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Daily Point

An occasion we’d all rather forget

An anniversary may be going little-noticed this week.

The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Long Island occurred in early March, according to Suffolk and Nassau spokespeople. Northwell Health and Stony Brook University Hospital cite the same time period, but the latter added a little more context for The Point on Friday.

"Stony Brook Medicine’s first test-confirmed positive Covid-19 case was March 8, 2020," said spokesman Greg Filiano in a statement. It goes on: "A month or more previous to that date some suspected Covid-19 cases were being evaluated."

That would seem to suggest the possibility that COVID-19 may have circulated here right around now, a year ago. That tracks with other research that indicates the virus was in the U.S. weeks before originally documented.

Of course, we didn’t know for sure at the time.

"But at that early time in the pandemic, testing capacity for the virus was either not readily available and/or testing accuracy was an unknown," Filiano said.

It was just the beginning of a year of unknowns regarding the virus, a level of uncertainty that in some ways continues to the present with outstanding questions about the efficacy and impact of vaccines and the challenge of virus variants.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Bobby Kalotee and the tale of the missing vaccines

Check out Newsday Opinion’s new video about a strange saga in the vaccination rollout, featuring Nassau political mainstay Bobby Kalotee, nee Kumar.

In mid-January, Kalotee interrupted a Laura Curran news conference and asked the county executive about his own eligibility for the vaccine. Kalotee, a Nassau University Medical Center board member and county Human Rights Commission chair who once faked his own kidnapping, is under 65 but suggested he was eligible at the time given health challenges and his volunteer work.

A few days later, Kalotee put up a Facebook post about a vaccination event he attended in Hicksville, first reported by the political blog LI Uncovered News. That event was run by Statcare, an urgent care medical provider with locations around the NY metro area that did a few recent vaccination events in Long Island communities. Kalotee said he volunteered.

The vaccines Statcare used in Hicksville, however, appear to have been NYC allocations not meant to be used elsewhere.

"[T]o the extent they wanted to re-allocate doses from their New York City sites to Long Island, they should have requested permission from the state — which they did not," said state Department of Health spokeswoman Jill Montag in a statement to The Point.

Statcare co-CEO Sandeep Jain said that since the group is an enrolled provider, it was told it could bring the vaccine to any office, satellite or off-site clinic. And Statcare has a location in Hicksville right near the daycare facility where the vaccination event took place. That event served some 60 or 70 members of an immigrant community who might not otherwise have had easy access to the vaccine.

Kalotee himself was not exactly clear on whether he got the vaccine at the event he posted about. But he pleaded with officials to "make [vaccination] easy for our residents, not difficult."

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

The groundhog speaks

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Final Point

Are the North Shore school district’s chances peaking?

In the best-case scenario for the three Nassau County school districts affected by the contentious negotiations over the property-tax appeal of LIPA on the E.F. Barrett and Glenwood Landing sites, the current delay won’t hurt their chances at a deal.

But if LIPA removes the last small and never-used generation devices, called peakers, from Glenwood Landing before a settlement, the $24 million a year in taxes the utility pays on the site, and the potential cushion offered to reduce that amount gradually over seven years rather than immediately, could face a blackout.

Threats from the power company to simply let the courts rule on long-standing tax-grievance cases as one deadline after another slides by are not new. Post-deadline, LIPA has never actually withdrawn an offer.

The worst-case scenario, particularly for the North Shore school district, however, may be darkening.

A bill reintroduced in the State Senate by Democrat James Gaughran and championed by majority Republicans in the Nassau County Legislature could hurt more than it helps.

In a letter sent last Tuesday, the legislature’s GOP caucus asked Gaughran and fellow Democrats Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Assemb. Chuck Lavine to refile Gaughran’s 2019 legislation that outlawed LIPA’s tax challenges and payment of back-tax refunds. Gaughran now says he has done so. In the Assembly, Lavine told The Point he’s "taking a look at the legislation."

The letter says, in part, "If adopted, the legislation will reduce the financial exposure of county taxpayers, weaken LIPA’s position in the actions pending against the county and strengthen the negotiating position of the county and school districts. In sum, the legislation will very likely lead to negotiation of better terms on behalf of the residents."

But that might not be the result if LIPA retires the smaller generating units which it says are inefficient and incompatible with new environmental regulations.

Both LIPA leaders and Curran’s legal team have said that if the deal is struck while the peakers are still at Glenwood Landing, the seven-year glide path to reducing the taxes by 47% would happen. However, if the deal is struck after the peakers are removed, LIPA leaders would have a fiduciary duty to rescind an offer that would have the utility pay about $200 million for non-existing power generation.

But would it actually destroy the deal, or would political pressure on LIPA force it to pay the money regardless?

Neither Curran’s administration nor the legislature’s GOP caucus have a real hunger to find out: Each has demanded the other pressure LIPA to settle its third-party lawsuits with the North Shore school district over Glenwood Landing, and Island Park over E.F. Barrett. Such a settlement would also probably need to benefit the Oceanside school district, which isn’t party to the suits but receives payments for Barrett.

But as of now, the pact Curran accepted from LIPA is going nowhere with the legislature because it does not take care of the school districts. And as time goes by, the useful $24 million-a-year fiction that Glenwood Landing is a generation source is losing power.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller