SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — On Teacher Appreciation Day, County Executive Steve Bellone launched a new initiative for residents to share positive stories, including shoutouts to teachers who have changed their lives — at the same time that New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed ways to "reimagine" learning with technology.
Bellone lauded the hard work of teachers who are "doing an outstanding job to transition their classes into virtual classes and put together programs to keep students active and engaged" throughout the coronavirus crisis.
Also, on Tuesday morning, Cuomo discussed working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to "reimagine education" and explore new ways to incorporate technology for teaching and learning. The state, he said, will work with the Gates Foundation to "convene experts and develop a blueprint to reimagine education in the new normal."
With the onset of coronavirus, "we did remote learning," Cuomo said. "Frankly, we weren't prepared, but we did what we had to do. Teachers and the educational system did a great job —but there is more that we can do."
To that end, Cuomo said there were questions to be considered, such as how technology could be used to provide additional opportunities to students, "no matter where they are."
Other questions to be weighed, Cuomo said, include how the state could provide shared education among schools and colleges using technology; how technology could reduce "educational inequality", including English as a new language students; how technology can be used to meet educational needs of students with disabilities; how educators can be provided with more tools to use technology; how technology can break down barriers to K to 12, college and universities and provide greater access no matter where a student lives — and how, given ongoing social distancing protocols, "we can deploy classroom technology, like immersive cloud virtual classroom learning, to recreate larger class or lecture hall environments in different locations."
"We have a moment in history where we can incorporate and advance ideas," Cuomo said. "I think this is one of those moments. Let's think about revolutionizing education."
Dashboard of Hope
In the spirit of honoring teachers who have created "out of the box thinking" to come up with different ways to "lift the spirits of students, many of whom are grieving the loss of things like graduation and moving up ceremonies," Bellone said it was the appropriate time for Suffolk County to launch the new "Dashboard of Hope" program.
The initiative encourages residents to share good news that can be shared countywide on Facebook. To share positive stories, residents can click here.
This week, Bellone encouraged residents to share stories of teachers who have changed their lives. Bellone spoke of his own fourth grade teacher at Belmont Elementary School in North Babylon, Mr. McConnell, who recommended speech therapy. Later, Bellone said, McConnell also gave him his history book at the end of the year "because he knew and appreciated how much I loved history. I've kept this, always; it was one of the most special things for me," Bellone said. "It was really my love of history that drove me to go into government and public service. Thank you, Mr. McConnell." He also thanked his high school journalism and history teachers and football coach.
Hospitalizations rise again
On Monday, Bellone reported a rise in hospitalizations for the first time after a series of decreases that brought Suffolk County on its way to meeting the necessary metric of 14 days of decreased hospitalizations before the county can open. On Monday, that number ticked up by four, and Bellone said he was concerned that it might mean the county might mean they had to "restart our clock" in regard to the 14-day metric.
Cuomo announced that a three day rolling average would be considered.
On Tuesday, for the second day, Bellone said, Suffolk County saw an increase, by 18, in the number of individuals hospitalized over a 24 hour period.
"The fact that we've had two days in a row of increased hospitalizations is definitely something I'm concerned about," Bellone said. "This is not the direction we want to be moving in."
As of Tuesday, there are still 835 people hospitalized with COVID-19, even before elective surgeries have been added back in, he said. "We don't even want to plateau, we want a downward trend," he said.
He added: "I am confident that we still meet the 14 day metric with the three-day rolling average, but this is not the way we wanted to come across the finish line. I thought we would be sprinting but we seem to be crawling."
The number of patients in ICU beds decreased by seven and intubations also declined, both very good signs, Bellone said.
As of Monday, the number of new positive cases of coronavirus in Suffolk County increased by 715.
To date, Bellone said, a total of 2,563 have tested positive through antibody, not diagnostic, testing; that number has been listed to the tally of total positive cases, which stands at 38,380.
Hospital capacity stands at 3,091, with 855 beds available, or 72 percent; ICU bed capacity is at 610, with 175 ICU beds available, or 71 percent.
A total of 37 patients went home over the past 24 hours; Bellone said he would also like to see that number higher.
And, he said, 23 new deaths were reported, bringing the total to have lost their lives countywide to 1,296.
The breakdown of confirmed coronavirus cases by town is as follows:
East Hampton :231
Shelter Island: 6
Red Cross provides support
The American Red Cross has stepped up to support families who have lost loved ones to coronavirus by providing crisis counselors, as well as emotional and spiritual support. The counseling is virtual and completely confidential.
To learn more, click here or call 585-957-8187.
So far, Bellone said, almost 3.3 million pieces of personal protective equipment have been distributed, with 51,000 given out Monday. Bellone thanked New York State for 675,000 pieces of PPE that arrived Monday, including N95 masks, surgical masks, isolations gowns, face shields and gloves.
The continuing arrival of supplies is critical with a new mandate that hospitals maintain at least a 90-day stockpile of PPE, he said.
Antibody testing begins for law enforcement
Antibody testing for law enforcement kicked off Monday with close to 700 tests administered at the Suffolk County Police Academy; next, the hope is to expand to fire, EMS, and other essential employees, Bellone said.
New help for veterans
Despite coronavirus, Suffolk County is still operating remotely to help veterans, Bellone said. On Tuesday, he announced that the Veterans Administration will now consider hardship waivers for eligibility for services including mental health care, primary care, and other issues. In the past, some veterans may have been deemed ineligible because they didn't meet financial means requirements or may have had separation issues. Now, they may be eligible due to COVID-19 related unemployment, housing insecurity or other hardships. To learn more, call 631-853-VETS.