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New Hampshire, Vermont residents urged to stay home for the holidays

  • Lisa Robar, of Kiss the Cow Farm in Barnard, Vt., watches her cows walk into their pasture after their morning milking on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Robar said she’s received calls from customers seeking smaller turkeys for Thanksgiving this year, a side effect of people reducing travel and planning smaller holiday gatherings due the pandemic. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Alice O'Malley, an intern at Kiss the Cow Farm in Barnard, Vt., collects eggs in the farm's solar chicken house on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Sadie Saltzman, left, and Clara Sandberg, interns at Kiss the Cow Farm in Barnard, Vt., pack community-supported agriculture bags at the farm on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. CSA programs in the Twin States and across the country have seen a spike in business during the pandemic, as people have sought to buy food locally and reduce travel. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/7/2020 11:01:40 PM
Modified: 11/7/2020 11:01:37 PM

RANDOLPH — Dr. Joshua White and his family usually spend Thanksgiving at his mother-in-law’s house in Massachusetts.

“She puts a big spread on for everybody,” he said in a video message last week to the community near the Randolph hospital where he works. But this year, he said, “We’re certainly not doing that.”

White, chief medical officer at Gifford Medical Center, warned that if Vermont had 1,000 families gathering on Thanksgiving without taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the state could then see 100 outbreaks stemming from the holiday. That would strain the state’s resources and potentially force another shutdown of businesses like that seen in the spring.

“COVID fatigue is a real thing,” he said. “Vermont has done well enough that we’re now a little bit victims of our own success.”

Officials in the Twin States are urging people to stay closer to home for the holidays this year. The warnings come as the U.S. hit a high of 100,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time on Wednesday, then setting new records in each of the three following days. New Hampshire also is reporting record highs in cases, and infections in Vermont are ticking upward as well, with the state reporting daily totals last week at levels not seen since June. In light of the recent spikes, some families like White’s are adjusting their holiday plans.

White said the four people in his immediate family will celebrate Thanksgiving at home with their dogs.

The “inconvenience and disappointment in not seeing people is far less than seeing them in an intensive care unit,” he said.

In the Granite State, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has seven siblings and dozens of nieces and nephews, told reporters at a late October news conference that he would celebrate both Thanksgiving and Christmas without extended family this year.

“We’re keeping it separate, keeping it in our immediate families, because there’s just no need to take that risk,” he said. “I think it’s a small sacrifice to say we’re not going to travel. We’re not going to get involved in large groups. All the kids go to different schools. All the parents work, for the most part, in different locations. So that just adds that domino effect of risk that you’re bringing into play.”

Home cooking

The downsizing has some downfield effects.

At Kiss the Cow Farm in Barnard, owner Lisa Robar said she has been fielding calls from people looking for smaller turkeys this year. Unfortunately, that desire doesn’t match the size of one-third of the 60 birds the farm raised this year.

“We have about 20 20-pound turkeys that we’re looking to sell,” she said in a phone interview.

But Robar said she’s not worried. Some people may buy a larger turkey than they need for the Thanksgiving table this year to have leftovers to enjoy later.

“I think they’ll slowly dribble out of here,” she said. “If not, my family loves turkey, so we’re good.”

Robar will be staying home with her immediate family for Thanksgiving, in order to abide by Vermont’s travel restrictions and to protect older family members who live in northern New Hampshire and are at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms due to COVID-19. She also won’t participate in her customary “Friendsgiving,” a Thanksgiving-themed meal shared by friends.

Her family of four, however, will still partake in “turkey and gravy,” she said.

In spite of the pandemic, cooking and baking are likely to remain a major feature of the holiday season. The baking craze that began with the lockdowns early in the pandemic didn’t let up this summer and promises to continue through the holidays, said Carey Underwood, director of mission-driven partnerships and programs at the Norwich-based King Arthur Baking Co.

King Arthur recently surveyed 1,000 people who have baked in the past six months to gauge how they plan to spend the holidays. Underwood said the survey found no consensus and showed that some plan to continue with their regular holiday celebrations, while others plan a smaller gathering or to stay home. Just 4% of those surveyed said they didn’t plan to celebrate this year, she said.

One thing was consistent, however:

“Overall, people will be baking more this year than last year,” she said.

People plan to bake more of everything, including cookies, bars, cakes and cupcakes, she said. King Arthur’s baking hotline has fielded calls from some grandparents trying to figure out how to bake with their grandchildren this year. Underwood said they suggest sending baking kits or mixes to the grandkids and getting the same for themselves, and then connecting virtually to share the time together even from a distance.

There are “lots of great ways people are talking about coming together virtually,” she said. “Baking brings such a warm feeling to people, especially over the holidays.”

Underwood, who lives in Woodstock, said she and her family will not travel to see extended family in Massachusetts as they usually do for Thanksgiving. Instead, she plans to celebrate with neighbors.

While she’s sad not to bake pies with her sister and her mother in person as they usually do, Underwood said she hopes they can do so virtually this year. They already had some success this spring when her parents watched her son blow out his birthday candles over Zoom.

It “wasn’t the same,” she said, but “it was OK.”

Their Thanksgiving baking “could be like that. Not a total replacement (but) something that works for now,” she said.

Travel precautions

At news conferences last week, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine urged people to avoid holiday travel.

“We know that social gatherings — often among trusted family and friends — are a driving force behind much of the virus’s spread right now nationwide,” Levine said Tuesday. “Adding the element of travel to the mix only makes it more risky.”

By Friday, he was “strongly urging people to lay low this season and forgo nonessential travel.” And he and Gov. Phil Scott also issued an advisory on social gatherings, “strongly recommending” that they be limited to 10 or fewer people.

In accordance with Vermont’s travel guidelines, most visitors to the state and most Vermonters returning home after a trip away would be required to quarantine for 14 days or for at least seven and then have a negative COVID-19 test. People in quarantine shouldn’t go out in public, Levine said. They also should wear masks in common spaces, use a separate bathroom, eat separately, stay 6 feet apart and otherwise not be in close contact with other household members.

The co-chairmen of Dartmouth College’s COVID-19 task force, Dr. Lisa Adams and Josh Keniston, sent out a message on Wednesday reminding members of the Dartmouth community that the college “strongly discourages personal travel at this time.”

Dartmouth’s fall term ends Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, and most students will not return to campus until January, but some people will continue working on campus over the break. Adams and Keniston asked people working on campus who plan to travel to alert their supervisor in advance if that travel will require a quarantine upon return, “as it may impact your ability to return to work and require use of personal or vacation time.”

They also asked employees to plan remote holiday celebrations for their departments this year, avoiding in-person gatherings on or off campus.

Some Upper Valley schools, however, are seeking to accommodate some holiday travel. School officials in the White River Valley Supervisory Union, which includes the Upper Valley towns of Bethel, Chelsea, Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge, announced in late October that they had adjusted the school calendar to allow for travel and required quarantine over the December break.

Dec. 21 and 22 will now be professional development days for teachers, meaning students will not attend, according to a recent update from White River Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Jamie Kinnarney. The break runs from Dec. 23-Jan. 1, and Jan. 4-8 will now be virtual learning days. The change allows families and teachers to leave as early as Dec. 18 and return as late as Dec. 28, while allowing for a two-week quarantine afterward.

Kinnarney, in a phone interview, said he came up with the plan in consultation with staff, administrators and the school board. He felt it necessary because members of the school community had told him that they planned to travel for the holidays.

“I believe it’s the safest plan moving forward,” he said. It will also give teachers a much-needed opportunity for in-service and both teachers and students a chance to practice using virtual classrooms, which at least as of Thursday had not yet been necessary due to a case of COVID-19 in the schools.

“I don’t want to create a culture where folks are feeling really stuck in regards to meeting personal needs,” he said, though he noted he also isn’t encouraging travel.

He is discouraging people from traveling for Thanksgiving because the school calendar has not been adjusted to allow for the necessary quarantine, he said. Kinnarney, a South Royalton native, said he won’t be going away for the holidays.

In late October, the Vermont Department of Health issued a “Holiday Travel Toolkit for Schools,” which includes questions for Vermonters to consider before traveling, questions to ask of visitors before they make the trip and ways to develop alternative plans. The Health Department urges Vermonters and visitors to consult the state’s travel map, plan ahead for quarantine, discuss expectations in advance and get flu shots at least two weeks before the visit. It also suggests considering the effects of travel or hosting visitors on people who may be at higher risk of developing serious symptoms due to COVID-19.

“People need to weigh their risk and then decide how much risk they are comfortable with,” according to the toolkit. “Our individual choices can profoundly impact the health of our community in this pandemic.”

The toolkit also notes that people tend to let their guard down around friends and family.

“But the fact is, we don’t know — and they may not know — if they’ve been exposed to the virus, and it’s those times that the virus can spread very easily,” it said.

White, in his video message, said that he thought Vermont’s latest surge in COVID-19 cases was probably a good thing going into the holiday season.

“The citizenry needed a wake-up call,” he said. “Managing this right now is going to be a lot easier than what might have happened if we had entered Thanksgiving with the sense that we’re safe.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Joanne Conroy and Dr. Michael Calderwood are scheduled to discuss holiday planning and safety on Facebook Live on Nov. 18 at noon. People can email questions in advance to social@hitchcock.org.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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