others. Wash your hands often and thoroughly. Finally, if you feel sick, stay home. If we each take sensible measures, we can reduce the rate of transmission and give our health care system the relief it needs.
Information on the coronavirus and its effects is changing rapidly. I will be posting regular updates on my Facebook page. I would also encourage everyone to visit the Suffolk County Health Department’s website at www.suffolkcountyny.gov/health and the CDC at www.coronavirus.gov for the most accurate and up-to-date information available.