At last Fridays informational meeting held by the Town Board the motto was: “Don’t let our guards down.”
Those words were spoken again at Tuesday’s meeting by Police Chief Jim Read, the town’s emergency management coordinator, referencing the Island’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Along with the two men who have died from the illness, there has been only one other confirmed case of the virus so far, and that person has recovered, the chief said.
Dr. Frank Adipietro, the medical director of the Island’s Emergency Medical Services, joined the discussion, and said the low number of cases of COVID-19 here, compared to spiking numbers of infected people in surrounding communities, was due to Islanders taking instructions about social distancing to heart.
Dr. Adipietro urged Islanders to keep reminding themselves and others about safe practices, including wearing masks in public. “We’re making headway,” the doctor said, and town officials and Island residents “should be congratulated. Folks are rowing in the same direction in this catastrophe.”
Chief Read noted that all first responders are wearing masks on calls.
He reiterated his call for Islanders who have symptoms or have been tested for the coronavirus to contact him at 631-749-0600, or Dr. Adipietro at 631-477-5353. This is so ambulance crews and other first responders will be aware that someone in the residence is infected with the illness, and they can then put on appropriate protective gear.
The chief said recently a call came for assistance from a “COVID-19 house” and police officers suited up in protective suits, masks and footwear “to help someone off the floor.” Without knowledge that someone in the house was infected, the officers and EMS personnel would have risked exposure.
Chief Read said Islanders should strive to follow the Centers for Disease Control recommendations and wear “homemade face coverings” when in public, rather than go online to purchase masks that must be preserved for first responders and health care professionals.
The town had originally requested that people arriving from the New York metropolitan area self-quarantine for 14 days. But that request has been changed to anyone who is arriving on the Island from anywhere, including renters and all second-homeowners. It was mentioned that Florida is a “hotspot” for the virus, and Islanders returning from there should also self-quarantine when they get home.
There had been a question about the town’s authority to enforce the self-quarantine rules. A sign at North Ferry says: “By Order of the Town of Shelter Island.” But there has been no resolution by the Town Board to that effect, and Supervisor Gerry Siller made it clear that town is requesting that people comply.
However, the town will enforce other regulations, which have come from the state.
A phone number has been provided for residents to file complaints about businesses that have been designated by the state as nonessential but are still in operation. The same number can be called to report gatherings of people who are “congregating despite social distancing protocols,” according to the town’s Public Information Officer Jack Thilberg.
The number to call to report violations is 1-833-789-0470.
That number will connect callers to the New York State PAUSE Enforcement Assistance Task Force, which defines essential and nonessential businesses during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Fines to violators of the state order of operating a nonessential businesses after receiving a stop work order are $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for subsequent offenses.
The confusion over what the state has designated as an “essential” business, meaning what can stay operational, particularly when the edict pertains to the construction industry, was again defined by Mr. Siller. All construction, except for infrastructure projects, is shut down, except where there is a single person working at a job site. Landscaping maintenance and pest control are “deemed essential,” Mr. Siller said, as well as the real estate business. The supervisor noted that realtors should be responsible and notify clients that, if they come to the Island to look at properties, they will be subject to the 14-day quarantine rule and should work online with the real estate professional.
The rules from the state seem to change regularly, so Mr. Siller advised patience, noting that it was up to the state, and not the town, to regulate the businesses. One builder asked to complete the foundation on a job site because it was a necessary safety precaution and Mr. Siller said the town had allowed the work to continue.
Dr. Peter Kelt is seeing patients at the Medical Center on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 am. to 4 p.m., Mr. Siller said. The doctor is seeing his regular patients and some new ones, but is not administering any tests for the virus, which had been announced previously by the Town Board.
Dr. Kelt had been working with a nurse practitioner who has since been transferred to a Riverhead drive-through testing site. The doctor is waiting for his paperwork to clear on insurance matters and is seeing Medicare and Medicaid patients, and others for a “nominal fee,” Mr. Siller said. For the time being, he added, there will be no medical professional at the Center when Dr. Kelt is not in and there was no date certain when the Medical Center will be fully staffed.
A physician assistant is available for house calls (see story page XX).
Drive-through testing is by appointment only and available at Stony Brook University and in Riverhead at 1149 Old Country Road. If you have symptoms of the virus (high fever, dry cough), call 1-888-364-3065 for Stony Brook, and for Riverhead, phone 516-874-0411. First responders will have preferred scheduling.
Dr. Adipietro asked residents to have common sense when dealing with people walking in a group. He cited instances where people had shouted at others over social distancing rules, when most likely the small group was a family.
Mr. Siller also mentioned that the pandemic and the new normal of self-isolation was taking its toll on some residents. Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams had mentioned that there were examples of this at the hardware store, an essential business, where the aisles are narrow and it’s sometimes difficult to maintain social distancing of 6 feet of separation. Mr. Siller said that the store’s employees were dealing with stress like everyone else and advised: “Be kind. Be a family.”
Chief Read also acknowledged that people were showing signs of strain. Personnel at police headquarters were sometimes “edgy,” he said, and ferry employees were not immune from feeling stress and showing it.
By state order, school will be closed until at least April 29, Superintendent of Schools Brian Doelger, Ed.D. said. State regents examinations have been cancelled and the state’s teacher performance reviews have also been cancelled.
The distant learning program is working well, Mr. Doelger said, even if at times it can be a strain on students and parents, and the food delivery system to students’ homes was performing well.
Two school classrooms will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for day care for parents working in essential services. This category includes first responders, healthcare employees, people in the food industry and others.
It is by appointment only, and for more information, call the school at 631-749-0302.
Next week the school is instituting “family spirit” programs, including a request to send photos to Jacqueline Dunning, secretary to the superintendent, at [email protected] and she will post them on the school’s Facebook page.