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Cheshire County sets record for new COVID cases over weekend
  • Updated

Cheshire County added 24 new COVID-19 cases Saturday and Sunday, its biggest two-day total yet.

The N.H. Department of Health and Human Services announced nine new positives Saturday, a record for the county. That record was broken one day later, when the department said another 15 county residents had tested positive.

Cases have been climbing for the past several weeks both in Cheshire County and statewide. According to state health data, at least 50 Cheshire County residents tested positive in the past week, an average of seven per day.

Statewide, the health department announced 230 new cases Saturday and 249 Sunday, continuing a week with the highest case counts yet of the pandemic.

As of Sunday, 55 COVID-19 patients were in Granite State hospitals, up from 14 a month ago, according to state health data.

The percentage of people testing positive remained relatively low at around 2 percent.

But while New Hampshire is testing far more than in the spring, state health officials have said that does not fully explain the recent rise in known cases. They say the virus does seem to be spreading more in the community.

That’s true in every part of the state, from the more urbanized parts of Hillsborough County to the Monadnock Region to sparsely populated Coos County, officials have said.

Another important metric, hospitalizations, is also trending up. As of Sunday, 55 people were hospitalized in New Hampshire for COVID-19, compared to 14 a month ago.

Of the new cases announced this weekend, at least 24 were in Sullivan County and at least 55 in parts of Hillsborough County outside Manchester and Nashua. (The state had not determined residency for all new cases by the time it released the data each day.)

The state also announced another COVID-19-related death, that of a Belknap County man age 60 or older.

As of Sunday, the health department considered 1,903 people in New Hampshire to be actively infected, 62 of them in Cheshire County.

The local communities with known active cases were Rindge, with 18; Keene, with 17; New Ipswich, with nine; Jaffrey, with six; and Antrim, Bennington, Charlestown, Chesterfield, Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Harrisville, Hillsboro, Hinsdale, Marlborough, Peterborough, Stoddard, Surry, Swanzey, Troy, Washington, Westmoreland and Winchester, each of which had between one and four.Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS

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As Keene girl battles rare brain cancer, mom looks to community for help

Rhythm Foster’s 5th birthday was supposed to be filled with apple picking, time spent with family and too much cake. Instead, she spent it in the hospital.

Rhythm was diagnosed with astrocytoma — a rare form of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord — at the end of September, according to her mom, Nashé Lambert of Keene.

“Her entire life she has been having slight issues with her balance or potty training or mood issues, and she has always complained about headaches,” she said.

With the costs of care and travel to the hospital already adding up — not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic making things even more difficult — Lambert is now turning to the community for help with a GoFundMe page that has already raised thousands of dollars.

Lambert said she had suspected something was wrong for years, but had been unable to get answers. Then, on Sept. 28, Rhythm had 18 micro-seizures over a 24-hour period, and the impacts knocked all of her teeth out, Lambert said.

She was taken to Rockingham Medical Center and given a CAT scan. Tumors were found in her brain, and she was transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon for further treatment.

“They think it’s a growth in her genetics, either me or her father have a gene that causes a growth in the brain, and essentially her brain just kept growing,” Lambert said.

While at Dartmouth, Rhythm had two brain surgeries, during which an internal and external shunt were put in her brain to help drain excess brain fluids.

Rhythm now faces at least a year of chemotherapy, Lambert said, in addition to weekly blood and laboratory work.

“It’s mostly all up in the air,” Lambert said. “We won’t see effects until a year, and then we will know if that chemo is working.”

And while Lambert and Rhythm’s father, Alias Foster of Bellows Falls, are remaining positive, the diagnosis has certainly taken a toll.

Rhythm has days where she’s her normal, happy self, but can flip to being “extremely agitated,” Lambert said.

“Her temper has skyrocketed,” she explained. “She has a very short fuse now, and it’s a mixture of her tumors and her seizure medications, which can cause mood swings in some kids.”

Rhythm was also supposed to start kindergarten this year, but Lambert said now she will likely homeschool her beginning with the next school year because of her diagnosis.

And the COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer, Lambert explained, with Rhythm’s weakened immune system putting her at heightened risk of having serious complications from the viral disease.

“It’s actually quite anxiety-inducing. We don’t really want to bring her out anywhere, but we also don’t want to limit her life, but we also don’t want to make her sicker,” Lambert said. “We just have to be super careful, and pick days to go shopping where it won’t be busy in the store.”

Lambert had to quit her job to take care of Rhythm around the clock, and she said the medical bills and cost of transportation to and from Lebanon are piling up. She also needs to buy Rhythm a new bed and clothes because “nothing fit once the tube was put in.”

Lambert created the GoFundMe page to help offset the expenses; as of Sunday evening, it had raised over $3,200 of its $50,000 goal.

“This community has been doing so much to support us through this difficult time,” Lambert said. “ ... I’m so thankful.”

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Local Democrats 'exhale' with news of Biden victory
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As multiple national news outlets called the presidential race for former Vice President Joe Biden Saturday, local Democrats breathed a sigh of relief while Republicans expressed disappointment.

“When I heard the news, I exhaled,” Keene City Councilor Randy Filiault, 64, who volunteered for Biden, said with a laugh Saturday. “I feel good, but I think that there is no question that there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of healing to be done ahead of this administration, but it’s a start.”

Outlets including CNN, The New York Times and the Associated Press called the election late Saturday morning after reporting that Biden had apparently won Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270-electoral-vote threshold needed to beat President Donald Trump.

Saturday’s announcement followed a bitterly divided campaign and days of tense waiting as several key swing states remained too close to call.

Carl DeMatteo, chairman of the Cheshire County Democrats, said Biden is the right guy to help address the country’s divisions.

Biden will “be able to bring people together around dealing with the issues,” he said Saturday.

DeMatteo, 72, of Keene, is also thrilled that Sen. Kamala Harris will be the first female, Black and Asian-American vice president and said her and Biden are the type of leaders “the country needs right now.”

Paul Cuno-Booth / Sentinel Staff  

Supporters of Joe Biden gathered at Central Square in Keene late Saturday afternoon to celebrate his victory.

For local Republicans, the news wasn’t so sweet.

When asked for her reaction, Marilyn Huston, chairwoman of the Cheshire County Republicans, said she had “no feeling.”

But “one thing that you’re not going to see is Republicans gnashing their teeth or needing a safe room or a cuddly toy,” she said. “I think we are a little more grown up than that ... but what the new team will do for our country is yet to be seen.”

Huston, 77, of Keene, said she hopes the Biden administration takes a “common-sense approach” to the COVID-19 pandemic and the country continues to reopen its businesses.

“I just wish the country well,” she said.

Spofford resident Kate Day, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the N.H. House this year, said that if Biden can “avoid extremist positions,” he may find a way to work with Republicans.

The problem with the country’s division, she said, is that it makes it “impossible to compromise or find common ground.”

“Freedom and liberty cannot coexist with the shackles of socialism or communism — the direction of the most prominent elected Democrat leaders,” said Day, 63. “If Republicans can hold onto the Senate, perhaps the worst can be stopped.”

Another unsuccessful N.H. House candidate, Republican Leo Plante of Dublin, said he was “disappointed” and “frustrated,” though he noted that the president’s campaign is still trying to litigate election issues in key swing states.

Still, Plante saw silver linings in Tuesday’s result. The Republicans swept New Hampshire’s governorship, Executive Council and Legislature.

“The way I’m telling people is, I lost but we won,” he said.

Republicans also appeared to have the edge in the U.S. Senate, which would give them the power to block “a lot of the crazy stuff that the leftists want,” he said.

Word that the race had been called reached some local progressives at Keene’s Central Square, where they had already gathered for Saturday’s usual anti-war protest and a rally organized by the N.H. Youth Movement, an advocacy group.

Pauline Moll, 24, of Keene, a Youth Movement organizer, said she announced the news to the crowd of a couple dozen during a break between speakers.

“We all yelled a little bit and did a little dance,” she said.

Paul Cuno-Booth / Sentinel Staff  

Keene’s usual group of anti-war protesters was at Central Square on Saturday morning when they learned of Joe Biden’s win. From left: Jeff Scott of Chesterfield (with “Every vote counts” sign), Patricia Greene of West Chesterfield (with “Honk” sign) and Paul Krautmann of Keene.

People at the square said they had expected Biden’s victory to be announced eventually, based on how results in key states had been trending over the past few days. Still, they greeted the news with joy.

“Total exhilaration, but I really wasn’t surprised,” said Terri O’Rorke, 66, of Keene. “You could see that this is the way it was going to go.”

But O’Rorke and others said they do not want to get complacent just because the election has ended. They said it’s important to keep pressuring elected leaders so they actually take action.

“I’m pretty happy,” Paul Krautmann, 72, of Keene, said, despite his broader misgivings about the Democratic Party.

Krautmann — who ran a long-shot primary bid against Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen this year — said he had written in Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for president because of her anti-war rhetoric. He wants those on the left to keep pushing such issues.

“We still have fights,” he said. “We still have issues.”

Paul Cuno-Booth / Sentinel Staff  

Supporters of Joe Biden gathered at Central Square in Keene late Saturday afternoon to celebrate his victory. Major news outlets called the presidential race for him earlier in the day.

At the other end of the Square, an ebullient Gene Faltus, in suspenders patterned with Thanksgiving food and a “Proud New Hampshire Democrat” shirt, described how he felt.

“A ton lifted off my shoulders. Relieved. I had a tear in my eyes,” Faltus, 67, of Swanzey said. “ … I was holding my breath these last four days, and I was waiting for the news. I knew it would come.”

Faltus volunteered on the Democratic side during the campaign, and his health issues — he has terminal cancer — have made him especially outspoken in his advocacy for the Affordable Care Act.

Like others, he saw his work as just beginning.

“Whatever life I have left is going to be continuing to fight for equality and justice,” he said. “It wasn’t just Joe Biden, although he’s the vessel for my hope. The fight continues.”

Later the same afternoon, about two dozen people lined up along Central Square with Biden-Harris signs. Passing drivers honked their support and occasionally shouted their disagreement.

Jo-Anna Sauriol of Winchester stood quietly at one end. A lone Trump supporter in a “Keep America Great” cap and matching red “Live Free or Die” sweatshirt, she carried a handwritten sign backing the president and voiced vague suspicions about the elections.

“I feel cheated in some way, and I need to just express it for a couple of days, because losing is not fun,” she said.

Paul Cuno-Booth / Sentinel Staff  

Jo-Anna Sauriol of Winchester came to Keene’s Central Square Saturday afternoon to express her support for President Donald Trump

Nearby, Sally Brown, 55, of Keene held a Biden-Harris sign. An independent voter, she had made up her mind at the very end.

“The last few days I just got behind Biden, because I wasn’t given a choice,” she said. “It was either Biden or it was Trump.”

Brown said she enthusiastically backed Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. When it came to the presidency, she said she liked some things about Trump, including his tough stance on China.

But she was put off by his demeanor, as well as his handling of major emergencies. She felt he politicized the response to natural disasters like the California wildfires and sidelined experts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown said she wished both parties would put forward better candidates.

“It’s just so frustrating for somebody like me,” she said. “And there’s a lot of mes out there, especially in this state.”

This article has been updated with reporting from the late-afternoon Biden rally.