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US passes 4 million cases; new infections about double

The United States on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 4 million confirmed coronavirus infections, and President Donald Trump announced he was canceling the public celebration of his nomination for a second term, as institutions from schools to airlines to Major League Baseball wrestled with the consequences of a pandemic still far from under control.

The rapid spread of the virus this summer is striking, taking just 15 days to go from 3 million confirmed cases to 4 million. By comparison, the increase from 1 million cases to 2 million spanned 45 days from April 28 to June 11, and the leap to 3 million then took 27 days.

Trump’s cancellation of the in-person portion of the Republican National Convention planned for next month in Jacksonville, Fla., (see full story on Page B3) represented a remarkable reversal. He had insisted for months on a made-for-television spectacle that would have packed people close together in a state that is now an epicenter of the resurgent pandemic.

Thursday, he conceded that was not going to work. “The timing for this event is not right,” Trump said during the latest of somber, solo White House briefings this week. “It’s just not right with what’s been happening.”

Florida reported 173 deaths on Thursday, its highest single-day count of new deaths, and also reported more than 10,200 new coronavirus cases.

In a scathing statement blaming the surge of new cases on Trump’s “failure to care,” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said the president “quit on this country and waved the white flag of surrender.”

Meanwhile, nearly every public health metric suggests America is badly losing its fight against the virus.

Positivity rates have reached alarming levels in numerous states, hospitalizations are soaring, and more than 1,100 new coronavirus deaths were reported across the United States on Wednesday, marking the first time since May 29 that the daily count exceeded that number, according to Washington Post tracking.

The rolling seven-day average of infections has doubled in less than a month, reaching more than 66,000 new cases per day Wednesday. The U.S. death toll now exceeds 141,000.

As a result, many businesses appear to be pulling back after their attempts to resume more normal operations proved premature, and an additional 1.4 million American workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. It was the first time since March that new claims rose. Another 980,000 new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims — the benefits offered to self-employed and gig workers — were also filed.

Trump’s briefing Thursday afternoon, his third of the week, reflected an effort to increase popular support for his management of the coronavirus outbreak, which even many of his allies have criticized. About 2 out of 3 Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, a new poll found.

Trump dismissed or played down the risk of the virus for months after it had begun spreading in the United States and has been a self-described cheerleader for rapid reopening of businesses and schools shuttered to help slow its spread.

The survey of 1,057 adults in the United States, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, also showed that 3 out of 4 Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support mandatory face coverings when people are outside their own homes.

Democrats overwhelmingly favor mask mandates, at 89 percent. The majority of Republicans — 59 percent — also support them.

Ninety-five percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans say they wear face coverings when leaving home. Overall, more Americans — 86 percent — are wearing masks compared with in May, when 73 percent were doing so.

Trump resisted wearing a mask in public until earlier this month, despite calls to set a good example from the top. He now calls it patriotic to wear a mask, though he still does not wear one consistently and says people should decide for themselves. Trump carries a black-cloth version in his pocket, which he says is sufficient for those instances when he is close to people who have not been screened for the virus.

Trump’s shift may reflect a growing consensus in favor of masks, although it is not clear that opposition to them has ebbed among some of the president’s strongest political supporters.

The business community is struggling, too. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines posted big quarterly losses between April and July in their earnings reports released Thursday, projecting that travel demand will not rebound anytime soon.

In American’s second quarter, revenue dropped more than 86 percent, to $1.6 billion, from nearly $12 billion a year ago, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The company posted a net loss of nearly $2.1 billion, attributing it to stay-at-home orders, border closures and travel restrictions.

“As a result, we have experienced an unprecedented decline in the demand for air travel, which has resulted in a material deterioration in our revenues,” the company said in the earnings report. “While the length and severity of the reduction in demand due to COVID-19 is uncertain, we expect our results of operations for the remainder of 2020 to be severely impacted.”

Southwest Airlines posted revenue of $1 billion in its second quarter, an almost 83 percent dip compared with a year ago. The company also posted a net loss of $915 million.

Trump also took a small step back from his insistence that schools should open on time this fall, conceding instead that some schools might need to delay in-person learning. Many school districts have already announced that decision.

Trump has been critical of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying it made it too tough for schools to reopen, and promised new guidelines would be issued. Thursday, the CDC released several documents emphasizing the benefits of in-person school, in line with Trump’s messaging. Some of the guidance was written by White House officials rather than experts at the CDC, people familiar with the process said.

The new guidelines for school administrators mention precautions outlined in previous documents, but they appear to drop specific reference to keeping students 6 feet apart — something many schools find almost impossible to do if fully reopened. This document also suggests that schools only consider closing if there is “substantial, uncontrolled transmission” of the virus, and not necessarily even then.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, echoed Trump in making a case for students to return to classrooms, despite the state’s teachers union suing over an order forcing schools to fully reopen. Meanwhile, a new poll showed that most parents would prefer to delay the start of in-person school.

During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” DeSantis said that schoolchildren are “by far at the least risk for coronavirus, thankfully.”

“We also know they play the smallest role by far in transmission of the virus, and yet they’ve really been asked to shoulder the brunt of our control measures,” said DeSantis, a close Trump ally who had volunteered his state for the Republican convention next month.

DeSantis said that the “evidence-based decision” is for all parents to have the option of in-class instruction for their children if they choose. He said those who are not comfortable with sending their children back to school could continue distance learning.

The role children play in spreading the virus is still being studied, with experts saying that results are not definitive. A South Korean study found that children over the age of 10 were as likely to transmit the virus as adults, while those under 10 were less likely to spread it.

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Wednesday on Fox News that the United States is launching a study of its own, adding that the data “really needs to be confirmed here.”

Among the most visible American institutions searching for a path forward is the sports industry. Major League Baseball began a pandemic-shortened season Thursday, playing in empty stadiums amid questions about whether the sport can make it through October without having to abort. It is as much a science experiment as a championship pursuit.

Players are prohibited from spitting or high-fiving. Foul balls that wind up in the stands will remain there.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, threw out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals home opener against the New York Yankees. Nationals star outfielder Juan Soto tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday and missed the game.

Meanwhile, Japan marked a year’s delay of the Olympic Games Thursday. Tokyo was to host the 2020 Summer Olympics starting Friday. A 15-minute ceremony in Tokyo’s newly built $1.4 billion Olympic Stadium started the countdown to the delayed games, now set to begin on July 23, 2021. The city also marked a new daily record in reported cases on Thursday, with 366.A poll this week by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency found that fewer than 1 in 4 people in Japan even want to host the games anymore. One-third of respondents said the games should be canceled, while 36 percent expressed interest in postponing them for more than a year.

Despite the recent steamy temperatures, Wares Grove Beach at Spofford Lake, shown recently, was far from full, with the number of people allowed limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spread out in Spofford

Teachers' unions express concerns on reopening NH schools

New Hampshire’s largest teachers union says schools should not reopen until the state agrees to reimburse districts for PPE and reopening costs, and districts can ensure there’s a nurse on staff and good air quality in every school building.

The NEA-NH released their “Principles for Reopening” Wednesday, a week after Gov. Sununu issued state guidelines for school reopening that leave most major decisions up to school districts.

The document calls for stricter safeguards than are mandated by the new state guidelines and recommends remote instruction “as a temporary response that protects the health and safety of our students, members and their families.”

Across the state, school districts are hammering out their reopening plans in a flurry of meetings, parent and teacher surveys, and negotiations with teachers’ unions.

Among the many issues discussed between unions and school boards is how to accommodate teachers who don’t want to return to buildings because of health concerns for themselves or a family member.

While some teachers qualify for protection under the American with Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act and federal legislation related to COVID-19, others have limited options to stay remote if they don’t approve of their school’s reopening plans.

That issue is at the heart of the reopening debate in Hollis. There, district surveys earlier this summer found 70 percent of parents wanted their kids to return to school, but a teachers’ union survey found 70 percent of members are uncomfortable with the current plan to return to full-time instruction.

“I think you should have to go back if — and that’s a big if — the district is putting the safety measures in place that are appropriate to keep everyone’s risk low. And right now, I don’t believe that my district has implemented a plan that would,” says Jennifer Given, a high school social studies teacher who serves as president of the Hollis teachers’ union.

Andrew Corey, the Superintendent of Hollis Brookline, is proposing that masks be mandated for students grades 4-12, but says class size limits are unnecessary because the district already has small class sizes, which will get even smaller because of the number of students opting to stay remote.

Given says those restrictions don’t cut it.

“People want to prioritize getting people ‘back to work’ above the health and safety of their children and the people who educate them. I find that calculus to be just horrendous,” she says.

Dr. Carl Ladd, executive director of the N.H. School Administrators’ Association, says the pandemic is putting superintendents in a “no-win” situation with parents and teachers.

“Pembroke just put out a remote plan and they’re getting lambasted. Bedford put out a hybrid model and they’re getting lambasted. It’s really disheartening,” he says. “It just feels like districts are running out of time.”

Some districts are further along in finalizing their plans and negotiating with their teachers’ unions.

In Salem, the majority of teachers say they will return, in part because the reopening plan requires masks, Plexiglass barriers between desks, and social distancing between 3 to 6 feet.

Qualifying teachers and students can request to remain remote this year.

Jim Slobig, the president of the Salem teachers’ union, says the district is striking a good balance, but the union still has a long list of questions.

“The unknown tends to generate anxiety and right now there’s still a lot that’s unknown,” he says.

top story
NH towns pay millions to settle claims against police; details often hidden from public

Around midnight on a Saturday, Thomas Hurd fell asleep at the bar of a Chinese restaurant in Farmington.

The bartender, suspecting Hurd was drunk when he got there, asked him to leave. According to police reports, Hurd instead began smashing plates and flipping tables.

When a Farmington police officer found Hurd, he was teetering in the parking lot of a nearby Cumberland Farms convenience store, a bottle of Absolut vodka in his hoodie pocket.

Officer Sean Owen, along with a police officer from a neighboring town, asked Hurd to place his hands on the rear of the police cruiser. Hurd resisted, yelling obscenities, according to the police report.

Dashcam video of the incident shows Officer Owen then slamming Hurd against the trunk of the cruiser. He steps back, and fires his Taser into Hurd’s back. Hurd crumples.

After recovering from the shock, Hurd stands up briefly, before Owen shocks him a second time with the Taser.

Hurd collapses. He hits his head on the pavement and lays bleeding, unconscious. The officers take him into custody and charge him with five misdemeanors, including resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

When the county prosecutor reviewed the video in preparation for Hurd’s trial, he was alarmed by Officer Owen’s use of force: how quickly the encounter turned physical, with Hurd tased twice in a matter of seconds. The Farmington police chief also expressed concern about what he saw in the video, prompting a review by the N.H. Attorney General’s Office. In a 49-page report, the AG concluded that there was no clear justification for the second firing of the Taser but not enough evidence to charge Owen with a crime.

Seven months later, the town of Farmington, through its insurer, quietly paid Hurd $24,500 in exchange for his promise not to file a lawsuit. The settlement agreement, along with the attorney general’s investigation into the incident, were never released publicly.

Farmington’s payout is one of 87 legal settlements agreed to by municipalities in New Hampshire following allegations of civil rights violations by police officers between 2010 and this year. The settlements cover a range of allegations, from the shooting deaths of citizens by police, to the use of excessive force during a chaotic arrest in Nashua, to police officers in small towns improperly detaining citizens.

In total, these settlements ultimately cost taxpayers a total of more than $4.35 million.

The findings come from a review of settlements involving law enforcement obtained by NHPR through more than 230 public records requests, submitted to every town, city and county in New Hampshire. With no centralized system for recording settlements, this is believed to be the first comprehensive look at how often law enforcement agencies in New Hampshire settle allegations such as excessive force, wrongful arrest, sexual harassment and racial profiling.

The release of these records comes as the country — and the state — grapple with questions of police brutality and systemic racism. In New Hampshire, a new commission created in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police is looking into police training, bias and misconduct.

Legal settlements are not an admission of guilt. Instead, these agreements are a way to “buy the peace” between parties and avoid potentially lengthy litigation. Municipalities and their insurers may agree to settle a case based on a financial calculation of the costs of litigation, even in cases where they don’t believe the allegation has merit.

The settlement documents themselves, often just a few pages long, contain little information about the incidents in question and don’t always identify the officers involved in the matter.

Many of these settlements — including Farmington’s payout to Thomas Hurd — appear to have never been disclosed to the public. However, all of these documents are public records under New Hampshire’s Right to Know law.

Nearly half of these settlements are further shielded from public scrutiny by containing nondisclosure clauses prohibiting the plaintiff from commenting on the agreement or the allegations of wrongdoing by law enforcement.

These nondisclosure clauses, along with the fact that municipalities often choose not to notify residents publicly of the payouts, create a system in which alleged civil rights abuses by law enforcement officials may receive little public scrutiny.

“You kind of have a perfect storm of factors that create an environment that isn’t conducive to full government accountability and transparency,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU of New Hampshire. “The public may not really ever get a full picture as to what transpired with respect to an incident, a police officer and a police department.”

Compensate and deter

By their nature, these settlement documents, full of legal jargon and references to various state statutes, don’t provide that full picture of the event in question. None of the settlements contain demographic data, for instance, making it difficult to conclude how often these cases center on claims of racial, gender or other discrimination.

The settlements do often contain a reference to a case number, however, making it possible to piece together the alleged facts through other legal documents.

In 2014, the town of Salem paid a Latino man $10,000 after he alleged in a federal lawsuit that Officer Nicholas Turner unholstered his weapon and pointed it at him after he requested directions.

The lawsuit claimed that Turner was “motivated by [the] plaintiff’s race, color and national origin.”

A second lawsuit against Salem alleged that in 2009, Officer Chad Clark tackled, beat and kicked a young Black man outside of a party. Along with the allegations of excessive force, the man alleged in his lawsuit that Clark made racially offensive remarks, including bragging that “he had taken care of that Jimmy [sic] Hendrix guy.” In 2011, Salem, through its insurer, paid the man $35,000 in exchange for his agreement to drop a federal lawsuit.

At least two settlements — one in Exeter, one in Northwood — stem from local police allegedly detaining people on suspected immigration violations, despite lacking probable cause as required by law.

Julian Jefferson, a staff attorney for the N.H. Public Defenders and a member of the newly formed Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency, told NHPR these settlements raise concerns about racial profiling and excessive force.

Jefferson believes the state would benefit from the creation of an independent oversight body, including members of the public, to review allegations of misconduct, such as those put forward in many of these complaints. He said such a review panel would bring more attention to what police misconduct looks like in New Hampshire, and how often it occurs.

“We need to come up with policies to help mitigate against something as tragic as a George Floyd murder happening in New Hampshire,” Jefferson said. “We should not feel complacent that that would never happen here in New Hampshire. We need to zealously guard against that happening.”

Opportunity for reform

Of the 87 settlements reviewed by NHPR, the largest payout in the previous decade involved the killing of a woman in Manchester following a police pursuit. In 2017, the family of Wendy Lawrence received $750,000 after a State Police officer shot her through her windshield.

In 2014, the town of Weare paid $300,000 to the family of Alex Jose Cora de Jesus, who was shot and killed during a drug bust that the attorney general would later investigate and describe as carried out “without proper planning, training or manpower.”

Weare settled six other allegations in the time frame for which NHPR requested records, bringing the town’s total cost of alleged police civil rights violations to $458,000. In response to a right-to-know request, Portsmouth provided six settlements totaling $507,500. Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire, has settled 13 cases, paying out $823,000.

The smallest settlement paid out since 2010 in New Hampshire was for just $500, a result of the Wilton Police mistakenly arresting a man who had the same name as his son following a traffic accident.

The town of Durham settled cases stemming from three different incidents over the previous decade, totaling $105,500.

Durham Police Chief Dave Kurz, who retired last week after 24 years in the position, said he believes his officers acted appropriately in two of the three cases, but that the town’s insurer, Primex, ultimately made a “business decision” to settle the suits.

“As best as we can try to manage our organization in Durham, we are going to have an error, we are going to do something that someone doesn’t like, and we’ve got to own up to that as an organization with a strong moral compass and do the best we can to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” Kurz said.

In 2016, Durham paid a man $40,000 in exchange for his agreement not to file a lawsuit. In March of that year, a police officer had used a Taser on the man after alleging he resisted arrest.

Chief Kurz believes his officer acted appropriately during that interaction. Still, he said he used video of the arrest as a training tool for his other officers.

“In the aftermath of these incidents, specifically the Taser instance, there is a critique,” Kurz said. “From that, we come up with things that we could have done to enhance what the officers did do, and hopefully make sure they are safe, and the people who we are arresting and resisting are also safe.”

Due to the secretive nature of these settlements, it’s unclear how often they result in a thorough review by local police departments.

Advocates for police accountability stress that many civil lawsuits filed against departments are not solely to obtain compensation for clients but are also aimed at spurring law enforcement to review policies and, when necessary, change protocols.

“I’ve found that in many cases, the city attorney will defend the case and the money will be paid out of central funds, and the police department does very little to analyze the information from that lawsuit and try to learn how to do better,” said professor Joanna Schwartz, who teaches a class called ‘Suing the Police’ at UCLA School of Law. “And this is something that strikes me as a great loss.”

Wide range of claims

While some settlements received media coverage, many payments appear to have been made with little publicity.

In 2014, the Keene Police Department issued a news release announcing the arrest of a Keene State College student for allegedly filing a false rape claim. The Keene Sentinel, as well as the college’s student newspaper, wrote about the arrest and included the student’s mugshot.

After the criminal case ended without a conviction, the student, who NHPR is declining to name because she maintains she was a victim of sexual assault, filed a civil lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution by the Keene Police Department. Keene ultimately settled the case for $100,000; however the settlement doesn’t appear to have garnered any media attention at the time, and the agreement contains a nondisclosure clause.

Other settlements, however, have been well documented in the press. The Union Leader has reported on issues within the Salem Police Department, which has settled eight cases in recent years costing taxpayers $228,500.

Chris Micklovich received $200,000 from Manchester in exchange for dropping a federal lawsuit alleging off-duty police officers beat him outside of the Strange Brew Tavern. The four officers involved in the highly publicized incident were cleared of any criminal charges by the Attorney General.

In 2012, Manchester paid $38,000 to a man who alleged in a civil lawsuit that during an arrest on Elm Street, he was kicked in the head by a police horse. The man suffered a “severe head injury,” according to his complaint, and was rendered unconscious for hours after the incident.

Following allegations that two Manchester police officers tried to coerce sexual favors from a woman, she received a $45,000 settlement in 2018. The county attorney declined to bring charges against the two officers, who were fired for their actions.

In New London, the town agreed to pay a Colby-Sawyer College student $70,000 after she was allegedly propositioned by the police chief to provide nude photos in exchange for him dropping an underaged drinking charge.

In 2011, Loudon agreed to settle a civil lawsuit for $15,000 involving an 18-year old woman who claimed she was attacked by a police dog and then subjected to taunts and comments on her appearance.

Another high-profile settlement involved Jeffrey Pendleton, a resident of Nashua who was arrested in 2014 for allegedly trespassing in a public area near the library. Pendleton spent more than a month in jail, unable to pay cash bail set at $100.

The ACLU highlighted his case as a violation of Pendleton’s First Amendment rights, ultimately settling the dispute with the city for $15,000. (Pendleton would later die in a Manchester jail cell while awaiting trial on a misdemeanor charge, garnering national attention.)

Gilles Bissonnette of the ACLU, who represented Pendleton as well as Bob Frese, an Exeter man who received a $17,500 settlement after police arrested him for posting online statements criticizing an officer, said his organization works to publicize settlement agreements to call attention to issues in law enforcement.

He also questioned if nondisclosure clauses in settlements involving law enforcement are constitutional, pointing to a recent ruling in a U.S. Circuit Court that found the city of Baltimore’s use of such clauses violated the law.

He said plaintiffs should be able to discuss their cases with no fear of retribution, as “it helps the public learn more about police behavior.”

Bissonnette also said municipalities should notify their residents when a settlement is reached, rather than quietly file the documents away.

“Certainly the settlement agreements are available in the clerk’s office, but what good does that do, if no one knows that the settlement agreement ever exists?” he said.

top story
SAU 29 schools to mandate masks, decide on in-person vs. remote learning

Masks will be mandatory in all N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 buildings next academic year, one of several dozen unit-wide requirements released Thursday and designed to protect students and staff as they return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mask mandate is based on guidance from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the nine-page SAU 29 universal procedures document. The unit’s member districts — Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — will provide reusable cloth masks to all students and staff members upon request, and while supplies last, according to the document posted on the SAU 29 website.

After the state did not require masks as part of its school reopening guidance, which Gov. Chris Sununu shared last week, SAU 29 Superintendent Robert Malay said teachers and administrators felt strongly that local schools should make them mandatory.

“Collectively, I think it’s overwhelming that everyone feels that masks should be a priority when folks are in the building, whether they’re students, staff or visitors,” Malay said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

All SAU 29 schools also will establish breaks for students and staff to take off their masks during the school day, “with consideration to appropriate distancing, the need to eat and drink water, and age appropriateness,” according to the document. Additionally, schools will provide disposable face coverings to any students, staff or visitors who arrive at school buildings without them.

The SAU 29 universal procedures also require schools to calculate their maximum capacity based on government guidance that students and staff keep three to six feet of distance in schools. The universal procedures provide a foundation for individual schools to build their specific reopening plans, which also will be guided by the SAU 29 reopening framework issued earlier this week.

Schools expect to release those plans the week of Aug. 3. The reopening framework calls for schools to plan for three possibilities for the coming academic year: in-person instruction, remote learning or a hybrid of the two. As schools calculate their maximum capacity, while factoring in safe physical distancing, they will determine on an individual basis whether they can return to full in-school instruction, Malay said.

And now that schools have the necessary guidance to develop their specific reopening plans, Malay thanked the SAU 29 community for its patience.

“I know everybody has wanted this information for a long time, and we were waiting for information to come from the state, and now that we’ve got that, we’ve been going full speed ahead,” he said. “Our days are consumed with making sure that we’re getting this closer and closer to the finish line.”

Read the full SAU 29 universal procedures document at