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Students adjust Winter break plans for COVID-19 restrictions, rising cases

ARCHIVE: The new Salt Lake City airport sits quietly with few-to-no visitors ahead of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday Nov. 12. Westminster student alter Winter break travel plans due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Emerson Fratzke)

For many, the holiday season this year will look different from the past. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the country, families are evaluating the risks involved with traveling and gathering this Winter break.

There have been 1 million new COVID cases reported in the United States in the last seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 web page as of Nov. 27. This staggering statistic will lead some to alter or cancel plans to travel altogether. 

The CDC recommendation includes that it is safest to celebrate with immediate household members, lowering the risk of inter-household transmission.

Oz Scott, a senior at Westminster College whose family lives in Crested Butte, Colorado, decided to stay in Salt Lake City and celebrate Christmas with his immediate household instead of going home.

“I got COVID early on and it wasn’t that fun, so I don’t wish that on my parents, grandparents, or any other members of my family or community at home,” Scott said. “For that reason, I will be staying in Salt Lake City.” 

Despite this being the first time Scott has not gone home for the holidays since starting college in 2016, he said he will still enjoy the same holiday traditions with his roommates, like skiing the backcountry with others at a safe social distance and finding new ways to engage with family for Christmas. 

The Utah Department of Health also released recommendations for lowering the spread of COVID during the holidays. Unlike states like California, there have been no statewide lockdowns, and the Utah restriction for inter-household gatherings expired Nov. 23. 

However, the UDOH is urging folks to keep gatherings small with only immediate household members. If they do gather, people should social distance with no physical touching. 

For other students, traveling out of state for the holidays will likely look different than it has in the past. 

Liam Conkling, a senior at Westminster, plans to travel home to New Hampshire with his younger brother for a shorter amount of time than is typical for winter break. 

“This year, due to the pandemic, we will not be spending a month in New Hampshire with our family,” Conkling said. “Our plan is to go home for a week, however, we are not sure if we will be able to see our grandparents.”

Some plan to limit the size of social gatherings to reduce risk for themselves and other high-risk groups.

Nick Marcy, another senior at Westminster and former Forum reporter, will be headed home to his family in Portland, Oregon for a much more limited gathering than usual. 

“We usually have a big gathering with extended family over to our house,” Marcy said. “This year it will only be myself and four other close family members celebrating. I am hoping everyone in my family stays safe so that we are able to be together during this special time of year.”

Oregon, previously under a two-week “freeze” similar to a lockdown, is now assigning restrictions on a county-basis — 25 of the state’s 36 counties are considered “extreme risk” as of Dec. 3. 

Whether the government should enforce these restrictions or allow individuals to assess their own risk in gathering is up to personal opinion. 

“I am happy that the safety of people in lockdown states are being prioritized, but I don’t find it appropriate for a governor to tell a city that families can’t be together,”  Marcy said. 

After the holidays it will be clear whether restrictions in certain states made an impact on the number of new COVID-19 cases. 

*Nick Marcy is a former reporter for The Forum


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Riley Levine is a fourth-year student at Westminster College majoring in communication with a minor in art. Riley is interested in the visual arts and hopes to find a career in film or graphic design. In his free time, Riley enjoys skiing, hiking and camping with friends and family.

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