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Icicles form on this bridge on the way to Stonewall Farm on Chesterfield Road in Keene.

A daunting passage

Climate change driving migration to New Hampshire

Studies show that climate change could prompt millions of Americans to relocate in the coming decades. And by some measures, New Hampshire and northern New England could be ideal places to move.

But preparing for those potential waves of climate migrants will be no easy task — and some are already arriving.

The Mountain West always felt like home for Judith and Doug Saum. Until recently, they lived in the hills above Reno, Nev.

“It was with a view of the Sierra [Nevada Mountains] that was just to die for,” Judith said in an interview. “We had a lot of friends, musician friends, we’d get together and play music with them often. It wasn’t easy to leave all that.”

The Saums had been thinking, several years ago, of moving when they retired — maybe to Colorado, or Montana to be near Doug’s parents. But around that time, they were also noticing a change. Wildfires in the increasingly hot western summers were becoming a serious threat to their home and health.

“For me, it was unbearable,” Judith said. “I was so sensitive to the smoke that I start to swell up, I get sinus infections and going outside was intolerable.”

In 2017, the Saums ruled out the fire-stricken Mountain West in favor of the Northeast, where their son lives on Cape Cod. They moved to a house in Rumney, N.H., surrounded by farms and forests at the foot of the White Mountains.

Doug Saum said they think of themselves as climate migrants.

“We had the idea that — not necessarily that we were going to a place that would be forever untouched by climate change, but that we were getting out of a bad climate situation that was only likely to get worse,” Doug said.

Research shows that climate-related hazards could soon play a role in prompting millions of Americans to relocate north and away from the coasts. Disasters driven by climate change will force still more people to move — the way many Puerto Ricans resettled in Nashua after Hurricane Maria.

This change could bring new, diverse populations to New Hampshire and its neighbors, which have seen population decline and workforce shortages.

Anna Marandi, a senior climate specialist with the National League of Cities, said parts of New England could benefit economically and culturally from rebranding as a climate haven — but it will take buy-in.

“I think there’s a tension there between what do residents want and what is good for the economy,” Marandi said.

Becoming a climate haven, she said, takes infrastructure upgrades to water, sewer and road systems, and investments in affordable housing and zoning to keep vulnerable people from being displaced. Without good planning, she said, waves of migration could be disruptive.

“An increase in traffic, people getting evicted, a lack of hospital beds because there’s more people — these are the kinds of things that create tension,” Marandi said. “It’s not that people don’t want new people to come in. It’s that when the systems aren’t set up properly in advance to hold more people, then the existing population can get resentful.”

This has already been happening in New Hampshire due to the pandemic, as people have come to stay in their second homes and families have consolidated due to the economy. It’s added to school enrollments and strained local water systems that were also afflicted by a historic, climate change-driven drought this past summer.

Unplanned population growth can also lead to sprawl, which undermines the region’s other climate goals — like lowering transportation emissions and maintaining forests.

But these challenges also create opportunities. Conservation Law Foundation attorney Elena Mihaly calls it “multi-solving” — she said you can prepare for climate change and migration and fix community problems, all at the same time.

“I am optimistic,” Mihaly said. “I think over the last year I’ve seen more people — and I think the pandemic in particular is bringing this out — focusing energies around resiliency, and looking at that term pretty broadly as the capacity for the state to really withstand change and adapt in a way that makes us thrive.”

Nashua is one community that’s already moving in that direction. They don’t have much data on this yet, but they expect their climate migrants will come from nearby coastal areas, like Boston and Hampton.

Community development director Sarah Marchant said they’re factoring that in as they work on affordable housing, increasing green space and improving stormwater systems.

All the effects of climate change, she said, are increasingly woven into how Nashua plans for an uncertain future.

“I think the best way we can do that is to ensure that what we are building is sustainable, and ... be smarter about what we do have,” Marchant said.

Whether or not the climate migrants come, she said, the city is making improvements that will benefit everyone — now and down the road.

FBI warns of possible ‘armed protests’ across US before Biden’s inauguration

Far-right extremists are calling on Trump supporters to “storm” the U.S. Capitol again and stage “armed protests” at state government buildings across the country in the lead-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to the FBI.

An internal FBI bulletin obtained by ABC News warns that the armed actions are being planned “at all 50 state capitols” between Jan. 16 and Jan. 20. The U.S. Capitol, which is under tight security since last week’s deadly pro-Trump siege, faces threats of more attacks starting Jan. 17 through Inauguration Day, according to the bulletin.

The FBI memo, which was distributed to state and local law enforcement agencies, said one group has called for a particularly violent “storming” of government buildings if President Donald Trump is removed from office before Biden’s inauguration, as momentum grows on Capitol Hill for impeachment or an invocation of the 25th Amendment.

“They have warned that if Congress attempts to remove POTUS ... a huge uprising will occur,” the bulletin reportedly states, using an acronym for the president.

It’s not clear from the bulletin how large the suspected actions will be.

The FBI declined to confirm the existence of the bulletin, but said the bureau is “supporting our state, local and federal law enforcement partners with maintaining public safety” ahead of Biden’s inauguration.

“Our focus is not on peaceful protesters, but on those threatening their safety and the safety of other citizens with violence and destruction of property,” the FBI said.

Over the weekend, a poster circulated on Parler, a social media platform popular with the far-right, that called on followers to orchestrate an “armed march on Capitol Hill & all state capitols” on Jan. 17.

“Refuse to be silenced,” blared the poster, a screen-grab of which was obtained by the Daily News before Parler was shut down by its web host late Sunday.

A Parler user who shared the poster captioned it with a hashtag saying “boogaloo” — the name of a white supremacist group that advocates for a second civil war to overthrow the U.S. government.

The N.H. Department of Safety responded in a news release:

“The N.H. Department of Safety remains committed to ensuring the safety and security of New Hampshire’s residents and visitors. The Department of Safety will continue to monitor any credible threats and is prepared to respond to any emergency. The Department of Safety is prepared to ensure that any protestors in our areas of jurisdiction are able to freely express their right to demonstrate provided they comply with all state laws.

“... The N.H. State Police will ensure that all events are staff appropriately so that there is no damage to state property or injuries or loss of life. The State Police and National Guard stand ready to deploy as needed.”

At least 10,000 National Guard troops will be in Washington by this Saturday to help with security at the U.S. Capitol through Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard, told reporters in a conference call Monday that his agency is also ready to deploy troops to states as needed.

“We’re keeping a look across the entire country to make sure that we’re monitoring, and that our guards in every state are in close coordination with their local law enforcement agencies to provide any support requested,” Hokanson said.

The rumblings of more violence come as House Democrats are pushing full steam ahead to impeach Trump for inciting Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol, which left a police officer and at least four other people dead.

The pro-Trump rioters invaded the Capitol after the president told them at a massive rally outside the White House to “fight like hell” to stop the congressional certification of Biden’s election.

Trump hasn’t apologized for stoking the insurrection, though he admitted for the first time in the wake of the attack that he lost the Nov. 3 election and that Biden will be inaugurated as the next president.

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More COVID cases reported in outbreak at Keene senior-living center
  • Updated

The recently announced COVID-19 outbreak at Keene Center has now infected 36 people at the Court Street senior-living facility, a Genesis Healthcare official said Monday afternoon.

Twenty-eight residents and eight employees have tested positive for the viral disease, according to Dr. Richard Feifer, chief medical officer for Genesis Healthcare, which owns Keene Center and several other area nursing homes.

The latest numbers represent 10 more residents and six more staff than Genesis reported Friday evening in response to an inquiry from The Sentinel.

As of Monday, there had been no deaths associated with the outbreak, Feifer said.

“Residents have both been symptomatic and asymptomatic ...” he said in an email. “They are all doing well thus far.”

He declined to say how many residents have been hospitalized due to the outbreak, citing patient confidentiality.

Keene Center — which has about 80 residents and 115 staff members — learned of the first of these cases Dec. 30, according to Feifer. He said all of them are active.

Eleven residents have received antibody infusions in recent days, he said.

People who have recovered from a severe case of the viral respiratory disease have antibodies in their blood, known as convalescent plasma, according to the Mayo Clinic. This plasma can be used in treating COVID-19 patients with active cases in an effort to boost their ability to fight the infection.

Keene Center — as well as other Genesis Healthcare-owned facilities — has been taking extra precautions since March, when COVID-19 cases began increasing across the state, including visitor restrictions and the use of personal protective equipment, according to Feifer.

Residents are also screened for symptoms three times daily, and staff members’ temperatures are taken upon entering the building. Additionally, all outside medical appointments, except those that are necessary, have been canceled.

Since the outbreak, the facility has also increased its surveillance testing of all staff and residents from twice weekly to daily, he said.

Long-term care facilities are especially vulnerable during the global pandemic, New Hampshire health officials have said. The virus is known to travel quickly through congregate-living settings, such as nursing homes, due to the proximity of residents, many of whom already have underlying health conditions.

Facilities experiencing an outbreak receive guidance from the state, such as how to isolate patients and staff, according to Kathy Remillard, spokeswoman for the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services. She added the state is aware of the Keene Center’s cases and is assisting that facility.

Keene Center residents and staff began receiving COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 30 through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy, Feifer said Friday.

He said Monday the facility “may never know” how the outbreak happened. However, he said research shows that the community’s transmission rate directly correlates with nursing home outbreaks.

“The reality is this virus is coming from the community,” he said, “and now more than ever, we need our communities to follow masking, social distancing and other protocols to stop this virus.”

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School staffing levels a challenge, but area districts say they're making it work

Staffing shortages prompted largely by COVID-19 protocols have forced several local schools — including two this week — to change the way they hold classes throughout the year. But overall, area superintendents say their districts are overcoming whatever staffing challenges arise.

Cutler Elementary School in West Swanzey switched from a hybrid model to fully remote instruction this week due to “critically low staffing levels,” said Lisa Witte, superintendent of the Monadnock Regional School District. One group of about 70 middle-schoolers at Monadnock Regional Middle/High School made a similar transition Monday for the same reason.

“The critically low staffing levels are the result of several factors, with the major factor being quarantine due to exposure” to the novel coronavirus, Witte said in a video announcing the changes Friday.

Witte added that Monadnock, the lone local district to return from winter break last week in a hybrid model, continues to have low numbers of coronavirus cases. As of Monday, there were two active cases in the district, which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy: one each at Cutler Elementary and the middle/high school in Swanzey Center. Both schools are scheduled to return to hybrid instruction next Tuesday, following Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Aside from these recent shifts to remote learning due to employee shortages, though, Witte said Monadnock is in “good shape” in terms of staffing. And despite periodic staffing shortfalls, and the perennial challenge of finding enough substitutes, other local districts say they’re in a similar situation as they begin the spring term.

“We are actually fortunate. We are in good shape staffing-wise, except for substitutes,” said Kimberly Rizzo Saunders, superintendent of the ConVal School District, which covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple.

Rizzo Saunders noted that, for various reasons, finding enough substitute teachers and other staff members is a struggle every year, made only more difficult by the pandemic.

“A lot of times, many of our substitute teachers are people who have retired and who are in high-risk groups, and they’re making the decision that that’s not something they’re going to do this year,” Rizzo Saunders said. Many substitutes typically work for multiple different schools, she added, but during the pandemic most districts are asking them to commit to one specific school or even a particular cohort of students.

Robert Malay, superintendent of N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 — which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — added that finding enough substitutes continues to be the biggest need in each of the districts he oversees. Despite the ongoing shortage of subs, though, Malay said SAU 29 schools have been able to remain adequately staffed throughout the year.

“I would say it has not hit a critical state in any of our buildings,” Malay said. “It might have touched ‘strained,’ on occasion, but our building staff are really good at making sure they’re finding solutions with the resources that they have.”

Staff capacity to conduct classes and school operations is one of several factors the state health department recommends schools consider when deciding whether to hold classes in person, remotely or through a mix of both. The state divides level of staff impact into three categories: normal, strained and critical.

Other metrics for deciding which educational model to use include the level of community transmission of COVID-19, the amount of transmission within school buildings and student absenteeism due to any illness, not just the coronavirus.

All of these factors, aside from staff capacity, are quantifiable, and the state sets specific numbers for when schools should consider switching models based on the level of COVID-19 transmission and percentage of students out sick. The level of staff impact is a more subjective measure, one that local districts have been working to define better throughout the course of the year.

“In a general sense, ‘strained’ means that the school has absences but there is enough staff or substitute staff to keep the educational process stable for our learners,” Reuben Duncan, superintendent of the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District, said in an email. “... ‘Critical’ means that the school(s) lack the necessary personnel to hold classes, provide legally mandated services, or inhibit the school to provide the social emotional support to learners needed for the school day to operate as planned.”

When Jaffrey-Rindge schools look at staff capacity, Duncan said, they examine not only how many employees are absent, but what roles they fill.

“For example, a school may have 6 staff members out on a given day, but the principal may determine staffing levels to only be ‘strained’ because the staff members out on that day are spread out in different categories,” he said. “Another day, a school may have 3 staff members out, but the staffing level could be designated as ‘critical’ because they are all custodians, meaning we don’t have the ability to properly clean.”

In the Monadnock district, schools determine the level of staff capacity based on daily conversations between principals and the superintendent’s office, Witte said.

“It’s not going to be an exact science, but principals know their buildings best,” she said. “They know when their building is at a critical point in terms of being able to conduct school business and classes.”

And when staffing levels reach critically low points, like they have this week at Cutler and in a portion of Monadnock Regional Middle/High School, schools can switch from in-person or hybrid instruction to a fully remote model. Two different cohorts of ConVal students — one at South Meadow School in Peterborough and another at Great Brook School in Antrim — had to transition to remote learning late last semester.

“And in both situations, it was not necessarily because we had significant exposure” to COVID-19 in the schools, Rizzo Saunders said. “It’s because we wouldn’t have enough staff to supervise the students.”

Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School, which share a campus in downtown Jaffrey, switched from a hybrid model to remote learning in November for the same reason, Duncan said. Similarly, the Winchester School Board voted last Thursday to remain fully remote at least through early February after Principal Valerie Carey told board members that staffing remains “significantly strained.”

Moving forward, area superintendents say the goal for schools remains providing full, in-person classes, while prioritizing health and safety. In order to move in that direction, district leaders like Witte say they will continue monitoring staffing levels, among other factors, every day.

“We’ll take it one at a time,” she said. “That’s all we can do.”