The Town Board held its weekly informational meeting Friday on the community’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. It’s been six weeks since school has been closed, town offices have been open only by phone or email, and most businesses have been shuttered.
There’s been no change in two weeks on the health front, with Police Chief Jim Read, who is the town’s emergency response coordinator, reporting that the grim numbers for Shelter Island have remained the same: eight confirmed cases, with five cases presently “active,” two deaths and one person cleared of the disease.
The county lists six cases for the Island, the chief said, but the town’s number of eight is accurate. This could be due to the county being overloaded with conflicting information, he added.
Friday’s meeting had some special guests, with seven members of the school’s senior class joining to give brief assessments of the final months of their school career spent “distant” learning and remaining mostly at home.
But first, Chief Read gave some updates on spring and summer events that are under review with town officials and event organizers. No decision has been made on Memorial Day services, the 10K Race, the Antique Car Show, the fireworks display, and the Great Peconic Race, which the chief said would likely be run on July 18. The Farmer’s Market will open as planned on June 6, as well as the July 23 blood drive.
The chief said that Island beaches are open, but advised everyone to keep strict social distance procedures and have masks ready when that’s not possible. He said the police department had fielded complaints about groups of up to five people congregating together, but said they were families who all lived in the same house.
There had been complaints, Chief Read said, about parking on the east side of Route 114 near Mashomack, and additional signs will be placed there making that stretch a no-parking zone.
The chief, along with Supervisor Gerry Siller ,again noted that the free beach passes for residents — stickers for cars — are due this year and to contact the Town Clerk’s office.
By next week, Plexiglas partitions will be installed at town offices to protect employees and visitors when Town Hall will be open to the public.
The Medical Center is still scheduled to open on May 15; Dr. Peter Kelt has office hours in the building. The Center way be a venue for COVID-19 testing, Chief Read said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that pharmacies across the state might be used as testing sites, but there have been discussions with the owners of the pharmacy and it might be a better solution to have tests done at the Medical Center.
Councilman Mike Bebon urged all Islanders to provide information to the national census. Since the census doesn’t mail forms to post office boxes — the only available mail delivery on the Island — Mr. Bebon advised filing online or over the phone. He stressed the importance that Shelter Island’s population be counted, since federal funds, along with state and local representation, depends on an accurate count of the population.
The Island has “lagged” behind, Mr. Bebon said, noting that the response rate in the state has been 48.5%; the 1st Congressional District has been 48.7%; but Shelter Island’s response has been 5.9%.
Online or over the phone filing takes about 15 minutes, the councilman said, and only one member of each household is required to submit information. To file online, go to my2020census.gov and for phone submissions call 844-330-2020 for English speakers and 844-468-2020 for Spanish speakers.
Census takers will be on the Island going door-to-door, but that will no be until later in the summer.
School and seniors
Superintendent of Schools Brian Doelger Ed.D. noted the report from the governor’s office early Friday that all schools will be closed for 2019-2020 school year and the August Regents examinations have been cancelled.
Plans for graduation ceremonies have not been finalized, Mr. Doelger said, with the possibilities of a virtual graduation, or a live ceremony on a field with social distancing. Timing was also up in the air, he added, with possibilities that the ceremony could be “in June or August or next Christmas.”
The superintendent then introduced the seven seniors and asked them to speak about losing the last few months of their high school careers.
Emma Gallagher, class president and valedictorian, had high praise for her teachers, and said that the school closure and distant learning had brought her closer to them.
“It’s hard,” Ms. Gallagher said, “but we have a strong community. After all of this is done, we’ll be closer.”
Henry Binder said the school closing had been difficult in some ways, but he praised the decision “to stop the spread and protect people.” Overall, he thought he and most people “were doing a good job adjusting.”
The community’s reaction has been “amazing,” Abby Kotula said. She was also pleased to see how “the teacher really care. They’ve kept me going last few weeks.” She advised everyone to get out of the house as much as they can and enjoy the beauty of the Island. “Sit in the grass. Stare at the sky.”
Appreciating what you have is also on Lyng Coyne’s agenda. The class salutatorian advised her fellow Islanders to, “Enjoy life. Enjoy the moments,” and expressed gratitude to her community and teachers, noting it was “incredible how they’ve helped us.”
Audrey Wood told the gathering that she was not doing “great,” and has been “struggling through this.” But her family has been “very supportive,” and so have her teachers.
Helping her through the period of isolation are “seeing my chickens, and cats and family.”
Lauren Gurney also expressed the difficulties of losing the last months of school, and especially playing the sport she loves, softball, because all school sports have been canceled. “It’s been tough,” but she’s staying positive, she said, and advised everyone to “stay safe and keep being positive.”
Ms. Coyne and Ms. Gallagher had a bit of fun poked at them by classmate Lucas Quigley-Dunning, who said “he was offended” that they had not credited him with achieving their high academic honors after he had “helped them with all the work.
Mr. Quigley-Dunning said it “was awesome to live on Shelter Island,” and to have “real relationships” with teachers and classmates.
Board members and Mr. Doleger praised the students for their dedication and spirit. Chief Read said he understood the difficulties they had to face, and that it was not easy “making decisions to close places down.” He congratulated them and asked that if they, or any community member “need anything, please ask.”