Miles Away From What is Ordinary: Navigation on Fire Island and Surrounding Shores During Coronavirus

By Shoshanna McCollum ~ Our corner of the world has become inundated with a sea of information as the coronavirus pandemic (a.k.a. Covid-19) has had a ripple effect on our health system, economy, as well as the fabric of our lives – and tides seem to be shifting daily.What were headlines and sound bites from distant lands only weeks ago came to Suffolk County with a thunderous roar with the first positive case diagnosed in Suffolk County announced on Monday, March 8. The disease was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization two days later. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone declared a State of Emergency on Friday the 13th. A two-week closure of schools was ordered countywide on Sunday, March 15, followed by the announcement on Monday morning that all restaurants would operate on a take-out basis only throughout the Tri-state region with no firm date to lift the dining ban in sight. There are more confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York than any other state in the nation right now, and the flood of facts keep coming in faster than we can digest them.Fire Island also has also become inundated in a much more physical sense – at a time of year when things are normally still very quiet on the barrier beach, seasonal homeowners are seeking refuge from the city and opening their cottages months ahead of schedule. Local leaders and residents alike are troubled by this trend.“Various community heads on Fire Island have voiced their concerns with regards to the inevitable influx of people in the coming days and weeks. These concerns are by no means selfish,” wrote Fire Island Ferries on an update to their website, posted on March 16. “There simply are not enough emergency service units on the island. These concerns are for both the current and future inhabitants of the island. So, with that in mind, if you do not NEED to come to Fire Island, please don’t.”Over on the Brookhaven side of Fire Island, Cherry Grove Association President Diane Romano reinforced this insight: “Medical, fire and police responders are not prepared to handle large numbers of returning residents at this time. Both staff and supplies are limited.”At the time this article went to print Fire Island Ferries is still running ferries on their regular early spring schedules which at this time of year is only a few boats a day, as is Sayville Ferry Company servicing Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines – but Davis Park Ferry out of Patchogue already decided to suspend their services until at least March 29, 2020. Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott warns this fluid situation could change at any time.“There is a very strong possibility of a shelter in place order from the state,” reads Mayor Mallott’s March 19 published statement. “Think of what the consequences of that mean to you and your family. i.e. ferry service cancelled, you may be stranded here for who knows how long… So please think long and hard about your decision to come here to Fire Island, or even if you’re here now your decision to stay.”Mallott’s dire warning came true in the state of California, where a shelter in place decree was announced less then 24 hours after he released his statement – and the Golden State only has a fraction of the confirmed cases that New York does. In spite of similar advisories by other Fire Island community leaders, that population influx has already begun to arrive.Census population estimates put the off-season population in the community of Ocean Beach at 82 people, but Mallott reports that more than 100 families have taken shelter in their summer homes in just the past week.However not all announcements issued by Ocean Beach have been entirely accurate. A public notice released by the Incorporated Village of Ocean Beach the prior weekend bluntly stated, “Please be advised there are NO grocery stores open at this time in Ocean Beach,” this is not true. Travis D’Arienzo, proprietor of Dockside/Mermaid Market has been open all winter long, six days a week, to serve Ocean Beach and the neighboring communities. Recently he expanded his stock and deli case to accommodate the sudden population surge, and at a time when many supermarket shelves on greater Long Island look downright blighted, his establishment was a welcoming sight.In compliance with the present mandate, CJ’s Restaurant and Bar, which also has been open though the winter, will be operating on a take-out basis – as will another Ocean Beach favorite, Castaway Bar & Grill, which re-opened just last weekend on a part-time basis.“We’ll be offering take-out and delivery on weekends starting Friday,” says owner Jon Randazzo. “For the first week we will see what the demand really is, and if needed we’ll expand operations to seven days to serve the community.”Town of Islip also recently announced that parking meter fees are temporarily suspended on Main Street in Bay Shore to facilitate restaurant take-out orders in the popular downtown district. A complete list of eateries in each Islip hamlet partaking in food orders to go can be found on the Town of Islip website. Be advised the list of participating restaurants is subject to change, and calling your order in advance is strongly advised.Also in downtown Bay Shore, Willy Nilly Trading has temporarily reduced their store hours, but is still open for business should one need to purchase a birthday or anniversary gift, and that slice of normal can be important in these difficult times.On the subject of emotional wellness, Advanced Counseling Associates is offering teletherapy sessions, which can be covered by insurance.In West Islip, Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island is committed to remaining open 24/7 during the pandemic, with enhanced protocols for the welfare of clients and staff in place.Finally in a virtual ocean of misinformation out there, Northwell Health is sharing reliable facts and updates daily to help keep the people of Long Island properly informed and educated on the situation. The first Suffolk County mobile Covid-19 testing facility recently opened at Stony Brook University, by appointment only. Please call 1-888-364-3046 if interested.Stay the course everyone, and keep washing those hands!All resources listed in this article are subject to change as this crisis continues to evolve. CJ’s Restaurant and Bar is owned by the same parent company of this publication, and Advanced Counseling Associates is an affiliate company of the same ownership. UPDATE: Several hours after this article was published, Willy Nilly Trading Company announced the temporary closure of their shop as of 4 p.m. on March 21, 2020. Shortly thereafter Executive Order 202.6 was issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.