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Oyster Bay reverts to remote board meetings, citing public's exposure to COVID-19

The surge in new cases of COVID-19 and

The surge in new cases of COVID-19 and the public's exposure to the virus have prompted Oyster Bay Town officials to resume live-streaming of town board meetings, where public comment must be submitted via email and mail.   Credit: Newsday/Ted Phillips

Oyster Bay is returning to remote town board meetings as COVID-19 cases surge and people have been exposed to the virus at in-person meetings, the town spokesman said.

"Exposure has occurred in town meetings and facilities," town spokesman Brian Nevin wrote in an email Friday. Nevin did not provide details about the exposures — including whether any members of the public who attended meetings had been notified about possible exposure — but on Monday he wrote another email that said, "The town conducts contact tracing and notifies individuals who may have been exposed due to close contact as defined by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]."

"Close contact" with an infected person can mean being within 6 feet of the person for 15 minutes or longer; having direct physical contact; sharing eating or drinking utensils; or being sneezed or coughed on, according to the CDC website.

On Friday the town issued a public notice that Tuesday's town board meeting would be held remotely.

"With the recent and very serious surge in COVID cases, the town is taking the responsible and safest path to protect both the public and town employees by live-streaming the meeting and accepting public comment via email and mail," Nevin wrote in an email.

On Friday, the New York State health department reported 1,403 new positive cases in Nassau County.

In March, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suspended the requirement under state law that deliberative meetings of public bodies be open to in-person attendance, so long as the public is able view or hear the meetings via technological means.

The Oyster Bay Town Board began holding meetings remotely that month, with town Supervisor Joseph Saladino presiding in Town Hall on a live video stream. The public was allowed back in physically in August but with new restrictions that included temperatures being taken, limits on the number of people in the board room, wearing of face masks and sitting apart.

Sea Cliff resident Arthur Adelman, 69, said he has attended all the meetings in person since August and, having recovered from COVID-19 in the spring, was not worried about being reinfected.

"I always felt pretty safe, always wore my mask and social distanced," Adelman said. "I felt that I was safer in Town Hall than in my local CVS or Stop & Shop. There were less people in Town Hall than there were anywhere."

Nassau County’s two cities — Glen Cove and Long Beach — and North Hempstead Town have all held their meetings without public, in person attendance since the end of March. Since August, Hempstead Town has allowed members of the public to register to speak to the board in person, but they must wait in a different room.

"With so many small government entities required to hold public meetings, more than even many other suburbs, the pandemic has created more problems for Long Island officials than most regions of the country," wrote Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies, at Hofstra University, in an email. "There’s a lot of pressure, as well as logistical issues, in balancing their legal duties and the public right to know what government is doing with the safety concerns of the pandemic."

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OPEN MEETING LAW IN A PANDEMIC

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s March 12, 2020, executive order suspended the requirement under state Open Meetings Law that the public be allowed to attend in person local deliberative government meetings provided that:

  • The public can listen or watch the meeting via conference call or other technology
  • The meetings are recorded
  • The meetings are transcribed

SOURCE: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.1

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