Amid the darkest moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the nation slogged through months of shutdowns and was desperate for hope, suddenly some appeared:
One December morning, a nurse from Long Island became the first American believed to be vaccinated against the deadly virus outside clinical trials.
It was headline news.
Sandra Lindsay of Port Washington became an instant hero for a beleaguered nation.
On Friday, President Joe Biden honored Lindsay at the White House, while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced she would be the grand marshal of a parade next week saluting heroes of the pandemic.
At a Fourth of July weekend event recognizing new U.S. citizens, Biden called Lindsay to the dais in the East Room of the White House to give her an "Outstanding American by Choice" award, part of a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services program that recognizes citizens who have been naturalized.
"Sandra, thank you for representing the very best of all of us," Biden told her before a crowd that included 21 naturalized Americans who were invited for a swearing-of-allegiance ceremony.
Lindsay beamed as the president praised her.
Biden also announced that Lindsay's hospital scrubs, vaccination card and identification badge will become part of an exhibit on the COVID-19 pandemic in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
In a telephone interview with Newsday after the ceremony, Lindsay said she could barely fathom she was in the White House.
"It was surreal," she said. "I just couldn’t even believe that I was at the White House. I am just so honored and just happy to be here."
Helping patients fight
Lindsay received her first Pfizer-BioNTech shot on Dec. 14 last year, garnering worldwide attention as the United States began its fight to turn back the deadly virus through vaccinations.
An emigrant from Jamaica, she came to the United States more than three decades ago. She now oversees Long Island Jewish Medical Center’s ICU units.
Biden retraced Lindsay's path as an immigrant, recounting how she landed in Queens and went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees, along with a doctorate.
Then COVID-19 hit, and it hit hard for Lindsay. An aunt and an uncle died of the virus, and Lindsay also had a prematurely born grandchild whom she had to protect.
"She did what she had to do: She kept her distance, she kept him safe," Biden said.
"During the height of the pandemic, she poured her heart and soul into the work to help patients fight for their lives and to keep her fellow nurses safe," he said. And even with deaths in her own family, "in her pain, she didn’t lose hope."
Lindsay said her colleagues at Northwell Health cared for 200,000 COVID-19 patients.
When the vaccine finally arrived, Lindsay agreed to take the shot — something she said at the time she did in part to encourage others to take it, too.
"When the time came, she was the first person in America to get fully vaccinated outside of clinical trials," Biden said. "She can now hug her grandson."
She has continued to urge others to get vaccinated, the president said.
"She’s out there making sure her patients and folks in her community are getting vaccinated, so they can get back to their lives and their loved ones," he said.
He concluded: "Sandra, if there are any angels in heaven, as I told you, having spent a lot of time in the ICU, they’re all nurses, male and female. Doctors let you live. Nurses make you want to live."
More honors at NYC parade
Lindsay will be honored again on Wednesday. De Blasio said the Hometown Heroes Parade, in the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan, will salute medical workers, first responders, essential workers and others, "everyone who was there for us during COVID and saw us through."
The parade is to be followed by a ceremony at City Hall, to be hosted by "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts.
"It's really a moment to celebrate folks who just, you know, without these folks, New York City wouldn't have made it through. I mean, it's as simple as that. This was the biggest crisis in the history of New York City," de Blasio said on his weekly radio appearance on WNYC.
The mayor had promised to hold the parade since last year and announced it during the pandemic's darkest time.
"These are the folks who were the heroes," he added. "They’re everyday working people. They often don't get the accolades they deserve. Here, we're treating them like, you know, the generals of wars and the astronauts and the champions in different sports. We're giving working people the salute they deserve."
Virus statistics remain low
As Lindsay again returned to public attention, indicators of the virus continued to be low across Long Island and the state.
The seven-day average for positivity in test results was 0.48% statewide, 0.43% on Long Island, and 0.54% in New York City. Those numbers were slight increases over those of the last few days.
The number of new confirmed cases in test results from Thursday was 39 in Nassau County, 33 in Suffolk County, and 263 in New York City, according to state data.
Throughout the state, four people died Thursday of causes linked to the virus. One of the fatalities was in Nassau County.
"As far as we've come with the COVID beast, it is important to remember our fight is not over," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement. "The best weapon we have is the vaccine — it is safe, effective and free."
Cuomo has decided to relocate a planned memorial honoring COVID-19 workers after protests from residents of Battery Park upset about losing green space.
Battery Park City Authority chairman George Tsunis told residents of the area that the "Circle of Heroes" COVID-19 workers memorial will be placed in another location, according to a video of Tsunis talking to local residents.
Cuomo announced the memorial last month and said it would be ready by Labor Day.
On Long Island, the Town of Islip and Good Samaritan Hospital will launch a new vaccination site on the grounds of the Brentwood Recreation Center, officials said Friday.
The location, until now, has been a COVID-19 test site and will transition to a free vaccination site starting Wednesday. It will be operate 1-5 p.m. on Wednesdays by appointment only.
Anyone interested can call 631-376-3224.
With Matthew Chayes
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