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Doing what they can

SUNY Old Westbury is one of two schools

SUNY Old Westbury is one of two schools where the state and Army Corps of Engineers will set up temporary hospital beds for coronavirus patients. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Daily Point

Tough decisions in a tough time

As Long Island hospitals ramp up for the highest wave of COVID-19 patients, and temporary facilities to increase the number of beds are built at SUNY locations in Old Westbury and Stony Brook, a grimmer reality is shaping up:

What to do with the bodies pending their pickup by funeral homes?

Nassau County, which is expected to be hit hard, has an existing capacity for 150 corpses at its medical examiner’s headquarters. Additionally, each of the county’s 11 hospitals have their own morgues that can store a total of 286 bodies. But county officials fear that won’t be enough, a concern echoed by other local officials on an operational FEMA call Sunday afternoon. Nassau rented five FEMA refrigerated trucks that can hold 48 bodies each. Two have arrived and are in use.

In Suffolk, the medical examiner can store 71 bodies in its facility and another 16 in its portable truck unit. The county has rented one FEMA refrigerated truck to add an additional 48 slots, and has requested a similar refrigerated vehicle from the state. There is an additional morgue capacity for 130 bodies at Suffolk’s hospitals.

Grim numbers for grim times.

—Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli

Talking Point

Love and death in the time of coronavirus

Even when death makes all the headlines, love, or at least marriage, often can’t wait.

Huntington’s Town Hall is closed to the public because of the coronavirus, and much of the business in the town clerk’s office, like providing commuter parking stickers, isn’t a priority. 

But Town Clerk Andrew Raia is keeping quite busy with marriage licenses, weddings and death certificates.

Raia said the virus had spurred marriages during the lockdown because people who have lost jobs or are afraid they will do so soon want to make sure they will have access to their partners’ health benefits. Couples who had their more traditional weddings scheduled for later in the spring figure they might as well tie the knot now, too. 

“I’m prioritizing people who have health insurance needs,” Raia said, “as well as people in the military, health care professionals and people whose marriage has immigration ramifications.” The former longtime State Assembly member estimates that over the past month he’s doing three times as many licenses as usual, and twice as many ceremonies.

For each couple, Raia suits up in gloves, mask and goggles, and generally does the transaction through their car window in the town hall parking lot, examining the relevant paperwork and collecting the town’s $40 license fee. He’s waiving the fee he’s allowed to charge by law as an officiant. The ceremonies are done lately outside in the parking lot or at a nearby patch of green space. Weeks ago, he did a few at Heckscher Park and a local bar, but now he’s reined that in because he’s so busy. 

Then there are the deaths. 

Part of Raia’s job is to certify the town’s death certificates, and the numbers are way up. In the first three months of 2019, the town had 204 deaths. This year, over the same period, the town has already had 246, with more requests for more certificates likely to come in for that period. Raia estimated at least 20 of the deaths are due to the coronavirus.

And in nine months, Raia may well see a boom that completes this circle of life. The town is also responsible for birth certificates, and experts (and Raia) say that with so many Americans cooped up at home all day and night, the world’s oldest form of recreation may lead to a crop of Huntington’s youngest members.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Story time

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Final Point

Long Island's frontline fighters

It’s not just Long Island’s doctors and nurses who are on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those playing a different type of role: Henry Schein, a Melville-based medical and dental supply distributor. The global firm has taken on a part on the national stage, as a member of the White House’s supply chain task force. Bradford Connett, president of Henry Schein’s U.S. Medical Group, even made an appearance and spoke during the task force’s news availability at the White House over the weekend.

In a conversation with The Point this week, Henry Schein chief executive Stanley Bergman noted that the Melville-based medical supply distributor isn’t new to pandemic planning. So as the coronavirus began to spread, Bergman knew the company had to channel its expertise in ways it could help. 

Henry Schein announced last week plans to distribute a rapid blood test, which comes from South Korea, that will determine whether a patient has antibodies to the coronavirus. The company hopes to have its first shipments of the pin-prick test, which could have results in 15 minutes, in many of its distribution centers across the country by week’s end, so they can start to be distributed next week, Bergman said.

The company also is focusing efforts on ramping up the distribution of personal protective equipment, working with the task force and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify where additional masks and gowns can be procured, and to serve as a key distributor once they are. 

But Bergman said all of the efforts of Henry Schein and others like it may not be enough.

“I still think we will not have enough product,” he told The Point.

While Henry Schein is a global company, Bergman noted that it’s intrinsically connected to the region through its workforce and its customers.

“Our job is to get the stuff to hospitals on Long Island and doctors on Long Island, to get them the products they need,” Bergman said. 

Henry Schein has 19,000 employees globally, 1,355 of them based on Long Island. 

“The highly skilled part of our business is centered on Long Island,” Bergman said. “I can’t see us ever leaving here.”

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall