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Long Island shoppers try to stay safe in stores during coronavirus crisis

The Target store in Copiague on Saturday.

The Target store in Copiague on Saturday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Although the number of shoppers appeared smaller than usual, many Long Islanders sauntered in retail and furnishing stores despite widespread concerns over the growing coronavirus crisis.

But one could hardly ignore the signs of precautions taken by customers and store staff.

Some shoppers wore masks and gloves. A woman rubbed sanitizer on her hands from a small Purell bottle as she walked by a clothing store. Mall staff wiped down counters, door handles and escalator handrails.

Helen Shi of Huntington was one of the shoppers who wore masks and gloves when shopping for furniture at Ikea in Hicksville.

“I would’ve avoided the crowds if I could,” she said. “But I needed to buy cabinets for my home renovation.”

Shi emigrated from China more than 20 years ago and had been reading news reports coming out of China since January.

“It’s to protect myself as much as to protect others,” the 50-year-old said of her decision to wear a mask, which she does whenever she goes out nowadays. “I take this seriously.”

Although Long Island shoppers appeared to not have completely shied away from large shopping centers, U.S. malls could be hit hard if the outbreak worsens.

Out of 1,934 people, every one out of four said that they already avoid public places like shopping centers and entertainment venues, according to a survey published by Coresight Research on Feb. 28. Also, 58% said they will probably take similar action if the crisis becomes worse.

The Ahmed family of Deer Park, however, are not too worried about the virus. What is more problematic to them is the ensuing panic. With only two rolls of toilet paper left at home, the family had recently tried in vain to buy more.

“Everybody is panicking. I’m not panicking,” said Ann Ahmed, 59, in the parking lot outside Nordstrom in Garden City. “If you are going to get sick, you are going to get sick.”

Ann and her husband, Mohamed Ahmed, 55, spent their Saturday taking Mohamed’s two brothers — one from France and one from Egypt — and two nieces to Jones Beach and the Roosevelt Field mall.

“I believe everything will be fine,” Mohamed Ahmed said.

At the end of the day, many shoppers seemed to be somewhat resigned to the new reality, believing that life must go on.

“It’s scary,” said Riley Elliott of Massapequa outside Macy’s at Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, referring to effects of the ongoing health crisis that has shut down schools and stores. “I think a lot more people will get sick. But I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as people make it out to be.”

As a delivery truck driver who handles packages from all over the world, Elliott said he has been using hand sanitizer and washing his hands much more often.

“What are you going to do?” the 19-year-old said rhetorically, standing next to his girlfriend, Gillian Gottlieb, a Stony Brook University sophomore who is on an extended spring break due to the pandemic. “There’s not a lot you can do. … You can’t stop living.”


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