It was all hands on deck Monday night at a meeting to discuss preparations for a possible public health crisis with coronavirus.
Present at the EMS headquarters on Manwaring Road were first responders from the Police and Fire departments, the Emergency Medical Services personnel, school representatives, Supervisor Gerry Siller, Senior Services Director Laurie Fanelli and Town Nutrition Program coordinator Karin Bennett.
The discussion focused on facts and retraining required on a regular basis, not only because of the coronavirus, but to treat anyone ill on the Island and to protect themselves, other workers, their families and anyone they might encounter following an emergency response.
“The town has a plan,” said Police Chief Jim Read, the town’s emergency management coordinator.
The chief said earlier in the day his main line of communication on the coronavirus is the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, but his information has also come from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the state and federal governments.
“We’re going to be the ones in the trenches,” EMS Director and Police Detective Sergeant Jack Thilberg told more than 30 men and women who attended the more than three-hour session.
School Nurse Mary Kanarvogel wanted to get the word out not to panic about coronavirus, and that many who contract it may not suffer more than they would with a cold or flu, and some may not have any symptoms.
The alarm about the virus may be a result of information that was slow to come out of China when the outbreak first began. Cases being reported now in the United States may have existed for weeks, but been undetected because people thought they had a cold or flu and there was no testing until the past week for the coronavirus.
Reports of deaths are frightening, Ms. Kanarvogel added, but she explained that many more people die from the flu when it complicates other pre-existing conditions. It’s why seniors — people 65 and older — who suffer from heart and respiratory illnesses and diabetes are more likely to face more serious cases of the coronavirus.
Ms. Fanelli said she’s spoken to seniors whose concern seems to be mild. She shared with them the importance of not assuming any illness is the coronavirus, which generally brings symptoms of a fever and difficulty breathing. After discovering there were some who didn’t have thermometers in their homes, she was able to get about 25 from the Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy and distribute them.
Shelter Island Heights pharmacist Suzanne Fujita said while masks and hand sanitizers were being bought up, customers have been relatively relaxed about the coronavirus. Some have asked about refilling prescription medicines early. But insurance companies don’t allow payment for early refills, she said.
Ms. Fujita pointed to statements Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been making, acknowledging there will be cases in New York, but urging people not to panic. His calm demeanor made her feel confident, she said, and she urges others to listen to the governor on YouTube, saying it should help quiet their fears.
Last weekend, there were signs of panic off-Island, Ms. Fanelli said. She had visited a supermarket on the South Fork to find people buying up food as though a blizzard were imminent. She was told one person had left with a basket of food that totaled $1,200.
Chief Read confirmed there appears to be no need for people to stock up like that. Islanders seem to be heeding his advice.
As of this writing, there have been six confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York State. There are others being tested. Suffolk County has no confirmed cases to date, but there are people being tested.
Children generally seem not to be catching the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean school officials are ignoring the issue, because they know families are concerned. Classroom cleaning that has always been done is now happening every night to ensure rooms are free of any types of germs that could lead to infections.
The school hasn’t had an outbreak of flu, Ms. Kanarvogel said, although she isn’t dismissing the reality that it could still hit. She and Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., have been communicating with each another about protocols for planning in the event of any coronavirus outbreak. Capital Region BOCES has provided a two-page sheet of advice to guide school officials.
BOCES suggests supplies not be shared among students, among other precautions.
Not wanting to alarm people, Mr. Doelger hesitated last week to send a letter to parents, but over the weekend, he and Ms. Kanarvogel concluded it needed to be sent and it went to families Monday.
The letter assured them there have been no cases in the district and school officials are working with town officials and would continue to monitor the latest information and respond to any advice that might be needed should the situation change.
Mr. Doelger offered a coronavirus hotline that had been mentioned at Monday night’s meeting of first responders so parents could call with any questions or concerns. That number is 888-364-3065.
Both emphasized the same message: There is no reason for panic, while it’s important to take the precautionary steps to protect yourself and others.
• If you feel ill, stay home.
• Take your temperature. If you don’t have a fever, you have a cold, so rest and drink liquids until you feel better. If you have a fever and have difficulty breathing, call your doctor to determine if it’s flu or coronavirus.
• Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. The droplets from a sneeze or cough can infect you if you touch a shopping cart or any surface an infected person may have used. It takes a good 20 seconds of handwashing on each part of your hands to scrub them properly.
• Avoid touching your face — especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Even if you use a hand sanitizer, it doesn’t replace handwashing. Wipe surfaces with an industrial-strength Lysol or similar product.
• Don’t shake hands or hug people.
• If you sneeze or cough, use a tissue and if you can’t, use the crook of your arm to contain any droplets. Don’t hesitate to tell others to do the same.
The town Medical Center remains closed as renovations are taking place. In the meantime, Stony Brook is advising patients to use doctors at its Sag Harbor site at 3330 Noyac Road, Burkeshire Plaza, Building A. The telephone number there is 631-725-2112.