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Signs of desperation, hope, on Long Island amid coronavirus crisis

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If you walked down Main Street here in Northport, my small Long Island hometown, just a few weeks ago, you’d see people bustling, shops and restaurants buzzing, boat after boat arriving in the harbor, parishioners streaming out of churches on Sunday.
No more. If you walk down Main Street today, you won’t see anyone. Most of the shops are shuttered. The restaurants desperate to drum up business by advertising that they’re “OPEN FOR TAKEOUT” with handwritten signs.
You’ll see mass gatherings only at the supermarkets, as everyone is afraid of shortages, and the number of cars has been dwindling even there.
For more than a week, rumors have circulated that the government will close down the banks, and when Chase announced it would shut multiple branches last week, our local branch saw a Great Depression-esque bank run.
Of course, the change from “Our Town” to “Night of the Living Dead” is what happens when a fast-spreading deadly virus sweeps across the planet, striking my area worse than most other crises in recent memory.
With Hurricane Sandy, the consequences were mostly physical: They may have damaged some property and disrupted normal life for weeks, and many of the streets were closed or blocked by fallen trees, but at least the storm itself came and went quickly. When it was gone, it was gone.
The COVID-19 pandemic is different: It’s a storm we can’t see, so everything looks normal, yet it drags on, with no one really able to say with much certainty when it will end.
Still, the folks in Northport know it’s out there: As of Wednesday, 426 people had tested positive for the virus in Huntington, the town that includes Northport Village. Throughout Suffolk County, 2,375 tested positive; 22 of them died.
This viral storm seems to have changed everyone’s lives. Last week I visited my grandparents, who live close by, because my uncle was dropping off supplies. That’s what we need these days, “supplies”: toilet paper, paper towels, food, bottled water, disinfectant wipes. My grandparents, who are in the age range where they are most at risk if hit by the bug, met everyone outside. We stood in the driveway, six feet away from each other, chatting for an hour. It was an odd episode.
Even when an experience mostly seems normal, something comes along to break the apparent normalcy. When I went to the boardwalk at a local beach to avoid going stir-crazy, everyone stayed six feet away from each other, but that’s common on that spacious stretch. So I was almost able to forget the pandemic — until I went to leave and saw a woman wearing a respirator that resembled a World War II gas mask. Another bizarre reminder of the times.
It can seem like the end of the world here, but from time to time we see a glimmer of light shine through. In a recent post, for example, on neighborhood-watch social-media site NextDoor, an older resident asked for help with shopping. Despite everything — the fear, the end-of-the-world sightings, the constant reminders that SARS-CoV-2 may lurk everywhere — the man received dozens and dozens of replies from neighbors more than willing to help.
And he was clearly touched by the response. It made him proud of his community, he wrote. It “restored the faith in humanity of this cynical old man.”
Northport will recover, though the crowds probably won’t be as large this year, nor the shops as busy. When we look back on these days, we’ll have to weigh how we responded. That resident’s story gives me hope, even now, that our community, and nation, and world, are bonding amid the chaos, standing up even for neighbors we don’t know and working together to get through.
When the coronavirus pandemic is finally over, when normalcy returns and we’re back to the usual partisan bickering, it’ll be worth remembering that.
Karl Salzmann is an intern on The Post’s Editorial Board.

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