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Cambridge Venue Owner Grapples With COVID Fallout From October Wedding

A glaring sun behind a simple wooden barn amid a farm background.
Barn at Boyden Farm, Courtesy
Eighteen cases of COVID-19 have been linked to an Oct. 10 wedding at the Barn at Boyden Farm.

A Cambridge wedding in early October is now linked to 18 cases of COVID-19. Vermont health officials say the venue did follow the state's guidelines for a safe and socially-distanced wedding.

In all, 77 guests attended the Oct. 10 wedding, and the Vermont Health Department said there are an unknown number of possible cases out of state. 

For more on this, VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Lauri Boyden, owner and venue coordinator for The Barn at Boyden Farm, where the wedding took place.  Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Editor's note: Boyden disputes the 77 guests figure used by the Health Department, and says the guest total was in fact 74 people, and that some wedding vendors may have been included in the state's total. The department notes that, while "the list we received may not reflect the number of people who ultimately attended the event," they confirmed a guest count of 77, with no vendors included in that figure.

Mitch Wertlieb: What kind of state guidelines, first of all, are you required to follow to operate a wedding venue during this time? And what did the event look like the night that it happened?

Lauri Boyden: As a venue, I am required to have assigned seats, keep the guest limit under a certain numbe.

And the number for this event, actually, I'm not certain where the Health Department is coming up with 77. There were 74 guests. They might be counting some of the vendors of which we have learned are not counted in numbers. Other than that, yes, the typical social distancing, mask mandate, everything that the state has given us in terms of guidelines were followed and are followed. 

And as I understand it, what happened was like all the best-laid plans, the wedding couldn't be held outdoors because, suddenly, there was a lightning storm. Is that correct?

Correct. Yes. I have worked very, very diligently all season to attempt to keep numbers about the same, just in case there was a situation where we needed to be indoors, regardless of the 150 count for [outdoor gatherings as per state regulations].

Vermont weather can be unsettling at any moment. And that's exactly what happened, unfortunately, in this case. We needed to move everyone safely inside. Lightning, or COVID, we followed all of the precautions. And guests made a choice to move indoors. Some, perhaps, would have left if they were not comfortable with the situation. But once people moved inside, the same guidelines and compliance were upheld. 

People even had to move so slowly into the building, because we were distancing them all, you know, in lightning, in the storm.

What were you seeing inside once the event moved inside? What did you notice? 

I noticed that the majority of people understood about mask wearing and social distancing. We needed to remind a few folks, but as soon as we let them know when a mask was required, or what the certain protocols were, they were fine with that. And at the very end of the event, I left feeling very good about everyone's compliance.

More from VPR: St. Michael's Outbreak Now At 29 Cases

What were your thoughts then when you heard that some people had tested positive? 

I was very shocked to hear that we had positive cases from the event. And my overlying thought was that, having felt we had done our utmost to keep people healthy and safe throughout the event, my mind went to the other times that the families, the wedding party, the guests gathered either prior to or after the actual event.

As everyone knows, weddings are about coming together as families and friends. And there are a lot of errands to be run, meals to be had, different places of lodging. People coming from different states. There is a lot of opportunity there for times where there are not protocols or guidelines, or anyone reminding you to put your mask on. Everyone feels comfortable within that setting, and with the group that they're with.

This wedding was booked during COVID. They had needed a venue, wanted me to host. And we talked about the risks involved. We talked about the protocols and guidelines that may or may not be in place, depending on what we were seeing as a state at that time. And everyone agreed to move forward together.

So it's about businesses and the state creating these guidelines, but it's also about people being willing to put them together, in respect, obligation, compliance, responsibility for each other, taking care of each other. 

The other issue here, of course, is how COVID is affecting the entire economy, and especially businesses like yours. You're a small business. You're trying to comply with guidelines, and yet you have a business to run. And I know that May to November, this can be a busy season for you.

Can your business survive the way things are going now? If there had to be, let's say, another lockdown over the winter, because we are seeing cases surge now around most of the country — Vermont is still doing better than most, but there are increases. Could your business survive?

I will make sure that it does. Businesses are working to their utmost ability during this time. And if you're meant to survive, you will. We need to find a way to thrive, and to keep our Vermont businesses alive. This is a passion of mine. It's my profession. I'm a sole proprietor. All of the decisions that I make are based on my knowledge, and decisions from the industry. Things that I can do the very best I can.

This was an added event during COVID. Only one of my 2020 weddings remained on the books. I booked a memorial service, and then had booked this wedding. So three events for the entire season. Everything else was canceled, or rescheduled into 2021.

And it's been a very difficult time, as we saw the guidelines and protocols coming into place. I made decisions as a business owner to require masks way before the mandate arrived, and I received a lot of pushback from couples who — that wasn't part of their dream wedding.

So it's been a very difficult time, as a business owner, to have to be in front of these risks, make decisions that you feel are in your best interest, in the public's best interest, and to still draw the short straw.
People are sick. I never intended that. I don't want that. But it's a risk to everyone.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb.

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A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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