Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar discussed the town’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in an interview Tuesday night.
Ms. Aguiar is a newcomer to politics, but she was a detective in the New York Police Department’s anti-terrorism unit.
News-Review: Is the public following the instructions to not go out, if possible?
Yvette Aguiar: Yes, in general, they are. Everyone has been cooperative. We have daily conference calls with the county executive, the Department of Health, and the Suffolk County Health Commissioner, Dr. Gregson Pigott, along with all the East End town supervisors.
We are working with as many people as possible, and also consulting with the ferry personnel, who are witnessing an increase in travel to the East End.
At the present time in Suffolk County, there are 94 cases (of coronavirus), and three fatalities.
NR: A week ago, it seemed like people were downplaying this. That’s not the case anymore?
YA: That’s what happens with viruses. This particular type of virus is very contagious, as opposed to others, so the contamination is a lot higher. We started testing here on the East End earlier this week and we expect the cases to surge. It spreads quickly.
NR: The flu doesn’t spread as quickly?
YA: That’s correct. I don’t expect to see what’s called, in medical terms, the “curve flatten” … where this virus is going to subside, for at least two more weeks.
NR: What about more testing?
YA: Testing was limited. Peconic Bay Medical Center has the ability to test. Apparently, there is a mobile unit that’s going to be available, possibly in Stony Brook, in the near future. And people can call for an appointment at 1-888-364-3065. There is also a testing site being set up at Jones Beach and by the end of the week we will have a better understanding of the status of the mobile unit.
NR: Town Hall is closed, and all the board meetings are canceled, but the public can still do business with Town Hall?
YA: They can do business by email — we also have a dropbox in front of Town Hall and the building department — or by mail or telephone. We will be operational to ensure that essential town services are delivered.
NR: What’s your average day like since this started?
YA: It depends. We can have anywhere from one to five conference calls per day. We get notifications. We have two confirmed cases and we expect that number to rise. If you follow the Johns Hopkins website, it states that once you start seeing it, it takes two to three weeks before it reaches its height. So, we’re just coming into the picture at the moment.
NR: Is it too early to start planning to help local businesses that have been hurt by the closures mandated by the state?
YA: I’m sure there will be some type of government compensation, but that’s something that’s not dealt with until after the emergency. We are now in the response mode. In the emergency cycle, first you have the preparedness level and then you have the response level. We are in the response level. We’re not anywhere near the recovery stage.
NR: Your overall reaction to this?
YA: We need to protect the public and the employees and try to minimize contamination. I urge that everyone go on to the town website. There’s a process in place developed by the Centers for Disease Control to help contain this virus. If people follow the proper protocol, we can recover from this a lot quicker.
It’s critical that we recover. Our primary goal is to continue and come back stronger.