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Coronavirus fears change Long Islanders' daily routines

Newsday reporter Robert Brodsky talks to people in

Newsday reporter Robert Brodsky talks to people in Huntington about how they are trying to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.  Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

Alesha Adwar is trying not to panic about the coronavirus. But the Huntington stay-at-home mom is not taking any chances.

Adwar turned down an invitation for her 5-year-old son to attend a birthday party this weekend at an inflatable bounce house arena — it's an "unnecessary risk," she said — and will forgo her tickets for the Jurassic World Live show next week at Nassau Coliseum.

For the time being, she is avoiding major public gatherings, stocking up on grocery supplies and staying away from locations that could compromise the immune systems of her two children.

"There is a lot of unknowns, which sparks fears," Adwar, 37, said of the virus that has spread quickly across the globe, including 89 COVID-19 cases in New York and four in Nassau County as of Saturday. "What I do know is that this is something that has no treatment and all we can do is prepare our immune systems to be stronger to avoid catching the virus."

Adwar is not alone.

Long Islanders interviewed by Newsday this week indicated a heightened awareness about the coronavirus, with many saying they were avoiding unnecessary hand contact and striving to be more conscious to not touch their mouth, nose and eyes. Nearly all said they regularly use hand sanitizer and are hypervigilant about washing their hands.

In the United States, there are about 400 cases of coronavirus, a respiratory disease first detected in China, with 102 in Washington State alone, according to local officials Saturday. The first confirmed case surfaced on Long Island on Thursday, as a 42-year-old man from Nassau tested positive for the virus. Since then, three new cases have been confirmed.

"I try not to get nervous and freak out," said Joe Pulido, 29, of Copiague, an electrician. "I carry more hand sanitizer because I have a 4-year-old daughter and another on the way. I am not really worrying about it too much but am trying to be proactive for myself and my family." 

Others feel that the threat of coronavirus is overblown, at least as compared to the seasonal flu, which infected roughly 45 million Americans since October and killed as many as 46,000, according to the CDC.

"I think it's overstated," Nick Carbonaro, 64, of Huntington said of the coronavirus. 

Tiffany Ritcey, 45, of Huntington said the coronavirus has not caused any significant changes to her lifestyle. She still shakes hands in public, has no plans of making a dash to the supermarket to stock up on supplies and can't imagine altering her schedule to avoid large public gatherings.

"I just feel like it's not something I have to be too concerned with," said Ritcey, a real estate broker and mother of three. "Things get exaggerated but I don't want to take it too lightly because I know people are getting sick."

But others who work in professions that require close bodily contact, or the sharing of public space with others, say they are on heightened alert. 

Jared Kay, a dentist from Huntington, tells his patients that if they feel under the weather they should reschedule their appointments for three weeks later — to account for the potential 14-day coronavirus incubation period.

"As a dentist, being up close and personal in everyone's face, and because it's an airborne illness, it's important to take really close precautions," said Kay, 37, a married father of two.

John Brown, 27, of Queens agrees. A construction worker and personal trainer, Brown has taken to carrying Purell in his car along with a package of tissues. 

"We all just got to be a little more cautious," he said.

Long Island workout buffs said the virus would not keep them from sweating profusely at their local gyms with other fitness enthusiasts.

Most said being hygienic at the gym comes with the territory. But Elijah Segarra, 21, of Massapequa said he has noticed some members at Push Fitness Club in Melville keeping a closer eye on one another to ensure that stations stay germ-free. 

“People are more on the lookout to see if you’re clean,” Segarra said Thursday after a workout. “People are looking to see if you wash your hands and use the Purell stations. You see the eyeballs coming around.”

Keith Pieloch, 44, of Mount Sinai, said he squirts Purell on his “hands, phone, water bottle, keys — anything I touch” while pumping iron at the Melville gym.

“I’m not scared of the virus," he said. "Most of the time if you get sick, it’s from the gym.”

Emily Dugan, 25, of East Northport, a member of 24 Hour Fitness in the village, said she is not over the top about personal hygiene while at the gym but is making sure to “shower afterward and not get too close to people.”

Giuliana Pateas, 66, of Huntington Bay, admits the coronavirus has her nervous. No more large crowds. The malls and train station are off limits. But for Pateas, who lives half the year in Germany, which has seen nearly 500 coronavirus cases, airports are unavoidable. 

"I try not to have it impact my life too much," she said. "But at the same time I want to be cautious and not expose myself unnecessarily."

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