The COVID-19 virus has infected over 28,000 residents of Suffolk County, killing over 850, and the hospital system continues to be pushed to the limit to keep up with the surge in patients.
But there is a ray of hope: data show that the number of confirmed cases is increasing at a slower rate. It is down from over 1,000 per day to about 600 per day, after Monday. Hospitalizations and ICU beds are also down overall. County executive Steve Bellone said Monday it was due to the stringent social distancing guidelines that have been in practice for several weeks now.
“What you have done has worked,” Bellone said in a livestream on Facebook. But Bellone still recognized the incredible challenge the virus has put on the county and the world. He mentioned a state task force that he would be joining to begin looking at reopening the economy. Bellone also announced a summer planning working group, chaired by deputy county executive Peter Scully, which would work with local municipal leaders to discover a safe and responsible way to possibly reopen come summertime. “There is a strong desire to get back to a sense of normalcy,” Bellone said.
But he added that there is no going back, at least not just yet. This will be a “new normal.”
“This is not going to be a return to the way things were six weeks ago,” he said. “It will be transitioning to a new normal.”
Bellone also announced Monday that he has reached out to U.S. treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin to request access to the municipal liquidity facility, a provision in the CARES stimulus law that facilitates short-term loans to municipalities. Access is limited to cities with a population of over one million and counties with a population of over two million. Bellone said the fund would assist the county in alleviating revenue shortages and possibly allow a path to relief for property taxes for Suffolk residents.
Bellone continued to stress the importance of social distancing and staying home, saying it has been one of the strongest ways of stopping the spread. He also recognized that people want to get back to normal, but encouraged people to think about what the county has been through the past six weeks, and how complying with guidelines could save lives.
“Think about the people who have died in this county when you’re questioning whether we have to do this anymore,” Bellone said.