Pictured Above: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Sunday that he will now wear a homemade mask in public, but cautioned that N95 masks, like the one he is holding in this photo, should be reserved for health care workers.
If you hear the sound of fire station sirens winding up in unison up and down the East End at 7 p.m. tonight, don’t panic. It’s not an emergency. First responders throughout Suffolk County are paying tribute to health care workers, in light of the first Covid-19 fatality in the county among health care workers, Registered Nurse John Abruzzo of Huntington Hospital, whose death was reported April 3.
“Our fire and EMS agencies are all also on front lines, and the fact that they are saluting tonight and acknowledging the wonderful work by our health care workers, I know it’s an expression of support for the men and women in our hospitals, nursing homes, and everyone treating patients right now and trying to save lives,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in his Sunday afternoon press briefing.
The East End’s first responders, many of whom are retired from active careers, are also on the front lines of this pandemic.
Eighty-five-year-old Antone “Tony” Volinski, Jr., a 50-year member of the Greenport Fire Department’s Relief Hose Company No. 2, died from Covid-19-related complications at Stony Brook University Hospital March 25.
Mr. Volinski “was a daily member of the morning coffee club with his best friends” at the firehouse, according to his obituary at Horton-Mathie Funeral Home.
Born in Orient, Mr. Volinski attended Greenport High School, where he was an all-star running back. He enlisted in the Air Force for 14 years, where he worked and maintained engines. He worked as a foreman at the oyster factory on Shipyard Lane in East Marion, alongside his wife who packaged the oysters, and then on Plum Island as a boiler operator before retiring to “become the No. 1 caregiver to his grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
Mr. Abruzzo, 63, began working at Huntington Hospital as a security officer in 2002 and became a nurse at the hospital in 2007. He had been caring for Covid-19 patients before falling ill himself.
He is survived by his wife and two children and a brother who works at the hospital, according to a statement from Huntington Hospital.
“Our team at Huntington Hospital is a family that now mourns the loss of one of its own. But as we grieve, we will also persevere in caring for our patients with the grace and strength that John displayed day in and day out,” said Susan Knoepffler, RN, chief nursing officer at Huntington Hospital.
Mr. Bellone, the Suffolk County Executive also reported Sunday afternoon that there were an additional 51 Covid-19 related deaths in Suffolk County in the past 24 hours, nearly doubling the April 4 record of 28 deaths, bringing the total death toll in the county to 174.
He said the county will no longer be providing the press with details about the ages, locations and underlying health conditions of individual deceased people, and will instead be providing the state’s daily figures for the number of people who died each day in Suffolk County.
“For me, the most important thing is for the front line workers to be focused on their mission,” he said. “The priority here is not reporting on the details of the fatalities. That has been possible to do up to this point… At this point, we want to make sure there aren’t additional burdens placed on our health care workers.”
While Mr. Bellone’s briefing was underway, the Peconic Landing retirement community in Greenport reported a ninth resident had died from Covid-19 related complications.
“The member was a 98-year-old woman of The Shores for Skilled Nursing,” according to a statement from Peconic Landing. “She tested positive on March 19 and passed away on April 4 while receiving care at Peconic Landing. She had known pre-existing conditions.”
The retirement community reported that seven residents in its health center have actively confirmed cases, along with seven staff members.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to those she leaves behind,” said Robert J. Syron, President and CEO. “The Peconic Landing family is thinking of you during this time of sadness.”
Mr. Bellone said as of April 5 there were 1,435 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in Suffolk County, an increase of just 19 from April 4, but there are now 504 people in intensive care, a big jump of 113 from yesterday, which can occur when the condition of people who are already hospitalized worsens and they need to be intubated.
Hospitals in Suffolk are still adding beds, he said, adding that there are now 3,186 beds in the county, 742 of which are ICU beds, with hospitals adding a total of 162 ICU beds in the past 24 hours.
He said that, as of Sunday, there are 705 hospital beds available, 82 of which are ICU beds, in the county. He added that 107 patients had been discharged in the past 24 hours.
Mr. Bellone added that he is urging all members of the public to wear homemade masks in public, and that he will do the same. But he did caution that medical-grade surgical masks and N95 masks, which are still in short supply, should not be used by the general public and should be saved for health care workers.
“We need to model, in Suffolk County, exactly what we are asking other people to do,” he said of his decision to wear a mask in public, adding that sewing groups have popped up all over the county to aid in the effort. “This is not a replacement for social distancing and the stay at home guidelines in place. Those measures are absolutely critical to flattening the curve and supporting health care workers.”
Mr. Bellone added that he was dismayed that several upstate representatives had penned a letter criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo for saying that he would use the National Guard to move ventilators where they are most needed within the state.
Mr. Cuomo said at his Sunday morning that he would go from Montauk Point to Buffalo to bring a ventilator where it is needed.
“I’m certain they don’t mean ventilators not being utilized in the State of New York should not be utilized to help save lives on Long Island or downstate,” said Mr. Bellone. “This epidemic is something that we have to fight together. We are one New York and one nation. This is about humanity.”
Mr. Bellone, a Democrat, said that spirit of humanity also extends to bipartisanship, and said he was heartened by Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin’s response to learning that the county had given out all of its supplies of surgical masks, N95 masks, gowns, face shields and body bags.
“I had a good conversation with Lee Zeldin about what we need here, and he has worked with the White House to get a commitment to make sure Suffolk County has what we need in the next 30 days,” said Mr. Bellone. “I know the President knows Suffolk County. He has friends who are here and he knows what a big place this is, with 1.5 million people.”
According to Mr. Zeldin’s office, President Donald Trump’s Senior Advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner responded to his request for help “within minutes,” and the county expected to receive its first delivery of 150,000 surgical masks Sunday, April 5.
“Our brave local medical professionals, law enforcement officers, first responders and all others fighting coronavirus on the front lines urgently need masks, face shields, gowns and other protective equipment ASAP, and I thank the administration for their quick response to my direct plea on behalf of my constituents,” said Mr. Zeldin. “I will stay directly in touch with every level of government, local hospitals and healthcare facilities, and others in need in elevating their specific requests to the highest levels of the administration. When it comes to fighting the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus, we are one team and this is one fight. “
“Every level of government is working together in unison. That’s the way it should be,” agreed Mr. Bellone.
“We don’t know exactly when the peak will be,” Mr. Bellone added. “Over the next 30 days, this is a critical time. What you do right now will make a difference in the next couple of weeks. Don’t go out, as much as you can. Everything we do today and tomorrow will have an impact in the week ahead, and the next week. I’m asking every resident to voluntarily comply.”