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Coronavirus Impact: How a Crisis Is Changing the U.S.

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“I’m 84 years old, so staying confined to the house for protection,” wrote Marcia Savin, a children’s book author and teacher who lives alone in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, on the neighborhood social networking app Nextdoor.

Before the virus, Nextdoor was, to most users, something between a hyperlocal Facebook and an updated version of Craigslist. In recent weeks, however, some New Yorkers, many isolated and under quarantine, have logged on, many for the first time, with a focused and urgent set of questions. Last week, Nextdoor told CNN that engagement had nearly doubled. In Ms. Savin’s neighborhood, the posts read like a diary of a neighborhood on lockdown.

It was Saturday, March 21. Ms. Savin’s prescriptions were ready at a local pharmacy, she said, but she couldn’t pick them up “because I’m not leaving the house and they have stopped answering phone.” Soon, she said, she received five offers to help. “None of them were people I know,” Ms. Savin said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It’s been quite heartening.” So far, Laura Weiland, 32, has made two drop-offs at Ms. Savin’s home. Their interactions are simultaneously neighborly and distant.

“I’m completely confined,” Ms. Savin said. She doesn’t open the front door. “I see the person, I flip the check through the mail slot, I tell her to leave the supplies and I drag them in,” she said.

Now she has her medicine, and her fridge is full. She is grateful to Ms. Weiland, whom she has never met without a phone, screen or door between them. Ms. Weiland, a marketing professional, described her neighbor as “lovely.”

In New York, where millions of people are living under some of the country’s strictest rules, users have been posting as they see fit, unsure, as in so many other things, what a local social network is for.

Nextdoor has added new features to the platform, including a map to which neighbors wishing to help can add their location and volunteering abilities, seizing a moment when neighborliness is both necessary and necessarily mediated.

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There are still relics of Nextdoor 1.0: complaints about discourteous runners, unverified rumors about what the city may do next and full-on conspiracy theories.

But Nextdoor was not built to be a disaster-relief platform. Its most vital role may be in directing people to organizations and networks best suited to respond to needs as the city weighs guidelines for safely helping neighbors.

Shira Milikowsky, 38, who lives near Ms. Weiland, posted her own offer to help on Nextdoor. There she found a small army of others nearby who were also looking for ways to chip in. “It was people saying, ‘me too, me too, me too,’” she said.

Nextdoor has also continued to function in another way: as an object of bewilderment and humor. Jenn Takahashi, 31, a tech worker in San Francisco who runs @bestofnextdoor, a Twitter account that collects strange, shocking and whimsical posts from the platform, hasn’t been too surprised by what has been sent her way.

A few residents of Minneapolis circulated a call to get together and sing from their front porches, inspired by videos of quarantined Italians singing from their balconies.

One later shared the experience, which was then shared with Ms. Takahashi. “I guess a bunch of people sang last night, and I tried it tonight,” the poster wrote. “I was the only one on my block but it still felt really good, and just a little bit embarrassing.”





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