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Masks remain elemental for indoor events

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2021 9:32:13 PM
Modified: 8/13/2021 9:32:23 PM

Err on the side of caution.

That’s the policy nonprofits and other organizations throughout the Upper Valley are taking as the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to make inroads in the region. That’s especially true for organizations that serve children ages 12 and under who cannot yet be vaccinated.

“We have continued — never stopped, really — requiring masks in all of our indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status, because of our young patrons,” said Jen Flaster, manager of advancement at Billings Farm & Museum.

Outdoors, vaccinated people are not required to wear masks. Unvaccinated people are asked to wear one if they are within 6 feet of others not traveling with them. In addition to daily visitors, the Woodstock nonprofit organization hosts day camps and workshops for children.

“We distance. The campers are outside; when they’re close to each other they wear masks. Our counselors wear masks,” Flaster said. “We’ve always kept our safety practices ... pretty stringent. We never relaxed them.”

That’s been the case at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich.

When the museum first reopened to the public, officials asked people to register online before coming in, and there were capacity limits in place. Those limits were lifted on July 13, about a month after the state of Vermont dropped its restrictions on gatherings, said Trish Palao, marketing and communications manager at the museum. All visitors age 3 and older — regardless of vaccination status — are required to wear masks while inside the museum “and that’s primarily because a lot of our visitors are under 12 and unvaccinated,” Palao said.

“What we’re doing right now is what we have been doing all through the pandemic,” she added. That includes hand sanitizing stations spread throughout the museum and the installation of touchless faucets in the bathrooms.

Monique Priestley, executive director and founder of The Space on Main, a coworking and community gathering space in downtown Bradford, Vt., made the difficult decision to cancel events, including the much-anticipated youth Dungeons and Dragons classes. Priestley had purposely held off until August to start hosting more in-person events; then cases started rising again in the Twin States.

“For me, we’ve seen not just delta in general but specifically in our local area. There’s been a number of businesses that have been having employees test positive, and the health clinics have been seeing a rise,” she said. “We’re trying to do our part.”

Saturday’s Artisan Market was moved from inside The Space on Main to outside at Denny Park. Board game nights are moving to Zoom. Small groups will continue to be allowed to use the space.

“It feels like I’m jumping the gun, but I’m just hearing way too many stories,” Priestley said. “All of our public events are open to all ages, for the most part, so we want to be careful.”

The coworking space remains open to members and is busier than ever before: There are now 50 members, up from 20 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other organizations like the Windsor Public Library and the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction are similarly asking all visitors to mask up, whether vaccinated or not.

At the CCBA in Lebanon, which also serves people of all ages, everyone regardless of vaccination status was asked beginning this week to wear a mask when they move throughout the building. It’s something Kerry Artman, executive director of the CCBA, noticed that many people were doing on their own already.

All welcome and fitness desk staff are also wearing masks, regardless if they’re vaccinated. The changes were made when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upgraded the spread in Grafton County to “substantial.”

“We said, ‘OK, let’s just take some extra precautions,’ ” Artman said.

The CCBA hosts a number of children’s camps, and all staff members who interact with children wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.

“That’s been our policy all along,” Artman said, adding that, weather permitting, staff try to keep campers outside as much as possible.

AVA Gallery and Art Center is asking all staff and visitors to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, said Hildegard Ojibway, interim executive director. Camp groups are smaller than 2019 numbers to allow for better social distancing, and campers spend a lot of time outdoors.

“We’re just being as cautious as possible, especially since the people who can’t get a vaccine are the most vulnerable,” she said, citing those who are immuncompromised and children under 12. “We have to protect them.”

All events at AVA are going along as planned at this time. Staff are keeping an eye on CDC and state regulations and will respond if things change. That’s the approach many organizations are taking.

“We want to make sure our visitors feel comfortable coming to the museum, and we want to ensure they have a safe and healthy visit here,” Palao said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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