Covid-19 hinders Long Islanders’ Easter celebrations for second year

By Katie Fenton

For Dix Hills resident Gabriella Gentile, Easter is a time to embrace long-standing family traditions and enjoy quality time with her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

“I come from a very big Italian family, so usually we have like 50 people over at my house every year. A few days before that, we’ll get together, all of my cousins, and we’ll make Easter bread and color Easter eggs,” Gentile said.

Easter 2021 was, however, very different for Gentile, who is in her third year studying early education at Hofstra University, and her loved ones.

“It was just me and my family. My grandparents did come over because we’re all vaccinated, but we didn’t make the Easter bread. We did color Easter eggs, but we just got together for dinner this year,” Gentile said.

“It honestly felt very lonely. It was kind of sad because we’re so used to having so many people at my house,” Gentile continued. “I have 20 cousins, so it was kind of sad to have another year with just my family, not my extended family. But, you know, we made the best of the situation.”An interview with Dix Hills resident Gabriella Gentile on her experiences this Easter.

Gentile is one of many Long Islanders who had to make changes to their holiday traditions for a second “pandemic Easter” earlier this month. Much like last year, the coronavirus pandemic has made social distancing necessary, regardless of the occasion.

With infection rates remaining high throughout New York, churches and families alike have modified their usual celebrations to continue to slow the spread of Covid-19. Mary Ellen Lorraine, a spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health, said the county is still advising residents to follow New York State guidelines and continue to practice social distancing.

“On the state’s website, their guidelines still limit gatherings to 10 people in your home, and outdoors at your home, 25 people,” she said. “Of course, we’re still advising people that they should be wearing masks to protect each other, social distancing, avoiding shaking hands and hugging and kissing, frequently washing your hands — you know, those common-sense factors that we’ve been really pushing all along.”

Likewise, state guidelines limit gatherings in public spaces such as restaurants to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. Guidelines also state that people must wear face coverings in public while “within six feet of distance from other individuals, or in a situation or setting where they are unable to maintain six feet of distance from other individuals, or in a public or private transportation carrier or for-hire vehicle.”

 The religious composition of adults in New York in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center.

While the state and county’s advice echoes the public health guidelines that became prominent in April 2020, some Long Islanders were able to return to some pre-pandemic practices this Easter, thanks in part to the increasing availability of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Wantagh resident Allison DePaulis explained that she typically goes to Mass and enjoys a dinner with extended family to celebrate Easter.

“When I was younger, we’d do an Easter egg hunt, and we still watch ‘The Ten Commandments’ movie in the background. We usually do the ham and lamb dinner, like the typical dinner you do for Easter,” DePaulis said.

She and her family did not attend Mass this year, but they still managed to keep up certain traditions and arrange a festive dinner.

“A lot of my family is in the medical field and already vaccinated, so they came to Easter,” said DePaulis, a freshman in Hofstra’s physician assistant studies program. “Last year, I remember being kind of weirded out because we didn’t even do anything that we normally did, but it kind of went back to normal this year.”

Even with rising vaccination rates, though, many churches have been unable to return to their typical services. Pastor Sharon Lyons from Fountain of Life Church in Uniondale explained that the church canceled its recent plans to resume in-person services as some of its congregants were directly affected by Covid-19.

 The Fountain of Life Church in Uniondale had to cancel plans to reopen on Easter Sunday. // Photo by Pastor Sharon Lyons

“Because of the pandemic, we have been doing most of our services virtually, either by Zoom or by phone conference call. We were going to begin the process of re-entering the building, and we were going to do it on Easter Sunday,” Lyons said. “In the two weeks before, though, we had three families that were stricken [with Covid-19]. So, as a result, our pastor changed it, and we remained on the phone and on Zoom. We didn’t want to take the chance.”

Like DePaulis, however, Lyons noted that this Easter was an improvement from last year. “We were still learning the virtual part of it, so last year we were pretty much just on the phone,” she said. “As a result of the pandemic, we started training and preparing to go more virtual, and that’s why this year we had more options.”

Gentile pointed out that such virtual options can be a important way for nearly anyone to keep connections with family and friends alive in the age of social distancing.

“I definitely feel like people should make the most of the situation that they’re in, whether that be Zooming or FaceTiming their family, just so you could kind of feel some sense of normalcy, especially during this time,” Gentile said. “Be in the moment, embrace your family and the people that you do get to spend the time with… You have to make the most of the situation that you’re in.”