Following New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that Long Island is on track to begin reopening its economy next week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he is hopeful the Island will hit its metrics.
“We are ready,” the county executive said during his daily briefing on Friday afternoon, before the start of the holiday weekend. “We have been having conversations and discussions with our businesses for a long time.”
Bellone could not provide a number of contact tracers, but said he was confident the county will meet the metric by the middle or end of next week.
While county campgrounds are closed Memorial Day weekend, “another positive sign of the progress that we are making,” Bellone announced, is that campgrounds will reopen on June 1, and the reservation system will open tonight at 7 PM. Reservations will be taken from July 15 forward, as there are already reservations from June 1 to July 15.
Campgrounds will reopen with safety protocols reached by the county’s committee for camping, and, for now, are only for self-contained campers. The bathrooms will not be opened. No visitors will be allowed. Bellone said families can enjoy the space, but the opening is not an invitation for groups to congregate.
“Memorial Day weekend is always considered the traditional start of the summer season, but . . . we are about to enter a summer unlike anything we have ever seen before,” Bellone said. “If you think about it, Memorial Day weekend — this weekend — will really serve as the unofficial transition to reopening our economy.”
Memorial Day weekend will not include, however, the placing of flags at Calverton National Cemetery, ending a 25-year tradition, despite the county’s best efforts.
Bellone received a response from the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to his appeal to allow for the flag placement.
“While I appreciate your numerous requests to continue with the group placement and retrieval of gravesite flags, the health and safety of our visitors, volunteers, veterans, and team members must be our primary consideration at this time,” Randy Reeves wrote in the letter dated May 20. “Staff at Long Island National and Calverton National cemeteries will begin display of the ‘Avenue of Flags,’ which will remain on full display throughout the Memorial Day weekend to be viewed by visitors to the cemetery.”
“There is not a word of that statement that we do not agree with 100 percent,” Bellone said. The county worked to come up with a plan, certified by the health department, to meet state and national guidelines in order to carry out the flag placement safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the end of the day, it’s just common sense,” he said. “If we can reopen our beaches and have thousand s of people coming to our beaches this weekend, in a relatively small space, how is it that we cannot have our Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts on over 1000 acres at Calverton National Cemetery safely be able to place flags? In this wide-open expansive cemetery to be able to place American flags to be able to honor our heroes who are buried there?”
Bellone said he felt the ban was a decision of “a lower-level bureaucrat” and questioned whether the VA secretary was even aware of it, even though the county has been working Congressman Lee Zeldin and Congressman Tom Suozzi on the issue.
“Quite honestly, I am 100 percent certain that the president doesn’t know anything about this,” Bellone said. “The president is everyday talking about reopening the country and reopening our economy. And I believe if the president was aware of this, that he would reverse this decision. In fact, I think the president would be appalled by this decision if he was aware of it.”
Despite the decision, the county is moving forward with its plans to place flags at more than a dozen local, non-VA cemeteries on Saturday. Volunteers are still needed. Those interested may visit the county executive’s Facebook page or click here.