Almost one week after ending his daily COVID-19 briefings, on July 14, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone spoke publicly via Zoom to alert the community of a nearly doubled positivity rate overnight.
“I have a very simple message: wear a mask. Wear a face covering because this is how we are going to beat this virus. There is too much at stake for you not to,” Bellone said, adding that wearing a mask is the key to squashing the health pandemic. “I wear this face covering whenever I am out in a public place and cannot socially distance. This is how we are going to defeat this virus. Defeating this virus is very much on my mind today because the numbers are moving in the wrong direction.”
More than 100 new cases across the county surfaced in the previous 24-hour period.
“This is the first time that the number of new positive cases has risen above the 100 mark since March 31, when we were still scaling this mountain,” Bellone said. “Over the last month, I have been happy to report our numbers and make favorable comparisons to where we were in March. This is the first time that I am making comparisons talking about the fact that our numbers are now back up to where they were in March when it comes to these positive cases.”
After discussing all the necessary safety measures all members of the community must abide by in order to limit the spread of the virus, Bellone called upon young adults residing in Suffolk County.
“A large percentage of the positive cases that we are seeing are coming from people 30 and under,” he said, adding that since June 24, more than 40 percent of positive cases are coming from this age group in the county. “For the most part, it may not impact young people physically, but we know they spread it, and it can affect more vulnerable people. We know that the virus has devastated our economy, and that definitely affects them directly.”
Bellone made particular note of the concern of hovering near 2 percent regarding schools.
“If that number climbs to 5 percent, we are not going to be able to reopen our schools, and that will be terrible for kids and parents,” he said, transitioning back into discussing the virus’ catastrophic effect on the economy. “We are talking about helping struggling businesses that haven’t been able to reopen to do so safely. If these numbers continue to climb, we run the risk of having to stop or reverse this reopening as they have in other places around the country, and we know that will only create further economic strain.”
The numbers did calm down, though. Bellone tuned back in via Zoom on July 16 to announce that the positivity rates returned to just over 1 percent, which has been viewed as an ideal statistic. Bellone also announced this time around that the county had reported zero deaths due to COVID-19 for the fifth consecutive day.
However, the number of hospitalizations has continued to climb. Bellone made notice that 17 additional COVID-19 patients had been hospitalized in the county in the previous 48 hours.
Lastly, Bellone discussed the economic situation. He said that two things must happen in order to not have the brunt of this economic disaster be a burden on the taxpayers, essential employees, and first responders.
“First, the federal government must do its job and provide the appropriate and justified level of federal disaster assistance,” Bellone said. “The second thing we need to do is we have to move forward locally with common-sense budget-mitigation measures that minimize impacts on taxpayers, essential employees, and first responders. That is why we have embargoed funds in different departments, frozen raises for all management employees, and accessed the tax-stabilization reserve fund, totaling $60 million in budget mitigation between all those measures.”
He explained that granting the use of two tax-stabilization funds from the quarter-percent sales tax program for budget mitigation and tax stabilization has resorted to a vote.
“I have described these actions as no-brainers because they have no negative impact on taxpayers, essential employees, or environmental programs,” he added. “Not one dime less will be spent on environmental initiatives from the county’s quarter-percent sales tax program.”
The county executive continued on to map out where the transfers of funds would occur in order to refute claims that accepting the additional funds would decrease allocated funds toward water-quality efforts.