Coronavirus Update (June 4): Outdoor Seating to Open in Phase 2; Suffolk’s Financial Emergency

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Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that outdoor dining at restaurants will be permitted in Phase 2 of reopening the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic, which for Long Island will likely be on June 11, which is next Thursday.

“Outdoor tables must be spaced six feet apart, all staff must wear face coverings and customers must also wear face coverings when not seated,” according to the governor’s office.

“COVID-19 is still a real threat and we’re still battling it. I know it’s not on the front pages today, but it is still in people and in society,” said Mr. Cuomo. “But thanks to the people of New York and the nurses, doctors and essential workers, today we have the lowest number of hospitalizations ever and we have the lowest death toll ever. We are continuously evaluating activities that can be safely reopened, and today we are adding outdoor seating at restaurants to phase two.”

“The Suffolk County Health Department will provide approval immediately for those approved at a local level, either in parking spaces or their back lot,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in his Wednesday press briefing. “We’re at max a week away from seeing outdoor dining going forward.”

Many local towns and villages are taking steps to make it easier for restaurants to have outdoor dining, from Riverhead granting permits for seating on sidewalks to Greenport considering building platforms over parallel parking stalls to give businesses and pedestrians more safe outdoor space space.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell announced Wednesday that restaurants seeking to have outdoor dining will soon be able to file for a temporary permit to do so.

“We are going to have an expedited permitting process that will be free of charge in order to help these businesses hit the ground running,” he said. “We are confident that by instituting these measures we can allow restaurants to expand beyond their interior spaces and get our community back to work sooner, all while keeping the patrons and employees socially distant and safe.”

Mr. Russell also said he has been lobbying to get wineries moved from Phase 3 to Phase 2 of New York’s reopening plan.

Southold Town is also considering allowing food trucks at wineries and farms, as part of a plan proposed by new Councilwoman Sarah Nappa to help businesses impacted by Covid-19.

“During this time, this gives a really good idea for a business model for social distancing. It keeps people in business when they’re seriously at risk of losing business. This could get them through this economic hardship,” said Ms. Nappa.

The food trucks would need to be linked to an existing Suffolk County Health Department-licensed restaurant.

Ms. Nappa’s proposal was met with about an hour of pushback from Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who said he didn’t think his role in passing executive orders was to say which businesses could be allowed where.

If the change were to be made through the formal code change process, it would take several weeks to implement, due to the time necessary to draft and provide public notice of proposed code changes, along with a public hearing (which can’t be held in person during the pandemic), after which businesses would then have to apply for permits or site plan changes to allow the use of food trucks on their properties.

The board plans to revisit the proposal in two weeks.

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County Sees Fiscal Woes Ahead

Suffolk County’s Covid-19 hospitalizations continue to decline, but the county is just getting a full glimpse of the toll the pandemic is taking on its budget.

A committee organized to document the county’s financial shortfalls reported Tuesday that the county will face between a $1.1 billion and a $1.5 billion shortfall over the next two and a half years, which, in the best case scenario, would give them an $829 million shortfall in the 2021 budget, which must be finalized in three months.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday that the $1.1 billion figure assumes there wouldn’t be a second wave of the Covid-19 coronavirus, while the $1.5 billion figure is calculated based on if the county needed to enact a lockdown due to a second wave of the virus.

“This is not a financial crisis. It’s a financial emergency,” said Mr. Bellone. “There is no way for the county to fix this problem without assistance from the federal government. This crisis is beyond what a local municipality can face on their own. If ever local government needed the federal government to deliver, right now is the time. This should not be borne by the public health nurses and police dispatchers. They should not be worrying about whether or not they can meet payroll in the weeks and months ahead.”

Mr. Bellone reported Wednesday that Suffolk saw 82 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, with 236 people hospitalized, a decrease of 11 and 61 people in ICU, a decrease of six, the lowest hospitalization numbers in months. The county’s overall hospital capacity was at 39 percent, and the county’s ICU capacity was at 48 percent.

In all, 11 people had been discharged from the hospital in the past 24 hours and six people had died, bringing the county’s death toll to 1,915.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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