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These neighbors have held onto one pandemic activity: cheering for first responders

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

New York City was hit hard by the COVID pandemic. It's moved on from those emergency days of March and April 2020, and that's obviously good. But on one block in Brooklyn, a group of neighbors has found one thing from that time that they think is worth hanging onto. Reporter Sally Helm has the story.

SALLY HELM, BYLINE: In the early days of the pandemic, thousands of New Yorkers did the same thing every night...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Whoo (ph).

HELM: ...They came to their windows and clapped for the health care workers and others putting their lives on the line. The tradition eventually faded away - almost.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

OLIVER FEIN: Remember the essential workers.

HELM: I came across two couples in Brooklyn who are still at it. Charlotte Phillips and Oliver Fein are doctors in their 80s. They're retired from clinical practice. And they come out onto the sidewalk in front of their brownstone every night to cheer for health care workers and delivery people. Phillips has a tambourine. Fein rings a bell. Their upstairs neighbors, Olive and Derek Healey, bang together wooden spoons. Other New Yorkers gave this up years ago, but these four have missed just a handful of weeks in the past 48 months. Phillips says she just never felt like it was time to stop.

CHARLOTTE PHILLIPS: The problems haven't gone away. COVID is still having an impact on people.

HELM: Medically, but also economically, emotionally, so the ritual still feels important, partly as an example to their daughters and grandchildren.

PHILLIPS: They know that we're still doing it, and they may think we're, like, a little bit odd. But nevertheless, it's - if you can find one thing to do every day, that is something. In the bigger scheme of things, it's important.

HELM: I was talking to Philips and Fein in their dining room. And, at 6:59 on the dot...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL PHONE ALARM)

PHILLIPS: That's my alarm.

FEIN: That's the alarm (laughter).

PHILLIPS: That's to go out. That's it.

HELM: I followed them out onto the sidewalk.

PHILLIPS: Remember the essential workers.

HELM: I flagged down one passerby, Romain Brunet. He lives across the street, and he has heard this clapping many times.

ROMAIN BRUNET: Even in the winter, they are doing it. So, I mean, it's nice.

HELM: He's impressed.

BRUNET: They think about people that don't get think about a lot, and that's just cool.

HELM: He says you can kind of forget, day to day, that health care workers exist - that they're doing important work. But Brunet - he gets a reminder every night.

For NPR News, I'm Sally Helm in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF KACEY MUSGRAVES SONG, "OH WHAT A WORLD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sally Helm
Sally Helm reports and produces for Planet Money. She has covered wildfire investigation in California, Islamic Finance in Michigan, the mystery of declining productivity growth, and holograms. Helm is a graduate of the Transom Story Workshop and of Yale University. Before coming to work at NPR, she helped start an after-school creative writing program in Sitka, Alaska. She is originally from Los Angeles, California.