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Pandemic thins Black Friday crowds

Bargain hunters mask up and line up

Foot traffic at malls and shopping centers during the holiday shopping season has been falling for years as e-commerce has grown, but COVID-19 accelerated the trend this year.

On Friday, Long Island retail employees managed lines of mask-wearing shoppers to maintain the New York State mandated rules of 50% capacity during the pandemic.

Still, by 6:40 a.m. Kings Park residents Samantha Rizzuto, 31, and her mother, Helene Rizzuto, 60, already were waiting on a short line at Bath & Body Works at Tanger Outlets Riverhead.

"Every year, my mom and I come here. It’s just kind of a tradition," Samantha Rizzuto said.

The early morning doorbusters are worth the predawn shopping trip, even during the pandemic, she said. "This doesn’t really scare me. You have to be cautious."

Americans will spend more money buying gifts this holiday season than they would have otherwise, retail experts say, since many have been unable to travel or engage in moviegoing, nightclubbing or other entertainment activities much this year — or at all — but fewer will shop in stores.

Our holiday gift guide has ideas for everyone on your list.

State's 'winter plan' prioritizes keeping schools open

New York State is readying a "winter plan" to combat possible coronavirus resurgence after Thanksgiving, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday, and he said there was no practical impact from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against certain pandemic restrictions on religious services.

Cuomo’s winter plan would prioritize keeping schools open, particularly for kindergartners through eighth-graders, and continue the months-old "microcluster" and zoned approach, but add factors to the calculus, such as rates of hospitalization, how many hospital beds remain in a given area and the extent to which elective surgery is available.

It could take weeks to determine the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings and travel, which most disease-control experts urged Americans to avoid this year.

Northwell on Friday said the number of hospitalized COVID-19 cases continues to climb at its health system. The largest health system in the state said it had 506 COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates, up from 349 a week ago.

About 230 of the current patients were at a Long Island hospital.

Staten Island continued to be the hot spot. Northwell said it has 131 COVID-19 patients at its facility there.

The number of new positives reported today: 671 in Nassau, 711 in Suffolk, 2,558 in New York City and 8,176 statewide.

The chart below shows how many new cases were reported in recent days in Nassau and Suffolk.

Search a map of new cases and view more charts showing the latest local trends in testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

COVID-19 survivor: People should take virus 'seriously'

Edith Baldassarre wasn’t sure she would be setting a place for her brother, James Colon, at her family’s Thanksgiving table in Massapequa this year.

That’s because Colon, who worked in an Astoria nursing home, spent six months in the hospital fighting COVID-19. At one point, his situation was so dire that Baldassarre and her siblings were told to start making funeral arrangements.

But Colon, 61, has surpassed the expectations of even the most hopeful doctors at Mount Sinai Morningside, where he spent most of his hospital stay. Since first falling ill in April, the Queens resident endured a bout with pneumonia, a bacterial superinfection, cardiac shock and multi-organ failure. He was placed on a ventilator and needed dialysis for his kidneys.

Most of that is a blur, Colon said. He was in a coma for three months. Then one day in July, he woke up.

At first, he couldn’t move any of his limbs. Colon’s muscles had atrophied, and his 160-pound frame was down to just 90 pounds. He couldn’t drink water for weeks, for fear it would get into his weakened lungs.

"I believe people should really take COVID-19 very seriously and take all the precautions necessary," he said. "I hope that I can inspire them in some way to be positive and fight." Watch an interview with Colon.

Hobbies help LIers thrive in isolation

Since August, Howard Zryb has embraced a new indoor pastime that satisfies his artistic bent while filling his spare time during the pandemic.

Courtesy of a hand-me-down model train set from his 93-year-old father-in-law, Zryb has spent hours researching the miniature artifacts online, as well as invested several hundred dollars into getting the old trains "up and running," he said. The Merrick resident’s purchases have encompassed a few locomotives and replacement track switches.

"My grandchildren love to watch the trains, and when all is said and done, I hope this will be a lifelong passion for them," said Zryb, 67, a grandfather of a 4 ½-year-old and two 1-year-olds.

Yet, there is one aspect that Zryb pursues purely for his own enjoyment — making the Lilliputian houses and stations that the trains chug past.

A time-consuming effort, it involves printing images from online hobby sites and painstakingly gluing them to card stock, foam board or cardboard from a cereal box to form the three-dimensional structures. Zryb then decorates and places his handicrafts along the train’s route. He has also carved trestles from balsa wood and foam core. Read more about his hobby and other Long Islanders' pandemic pastimes.

More to know

The U.S. Supreme Court barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus in a split 5-4 vote, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority.

SantaCon, the annual holiday season bar crawl through New York City, where most revelers dress like Santa Claus, is canceled, organizers said.

Broadway's Syndee Winters, who was raised on Long Island, is one of four performers starring in the music video "When Broadway Is Back," designed to benefit The Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

News for you

Your holiday weekend plans. If you're looking for unique outdoor dining options, where to cut down your Christmas tree or holiday events happening on Long Island, here's your guide to enjoying your time off without going far.

What to do with your savings. Whether it was not having the expense of commuting, happy hours or weekly date night dinners at restaurants, some have managed to accumulate savings during the pandemic. If you find yourself in this fortunate position and have amassed, say, $5,000, here's what experts advise you should do with it.

Santa is checking his email. If you're unable to get to the red-and-green mailboxes in Nassau County designated for children to send their letters to Santa, for the first time this year, the jolly guy will be accepting emails too.

Plus: With the pandemic curtailing holiday gatherings, local clergy discuss ways to keep spirits up — whether through online prayer, meditating in solitude or serving others.

Sign up for text messages to get the most important coronavirus news and information.

Commentary

Amid COVID-19, put the kids first. Debbie MacDonald, of Huntington Station, writes: I believe it’s more important to keep the schools open for our children and grandchildren than bars, restaurants, gyms and other nonessential businesses. Why are so many adults selfish? We should put the children first. Drink at home; get takeout; work out at home. As a mother and grandmother, I am ashamed of what’s going on and worry for the children. Things will be better soon, but we have to buckle down now. Read more letters from Newsday readers.

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