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The year that changed Long Island

From 799 deaths in 1 day to vaccines bringing a pathway to normalcy

A year ago this week, Long Islanders went about their normal daily routines. They traveled in packed Long Island Rail Road cars to jobs in Manhattan. They met friends for drinks in crowded bars. They gathered with generations of family for big Sunday dinners.

Then came March 5, 2020, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Long Island's first COVID-19 case. The governor assured residents that "there is no reason for undue anxiety."

But in the past year, COVID-19 has killed nearly 48,000 New Yorkers, including more than 6,000 from Long Island.

Today, vaccines offer hope of a return to normalcy, yet the future remains uncertain. With a vaccine shortage and some reluctant to take the shots, it’s unclear when there will be enough people protected against the virus to dramatically limit its spread, and more contagious variants of the virus could cause spikes in cases. The virus remains unpredictable — just as it was a year ago, before it led to the worst pandemic in more than a century.

"Especially in the spring of last year in New York, this was a horrible event, with so much illness and so much death," said Dr. Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer of New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health. "I think 2021 is certainly going to be better than 2020. But it’s not going to be the same as 2019 yet."

Newsday takes a look back on what's transpired during the past year.

The number of new positives reported today: 687 in Nassau, 654 in Suffolk, 4,025 in New York City and 7,593 statewide.

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To clarify from yesterday's newsletter: Domestic travelers to the state who have been vaccinated no longer have to quarantine or get tested within 90 days of full vaccination.

The chart below shows the number of new cases confirmed each day from the start of the pandemic.

Search a map of new cases and view more charts containing data from the start of the pandemic on new cases, testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

NY sees decreasing positivity rates, but LI rates higher

The number of COVID-19 cases across the state continues to drop, but Long Island still tops the list for highest positivity rate over a seven-day period, according to statistics released Thursday.

While the state's seven-day average of new cases was 3.12%, Long Island's was 4.18%.

Meanwhile, two Long Island locations are among 12 pop-up vaccination sites for COVID-19 that will be set up in communities around the state over the next few days with the goal of inoculating more than 4,000 people, Cuomo said Thursday.

The sites include religious institutions, schools and neighborhood centers, with the goal of reaching underserved communities.

Panel: Vaccines stop hospitalizations, deaths, even with new strains

While newly discovered variants of the coronavirus may prove more transmissible than the original virus strain, a panel of medical experts on Wednesday said scientists were certain vaccines help prevent hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.

Participating in the Newsday Live webinar "What to Make of COVID-19 Variant Findings?" experts said even with unknowns, vaccinations and sticking to safety measures like social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands were key to winning the fight.

"We do know 100 percent across the board all vaccines do help prevent people from dying," said Dr. Uzma Syed, infectious disease doctor and chair of the COVID-19 task force at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, adding that the MRNA-based vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer can be "tweaked very easily" to address new strains.

Read more, and watch the full webinar here.

Vaccine development: What other versions of the vaccine are in the works and when will they be available to children? Those questions and more FAQs are answered here.

Therapy dog welcomed back at hospital for first time since pandemic

Hazel often gets questions and stares when she walks through the halls of Huntington Hospital.

"Is she an employee?" some ask, looking at her Northwell Health ID badge.

"No," replies Gary Zelner, walking alongside her. "She’s a volunteer."

Hazel is a 3-year-old golden retriever. She’s a certified therapy dog who has been bringing smiles to Huntington Hospital since she was just 13 months old — and last month, Hazel and her handler were welcomed back to the hospital for the first time since the pandemic began. Read more.

More to know

Long Island’s housing market has started to settle down in February, as the number of homes going into contract returned to normal levels after months of frenzied activity.

Fees fraudulently charged to members of gyms closed during the pandemic could be paid back as part of a settlement agreement that New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to 745,000, a sign that many employers continue to cut jobs.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday said "it’s a big mistake" for states to start lifting pandemic restrictions, as the governors of Texas and Mississippi ended mask-wearing requirements in their states.

With Biden's executive order issuing updated COVID-19 guidance for workplaces, experts say employers should expect ramped up enforcement and inspections.

News for you

Going from catering hall to restaurant. Late last year, Alan Feinstein turned his Port Washington catering venue, H on the Harbor, into a restaurant. It's only open on Friday and Saturday nights and is equipped with 10 private "cabanas" with their own air purifier and a HEPA filter and UV light.

This bike and pedestrian pathway has expanded. A 10-mile extension of a four-mile bike and pedestrian path along Ocean Parkway in Babylon has been completed, Cuomo said. It opened Wednesday to bicyclists, runners, skaters and walkers to enjoy the scenic waterfront.

Before you think about traveling … You might want to familiarize yourself with the protocols, restrictions and logistics. Before deciding whether to travel at all, here's what you need to know.

Plus: A live and virtual 4-mile race is among plenty of socially distant or virtual things to do this weekend on Long Island.

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

Commentary

Online vaccine sign-ups make Internet access essential. Claire Park, a program associate with New America's Open Technology Institute, writes for The Washington Post: Last August, with schools closed for distance-only learning, a photo of two children doing schoolwork in the parking lot of a California Taco Bell so they could use the restaurant's Wi-Fi went viral.

For years, advocates have flagged the dangers of the digital divide, or unequal access to the Internet. It doesn't just prevent students from finishing their homework; it also hampers people from contacting their doctors, staying informed and participating politically, accessing government services and benefits, and maintaining connections to family and friends across the world. In a society that increasingly assumes universal access, the inability to get online can lead to real suffering. The pandemic has raised the stakes of those disparities: Now even the administration of vaccines reveals the life-or-death consequences of the digital divide.

Getting a vaccine shouldn't depend on having high-speed Internet service, a computer and familiarity with being online, but it often does. Keep reading.

A note to our community:

As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing.  Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.

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