Pictured Above: Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell

Updated March 26, 4:30 p.m.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday he talked with representatives of the Suffolk County Health Department about a travel ban to the East End proposed by East End town supervisors, and said there was no epidemiological evidence that New Yorkers were responsible for cases of the disease here.

“The virus has been here for some time. It was here weeks before the first cases, and we didn’t know it because there was no testing done,” he told reporters on his Thursday afternoon press call, adding that “by all indications the virus has spread everywhere in our region. That includes the East End and the West End.”

Original Story Follows:

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell is calling on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to issue a travel ban on visitors to the East End, in light of messaging Tuesday from the White House that anyone who has recently left New York City should self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Southold has been, and continues to be, the town most impacted in Suffolk County by the Covid-19 Virus,” said Mr. Russell in a statement Wednesday afternoon. He said he is joining Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman in the request. Mr. Schneiderman’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Our community residents continue to be most at-risk by the spread of this virus. A new trend is taking place that puts our local residents at even further risk — people seeking refuge from the metropolitan areas. It is simple math, the more people that come, the greater the spread and the greater the confirmed cases,” said Mr. Russell.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Suffolk County had reported there were 111 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Southold Town, by far the highest number of cases on the East End, followed by 47 cases in Riverhead, 40 in Southampton, 13 in East Hampton and two on Shelter Island.

Mr. Russell’s statement is online here.

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This message comes just one day after New York State announced a staggering number of confirmed cases of the virus, an order of magnitude greater than in other states.

“Everybody who was in New York should be self-quarantining for the next 14 days to ensure the virus doesn’t spread to others no matter where they have gone, whether it’s Florida, North Carolina or out to far reaches of Long Island,” said White House Coronavirus Task Force Response Coordinator Deborah Birx at a Tuesday evening press briefing at the White House. “We’re starting to see new cases across Long Island that suggest people have left the city.”

“We have a limited number of stores who are trying to keep their shelves stocked and ration out supplies as best they can,” said Mr. Russell in Wednesday’s statement. “Local residents are finding it difficult to meet even their most basic needs. Unnecessary hoarding and the recent, sudden expansion of the population by those who come are making this far worse.”

“Southold relies heavily on volunteer first responders, who are trying to protect this community and their families, all while managing with limited protective gear,” Mr. Russell added. “Their heroic efforts are under substantial strain. Our limited medical resources are over-burdened and, despite stellar health care facilities, they are reaching capacity which has the potential of limiting access to local residents.”

The supervisors are asking the governor to “put a travel ban to the East End in place, limiting travel to only essential personnel,” according to Mr. Russell’s statement.

The Hampton Jitney, which provides regular bus service from New York to both the North and South Forks, had already announced over the weekend that it is putting a pause on its service to the East End beginning Monday, March 23, and resuming on Thursday, April 9, “in the interest of the health and safety of our passengers and employees,” though Hampton Jitney President Geoffrey Lynch did say that “if the situation changes and we can resume service sooner, please know that we will absolutely do so.”

Mr. Russell urged everyone who had already come to Southold from New York City to follow federal guidelines to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Southold should NOT be treated as someone’s personal isolation unit,” he said. “For others who have decided to use Southold as a shelter, respect this community and stay inside.”

When asked if New Yorkers who had left the city should self-quarantine at Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Wednesday morning press conference, members of Mr. Cuomo’s staff said people who have left New York should follow CDC social distancing guidelines and stay six feet away from other people, but did not offer guidance on whether those people should self-quarantine.

Read our ongoing coverage of the coronavirus crisis.

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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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