Some hopeful news on the COVID-19 spike came at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.
Police Chief Jim Read reported that after a long period of climbing case numbers throughout the town, county and state, Suffolk County announced a slight turn down in reported cases on Sunday and Monday.
Nonetheless, Chief Read said the county is reporting 34 cases on the Island since the pandemic started last March. But he estimates the local cases have totaled in the low 50s since the pandemic hit. The discrepancy between county and town numbers is because some who are on the Island reported their off-Island addresses to the County Department of Health Services.
Chief Read issued a warning to residents to be patient about frustrations they will encounter trying to get vaccinated, even if they fit in groups that are currently eligible. (See, https://shelterislandreporter.timesreview.com/2021/01/12/in-sudden-policy-change-new-yorkers-over-age-65-now-eligible-for-covid-19-vaccine/
He reported that at a webinar with Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he and Deputy Town Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams monitored Monday night, it was reported that New York State has received enough vaccine for only 1 million doses. But 2.1 million people are eligible to receive vaccinations if they were in the first tier of health care workers and first responders. The second tier, which was opened Tuesday saw 3.2 million more New Yorkers eligible for vaccinations, but that was before the governor lowered the eligibility age to 65 from 75. Prior to the lowering of the age eligibility, it was estimated that it would take about 14 weeks to vaccinate those eligible in Tier 1 and Tier 2.
Even though New York State has opened some points of distribution, the town is pushing to get Rite Aid pharmacists to come to the Island and administer COVID-19 vaccines as they have done in the past with flu, pneumonia and shingles inoculations. It won’t be soon, but at least the town is on the list for that to eventually happen, he said.
In the meantime, the chief said it’s going to be awhile before Islanders are able to get appointments for vaccinations anywhere.
Ms. Brach-Williams called the roll out of vaccines “chaotic.”
Those who get the Pfizer vaccine have to have two inoculations 21 days apart, while those who get the Moderna vaccine must get the second shot 28 days from the time the first was administered. The two vaccines must be from the same manufacturer, Chief Read said.
Even after getting both inoculations, Chief Read said anyone exposed to someone with COVID-19 will have to observe quarantine restrictions.
Ferry workers have been declared eligible for vaccinations, but again, access to the vaccines is not easily available. Both ferry companies require those riding the ferries to wear masks.
Some school staff members, including Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., were able to get appointments for vaccinations at Jones Beach, but most who tried were given appointments for sometime in March, he said Tuesday.
The school has had a total of six staff members and six students who have tested positive for COVID-19 since reporting its first case in late November. Mr. Doelger said that while the latest case was reported on New Year’s Day, there have been no cases reported since.
During the first week that school reopened on Jan. 4, it was decided to err on the side of caution and practice distance learning. But on Monday, this week, students returned to the building.
The district’s website provides ongoing updates relating to the pandemic. School officials also notify families directly when a student or staff member tests positive and outlines steps necessary to protect the community.
At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Mr. Doelger described students as “very resilient,” and spoke about ongoing efforts to keep the building clean and avoid in-school infections.
On Jan. 19, the school expects to start rapid testing of 20% of the staff and 20% of students. Nurse Mary Kanarvogel will be conducting rapid tests of both students and staff.
Mr. Doelger had previously received permission from many parents to test their children from time to time. But he is again sending permission slips to the parents whose children are slated for the rapid tests beginning next week.
“It’s one of the safest places for students to be,” Mr. Doelger said about the school building. Additional hand washing stalls have been placed around the building; high-efficiency particulate air filters, which he described during Monday night’s Board of Education meeting as “one of the best systems out there,” provide an added measure of safety and, of course, students and staff are wearing masks as required.