EYE ON LONG ISLAND WITH NASSAU COUNTY EXECUTIVE LAURA CURRAN

LONG ISLAND LAGS BEHIND OTHER REGIONS IN MEETING KEY CRITERIA FOR REOPENING

CURRAN:  “I BELIEVE WE COULD BE CLOSER THAN THE CURRENT DATA SUGGESTS” 

TESTING AND CONTACT TRACING A CHALLENGE 

APPLICATIONS FOR FOOD STAMPS DOUBLED IN MARCH – EXPECTED TO GET WORSE 

COUNTY MAKES RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO TACKLE MENTAL HEALTH AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran joins MetroFocus to discuss where her county is currently in terms of meeting Governor Cuomo’s criteria for reopening New York’s regional economies. While conceding that Long Island lags behind the rest of the state in hitting those benchmarks, Curran says she believes Nassau County is actually closer than some of the current data suggests. Curran also addresses the challenges is in meeting some of the guidelines, particularly when it comes to expanding testing and hiring thousands of new employees to conduct contact tracing.  The County Executive also talks about the economic impact on the local community, and describes steps her administration is taking along with business leaders to reopen safely. She also talks about the resources the county is making available to tackle the issues of domestic violence and mental health. And finally, she lays out how officials are enforcing social distancing guidelines in Nassau County’s beaches, parks, and marinas.

Aired on May 6, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

ON MONDAY, GOVERNOR CUOMO LAID OUT THE CRITERIA THAT EACH OF THE STATES' TEN REGIONS MUST MEET TO REOPEN THEIR ECONOMIES.

SOME ARE CLOSER THAN OTHERS.

LONG ISLAND IS MOST IMPACTED BY THE PANDEMIC, SO HOW CLOSE IS IT TO MEETING THE GOVERNOR'S REQUIREMENTS AND WHAT HAS BEEN THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON THIS ECONOMY?

JOINING US NOW TO ANSWER THESE AND OTHER QUESTIONS, THE NASSAU COUNTY EXECUTIVE LAURA KERN.

CAN YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

I SHOULD SAY WELCOME BACK, BECAUSE WE'VE HAD YOU ON A NUMBER OF TIMES BEFORE.

LET ME START WITH THIS, COUNTY EXECUTIVE, CAN YOU GIVE US A SENSE OF THE HEALTH SITUATION IN NASSAU COUNTY, HOW FAR BEYOND THE APEX ARE YOU ON THE CORONAVIRUS CURVE?

OUR NUMBERS RIGHT NOW ARE LOOKING VERY GOOD.

WE ANNOUNCED TODAY OUR 20th STRAIGHT DAY OF DECREASED COVID HOSPITALIZATIONS.

AFTER 20 DAYS IN A ROW, WE'VE HAD FEWER AND FEWER COVID PATIENTS IN THE HOSPITAL.

AND THERE'S ANOTHER NUMBER THAT I'M WATCHING VERY CAREFULLY, AND THAT IS THE PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE TESTING POSITIVE.

OUT OF EVERYONE THAT'S BEING TESTED, WHAT'S THE PERCENTAGE THAT'S TESTING POSITIVE?

AT THE APEX OF THIS CRISIS, WE WERE HAVING ABOUT 50%. YESTERDAY WE WERE DOWN TO 11%. SO 11% OF PEOPLE TESTED WERE TESTING POSITIVE FOR COVID.

THAT'S PRETTY GOOD.

YOU KNOW, AS I MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION, ON MONDAY THE GOVERNOR LAID OUT HIS CRITERIA FOR THE STATE TEN REGIONS.

LONG ISLAND IS ONE OF THE REGIONS.

IN ORDER TO BEGIN TO START OPENING THE BUSINESS.

AND AMONG THOSE CRITERIA, I SHOULD SAY SOME OF THE KEY ONES ARE A 14-DAY DECLINE IN HOSPITALIZATIONS, A 14-DAY DECLINE IN VIRUS-RELATED HOSPITAL DEATHS, A HOSPITAL BED VACANCY RATE OF AT LEAST 30% AND AVAILABILITY RATE OF INTENSIVE CARE BEDS OF AT LEAST 30% AND AT LEAST 30 VIRUS TESTS FOR 1,000 RESIDENTS CONDUCTED A MONTH.

AS A PART OF THE LONG ISLAND REGION, HOW ARE YOU GUYS DOING WITH THE CRITERIA?

WELL, ACCORDING TO THESE CRITERIA, WE'RE ACTUALLY PRETTY FAR BEHIND THE REST OF THE STATE.

AND THIS IS TROUBLING, BECAUSE THESE ARE THE CRITERIA THAT WE NEED TO MEET BEFORE WE CAN BEGIN TO REOPEN, BEFORE WE CAN BEGIN TO UN-PAUSE.

AND WE HAVE GREAT HOSPITALS HERE IN NASSAU COUNTY.

IN FACT, THEY'RE SO GOOD WE DRAW PATIENTS FROM OTHER COUNTIES AND FROM THE CITY AS WELL.

SO I'M TALKING TO OUR HOSPITAL EXECUTIVES AND I'M ALSO OPENING UP CONVERSATIONS WITH STATE, WITH OUR STATE PARTNERS, TO MAKE SURE WE'RE LOOKING AT THE SAME MATH, THAT WE'RE USING THE SAME MATH TO COME UP WITH THESE NUMBERS.

BECAUSE IT'S MY OPINION THAT WE COULD BE CLOSER TO REOPENING THAN THIS CRITERIA IS TELLING US RIGHT NOW.

AND I'LL JUST GIVE YOU -- THERE'S ONE EXAMPLE THAT'S PARTICULARLY TRICKY, AND THAT IS THE NUMBER OF CONTACT TRACERS THAT WE'RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE.

SO OUR DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH HAS A GREAT TEAM OF CONTACT TRACERS.

THEY CALL THEM DISEASE DETECTIVES.

AND THEY'RE REALLY GOOD WHEN THERE'S A CONFIRMED CASE OF FINDING THE POSSIBLE CONTACTS, ALERTING THEM IF THEY POTENTIALLY HAVE BEEN EXPOSED.

BUT ACCORDING TO THIS CRITERIA, WE HAVE TO HAVE ABOUT 20 TIMES THE AMOUNT OF CONTACT TRACERS THAN WE HAVE RIGHT NOW.

AND MY QUESTION IS, HOW DO WE HIRE THOSE?

WE'RE IN A PANDEMIC RIGHT NOW.

OUR REVENUE IS PLUMMETING.

HOW DO WE GET THIS?

HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

AND I KNOW THERE'S SOFTWARE WHERE WE'RE ALL FEEDING IN OUR INFORMATION FROM OUR CONTACT TRACERS.

THAT I'M TOLD ISN'T GOING TO BE READY FOR ANOTHER THREE OR FOUR WEEKS.

SO THAT'S GOING TO MAKE IT TRICKY FOR US TO CHECK THAT BOX.

SO REALISTICALLY, I GUESS YOU'RE WORKING WITH SUFFOLK COUNTY AS WELL TO TRY TO GET THE CRITERIA DOWN.

REALISTICALLY, WHAT DATA ARE YOU LOOKING AT TO BE ABLE TO OPEN UP?

IT'S HARD TO SAY.

OBVIOUSLY THE MAY 15th DATE IS THE DATE THAT THE GOVERNOR, GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO HAS SET TO BEGIN TO THINK ABOUT UN-PAUSING NEW YORK.

IT APPEARS THAT OTHER REGIONS WILL GET THERE BEFORE WE DO.

BUT IN THE MEANTIME, I'M SPEAKING TO BUSINESS LEADERS IN ALL DIFFERENT SECTORS, FROM HOSPITALITY, TO CONSTRUCTION, TO SOLAR PANEL INSTALLATION, RETAIL, MAIN STREET, YOU NAME IT.

AND THEY'RE ALL MAKING PLANS FOR HOW TO REOPEN IN THE SAFEST WAY AS POSSIBLE.

WHAT KINDS OF PPE DO THEY NEED, WHO CAN CONTINUE TO TELECOMMUTE.

SO I'M GETTING SOME DETAILS AND THEY'RE PREPARING TO COME BACK, SLO SLOWLY AND SAFELY, BUT THE THING THAT TROUBLES ME IS OBVIOUSLY AS WE'RE MANAGING THROUGH THE HEALTH CRISIS, WE ALSO HAVE AN ECONOMIC CRISIS.

WE ARE BUYING FOOD FOR OUR FOOD PANTRIES, WE HAVE FOOD DISTRIBUTION SITES WITH HUNDREDS UPON HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE LINING UP SOCIALLY DISTANCED AROUND THE BLOCK, SIX FEET APART AROUND BLOCKS AND BLOCKS.

THE NEED IS GREAT.

PEOPLE ARE LOSING PAYCHECKS.

THERE ARE A LOT OF IMPLICATIONS TO SHUTTING DOWN SOCIETY THAT ARE VERY HARMFUL.

SO CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THAT AND TALK ABOUT HOW THIS PANDEMIC HAS HIT YOUR ECONOMY?

HOW BADLY HAS IT HIT IT AND WHERE EXACTLY DID IT HIT IT?

SO WE DID A SURVEY OF ABOUT 1,400 BUSINESSES IN NASSAU COUNTY.

90% OF THEM WERE SMALL BUSINESSES.

ALMOST ALL OF THEM EXPECT TO DO LAYOFFS BY THE END OF THE YEAR.

MORE THAN HALF ALREADY HAVE.

MORE THAN HALF TELL US THEY EXPECT TO MAKE NO PROFIT THIS YEAR.

SO THIS HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR JOBS.

A LOT OF BUSINESSES ARE JUST CLOSING DOWN FOR GOOD.

WE'RE ALSO SEEING WHAT'S HAPPENING NATIONWIDE.

WE'VE SEEN 30 MILLION PEOPLE FILE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT.

THAT'S 30,000 AN HOUR IN THE PAST SIX WEEKS.

HERE IN NASSAU COUNTY IN THE MONTH OF MARCH, WE SAW THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE APPLYING FOR FOOD STAMPS, FOR SNAP BENEFITS DOUBLE JUST IN ONE MONTH.

AND THAT WAS A MONTH WHEN, YOU KNOW, THE PAUSE CAME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MONTH.

THAT'S JUST TWO WEEKS.

SO I SHUDDER TO THINK WHAT THE APRIL NUMBERS ARE GOING TO LOOK LIKE.

SO YOU HAVE A LOT TO MAKE UP IN THE ECONOMY, BUT ONE THING THAT'S BEEN EXPOSED DURING THIS PANDEMIC IS THE RACIAL DIVIDE, THE RACIAL AND ECONOMIC DIVIDE THAT EXISTS WITHIN OUR ECONOMY IN THIS STATE, THE COUNTRY, AND IN YOUR COUNTY.

ARE YOU TAKING THAT INTO ACCOUNT AS YOU TRY TO DEVELOP THE STEPS TO REVIVE THE ECONOMY?

ABSOLUTELY.

SO YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

WE DO HAVE RACIAL DISPARITIES IN HEALTH OUTCOMES, NUMBER ONE.

WE'RE SEEING A DISPROPORTIONATE IMPACT IN OUR AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITIES SPECIFICALLY WHEN IT COMES TO FATALITIES.

SO WE HAVE EXPANDED TESTING IN HARD-HIT COMMUNITIES, WE'RE PARTNERING WITH HEALTH CLINICS TO GET MORE TESTS, TO GET THEM THE PPE THAT THEY NEED SO WE CAN MAKE SURE EVERYONE WHO HAS SYMPTOMS AND QUALIFIES ARE GETTING TESTING.

WE'RE ALSO RAMPING UP FOOD DISTRIBUTION.

TESTING ISN'T THE ONLY ANSWER.

WE'RE GIVING OUT BOXES OF FOOD AT THE TESTING SITES AND WE'RE ALSO DOING SEPARATE FOOD DISTRIBUTION SITES AS WELL.

BUT THE HEALTH DISPARITIES HAVE BEEN PRESENT IN NASSAU COUNTY, AND THIS CRISIS IS SHINING A BRIGHT LIGHT ON THOSE AND THAT'S SOMETHING THAT WE ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO ADDRESS NOW AND WHEN THE CRISIS SUBSIDES.

BY THE WAY, A LOT OF NEW YORK CITY RESIDENTS, MY NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR CONCLUDED, FLED TO AVOID THE VIRUS.

AND IF THE RECENT ARTICLES CAN BE BELIEVED, A LOT OF THOSE PILGRIMS ARE GOING TO BE STAYING IN LONG ISLAND FOR THE DURATION.

THEY'RE NOT COMING BACK.

FIRST OF ALL, A LOT OF THESE, WHAT I CALL PILGRIMS, DID THEY STOP AT YOUR COUNTY OR DID THEY MOVE ON FURTHER EAST?

I THINK WHAT WE'VE BEEN READING IN THE PAPER IS THEY'RE GOING OUT EAST TO SUFFOLK COUNTY.

THAT'S WHERE THE HAMPTONS ARE.

IF YOU'RE FROM NEW YORK CITY AND YOU GO TO THE HAMPTONS, YOU'RE DRIVING THROUGH MY COUNTY.

BUT AN INTERESTING LITTLE FACT FOR YOU, I'VE BEEN SPEAKING WITH A LOT OF OUR REAL ESTATE GUYS AND THEY'RE SAYING THEY'RE GETTING A LOT MORE INTEREST IN NASSAU COUNTY FROM PEOPLE LOOKING FOR HOMES FROM THE CITY THAN THEY USUALLY DO, FROM MANHATTAN, SPECIFICALLY.

SO PEOPLE ARE LOOKING AT OUR BEAUTIFUL SUBURBIA AND OUR BEACHES AND SCHOOLS AND LESSER DENSITY IS MORE APPEALING.

SO THAT'S SOMETHING WE'RE GOING TO WATCH GOING FORWARD.

IT COULD BE INTERESTING TO SEE IF WE GET A MIGRATION FROM THE CITY, WHICH I THINK WOULD BE FABULOUS.

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT WOULD THAT HAVE ON THE ECONOMY?

THAT'S GOT TO HELP.

WELL, IT'S GOING TO HELP, ESPECIALLY IN OUR HOUSING MARKET.

I'VE BEEN VERY CONCERNED ABOUT OUR HOUSING MARKET.

BUT IF WE GET RENEWED INTEREST FROM FOLKS IN THE CITY, SORT OF THAT OLD-FASHIONED MOVING FROM THE CITY INTO THE SUBURBS MODEL -- BECAUSE OVER THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS IT'S BEEN THE YOUNG PEOPLE MOVING BACK INTO THE CITY, PEOPLE LEAVING THE SUBURBS FOR THE CITY.

SO WE WOULD LOVE TO GET SOME FOLKS BACK.

IT WILL BE GOOD FOR US.

BY THE WAY, THIS IS CHANGING THE SUBJECT, BUT I'VE BEEN READING SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU AND YOUR ADMINISTRATION HAVE BEEN WRITING AND THE MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC SEEMS TO BE A FOCUS.

WHAT IS THAT CONCERN AND HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH IT?

WELL, I'M GLAD YOU BROUGHT THAT UP.

IT'S ACTUALLY MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH, THE MONTH OF MAY, SO IT'S APPROPRIATE TO TALK ABOUT IT ANY TIME.

SO, YOU KNOW, ONE THING WE LEARNED EARLY ON, AND IT MAKES SENSE, WHEN PEOPLE ARE ISOLATED AND THEY'RE HEARING ALL OF THIS HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE NEWS, ESPECIALLY AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS PANDEMIC, IT HAD A REAL MENTAL HEALTH COMPONENT.

PEOPLE WITH ADDICTION ISSUES, WHEN THEY'RE HEARING ABOUT WHAT LOOKS LIKE THE APOCALYPSE AT THE TIME, CAN SPIRAL REALLY FAR DOWN.

WE ALSO EARLY ON SAW AN UPTICK IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CALLS THAT THE POLICE WERE GETTING.

SO THINK ABOUT BEING TRAPPED AT HOME AND HOW DIFFICULT THAT IS, BUT BEING TRAPPED AT HOME WITH AN ABUSER.

SO WE HAVE EXPANDED TELE-MEETINGS WITH COUNSELORS.

WE HAVE A 24-HOUR, 7-DAY A WEEK HOTLINE.

WE HAVE AN APP WITH ALL KINDS OF RESOURCES.

IT'S CALLED NASSAU CARES.

AND IT HAS EVERYTHING FROM SUBSTANCE ABUSE TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE TO OTHER MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE HAVE ACCESS TO HELP, BECAUSE HELP IS THERE.

BUT THIS IS CHALLENGING FOR EVERYONE.

AND THOSE WHO ARE ALREADY STRUGGLING, THIS MAKES IT EVEN MORE DIFFICULT.

YOU KNOW, SPRING IS UPON US.

IN FACT, THE WARM WEATHER IS ALREADY HERE.

HOW IS THAT AFFECTING THE SOCIAL DISTANCING AMONG YOUR RESIDENTS?

IS IT ALREADY GIVING YOU SOME PROBLEMS?

YOU KNOW, I HAVE TO SAY OUR RESIDENTS HAVE BEEN REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

THEY'VE HUNKERED DOWN.

THEY'VE STAYED INSIDE, THEY'VE DONE THE SOCIAL DISTANCING.

AND WE HAD A REAL TEST LAST WEEKEND WITH THE GORGEOUS WEATHER.

OUR PARKS ARE OPEN, OUR GOLF COURSES ARE OPEN WITH CERTAIN GUIDELINES TO KEEP EVERYONE SAFE.

BUT BY AND LARGE, PEOPLE REALLY BEHAVED.

YES, THEY CAME OUT TO THE PARKS, YES, THEY CAME OUT TO GO TO THE BEACH TO GO FOR WALKS.

BUT THE REPORTS THAT I'VE GOT BY ALL ACCOUNTS, PEOPLE GOT THE PROGRAM, THEY KNEW WHAT THEY HAD TO DO AND THEY DID A GOOD JOB.

MY ONE CAVEAT IS THE MARINAS ARE OPEN NOW.

WE DID HAVE IN THE NICE WEATHER PEOPLE GOING OUT ON THEIR BOATS AND TYING THEIR BOATS TOGETHER AND DOING BOAT HOPPING.

SO I SAID TO THE BOATERS, THE GOLFERS ARE DOING A GREAT JOB.

DON'T BLOW IT FOR YOUR FELLOW BOATERS.

WHEN WE GET OVER THIS, WE CAN GO BACK TO TYING THE BOATS TOGETHER.

FOR NOW, JUST GO OUT WITH YOUR HONEY AND WE CAN HAVE A LITTLE MORE FUN LATER.

QUICKLY, IF THEY DO BLOW IT, WHAT DO YOU DO?

WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHT?

CAN YOU TELL PEOPLE NOT TO TAKE THEIR BOATS OUT?

DO YOU HAVE THAT AUTHORITY?

THAT'S THE LAST THING I WANT TO DO SO I ASKED THE POLICE COMMISSIONER TO GENTLY REMIND PEOPLE OF WHAT TO DO AND THEY GOT THE MESSAGE.

THEY JUST NEED THE GENTLE REMINDER SOMETIMES AND WE CAN DO IT IN A CIVILIZED WAY WITHOUT BLAMING OR SHAMING OR POINTING FINGERS.

WE HAVE A LITTLE LESS THAN A MINUTE LEFT, COUNTY EXECUTIVE.

I WONDER IF YOU COULD TELL US WHAT THE MAIN LESSONS OF THIS CRISIS HAVE BEEN FOR YOU AND WHAT THEY SHOULD BE FOR ALL OF US IN ABOUT 45 SECONDS.

ONE THING THAT I'VE NOTICED IS THAT THIS CRISIS IS NOT CREATING HEROS, IT IS EXPOSING THE HEROS ALREADY AROUND US.

SO I'M THINKING ABOUT OUR MEDICS, OUR EMTs, OUR COPS, PEOPLE WHO ARE CHURNING OUT MASKS FOR HOSPITAL WORKERS, FOR FIRST RESPONDERS.

THE THOUSANDS OF BOXES OF DONATIONS THAT WE'VE GOTTEN.

JUST THE EVERYDAY HEROISM OF EVERYONE WHO IS STAYING HOME, HUNKERING DOWN, TRYING TO TEACH THEIR KIDS, YOU KNOW, ABOUT BOY ANSWERY AND THE WARS AS I'VE BEEN DOING WITH MY DAUGHTER AND TRYING TO WORK FROM HOME, COMMUNICATING LIKE YOU AND I ARE RIGHT NOW.

FINDING NEW WAYS TO CONNECT.

WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO END IT THERE, COUNTY EXECUTIVE KERN.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

IT'S A PLEASURE TO TALK TO YOU.

IT'S A PLEASURE.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

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