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St. Helenans socialize at a distance under shelter-at-home order

St. Helenans socialize at a distance under shelter-at-home order

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series
Nash Cognetti

Tra Vigne chef Nash Cognetti offers "Make Pizza Like A Pro" video on Facebook Live.

Creative use of the Zoom app, livestreamed workouts and synchronized howling (yes, howling) are among the ways St. Helenans are maintaining social connections and blowing off steam during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People sheltering at home have been using the suddenly ubiquitous Zoom teleconferencing app for everything from business meetings to yoga sessions to group cooking.

“Zoom is just exploding right now,” said Elaine Honig, who’s been enjoying Zoom happy hours with her friends.

“I’d rather take a live yoga class than a prerecorded yoga class,” Honig said. “The feeling of being live really helps when we’re all feeling isolated. I need any human interaction I can get.”

This week three generations of the Sklar family plan to bake banana bread together in three kitchens – one in St. Helena and two in San Francisco.

“We’re going to set up our computers in the kitchen and Zoom-cook together,” said Erica Sklar. “Another idea is to have my mother-in-law teach us how to make some fabulous Jewish pastries.”

Mel Chappell used the NextDoor social media service to promote an idea borrowed from Marin County: She encourages St. Helenans to go outside every night at 8 p.m. and howl.

Chappell said it’s a fun and cathartic way to preserve a sense of community and pay tribute to health care workers, firefighters, police officers, dispatchers, mail carriers, restaurant and grocery store employees, and other essential workers.

“It helps blow off a little steam,” she said. “And it makes sure that those employees who are still working and keeping the community going know that those of who are (sheltering at home) appreciate their efforts.”

When she started on Saturday night, she heard just a few other isolated howls – both humans and dogs – and a few chuckles. But she could tell it was catching on by Sunday night, where she could hear howls from all directions and a few people banging on pots and pans.

Chappell hopes the howl will get loud enough to reach first responders at the firehouse “so that they can feel the love.”

Nimbus Arts is selling takeout kits with all the supplies necessary for a home art project.

One kit includes oil paints and online instructional videos from artist Deirdre Shibano. Others include supplies and instructions for making decorative masks and clay elephants. Artist Helen Jane Hearn is livestreaming a Sip & Paint class for adults on Nimbus’ Facebook page this Saturday.

“These personal and family art projects are a perfect way to spark inspiration and create togetherness within heart and home,” said Nimbus Arts Executive Director Jamie Graff.

Pizzeria Tra Vigne is doing the same thing with food, selling pizza-making kits and hosting “Make Pizza Like A Pro” last Friday on Facebook Live with chef Nash Cognetti. This week the restaurant is also selling mozzarella-making kits in preparation for Cognetti’s live lesson in how to make mozzarella al minuto.

“I can’t imagine having a house full of teenagers right now,” Cognetti said. “People need something to do as a family.”

With its gym closed, St. Helena Fitness has transformed into Saint Fit on the Go, with personal training via Facetime, daily home workouts via Zoom for members, $10 drop-in workouts via Zoom for non-members, free workouts via Instagram Live, and custom workout plans via email.

“We essentially created a whole new business overnight,” said owner Michael Gastelum. “It takes some creativity to replicate a lot of the moves we do at the gym at home, but we’ve gotten it done.”

Participation has grown steadily during the first week, Gastelum said. Apps like Zoom and Facetime allow for the same caliber of safe, personalized workout available at a gym.

“Even though we don’t have that one-on-one personal contact, we can still see that they’re doing the exercise with the proper form,” Gastelum said.

The statewide shelter-at-home order does allow people to go outside and get fresh air, as long as they maintain social distancing. Honig said she and her friends have been going to the cemetery together, maintaining six feet of separation as they reflect on the generations of St. Helenans who endured their own tribulations.

“I see all these people who came before me, all these lives that have come and gone,” Honig said. “Being there with my friends really puts everything in perspective as we’re facing this pandemic.”

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or

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Related to this story

By decorating a majestic oak tree in St. Helena, sisters Jools and Bo Henquet have offered us some relief and invited us to stay connected with our friends and neighbors by sharing our positive thoughts, feelings, and greetings.

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