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High-risk winter sports will be played in Suffolk, Bellone says

Bellone: Student-athletes to return to 'field where they belong'

The Suffolk sports decisions were made over the weekend in consultation with the Suffolk Department of Health, district superintendents and Section XI, the governing body for public school sports in the county. The decisions also will open the door for parochial schools to play high-risk winter sports.

"We will be able to have those high-risk sports return," Bellone said, "and to have our student-athletes back on the field where they belong. And the effort here is to do that, to do something that we know is so important for them, that is related to their health, to their well-being, that provides such a positive lift for those athletes."

Those winter sports include boys and girls basketball, wrestling and cheerleading.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Friday that clearance to play the high-risk winter sports would be determined by county health officials instead of by statewide guidance. Cuomo's directive allows for high-risk winter sports to start practice and play on Feb. 1.

The number of new positives reported today: 1,198 in Nassau, 1,419 in Suffolk, 5,695 in New York City and 12,003 statewide.

The chart above shows the number of new coronavirus cases confirmed each day in Nassau and Suffolk. Search a map of new cases and view charts showing the latest local trends in testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

Low supply thwarts NYC's mass vaccination sites

New York City is postponing the opening of COVID-19 mass vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and Empire Outlets in Staten Island due to a lack of supply, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

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The postponement came to underscore struggles in the state and beyond securing enough shots to run the vaccination program, with Cuomo saying Monday that the state has administered 91% of the doses it has received in the first six weeks of the effort.

The state will continue to evaluate its vaccine stock on a weekly basis and is working with the administration of President Joe Biden to coordinate operations going forward.

"We don't run out of vaccines. We get a weekly allocation from the federal government and it goes week to week," Cuomo said. "The issue with the vaccination plan is the supply, is how much vaccine we are getting."

The state, he said, receives about 250,000 vaccines delivered at different times per week to then distribute to vaccination sites throughout its regions.

The city is expecting a supply of 107,825 doses of the vaccine this week, not enough to open the major sites, de Blasio said. "We urgently need more supply," the mayor said.

Pandemic taking toll on students' mental health, educators say

Luverne Mann's 9-year-old granddaughter, Gabrielle Mann, enjoyed the holiday parties at school, or a trip to the mall or park — until the pandemic put such events and outings on hold.

Not being able to socialize with other children has taken a toll on the fourth-grader from West Hempstead, her grandmother said. But Gabrielle is not alone, as educators and social service leaders said COVID-19 had been tough on children's mental and physical health since schools shut down in mid-March, then reopened in the fall with restrictions.

"It's hard enough for me as an adult to deal with it — I can't imagine as a child," said Mann, who also is Gabrielle's adoptive mother.

Several Long Island school districts said in a survey they had added resources to aid students' mental health, from hiring additional counselors to adding in-person days back to the school calendar. They have held online workshops to help parents identify signs of anxiety, and created ways to reach out to remote learners who may feel isolated.

For instance, the Longwood district is virtually training parents to become mental health first-aid responders.

Wyandanch Superintendent Gina Talbert said her district hired a trauma intervention consultant to help deliver a more holistic approach to education, and the district's student support services teams provide weekly classes — both virtual and in-person — for students to share their feelings.

Districts finding ways to keep students in classrooms

Nearly halfway through the school year, some Long Island districts have changed their response to positive COVID-19 cases, opting to keep the doors open despite high numbers of students and staff having to quarantine.

Districts saw an uptick of positive cases after the holiday break, but not all of them closed their buildings and pivoted to remote instruction. Some district leaders said they can stay open because of safety protocols in place, such as masks, social distancing and desk shields. Others said the shortage of substitutes available when numerous teachers quarantine leads to in-person closures.

Students in Commack kept going after winter break even as the district faced 140 positive cases across students and staff, Superintendent Donald James said.

"From the beginning of the year until now, I think guidance has changed as has our response," James said. "We used to quarantine everyone in a classroom if there was one COVID-19 case. Now, we only quarantine kids or staff members who are within 6 feet or less for more than 10 minutes."

The K-12 district has a full-time, in-person instruction schedule for elementary students and a hybrid learning model for older students.

New Suffolk ME: 'We've been through this before'

Odette Hall paused as a refrigerated trailer pulled up outside the Suffolk County medical examiner's office in Hauppauge last spring.

Hall, then Suffolk's deputy chief medical examiner, knew why the trailer was there — to serve as a temporary storage spot for bodies of COVID-19 victims.

As virus deaths mounted, local hospital and nursing home morgues were overwhelmed, and Hall helped orchestrate the medical examiner's response as it pitched in to help.

With timing she called "unreal," the forensic pathologist was confirmed as the county's new chief medical examiner in mid-November, just as the virus was spreading in another wave. Hall, who is Suffolk's first female and African-American chief medical examiner, said she was prepared.

"As a human being, I’m scared," the Babylon Town resident said of the new spike in cases. "As the medical examiner, what's going through my mind is, we've been through this before," she said.

More to know

The drugmaker Merck is giving up on two potential COVID-19 vaccines following poor results in early-stage studies.

Biden administration officials defended the new president's goal of 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days in office as "bold and ambitious," in response to doubts the plan is adequate to meet intense demand.

Two Black members of Congress and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo went to a public housing residence in Brooklyn to urge Black New Yorkers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Long Islanders have one week left to seek state rent relief.

News for you

Need to take DMV's learner permit test? Good luck finding a slot. Frustratingly refreshing the state Department of Motor Vehicles' scheduling website has become the Smith family's daily routine — along with disappointment, as they try to secure an appointment for their 17-year-old son to take his learner's permit test.

Think you may need a break by Presidents Day week? Here are nearby weekend getaways that offer outdoor, socially-distant attractions.

What's next for standardized tests? Coming up Wednesday at 4 p.m. Newsday Live will have a look at standardized testing in the time of COVID-19. Sign up here.

Plus: Newsday food critic Scott Vogel tried Taco Bell's Nacho Fries. "It's not easy to imagine a $1.39 order of seasoned fries being an antidote to any difficult and uncertain year, much less 2020, but their popularity is certainly understandable," he explains.

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Intensify efforts against virus. Step one in the new war plan against the surging and evolving coronavirus came last week, with an important shift in tone and added urgency emerging from the White House, Newsday writes in an editorial.

But the rest of the battle is going to be far more complicated, and far more difficult, especially when it comes to one of the most important tools of the virus fight: vaccinations.

The focus on social distancing, mask wearing, and vaccination planning in the first days of President Joe Biden's administration was welcome, as even Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, was able to stand in front of cameras and answer questions without any concern of retribution, or retaliation.

But the already-chaotic vaccine situation became even more worrisome last week, as state officials warned their supply of vaccine was running out, appointments in New York City were being canceled, and reports emerged that Biden was left with limited supply and without a distribution plan from the Trump administration. Making matters more complicated was Pfizer's announcement Friday that it will provide fewer total vials to the United States after realizing pharmacists and others were getting six doses out of a vial instead of five. That means the company will deliver the same amount of vaccine as promised, but in fewer vials.

It's no wonder that New Yorkers are frustrated, confused and scared. And while state and Long Island officials have handled the appointment scheduling conservatively to avoid sweeping cancellations, the confusion and fear are bound to continue.

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