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If it's 8 p.m., it's time to say thanks: Neighbors applaud medical workers fighting coronavirus

If it's 8 p.m., it's time to say thanks: Neighbors applaud medical workers fighting coronavirus 1

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Just about every night for the past few weeks, Lila Young has watched her neighbor across the street, a physician’s assistant at JFK Medical Center, come home from his job on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“He no longer goes in their front door but goes around back, gets out of his scrubs and showers before seeing his wife and two kids. I know he is worried and we worry for him, too,” said Young, who lives in the city’s Prospect Park neighborhood.

“When I saw where our state was headed and my own neighbors being so affected, I thought I just had to do something for those who are taking such a big risk right now.”

Last Friday, she did something. At 8 p.m., she stood at the end of her driveway and started clapping. She wasn’t the only one slapping her palms together.

Up and down Washington Road, from driveways, porches and balconies, sustained applause could be heard from other clapping residents.

Unbeknownst to Young, about 2 miles away in the city’s South End neighborhood, Marla Fountain was clapping, too, from the porch of her house at Flagler Drive and Bloomfield Road. And a few blocks southwest of Fountain, on Alhambra Place, Shanon Materio was clapping.

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A local slice of a global movement honoring doctors, nurses and first responders battling COVID-19, West Palm Beach’s “Clapping Hands of Thanks” was scattered those first couple of nights last week.

But as word spread in the neighborhoods east of Federal Highway and west of the Intracoastal Waterway, the local movement is slowly growing into a ritual that is getting louder each night.

“If they can do it for 15 hours, day in and day out,” Fountain, a former operating-room nurse, said of the medical crews, “then I can clap for five minutes.”

‘People power’

The spectacle of people cheering in the evenings began in mid-January in the city of Wuhan in China, where the virus originated. Anonymous voices could be heard, on early social media recordings, shouting from high-rise apartment buildings: “Keep up the fight!”

As the deadly virus spread to Europe, so did the local salutes to the people battling it. In Italy, from windows and balconies, quarantined residents clapped, sang arias and football chants, and played instruments.

The nightly applause has echoed in other places forced into lockdown – from Paris and London to cities in Spain, India and Turkey.

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Marla Fountain applauds health care workers and first responders Monday night. She launched a nightly "Clapping Hands of Thanks" ritual in the South End neighborhood of West Palm Beach, Fla.

After seeing TV images of New York’s Empire State Building lit up at night in honor of doctors and nurses, Young emailed a call to action to neighbors in West Palm Beach.

“We have the ‘People Power’ that can light up our neighborhoods,” she said.

“These unselfish and caring workers are sacrificing so much for all of us. And it doesn’t cost anyone one penny to say a simple ‘Thank you’ in a very unique way.”

Young alerted the fire department about the plan for that first night. And at 8 p.m. Friday, she and her clapping neighbors were treated to a surprise when three fire trucks rolled down Washington Road with lights flashing in appreciation.

“They came through and gave us a shot in the arm,” she said, “and we were there to give them a shot in the arm.”

‘Such a simple gesture’

Fountain said she launched her neighborhood’s clapping ritual Thursday night from her house across the street from the Intracoastal Waterway, where the sidewalk is busy just after sunset with joggers and dog walkers.

“I saw in on TV and thought, ’I can do that,” she recalled. “I mean, what else are we doing? It’s such a simple thing to do.”

She was the only clapper that first night but she made a friendly ruckus. “I stood on my porch and it made a loud echo. My daughter was like, ‘Mom, you’re crazy.”’

She got a few skeptical looks from motorists and joggers, some of whom asked why she was standing alone in her yard clapping.

Lila Young posted this sign in her yard on Washington Road in West Palm Beach, Fla. She hosts a nightly hand-clapping tribute in her Prospect Park neighborhood to honor first responders.

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“I said, ‘It’s for the first responders who are risking their lives.’ They were like, ‘Oh! OK!’ And they honked their horn. One girl raised her arms up and yelled, ‘I’m a medical worker.’”

That first couple of nights last week, Materio, a former city commissioner, said she was “the lone clapper on Alhambra. But it was neat because I could hear others clapping in the distance.”

Now, Fountain and Young are coordinating with Materio to rally more clappers up and down the waterfront neighborhoods.

“It’s a painless, costless thing to do, only takes a very few minutes and I guarantee you will feel great for such a simple gesture that you are encouraging others to do,” Young said.

“It really demonstrates our heartfelt appreciation for not only them but their families who are indeed sacrificing so very much right now.”

They said they plan to clap every night until the pandemic is over.

“My goal is to have a continuous line of applause up and down Flagler for miles,” Fountain said.

‘Raises their morale’

Catalina Orellana, a maternity nurse at St. Mary’s Medical Center, said her colleagues working in the ER are aware of the local clapping ritual.

“They love it. Every little bit raises their morale,” she said,

“There is such negativity in the news these days. Instead of how many people are infected, it’s nice to read about how many people showed up to clap for our doctors and nurses and first responders.”

After sunset on Tuesday, Orellana and her husband joined about 20 other people on the Intracoastal sidewalk across Flagler Drive from Fountain’s house. Some came on bikes. Others brought glasses of wine or a can of beer.

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All made sure to spread away from one another in observance of social distancing guidelines.

And at 8 p.m, Fountain shouted orders and led the clapping party.

“Five minutes, everybody,” she said. “I know you can do it. Alrighty, let’s go!”

As they clapped, some participants shouted out the names of friends working in the medical profession and added, “Thank you!”

By 8:05 p.m. it was over. But not until the participants gave each other a round of applause.

“Good job, everybody,” Fountain said. “See you tomorrow. Same time. Same place.”

Follow Joe Capozzi on Twitter: @jcapozzipbpost

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