Cuomo: UK variant of COVID-19 found in upstate NY

EMT-paramedic Ian Mauro administers the vaccine at Stony Brook University Hospital...

EMT-paramedic Ian Mauro administers the vaccine at Stony Brook University Hospital on Dec. 15. Credit: Raychel Brightman

The variant was found after sequencing a sample from a man affiliated with a jewelry store, Cuomo said. Three other people who work at the store have tested positive for the virus, but it's not yet known if they had the mutated virus.

The person found to have the strain is a 60-year-old man who works at N. Fox Jewelers in Saratoga Springs. The state is asking people who went there from Dec. 19 to Dec. 24 to get tested and notify health authorities.

The store had been closed since the latter date.

Meanwhile, the first health care workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine returned on Monday for their second and final dose, with nurse Sandra Lindsay of Port Washington again leading the way.

Lindsay, who works at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, on Dec. 14 became the first person in New York and possibly the nation to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, other than those in clinical trials.

The number of new positives reported today: 1,071 in Nassau, 1,232 in Suffolk, 3,726 in New York City and 11,209 statewide.

The chart below shows the positivity rate on Long Island in recent days.

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.

Districts offer school programs to close academic gaps

While school administrators said the delivery of education on Long Island has improved since remote and in-person classes got started, they're still concerned some students might be falling behind.

To close the gap, some districts are offering free enrichment programs before and after school and using virtual opportunities to enhance learning.

According to global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., assessment data from the fall showed that students, on average, started school about three months behind in mathematics, while the picture for reading was more positive, with students starting school 1 1/2 months behind historical averages.

On Long Island, several school districts turned to online resources and virtual enrichment programs to keep students engaged.

LI food banks: Need for food in 2020 more than any year in modern memory

Paule T. Pachter, chief executive of Long Island Cares, at...

Paule T. Pachter, chief executive of Long Island Cares, at the location in Freeport on Saturday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The need for food skyrocketed across Long Island in 2020, more than any year in modern memory, worse than the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and the first year of the Great Recession, food bank officials say.

Island Harvest, the largest food bank on Long Island, fed more than 550,000 families this past year, an increase of 83% above the previous year. Long Island Cares, a Hauppauge-based nonprofit that provides food for 350 food kitchens and pantries, saw demand rise by 72% and provided 12 million meals in 2020, officials said.

Food bank officials expect that even after vaccines are widely distributed, the virus-heightened need for food relief on Long Island will continue well into this year.

"We are now providing food for 480,000 people," said Paule T. Pachter, chief executive of Long Island Cares. "It's been very challenging, very emotional and an extremely rewarding year."

Those in need of food assistance can find resources here.

Even the chocolate bar fundraisers are going virtual

Ron Kaiser and Larry Hirschheimer in the stock room in...

Ron Kaiser and Larry Hirschheimer in the stock room in Melville of Miss Chocolate, which they co-own with Lou Nagy. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Those school fundraisers that include students selling boxes of chocolate bars to fund a special trip and catalogs of toys and treats whose sale supports the school choir have also fallen victim to the pandemic.

One local company — the Melville-based Miss Chocolate — is weathering some nearly impossible conditions. After losing 60% of its business this year and laying off the vast majority of its staff, it's shifting its focus to virtual fundraisers, shipping directly to buyers or offering curbside pickup. The hope, said Larry Hirschheimer, a co-owner, is that its reputation and flexibility will allow the company to stay afloat.

"It’s run like a family business," said Hirschheimer, who runs it with partners Ron Kaiser and Lou Nagy. "We’ve helped schools raise millions of dollars — $3 1/2 million to $4 million every year … and we’re trying to do the right thing, both for the employees and the customers."

    More to know

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday a new national lockdown for England until at least mid-February to combat a fast-spreading new variant of the virus.

    The NCAA announced all 67 men's basketball tournament games including the Final Four will be played entirely in Indiana to keep the event from being called off for a second year because of the pandemic.

    The St. John’s men’s basketball program resumed team activities on Monday, two days after a suspected positive COVID-19 test postponed its home game against DePaul.

    Hempstead officials on Tuesday plan to award the remaining $25.8 million in federal stimulus funding the town received to school districts, villages and to cover town building improvements and janitorial supplies.

    The U.S. COVID-19 death toll surpassed 350,000 over the weekend, as experts anticipate another surge in cases and deaths from holiday gatherings.

    Vaccinations in the U.S. ramped up during the past few days after a slower-than-expected start, bringing the number of shots dispensed to about 4 million, officials said Sunday.

    Cuomo won't deliver the annual State of the State address this week but will delay the virtual remarks until Monday, he said.

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    There's a new drive-through in town. Farm Stores, a chain of drive-through convenience stores, opened in Smithtown and Island Park. See what they have to offer.

    Plus, another webinar upcoming: Local health experts will discuss the second wave of COVID-19 and updates on the vaccines during a webinar on Thursday. Register here.

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

    Commentary

      

       Credit: Getty Images/miljko

    We can manage risk in reopening schools after winter break. M. Kate Grabowski, an assistant professor of pathology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, and Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, write for The Washington Post: Schools nationwide are returning from winter break this week — either virtually or in person.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently put out recommendations that schools, especially kindergarten through fifth grade, should be the last thing to close and the first to open during the pandemic response. We wholeheartedly agree with this recommendation. But that's not because schools do not contribute to viral transmission, as many commentators have argued. Based on evidence currently available, schools almost certainly do contribute to viral transmission, and pretending they don't is potentially dangerous, as it could lead to schools opening without proper preparation and investment in virus control.

    We should open schools not because it would be risk-free, but because schools are important, and the risks can be managed. Keep reading.