A downshift for cars

People dine and mill about along Main Street in Patchogue...

People dine and mill about along Main Street in Patchogue on Aug. 2. Credit: James Carbone

Aerobics in a parking lot. Sunday strolls down the middle of the street. A three-course meal on a road shoulder.

Some communities are all for such a shift, temporarily converting streets and parking spots into spaces for people to eat or mill about outdoors at a safe distance from others.

These ad hoc plazas are popular, officials and business owners say, which is shifting local attitudes about the value of public space — and about how much of it is given over to cars.

New York City and other urban centers also have converted roads into pedestrian spaces since COVID-19 struck. But observers say such initiatives are more unusual in suburbs like Long Island, which was shaped by land-use principles that prioritized cars at every turn.

The changes may even outlast the pandemic. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said a New York City program allowing restaurants to put tables on sidewalks, parking spaces and closed streets will resume next summer. Some see Long Island's pop-up pedestrian spaces enduring as well.

The number of new positives today, reported as of 3 p.m.: 35 in Nassau, 58 in Suffolk, 237 in New York City and 476 statewide.

These bars show the number of new coronavirus cases confirmed...

These bars show the number of new coronavirus cases confirmed each day in New York City and New York State. Credit: Newsday

The chart above shows new daily cases in New York City and the state. Search a map and view charts showing the latest local trends in testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

'The kids before got sick a lot'

Michelle Varela, of Roosevelt, and Margarita Sanchez, of Brentwood, in...

Michelle Varela, of Roosevelt, and Margarita Sanchez, of Brentwood, in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Experts say there may be an unintended health benefit to the pandemic: The same social-distancing, mask-wearing and other measures aimed at preventing transmission of the coronavirus also may be leading to fewer cases of the flu, the common cold and other contagious illnesses.

Michelle Varela of Roosevelt noticed it in her family.

"The kids before got sick a lot, because they went to school," Varela, 34, said in Spanish. "There was always a child with a cold, or the change in weather always affected them. But now, no. They haven't gotten a cold or anything like that."

There are few statistics on the prevalence of the common cold in the COVID-19 era, because people typically don't go to the doctor for a cold. But experts said flu-test data indicates COVID-19 precautions are having an effect on influenza.

In the Northern Hemisphere, flu cases typically peak in February and continue through the end of May, but this year the number of lab-confirmed flu cases fell sharply in early April, after much of the world was in some form of a COVID-19-related lockdown, according to a May article in Nature.

Concerns over LIRR passengers' distancing in emergency

Commuters at Penn Station on Wednesday afternoon.

Commuters at Penn Station on Wednesday afternoon. Credit: Dom L.

Long Island Rail Road commuters' accounts of crowding at Penn Station during and after the agency's Tropical Storm Isaias-related service suspension last Tuesday has raised new concerns about the LIRR's ability to maintain safe social distancing among passengers in an emergency.

But railroad officials say they're doing all they can to keep riders safe, including by requiring the use of face masks and by advancing several infrastructure projects that will reduce the frequency of major service disruptions and expand capacity at Penn Station.

LIRR spokeswoman Meredith Daniels defended the railroad's storm response — "a heroic feat," she said, that included "immediate and ongoing customer communication throughout the storm."

Photos were shared of dozens of riders gathering near Penn's departure boards — despite having plenty of open space in the station. The cramped conditions in some areas of Penn came despite the railroad still carrying only about a quarter of its usual ridership, which has been decimated by the pandemic.

Cuomo urges schools to move on reopening plans

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday criticized more than 100 public school districts that have not yet handed in their plans to reopen from the coronavirus pandemic, including 28 on Long Island.

The districts in Nassau and Suffolk that have not handed in the plans include some major ones such as Sachem, Brentwood and Syosset.

"There are 107 school districts that have not submitted their plan — for those 107 school districts, how they didn't submit a plan is beyond me. If they don't submit a plan by this Friday, they can't open," Cuomo said.

He also encouraged school districts across the state to get going and schedule briefings with parents and teachers as soon as possible to seek a public review and discussion of their reopening plans.

He said the 700-plus school districts in New York need to take those steps because their return to classes depends on them and time is of the essence, as the start of the school calendar looms weeks away.

More to know

Passengers board a Casco Bay Lines ferry bound for Peaks...

Passengers board a Casco Bay Lines ferry bound for Peaks Island in Portland, Maine, on July 30. Credit: AP / Robert F. Bukaty

The United States reached the 5 million mark for confirmed coronavirus cases over the weekend, a failure that has been met with astonishment and alarm in Europe.

Nassau County's comptroller said "From top to bottom, COVID-19 is having a devastating effect on our revenues across the board."

A PSEG spokeswoman said it is false that out-of-state crews are staying in hotel rooms for a 14-day isolation before being allowed to work.

With Major League Soccer's "tournament in a bubble" ending Tuesday, how will the league navigate resuming its season in its home markets?

MTV's Video Music Awards are switching to outdoor shows spread throughout New York City this year.

News for you

Metallica will be featured in a drive-in concert film shown at Adventureland...

Metallica will be featured in a drive-in concert film shown at Adventureland on Aug. 29. Credit: EPA / Mario Ruiz

"In all of rock, it literally doesn't get any bigger than Metallica." So says the CEO of Encore Live, which is presenting a drive-in concert film by the metal legends performing their first show of 2020. It will screen locally at Adventureland Aug. 29.

Bring your mask, students. We have some key questions and answers as schools prepare to reopen.

What could work for your student and family this school year? Sign up for our Newsday Live conversation on deciding what's best for your child, being held Tuesday at noon.

How COVID-19 exposed LI's racial inequities. NextLI will convene a panel of experts that will discuss the disparities of Long Island living based on race and how COVID-19 exacerbated the situation. Register here for Wednesday night's event.

Private pony ride? Kids can brush and decorate a unicorn pony with bows and get a ride at the Little Red Barn in Jamesport.

Plus: There's an easy way to get a traditional New England lobster bake on Long Island: Order it ready-to-go from a restaurant or seafood market. Pick your pleasure.

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

Commentary

More than 56,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and...

More than 56,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — including some 6,500 in New York — have died from COVID-19. Credit: Getty Images / shapecharge

56,000 nursing home deaths and Congress blinks. Already, more than 56,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — including some 6,500 in New York — have died from COVID-19. They account for more than 44% of U.S. coronavirus deaths, even though less than 1% of Americans live in nursing homes, Beth Finkel writes for Newsday Opinion

This is a national disgrace, she says.

To date, Congress has passed four bills that seek to mitigate the devastating impact of coronavirus on Americans. Yet, these bills barely touch on the crisis raging in long-term care facilities. And now, Congress appears to have blinked. What will it take for Congress to take meaningful action to protect nursing home residents?