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Town Board highlights COVID-19 precautions: Numbers here higher than county reports show

The autumn surge in the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt on Shelter Island, with town officials taking immediate and strict measures.

All public Town Hall meetings, which went totally virtual in March and then had allowed a limited number of people to attend in person, is now back to no in-person sessions. Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session that only Zoom access is available to those who wish to monitor and/or participate in a meeting.

It’s unclear exactly how many cases Shelter Island has seen. But Police Chief Jim Read said recently that numbers of those infected on Shelter Island have lagged behind those released by the county, and a rise in cases “is being seen here.”

The County Health Department, the chief has said, uses the home address given by those who test positive, which can be an Island address, or someone who is here but has a home address somewhere else.

As of Wednesday morning, the county has listed 14 cases on the Island. But Ms. Brach-Williams said her conversations with Chief Read seem to indicate that there could be 19 or 20 cases since the pandemic struck.

Early on, it was estimated that 0.5% of Islanders had become ill, but the number could be 2.5% or even a little more than 3% overall.

The new measures to keep people safe requires anyone who needs to come to Town Hall for any purpose must make an appointment and will be asked to fill a form indicating their health status at the time of the visit; who whey are meeting at Town Hall; and when the meeting takes place. In that way, if there is an outbreak stemming from Town Hall visits, people will be notified so they can be tested.

This isn’t meant to replace the tracking being done by the county, Ms. Brach-Williams said. But it would be a help for residents to know sooner rather than later if they have been exposed.

Dr. Joshua Potter is administering COVID-19 tests on Wednesdays at the Medical Center, but patients must make an appointment.

In other news on the pandemic, a small cluster of COVID-19 cases have been tied to employees at the Riverhead Friendly’s and officials are urging anyone who may have been at the restaurant on Nov. 5-6 to monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

Dr. Shaheda Iftikhar, deputy commissioner for the Suffolk County Department of Health, said there have been six confirmed cases. She said the health department believes the cases are isolated at this time.

The restaurant has remained open.

Health officials encourage any person potentially exposed to get tested for COVID-19.

Commerce on town property

Councilman Mike Bebon said he would draft steps to accommodate businesses that want to operate at beaches, town landings or other sites. Among Mr. Bebon’s suggestions are:

• Setting up a means of bidding for similar businesses looking to operate on the Island.

• Regulations affecting parking.

• Lighting and noise concerns.

• Access for individuals with disabilities.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said that a starting place for the board could be determining what they want the Island to look like with such businesses and how many can be safely accommodated.

Ms. Brach-Williams said an application process could be implemented without becoming “overly burdensome.”

At the same time, she said decisions about food trucks operating at beaches is something that should be delayed until January or February since there’s no way to predict now whether the COVID-19 pandemic will be a factor.

This summer, the Islander ran a successful food truck at Crescent Beach. However, Sunset Beach Hotel and Restaurant was closed because of the pandemic. Existing businesses that could be impacted need to be given consideration once the pandemic is brought under control.