Omicron, snowy weather limit but don’t snuff holiday spirit in the Upper Valley

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    Joanne Conroy, CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, makes a purchase from Barry Snyder of Salubre at the Norwich Farmers Market in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. "The Upper Valley is pretty good at protecting themselves," said Conroy, who joined the majority of shoppers in wearing a face mask at the outdoor market in the parking lot of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. "Not so much in the other areas of the state." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Kate Emlen, of Norwich, right, talks with her daughter, Libby Chamberlin, of Denver, Colorado, left, between bites of a Jamaican chicken patty at the Norwich Farmers Market held at St. Barnabas Church in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. They said they plan to take COVID-19 tests before having a small family gathering for Christmas. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

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    Jon Felde, left, and his son Jonah, right, wait for an opening to cross the street after purchasing a wreath at the Norwich Farmers Market, which was held outside St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Norwich, Vt., where Felde is on the vestry. "We've had to make choices about balancing public safety and the tradition of gathering together at a special time of year," said Felde about the church's approach to the pandemic. Currently they hold services on Zoom and in person for members wearing masks and encourage vaccination. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/18/2021 9:05:01 PM
Modified: 12/19/2021 6:42:07 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — In spite of the recent discovery of the more transmissible omicron variant in the Twin States and as the region’s hospitals continue to handle the largest surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations they’ve seen since the pandemic began, there were some of the usual signs of the season on Saturday.

Christmas cookies were for sale at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction; wreaths, beeswax candles, knit hats and pottery were on display at the outdoor Norwich Farmers Market in downtown Norwich; and shoppers came and went from stores in West Lebanon as the first snowflakes flew late Saturday morning.

Most of those who were out and about on Saturday morning said they planned modest holiday celebrations amid the ongoing pandemic. Some said that though they planned to take precautions, they didn’t plan to stay home.

“I just make sure that I am safe,” Wilder resident Bonnie Fields, 72, said as she shopped for cookies at the Bugbee.

Fields, who wore a mask as required in the senior center, said she has gotten her booster shot.

“I’m not staying home anymore,” she said.

Faith Hunt, a 70-year-old from Quechee, said she recently lost an otherwise healthy friend to COVID-19. Hunt, who also attended the cookie sale at the Bugbee, said her friend wasn’t immunized and was the first person she’s known to die of the disease.

“That’s made me more paranoid,” she said. “This thing’s real.”

Hunt, who wore a face mask, said she tries to balance COVID-19 safety measures with activity she needs to get out of the house and stay sane. She does yoga at the Bugbee weekly.

“I’m not going to become a recluse,” she said.

Keisha Desnoyers, a 26-year-old White River Junction resident, said her family plans to keep their typical holiday plans this year, which she said are “small anyway.”

Life isn’t exactly normal, however. As her 6-year-old, Curran Taylor, perused the cookies, she said this school year has already been disrupted by two quarantine periods, which is two more than last year.

They’re doing what they can to get into the holiday spirit. The family has had their tree up since the end of last month, she said.

The holiday season was in full swing at the Norwich Farmers Market outside in front of St. Barnabas Church. It was relocated there after the town stopped hosting such events at Tracy Hall due to an uptick of COVID-19 cases in the community last month. Spruce Lane Farm’s Christmas wreaths were on display near the market’s entrance.

“Omicron or not, Christmas comes,” said Lynn Lipkvich, one of the Randolph Center farm’s owners. “We’ve been doing this a long time.”

Though Lipkvich went to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, she said she and her husband will stay home alone and connect with family remotely for Christmas. She was looking forward to the snow later in the day.

Last year at this time, Silo Distillery in Windsor was closed to the public and still making hand sanitizer to fulfill contracts and to donate to first responders, said Mary Shappell, the distillery’s senior events manager, who was selling Silo’s Irish cream, vodka and cider in Norwich on Saturday. Things are more normal this year; the distillery reopened to the public earlier this year and is no longer making hand sanitizer now that it is more widely available, she said.

For Christmas this year, Shappell said she plans to spend time with a “core group” of family.

Kayla Stillman, a nurse who lives in Wilder, did some shopping at the PowerHouse Mall in West Lebanon on Saturday, but she didn’t bring her 2-year-old son who is still too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“My son has not been inside a store,” she said. “I don’t want to risk it.”

Stillman herself recently got her booster and planned to spend the holidays with her son, her husband, a medical resident, and her vaccinated mother-in-law, who will be helping to care for their son while his child care facility is closed for the holidays.

Both Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth College canceled holiday parties this year amid the surge of cases and hospitalizations. The college, on Friday, announced it would be extending its ban on indoor social gatherings through Jan. 18, though an in-person winter term is still planned.

The Bugbee Center also may decrease its in-person programming next month, Mark Bradley, the center’s executive director, said during the cookie event. But he said it felt safe to go forward with Saturday’s in-person, indoor event given the high level of vaccination of the senior center’s regulars. Senior center staff undergo weekly surveillance testing, he said. Last year’s cookie event, held before vaccines were widely available, used a drive-thru format.

“It’s night and day to have that level of protection,” he said of the vaccines. “We’re happy to have a chance to see everybody.”

Bugbee is set to hold a booster clinic in collaboration with the Good Neighbor Health Clinic for adults 60 and older on Wednesday from noon-2 p.m. Sign-ups can be made and transportation arranged by calling 802-295-9068. More information about COVID-19 vaccines is online at vaccines.gov and healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine.

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




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