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A potential 'micro-cluster' on LI

Riverhead town warns of rising cases and potential 'micro-cluster' status

Town officials are urging Riverhead residents to follow social distancing protocols and to get tested as the number of cases there rises and approaches the point of being designated a "micro-cluster."

There are 1,038 confirmed cases in Riverhead, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health's website. The town encouraged residents to visit its website to access a complete list of testing sites and other resources.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in a statement that a local outdoor testing site will be operational in the "immediate future."

And while Cuomo said the level of new cases across the state dropped slightly, he announced new micro-cluster zones in Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties, but none on Long Island.

He gave a reminder that the virus could spread widely during Thanksgiving if people don’t take precautions.

The CDC is now urging Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, with its COVID-19 incident manager saying he’s worried about transportation hubs where people might not practice social distancing while waiting for buses or planes.

Meanwhile in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said a closure of indoor dining and gyms is likely within days or weeks as the infection rate continues rising.

The number of new positives reported today: 374 in Nassau, 431 in Suffolk, 1,847 in New York City and 5,310 statewide.

The map above shows the concentration of cases in communities around Long Island. Search the map and view more charts with the latest trends in testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

Addressing the key questions about vaccines

The potential coronavirus vaccines with high-level efficacy have brought hope that the virus spread can lessen if many get vaccinated.

Pfizer’s announcement on Wednesday that its vaccine with BioNTech is 95% effective offered good news. Two days earlier, Moderna said preliminary results show its vaccine is 94.5% effective.

What do those percentages mean, who is likely to get a vaccine first and how long will it take to get everyone vaccinated? Newsday spoke with several Long Island doctors and a pharmacist to answer questions like those.

What experts say about some at-home COVID-19 tests

Taking a COVID-19 test at home sounds great, but health experts say people need to follow instructions and research its accuracy if they want reliable results.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it issued an emergency-use declaration for a test by Lucira Health that provides rapid results. Unlike other tests, the user doesn't have to leave the house to mail or drop off a sample to receive a result. The test requires a prescription and will first be offered on a limited basis in California and Florida.

A number of home testing kits are available online, which require a nasal swab or saliva sample. But medical experts have expressed concern that some may not produce accurate results and didn't undergo rigorous review.

"I think this is a concern for many in the testing world; tests that are performed in our laboratories go through detailed validation studies to ensure they can be used safely in the same manner every time," said Valerie Fitzhugh, an associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Pathology at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Struggling Nassau restaurants may get cash under grant proposal

Full-service restaurants struggling during the pandemic would be eligible for government-paid grants as high as $10,000, under a $2.2 million proposal unveiled by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

As part of the Nassau Restaurant Recovery Grant Program, certain federal dollars received by the county would be directed to private, full-service restaurants — "the industry hit hardest by the pandemic" — during the winter, when outdoor dining will be limited, according to Curran’s office.

"They’ve taken a huge hit," Curran said Wednesday in a phone interview before the announcement.

Applications for the program, which still must be approved by the county legislature, would be available online starting Nov. 30.

More to know

The U.S. death toll from the virus has surpassed 250,000 this week, and conditions inside the nation's hospitals are deteriorating by the day. As of Tuesday, about 77,000 were hospitalized with the virus.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose last week to 742,000, the first increase in five weeks.

The CEO of Marriott International Inc. told a virtual conference of business journalists that the travel industry won't fully recover from the impact of the virus until 2023 or 2024.

The MTA will balance its 2020 budget without drastic cuts in service this year, but mass layoffs, steep fare hikes, and a 50% reduction in LIRR service may still be coming in 2021, officials said.

News for you

Veterans can still get help they need. Thousands of Nassau veterans will be able to safely obtain free winter necessities next week at the annual Winter Veterans Stand Down event next Tuesday at the Freeport Armory. Veterans will arrive by car, stay in their vehicles and wear a mask as volunteers distribute bags with a winter coat, a fleece jacket, boots, toiletries, nonperishable food items and a frozen turkey.

Be patient for your online shopping orders. A surge in online orders this holiday season is anticipated because of the pandemic, and it's also expected to cause some shipping challenges. Recent data shows up to 700 million packages face potential shipping delays as orders exceed shipping capacity by five percent, so you might want to order early.

Something to watch. Turner Classic Movies has a host of movies lined up this week, including a tribute to Sean Connery with five films like the 007 adventures "Thunderball" and "You Only Live Twice."

Dolly Parton adds to her accomplishments. She's being celebrated in song — a rewritten version of her own "Jolene" — for her $1 million gift to Nashville, Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center that helped researchers develop Moderna’s experimental vaccine.

Plus: Newsday has launched a program for Long Islanders to share their COVID-19 stories. Newsday Voices gives an opportunity to work with our team of dedicated journalists who will help you tell your story on social media. Apply here.

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The battle over masks has always been political. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, who teaches U.S. and women's and gender history at Case Western Reserve University, writes for The Washington Post: In June 2020, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., tweeted a photo of her father, former vice president Richard B. Cheney, with the hashtag #realmenwearmasks.

Wearing a white cowboy hat and a surgical mask, he presented the familiar tropes of masculinity and of political power, becoming a prop for his daughter's efforts to encourage GOP supporters to follow public health recommendations to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

More recently, one of Cheney's newest colleagues, Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., also employed a familiar gender trope to express her position regarding face masks. Calling masks oppressive, she appropriated the famous feminist slogan "My body, my choice" as she tweeted the hashtag #FreeYourFace.

As these tweets and hashtags reveal, masks have become the most visible sign of our current political, cultural and social moment. Wearing a mask is not only a matter of public health, an individual choice or sign of a civic courtesy. It's now the latest chapter in the culture wars over our identity as a nation, our fundamental values and our rights as citizens. Communities across the country are paying the price as case numbers soar.

Yet the current politics around mask-wearing are nothing new. During the 1918 flu pandemic, directives to wear masks turned into a political battle over patriotism, gender and power. Just like today, clear lines marked the pro- and anti-mask camps, although they did not necessarily accord with partisan divisions. Keep reading.