NY starts the new year with 166 more COVID-19 deaths

The number of deaths, 166, in the state was up from 136 on Wednesday, and was the highest one-day death toll since May. Twelve Suffolk County residents and 11 Nassau County residents died of COVID-19 on Thursday, the state said.

The number of coronavirus hospitalizations statewide fell to 7,886, according to a news release from the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. That’s down 49 from the day before, but the effects of Christmas, New Year’s Eve and other holiday gatherings have not yet been seen, as hospitalizations often lag new infections by a few weeks.

The percentage of coronavirus tests that came back positive fell again in Suffolk and Nassau, although the number remains far higher than just a few weeks ago.

In Suffolk, 9.7% of the tests came back positive on Thursday. The rate was 10.5% on Wednesday and 12.8% on Tuesday.

In Nassau, the rate was 8%, down from 8.9% on Wednesday and 10.5% on Tuesday. Statewide, the positivity rate was 7.52%.

In a statement, Cuomo urged New Yorkers to do what is necessary "to defeat this invisible enemy."

"As we start 2021, I encourage all New Yorkers to look to their better angels and continue the practices we know stop the spread of this virus — wash your hands, socially distance, and wear a mask," he said.

The number of new positives reported today: 1,556 in Nassau, 1,874 in Suffolk, 5,293 in New York City and 16,497 statewide.

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

These bars show the number of new coronavirus cases confirmed each day. Health officials look for trends in daily counts for signs that the pandemic is gaining strength or weakening. Credit: Newsday

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

Group protests pandemic restrictions on LI

A crowd of about 40, far less than predicted by...

A crowd of about 40, far less than predicted by organizers, turned out Thursday night at the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station parking lot to protest New York's COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and bars. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Organizers of a New Year’s Eve event in Ronkonkoma protesting New York's COVID-19 regulations predicted a crowd in the hundreds — perhaps even 1,000 — to pressure Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to lift restrictions on bars and restaurants.

But the event held at the Long Island Rail Road parking lot in Ronkonkoma drew just a few dozen people, organizers said.

Jennifer Harrison of Mastic, one of the organizers of the event, blamed the lower-than-expected turnout on a change in venue. The event was planned for the parking lot of Suffolk’s H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, Harrison said, but Suffolk police told organizers that they would not be permitted to hold their event on the property.

The event, Harrison said, was organized in part by the Setauket Patriots, which held several car rallies across Long Island earlier this year to support President Donald Trump’s failed reelection bid. Thursday’s New Year’s Eve celebration and protest had nothing to do with presidential politics, according to Harrison.

She said: "This is about supporting restaurant workers who are struggling right now."

After losing husband to COVID-19, animal lover keeps pet pantry going

Danielle Scala-Nathan at the entrance to Paw It Forward, the...

Danielle Scala-Nathan at the entrance to Paw It Forward, the pet pantry she founded with her husband Rob, in Valley Stream. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

About four years ago, Danielle Scala-Nathan and her husband, Rob, turned their basement in Valley Stream into a pet pantry. They collected and distributed pet food and supplies with a focus on hurricane victims.

Scala-Nathan first recognized this need in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

"Pet owners started giving up their animals during these hardships," she said. "Pet owners were struggling to pay their bills. So instead of giving up their pets, we help with supplies — pet food, bowls, leashes and collars."

When the coronavirus pandemic began in March, they knew pet owners would need their help again, this time on a local level. That month, covered in personal protective equipment, Scala-Nathan picked up donations of pet food in Queens with volunteers.

"People needed supplies in the first week or two of COVID, so I was still going out physically and getting the stuff," she said.

But then Scala-Nathan faced her own hardship: In April, a few days after their 15th wedding anniversary, Rob died from COVID-19. Continue reading

Hospital's 'unsung' hero didn't hesitate when offered the vaccine

When Maria Fernandes, who has cleaned rooms at NYU Langone Hospital-Long...

When Maria Fernandes, who has cleaned rooms at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island for 29 years, was offered the vaccine in the first wave of coronavirus vaccinations, she took it. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Maria Fernandes has seen countless patients in NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island struggling to survive COVID-19 and — in many cases — not making it.

So when Fernandes, who has cleaned rooms at the Mineola hospital for 29 years, was offered the vaccine in the first wave of coronavirus vaccinations along with others on the front lines, she took it.

"I don’t want to be in their shoes," she said of COVID-19 patients. "I don’t want to be in their beds."

Doctors and nurses who have put themselves at high risk for contracting the coronavirus were among the first people to receive COVID-19 vaccines, starting Dec. 14. Along with them in the earliest stages of vaccinations have been others who risked their health and lives as they worked near patients: the employees who clean patient rooms, bring medications and food to patients, provide security, transport patients for procedures like CT scans, and deliver other services critical to hospitals.

"All of these people may not get the credit, but they are the backbone for the services we provide, and they are exposed to COVID, and certainly we have to ensure their safety as well as the safety of others," said Dr. Marc Adler, chief medical officer of NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island. "These are unsung heroes."

Long Island hospitals say they are vaccinating as fast as they can.

More to know

Authorities arrested a Wisconsin pharmacist suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing them from refrigeration for two nights.

Stony Brook announced Thursday that its women's basketball team is pausing activities after a positive COVID-19 test within the program.

TV personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, who apologized in April for downplaying coronavirus pandemic concerns as "press-induced panic," is recovering from a bout of COVID-19.

New Year’s Eve revelries, from the South Pacific to New York City, were muted as pandemic restrictions on open air gatherings saw people turning to made-for-TV fireworks displays or packing it in early since they could not toast the end of 2020 in the presence of friends or carousing strangers.

News for you

A "Harry Potter"-themed pop-up bar experience is coming to the...

A "Harry Potter"-themed pop-up bar experience is coming to the Nutty Irishman in Farmingdale this January.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Calling all muggles. Ready to head to Hogwarts? Harry Potter fans can tap into their inner wizard this winter at this pop-up bar at in Farmingdale, beginning Jan. 15. There will also be Broomstick Brunches on weekends.Tables are socially distanced and separated by partitions in line with regulations, and reservations are a must.

Enjoy the outdoors. Winter days don't mean you need to hibernate inside your home. Follow in the footsteps of these Long Islanders, of Scandinavian descent, and learn how to embrace the cold weather as a way of life.

LIers are hopeful. What are your goals for 2021? Some Long Islanders we spoke with shared their resolutions and hopes for 2021. Despite a year punctuated by a deadly disease that shows no signs of ebbing; masks, vaccines, political divisions and social strife, somehow, optimism and hope fueled many responses.

Your questions for Dr. Fauci. Newsday Live will be hosting a virtual discussion with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the COVID-19 vaccine. Fill out the form to be notified about the event and submit a question about the vaccine he may answer.

Plus: From ice skating and mobile party rentals to unique outdoor dining experiences and spa getaways, find resources to plan your weekend and start the new year off on a fun note.

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Newsday Opinion readers shared their hopes or fears for 2021.

Newsday Opinion readers shared their hopes or fears for 2021. Credit: Newsday

Together, we'll get through 2021. A Newsday editorial writes: As the most tumultuous year many of us can remember was careening to a close, we asked you to share one word that best describes your hopes or fears for 2021.

Your responses are depicted in the word cloud above; the bigger the lettering, the more often that word was submitted.

It was a follow-up to a similar request back in March, as the coronavirus was beginning to lacerate New York. We asked you for the one word that captured your emotional state at that moment. The differences from then to now are illuminating.

Back then, the most common responses were "frustrated," "uncertainty," "pissed" and "scared."

This time — even after the lockdowns and lockouts and lost jobs and more than 340,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States alone — many of you expressed a rosier outlook to carry into the new year.