Two weeks after entering into Phase 3, Suffolk County has been given the green light to transition into Phase 4, which allows higher education, low-risk arts and entertainment, media production and professional sporting events sans fans. During his briefing on Zoom on Monday, county executive Steve Bellone said entering Phase 4 is a milestone for the county.
“It is a reflection of the incredible progress that we have made over these last several months. We have been through hell here,” Bellone said, noting that COVID-19 has claimed nearly 2,000 county residents’ lives. “The incredible emotional turmoil that families and loved ones have experienced... We have businesses that are still struggling to survive in an economy that has been devastated.”
Bellone called the economic situation a fiscal emergency. He also noted the amount of sacrifice made in order to get the statistics, by the beginning of July, to the point that they are at now. As of Monday, 63 people with COVID-19 were being hospitalized, and 16 ICU beds across the county were occupied by COVID-19 patients. Between Monday, June 29 and Sunday, July 5, the county logged no fatalities due to COVID-19 for five days throughout the span of that week.
“Over this last 24-hour period, we have had one additional fatality,” Bellone said on Monday after noting that the county peaked at 64 deaths in one day. “Of course, we keep all of the families who have lost loved ones and everyone who has had a loss here in our thoughts and prayers in Suffolk County. But these numbers are great numbers relative to where we have been, and that is why we are on the verge of entering Phase 4.”
Although the statistics have been changing positively, Bellone put emphasis on the necessity to continue to maintain social distancing and wearing face masks when appropriate. Over Fourth of July weekend, significant gatherings at Fire Island Pines and in Montauk were discussed, and Bellone assured that summonses have been and will continue to be issued to individuals who are found violating social distancing mandates.
“People were essentially ignoring all of the rules around social distancing, really seemingly going out of their way to violate those rules. That is simply unacceptable,” Bellone said, referring particularly to the gatherings occurring on Fire Island. “It is a slap in the face to all of the people who have sacrificed and who have worked so hard to get us to this point. I want to make it very clear that what we saw out there is unacceptable and that we will be enforcing these provisions in the state law.”
Bellone said that there will be enhanced patrols, and, if necessary, fixed posts will be established in certain areas.
“We want everybody to be able to enjoy their summer, but what we saw out there was just unacceptable. And the SCPD marine bureau did respond, and I have to say that when we responded, there was compliance. Crowds broke up, and they adhered to the guidance. But we have additional reports that once the police left the scene that people, again, were flouting the guidance.”
Suffolk County Chief of Police Stuart Cameron, who was also present for Monday’s Zoom meeting, said that individuals who are found to not be wearing a face cover in public and are not maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet are subject to more than just a fine.
“We would write them for 12-B of the Public Health Law, which is a Class B misdemeanor,” Cameron said.
A Class B misdemeanor can involve a maximum of three months in prison or one year of probation. A fine of up to $500 can be required, too. Examples of other Class B misdemeanors include vandalism, public intoxication, and prostitution.