The holiday season typically brings to mind families gathering to eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company, but the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way many families spend their end-of-year festivities.
In order to control the spread of the Coronavirus, New Hampshire has implemented both a mask mandate and a ten-day self-quarantine recommendation for anyone travelling from out of state. Due to these restrictions, and in an attempt to prevent exposing family and friends, many Oyster River students are celebrating their holiday season differently this year.
Michelle Rowley (‘24), who would typically spend her holiday travelling to Spain or Singapore to visit family, is coming to terms with the impact the pandemic has had on her traditions. “COVID had really jeopardized [travel] for us,” Rowley said, “because we can’t go anywhere, and if we do, we have to quarantine for two weeks, so we won’t have enough time for [visiting family].”
Luckily, for students like Rowley who are choosing to stay home, we’re living in the era of video call technology, and many families are utilizing platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime to connect with family and friends.
“I think for now, we’re just going to stay at home, and probably just going to give my grandparents and my father a little FaceTime call to wish them a happy Christmas,” Rowley explained. This is definitely a very different course of action than flying overseas, but even being able to see family through a screen is worthwhile.
Matt Laliberte (‘21) described a similar plan for his holiday season. “We’re probably going to be doing a Zoom call with each side of the extended family, just to connect with them and try to be together even though we’re separated… I guess it’s disappointing, but I’d rather stay safe and have the holiday again next year than have this be my last one because of not being safe and meeting up [with people] and spreading [COVID] around.”
Laliberte’s caution is far from unfounded. The United States currently accounts for over 18.1 million cases and 320,000 deaths due to COVID. According to the CDC, “at risk” populations for COVID include older adults and those with underlying health conditions, especially diabetes, heart disease, and lung-related illnesses. Because of this, many families are choosing to stay away from extended family this year, especially those who are high risk. But it’s not only the elderly and the immunocompromised that are endangered by this virus. According to the Mayo Clinic, even young people can potentially feel the devastating effects of COVID for months after it is contracted, some as extreme as damage to the heart, lungs, and brain, and blood clots.
The isolation component of this pandemic can be a major disappointment to students especially, who would otherwise be enjoying social lives. “It’s annoying,” Rowley said of the circumstances. “I’m not really upset that I have to stay home, but I would prefer if I could go out more or if I could see my friends. It would be nice, since I don’t really hang out with people much because I’m trying to stay safe.”
For some families with members that are designated as high-risk, such as that of Brayden Merry (‘21), this safety element cannot be ignored.
“My grandparents are in a nursing home, and it’s their first year in a nursing home,” said Merry. “It’s probably more difficult for them because they’re more isolated. So I hope that they get enough out of the Zoom calls and everything so they don’t feel as lonely.”
Merry’s situation is similar to many families across the nation who have loved ones who may be at risk, especially the elderly. To protect their populations, many nursing homes have closed their doors to visitors and other non-essential personnel. This can result in residents feeling isolated from their loved ones, as many are unable to leave, and if travel is permitted, it is restricted to essential trips such as doctors’ appointments. Oceanside Center, an assisted living facility in Hampton, New Hampshire, is a tragic example of the havoc that COVID has the potential to wreak on similar homes. In early December, there were 71 positive COVID cases and 9 deaths at the facility, which made headlines across the state.
In the midst of this constantly negative news cycle and neverending spout of statistics about the virus, students more than anything are looking for the season to bring a sense of happiness and connectedness among the unpredictability of 2020. This has been a psychologically challenging year, to say the least, with many feeling detached from the world or anxious due to the need to self-isolate and fear for loved ones. But even though travelling may be ill-advised and the constant media cycle spells out doom and gloom most of the time, Laliberte, Merry, and Rowley all seemed hopeful that sitting down with their immediate family for a nice meal and calling their extended family would instill some sense of normalcy.
“I guess I’m hoping to try and make [this holiday] as normal as possible, like do the same things we would with family, just at home and with just the four of us instead of doing the same thing with extended family,” Laliberte said of his immediate family’s plan for the holiday. “We’re just trying to keep things as similar as possible, while staying at home.”
If you choose to stay home this year, you may find yourself thinking of past holidays, spent freely with family and friends, with no mention of masks or mandates. This makes complete sense! We’ve had to press pause on many important traditions this year, and it’s frustrating that things can’t simply go back to the way they were before. But with nationwide vaccine rollouts in the works, thanks to the tireless efforts of scientists all over the world, there is hope for a future free from fear of COVID.
From our family to yours, the Mouth of the River staff wishes you a joyful and healthy holiday season, and we can’t wait to see what the New Year will bring.