A United Front

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The Port Washington Union Free School district held a community forum on Nov. 24 to discuss how to mitigate the spread of the virus on Long Island amid the holiday season.

The panel was held via zoom and was moderated by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Hynes, as wells as several doctors and officials from the Port Washington Community.

“The objective of our panel discussion is to hone in on the significance and urgency of uniting as a community from all facets of life to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, understanding the importance of adhering to local and regional health guidelines and taking necessary precautions to ensure that schools remain open,” Dr. Hynes said.

President of the Port Washington Board of Education Nora Johnson was first to speak. Johnson began by informing the community that the current protocols for learning in the Port School district have been working well thus far.

“To date, we have not heard any reports of any transmissions in the school itself,” Johnson said. “We have all heard the numbers are going up in Port Washington. Our numbers seem to be higher than other neighboring districts in Nassau County. Regardless of why, we have to be more vigilant about protecting our loved ones from COVID.”

Johnson stated that the district had several discussions regarding going fully virtual after Thanksgiving so that families who are being extra safe during the pandemic don’t have to worry about added risk from those who aren’t taking quite as many precautions. Johnson stated that the district ultimately decided against the fully virtual model because, “school is still the safest and best place for our kids to be.”

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth stated that as the numbers in Port Washington have been increasing, local officials have been working together to figure out how they can make sure make sure the community remains vigilant against the spread of the virus.

“One of the things that we have done a little bit different is that as the numbers in Port Washington started to rise, we got the mayors of Port Washington together, Chief Del Muro from the Port Washington Police Department, Dr. Hynes and a number of community leaders together. [We] got on a phone call together with Nassau County, and a representative from the state–all levels of government came together to say ‘what can we do to help, what can we do differently to get that message out there.’”

Following that intially meeting, the town sent out a letter reminding residents to continuing following proper COVID-19 protocols. Bosworth stated that the town has been sending robo-calls to all residents providing them with coronavirus updates, which may be important for the elderly or those who don’t have access to the internet. The town has also created a special link (www.northhempstead.gov/coronavirus), which offers the latest COVID-19 updates in the area.

Detective Anthony Guzzello of the Port Washington Police District reminded residents that each member of the community plays an important part in keeping the infection rate down.

“Remember it’s not just about you and your family,” Guzzello said. “It’s about your neighbors, our schools, our businesses and our elderly population that is also affected if proper measures are not taken.”

Pastor David Collins from the United Methodist Church encouraged residents to spend the holidays virtually with extended family members instead of in person “no matter how small you think the risk may be.”

“We owe our medical personnel from the doctors, nurses practitioners, the assistants, custodial staffs to do our part so they know that we still love them and care about the work they are doing,” Collins said. “We owe our students a school year that isn’t going to be any more unusual than it already is. One of the great positives in all of this is that we made a difference in our community this past spring and God willing we will do it again if we have to because we are Port Washington. We have come too far to give up hope now.”

Dr. Nicole Germano, an outpatient pediatrician from Northwell Health gave a short message to residents, stating that Northwell has seen an increase in COVID-positive patients in the last several weeks. Germano stated that all positive cases that they have seen in recent weeks are coming from either family members that work outside of the home, or from those that have recently attended parties or large gatherings.

“We all as a community need to remain vigilant and follow the Department of Health guidelines,” Germano said. “We have to continue to wear masks, especially in public and around people that are outside of our households. We need to wear the masks appropriately. I can’t tell you how many people come in and the masks are below their nose, not fully covering their mouths or it doesn’t fit properly.”

After several other panelists gave their input and reminded residents of the importance of keeping their children safe and making smart decisions this holiday season, Dr. Hynes concluded the forum by thanking the panelists and Port community for their attendance.

“It takes something like this to bring us all together,” Dr. Hynes said. “You can’t go into a bookstore and find a pandemic handbook to help figure things out. But I think there’s one thing that we know for sure, and that is that we have to do this together. The sacrifices we make are for the collective good.”

To watch the full version of the Port Washington School District’s community forum visit their youtube page, @Port Washington UFSD.

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