Long Island is on track to enter Phase 4 of the reopening process on Wednesday, but some incidents over the July Fourth weekend in Suffolk County have left officials shaking their heads.
County Executive Steve Bellone said that entering the fourth, and technically final, phase under New York Forward is a huge milestone. “It is a reflection of the incredible progress we have made over these last several months. Really we’ve been through hell here,” he said during a daily briefing on Monday. Nearly 2,000 people died of COVID-19 in this county. In addition to the emotional toll the pandemic has taken, it has left businesses struggling, a devastated economy and a fiscal emergency in county government.
The coronavirus numbers locally have been positive. On Sunday, Bellone reported no fatalities on five out of the previous seven days, in stark contrast to a time when there were 64 deaths in a single day.
Images over the weekend of some July Fourth revelers on Fire Island and in Montauk blatantly disregarding social distancing and mask policies cast a pall over the good news.
“Ignoring all the rules arounds social distancing, wearing face covering — seemingly going out of their way to violate those rules — that is simply unacceptable,” Bellone said. He called it “a slap in the face to all of the people who have sacrificed to get us to this point.”
Bellone said Suffolk County police will step up already enhanced patrols, particularly in the Marine Bureau, to enforce the executive orders in place to help Long Island continue to make headway in the fight against COVID-19.
On Fire Island, particularly in the Pines section, people gathered in groups, but when police responded complied with social distancing. When police left, the adherence stopped, Bellone said. He said it appeared that people were “going out of their way intentionally to violate the guidance.”
Meanwhile, in Montauk, late-night hot-spots were cited for alcohol-related and COVID-19 regulation violations. Bellone said, when asked, that he was aware of the situation in Montauk, which he called another example of people “flouting of the health guidance.”
“Again, what is so disturbing about this is it just in so many ways is just dumb. Really doesn’t make sense. The way we will undo all of the progress we have made is simply stop using common sense, and not adhering to common sense measures at this point,” Bellone said.
“What we saw out there in this last weekend in these isolated incidents was not common sense, it was dumb and it was unacceptable.”
Keep a distance from one another and put a face covering on when you can’t, Bellone said. “That’s how we’re going to protect this hard-fought progress we have made.”
Bellone said the county must continue to move forward in the reopening progress for the sake of residents’ health and safety and the economy. The focus now, he said, needs to be on getting the schools open in the fall.
On Monday, the governor announced that the New York State Department of Health, in consultation with the Reimagine Education Advisory Council and others, is finalizing guidance on the possible reopening of schools in September.
New York State had previously directed all 700 school districts to develop reopening plans, but no decision on whether to reopen schools in September has been made yet.
In Phase 4 of reopening, social gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed. Higher education is allowed to resume classes, with certain restrictions. Low-risk arts and entertainment, both indoors and out, may reopen, as well. However, Cuomo is not permitting casinos and movie theaters to reopen as the state government continues to review data.
Professional sports teams may also begin to play again, but without fans.