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Feast Of San Gennaro Returns In Little Italy As Vendors Take COVID Precautions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The 95th annual Feast of San Gennaro kicked off Thursday in Little Italy after COVID-19 canceled the event last year.

The beloved tradition brings thousands of people to the narrow streets of Little Italy, but the 11-day party starts as city health officials investigate if another outdoor festival caused a COVID cluster.

"Sausage and peppers, the cannolis. I love it here," Marine Park resident Judy Gerona said.

"We missed it [last year]. but this year, we had a great time, came a little bit early, enjoyed the opening and going home with Ferrara's," Long Island resident Ralph Serignese told CBS2's Ali Bauman.

Revelers and vendors filled Mulberry Street for the festival of food, music and fun celebrating Italian culture. But it's all being done with caution because of the coronavirus, CBS2's Thalia Perez reported.

Watch Thalia Perez's report -- 

"It feels good. It's really nice for things to go a little bit back to normal and for us to be outside and kind of celebrating and doing regular New Yorker things," said Alexis Singh from the Bronx.

Selling Italian pastries at the festival has been a family tradition for Jennifer Aquilino and her mom, Nancy Rimesso, that started more than 36 years ago.

"My grandfather came over from Italy. He started it back then, he used to do zeppole," Aquilino said.

Being together means so much more this year. Rimesso was sick with COVID-19 last year and spent 10 weeks on a ventilator in the ICU.

"We're very excited. We lost out last year, but we've got to keep the tradition going. Life's got to go on. You gotta bring New York back to life and this is the perfect way to do it," Aquilino said.


With renewed concerns about the virus spreading among crowds, many vendors said they are taking extra precautions.

"If we wear a mask, we have some social distance. We wish for good," said Michael Darouiche.

"We put up [acrylic barriers], and most of the vendors did also. Trying to keep a little bit of distance," said Bruno Donato.

"We're outside, and the city of New York has not given us any restrictions," vendor Danny Fratta said.

Meanwhile, the city's health department is investigating 16 cases of COVID-19 that have been linked to the Electric Zoo music festival on Randall's Island over Labor Day weekend.

Attendees were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result.

"We're all vaccinated. We feel safer," Long Island resident Susan Serignese said.

Vendors said this latest cluster is definitely on their minds. So is getting back to business.

"The San Gennaro feast is not just a business. It's a tradition," Donato said. "A lot of us vendors and neighborhood people here, we look forward to seeing each other every year."

Everyone agreed they would like to see this festival season end on a high note despite their COVID concerns.

"We have sanitizing stations. All the vendors are wearing gloves. Most everybody without a mask has been vaccinated," said Vivian Catenaccio, president of the San Gennaro Festival.

The Feast of San Gennaro runs through Sept. 26.


Meanwhile, in an effort to keep bringing the city back to life, restaurants in Upper Manhattan offered vaccine shots with $100 vouchers Thursday night on the eve of an expected vote from the FDA vaccine advisory committee on whether to recommend a third dose of Pfizer for the general population.

The Biden administration is pushing for a third dose, but the FDA has yet to take a definitive stance, saying the data shows all currently authorized vaccines still protect against severe COVID disease and death.

"I think the messaging from the White House has served to terrify the vaccinated and make the unvaccinated think that the vaccines don't work. And that is exactly what the White House did not want to message," Dr. Monica Gandhi said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says if the FDA gives the go-ahead for boosters, the city will set up 1,900 vaccination sites across five boroughs, 25 city-sponsored sites to prepare for a surge in demand and outreach events, including emailing those eligible.

The city says priority for boosters will be given to the elderly and immunocompromised. There's no word on whether vaccine mandates will expand to include boosters.

CBS2's Thalia Perez contributed to this report.

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