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Upper Valley scrambles to keep residents cool as heat hits in the pandemic

  • Sisters Lilliana, 7, and Lyrika Cardona, 8, of Lebanon, N.H., cool off in the Mascoma River in Lebanon on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Their father Benjamin Cardona is picking up trash along the shore while the girls swim. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to .Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Cindy Cameron and Norman Banker look for relief from the heat on the porch at their White River Junction, Vt., home on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. They have a three-year-old air conditioner installed in their mobile home but it cannot keep up with the sustained high temperatures. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/28/2020 9:27:23 PM
Modified: 7/28/2020 9:27:21 PM

LEBANON — When heat waves have scorched the Upper Valley in past summers, residents turned to air-conditioned public buildings such as libraries and senior centers to find relief.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has closed many of those heat-beating services, leaving nonprofits and town officials to fill in the gaps by trying to provide people with cooling units or offering advice on how to make their homes cooler as temperatures this week have soared into the high 80s and low 90s.

“There are a number of people who are congregating by the bus stop area at the Kilton (Public Library) who would love to be in the building, I’m sure,” said Sean Fleming, director of the Lebanon Libraries.

While staff does not keep track of how many people visit the Lebanon and Kilton libraries to stay cool, Fleming said particularly hot days (or particularly cold in the winter) tend to draw more visitors.

“There are a number of things that we typically do for the public that we can’t really do right now,” he said.

Angela Zhang, program services director at Listen Community Services, said the nonprofit organization has been getting more requests from people who are looking for air conditioners and fans. People have also come to the food pantry displaying signs of heat exhaustion and staff have given them more water, as well as offering them a place to stay cool underneath the canopy of the Hanover Street property’s trees.

“Ordinarily, they would have been able to leave home and go to the library and spend the day there,” Zhang said. “It’s been challenging, and I do worry about that a lot. I don’t really have a clear-cut answer on where to send people, and I know other social service agencies have been trying to piece it together.”

In Enfield, Katie Gill and her children ages 10 and 12 were among around a dozen people at the public beach on Mascoma Lake on Tuesday. The family, from Duxbury, Mass., had reserved a home for a vacation pre-pandemic.

“We weren’t expecting it to be this hot,” she said, adding that the breeze blowing off the lake helped. The home they rented did not have air conditioning and after arriving in Enfield, they purchased additional fans. “They have kayaks and paddleboards at the house, but it only keeps you cool for so long,” she said.

The Enfield Community Building serves as the town’s cooling shelter. Last year, it was open for three days when the weather got hot, but Police Chief Roy Holland said very few people stopped by to use it.

“We haven’t had anyone request any assistance yet,” he said, adding that the community building could still be used as a place for people to cool off, with some social distancing. “It’ll just be a little more complicated. It’ll reduce the number of people we can have in the cooling station but we have it if needed.”

Holland is also keeping an eye out for prolonged power outages, which tend to be more frequent during hotter weather.

“We’ll probably open the shelter as well because of people who need electricity for oxygen systems,” he said, as well as other medical devices. “We want to make sure they have access to things they need also.”

In addition to finding cooling devices, nonprofit organizations are giving people advice on how to make their homes cooler and lower their body temperatures. Opening windows at night, then closing them and the shades during the day to keep the hot air out can help.

“Some older adults who are also frail do not like to drink a lot of water or other beverages because they do not want to get up to go to the bathroom more frequently because they’re concerned about falls, but they really need to drink more,” said Alice Ely, executive director of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley.

Ely is also a proponent of using cold water to cool down. Soaking a washcloth in cold water and pressing it to the back of your neck and knees or your face can provide relief.

“All of those things can help bring your body temperature down a little bit,” she said.

When preparing deliveries for Meals on Wheels, staff at the Thompson senior center in Woodstock have been including bottles of water and heat advisory notices. They also have a stash of fans on hand for those who need them.

Deanna Jones, executive director at the center, said they’ve been getting some calls from people who are feeling a little more anxious about the heat and staying safe.

“It’s exacerbating this quarantine fatigue feeling for sure. People who were at least able to get around in their yards and enjoy their yards are now back inside because it’s just too hot. That adds to their overall fatigue,” she said. “We don’t have the means where people can come in and cool off either so they miss that opportunity to cool down. We’re trying, as many others are, to check on people we’re concerned about.”

With COVID-19 showing no signs of abating around the country, nonprofits are also brainstorming ways to address the extreme winter weather that will be on its way in a few months.

“Now is the time to start planning for warming shelters,” Zhang said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

Valley News

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