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Their parents died weeks apart from COVID. What happened next gave them strength.

When COVID-19 took their parents, a community responded

COVID-19 took the lives of Johalmo Lemus' parents only 18 days apart.

The Hempstead resident said the deaths of his mother on Feb. 26, and his father on March 16, led to an outpouring of supportive messages that consoled him but also compounded his grief.

"You have the days you cry all day," said Lemus, 22, a junior studying biology at Farmingdale State College. "I'm getting all these texts again, 'I'm sorry for your loss.' "

The incalculable loss of both parents — leaving behind Lemus and his sister, Sandra, 18, a freshman at Nassau Community College — has also been felt by many friends, some of them customers at Spaghettini Pizza Trattoria in Mineola, where their dad was a beloved chef.

As of Tuesday night, a GoFundMe account launched last week with a goal of raising $100,000 for the family had collected 893 donations so far totaling $72,555.

On Feb. 18, Lemus and his sister drove their mom, Sandra Lemus, 49, and separately their dad Ernesto, 52, to Nassau University Medical Center after both fell ill.

"I dropped them off at the hospital, my mom and dad," Lemus said. "I told them, 'Let me know and I'll pick you up, what time and day. It just didn't happen.' "

The number of new positives reported today: 603 in Nassau, 665 in Suffolk, 3,809 in New York City and 7,278 statewide.

The chart below shows the number of new coronavirus cases confirmed each day in Nassau and Suffolk.

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

Finding a COVID-19 vaccine: What to know

As the number of New Yorkers eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine grows, locations across Long Island are gearing up to meet the demand.

CVS pharmacies started taking appointments to vaccinate people 50 and up on Wednesday. The Nassau Coliseum vaccination site opened Tuesday and is available to any state resident who fits the eligibility requirements.

But finding an appointment will still take some patience and tenacity. At last check, the state's mass vaccination sites on Long Island, such as Jones Beach and Stony Brook University, showed no available slots Wednesday afternoon.

We break down some locations in Nassau and Suffolk and how to get an appointment.

Cuomo: NY training residents before 'another pandemic'

New York is launching "a state-of-the-art public health training program" so more state residents can be prepared to respond to health emergencies and possibly constitute a volunteer corps for future health crises, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

The training program, featuring sessions with Cornell University and SUNY professors on public health issues, will be free and available for registration online starting Wednesday. The program starts April 30 and includes a 16-hour curriculum delivered in eight sessions, with a certificate granted.

The effort is predicated on the belief, Cuomo said, that other viruses or health crises will strike and residents need to be better informed and prepared for them.

He showed a timeline of outbreaks that occurred before COVID-19 to say that the warning signs were there about the impending threat from pathogens.

"I expect another pandemic," Cuomo said, adding that he could see another one happening "in the next few years."

Cheese business owner mourned, then rallied

The week of the shutdown last March, Jessica Affatato, owner of Northport-based Harbor Cheese and Provisions, saw $15,000 worth of business disappear.

Her firm, which sells artisanal cheeses and offers tastings and classes, had booked two months of in-person cheese-making classes that suddenly had to be canceled. And she wasn't sure if her other revenue stream, farmers markets, would open.

"I was grieving because I really thought my business was dead," says Affatato, 37, noting she had $2,000 worth of cheese inventory she'd have to use or give away.

She took a few weeks to settle into the new normal and soon saw people's interests shifting to virtual activities. She figured she'd give it a go. Her first two public tasting classes, in late May, sold out, and that trend continued.

Read our Q&A with Affatato, who ended 2020 with revenues up 35% from pre-pandemic 2019.

And on the 21st day ... gifts for seniors at Kings Park High

Once a month in Kings Park, a group of parents — often joined by the high school principal, Jason Huntsman — fans out across the hamlet to deliver small gifts to the homes of more than 200 Kings Park High School seniors.

So far they have organized three dropoffs of desserts, and one of Queens Botanical Garden tickets and decorative stones. They plan to keep it up through graduation in June.

It is an effort to brighten a year that in Kings Park, as in most every public school district on Long Island, lacks some traditional highlights. Homecoming and Senior Banquet were canceled, as were some class trips; prom was still uncertain as of last week. Until full-time in-person school resumed Monday, it was hard for some of the seniors to see friends they'd known since kindergarten.

Two mothers of seniors, Cynthia Grimley and Jennifer Brojer, came up with the idea in late December.

"Is it perfect? No, but I feel as if we're making a little difference, and if they smile a couple minutes, look forward to what they're getting," it's a success, Grimley said.

More to know

Long Islanders owe over $187 million in past-due utility bills as state lawmakers are scrambling to extend a moratorium on utility shut-offs set to expire next week.

Five more high school football programs are on COVID-19 quarantine this week, while the rest of Long Island follows the regular schedule.

Regal Cinemas will reopen for "Godzilla vs. Kong" on April 2 as part of a new deal with Warner Bros. The chain is expected to open roughly 500 of its 536 venues, but it did not return requests for information on which of its eight Long Island venues might reopen.

The landmark Sag Harbor Cinema, which has been dark since the building succumbed to fire in 2016, will begin operating April 9 ahead of its official reopening on Memorial Day.

News for you

You're invited! Now what? As the weather warms and the vaccine rollout continues, party planners on Long Island expect to see the return of weddings, backyard bashes and other gatherings. But what about pandemic etiquette? Here is advice for how to handle invites and other situations sure to arise.

It's that season ... tax season. We'll host local experts to answer your income tax questions in a Newsday Live conversation Thursday at noon. Register here.

Treat yourself to the top cookie. While supermarket cookie aisles are packed with chocolate chip cookies of all sizes, textures and chocolate types, which one stands out from the brown, buttery crowd? Spoiler alert: It hails from Long Island.

Plus: It's time to pack up the car and explore the many family-friendly spots Long Island has to offer. We've got seven family-friendly ways to mark the arrival of spring.

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Commentary

So what are you going to do once you're fully vaccinated? Mary Schmich writes for the Chicago Tribune: It's one of the great existential questions of our pandemic time, one that pops up lately whenever I see friends via Zoom, which is almost always how I see friends.

Will we get on a plane? Go back to the gym? Go to the hairdresser, a ballgame, a restaurant, a party? Shake hands? Hug? Buy a ticket for Lady Gaga?

Or, given that life is mostly habit, will we keep hanging out on the sofa watching Netflix?Continue reading.

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