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Emile Bernier of Saxtons River, Vt., cools down in the Ashuelot River just downstream from the Stone Arch Bridge in Gilsum Gorge Thursday evening. Bernier was there with friends.

Keeping his cool


Wapo
Trump administration deems virus under control, despite surges

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Monday that it has the coronavirus epidemic under control in the United States, but a resurgent outbreak in Sun Belt states continued to worsen — and Jacksonville, Fla., where President Donald Trump plans to pack a convention hall to accept the Republican nomination for reelection, made mask-wearing mandatory.

The World Health Organization warned that the outbreak is far from over and a grim milestone passed Sunday, with the confirmed worldwide death count from the novel coronavirus surpassing 500,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Over the weekend, the number of coronavirus cases reported worldwide soared past 10 million.

U.S. deaths are approaching 125,000, and the total number of reported coronavirus cases topped 2.5 million amid worsening outbreaks in Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Trump refuses to wear a mask in public and his administration has sent mixed signals on the increasingly politicized issue for weeks. Few around the president wear masks despite federal guidelines that they be worn as a barrier to spread of the virus. But the rebound in cases may be changing that.

Vice President Mike Pence did not wear a mask Friday as he led the first public briefing on the pandemic in two months, but he did so during a trip to hard-hit Texas on Sunday and issued a public call for Americans to follow suit.

Pence conferred with governors and others out of sight of news cameras Monday and plans to travel to Florida and Arizona, two of the states with spiking cases, for meetings this week with governors and health teams. He canceled planned campaign events in those states because of the reversal in progress against the virus, but he did hold one Sunday in Texas, where caseloads are also rising.

Arizona saw another record high in hospitalizations days after Trump visited the state for a raucous indoor rally during which almost no one wore a face mask.

Florida reported more than 5,200 new cases of the coronavirus Monday and at least 28 deaths, bringing the total number of cases and deaths in the state during the coronavirus pandemic to more than 146,000 and about 3,500, respectively.

Although the new daily case number was lower than the day before, as a rolling seven-day average it was a record high at 6,589, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

For the past 22 days, the rolling average in Florida has set a record each day. Other states are on similar streaks — South Carolina has set a record on its rolling seven-day average for 21 days, while Texas has for 19 days.

Florida’s rolling seven-day average has risen by 102 percent since a week ago, an increase second only to Louisiana, where the seven-day average is 123 percent higher than a week ago. The state’s seven-day average of new deaths has also increased: It is now 15 percent higher than last week.

“We’re aware that there are embers that need to be put out,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a news briefing.

She cited a decline in mortality rates and the advent of effective drug and other treatments as making “us uniquely equipped to handle the increasing cases that we’ve seen.”

Jacksonville, the largest city in Florida and host of the Republican National Convention in late August, announced Monday that masks will be mandatory in public and indoor locations.

“At 5 p.m. today, the City of Jacksonville will be adopting a mandatory mask requirement for public & indoor locations, and in other situations where individuals cannot socially distance,” the city announced Monday on Twitter. “Please continue to practice personal responsibility to help stop the spread of this virus.”

It is not clear whether the requirement will remain in force at the time of the convention, or whether Trump and attendees would abide by it.

Republicans announced this month that the premier festivities of their convention would be held in Jacksonville instead of Charlotte after North Carolina officials balked at Trump’s demand to host a mass gathering amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The GOP began its last-minute search for a new site after Trump threatened to move the event if he couldn’t get a commitment that big crowds would be permitted. RNC officials had called for a convention with tens of thousands of attendees. They pledged to conduct temperature checks and make masks available.

Jacksonville spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton told The Washington Post that whether the mandate applies to the convention will be addressed “as we get closer to the event,” noting that it is still two months away.

Despite rising infection numbers across the United States, most Americans don’t believe their state was too fast to reopen, according to a new CBS News-YouGov poll.

The poll, released Sunday and based on interviews conducted last week, found that 41 percent of adults said their state had moved at the right pace to reopen the economy and lift stay-home restrictions. Another 39 percent said their state had moved too quickly, while 20 percent said reopening was happening too slowly.

Still, many of the respondents expressed personal reservations about attempts to return to normal, with a majority saying that they feel no more or less at risk than they did a few months ago.

The poll also found widespread dissatisfaction with Trump’s handling of the crisis, with 72 percent saying the administration was unprepared to respond to the pandemic. Seventy-three percent said the U.S. death toll could have been lower if plans to combat the outbreak had been in place sooner.Although Trump points to what he calls a low death rate, the United States has performed poorly when compared with other nations, with more cases and more deaths as a share of the population.

The surging number of cases could result in nearly half the country infected with the virus by the end of this year, and overall deaths are likely to return to more than 1,000 a day, according to former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

During much of the spring, more than 1,000 people a day in the United States typically died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but that number had declined to an average of less than 600 a day last week.

“By the time we get to the end of this year, probably close to half the population will have had coronavirus, and that’s if we just stay at our current rate,” Gottlieb said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Gottlieb said parts of the country are showing signs of serious community spread that will probably increase in the coming weeks. He named Florida, as well as Georgia and South Carolina.

Younger people appear to be the most affected in those states, which means that death rates and hospitalization numbers might not be as severe as they were in the first wave, but all that could change with transmission, he said.


Local
top story
Remaining NH businesses allowed to reopen

After three months of COVID-19-triggered closures, the rest of New Hampshire’s economy was permitted to reopen Monday.

Performance venues, amusement parks, concert halls, music and art education facilities, and adult day programs were all officially able to get back to business. As with most companies and organizations that had already been allowed to reopen, restrictions are in place, including requirements for face coverings, social-distancing guidelines and, in some cases, directives to operate at a limited capacity.

As concerns about COVID-19 intensified, companies across the state were forced to close March 27 after Gov. Chris Sununu issued a stay-at-home order requiring nonessential businesses to cease in-person operations. Since May — and amid a steady decline of new COVID-19 cases spanning the month of June — New Hampshire has been gradually reopening various sectors of its economy.

But in this region and beyond, the closures’ impact have been wide reaching and will likely be long felt, with New Hampshire’s unemployment rate for May recorded at 14.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is down slightly from April’s rate of 17.1 percent but still a dramatic increase over 2.4 percent in March.

Locally, Audrey’s Cafe, Piedra Fina and Elm City Bagels are among area staples that have closed for good.

Gary Tateosian, owner of Synergy, a clothing boutique on Main Street in Keene, said his customers have been eager to show support for area businesses to ensure they survive the downturn. He said he’s stayed busy since reopening on May 11, the first day retail businesses in New Hampshire were permitted to do so.

“They’re happy we survived and are open,” Tateosian said of his patrons. “No one wants to see another business go out; even some of these big stores are going out. It’s sad.”

At least two area theaters, Keene Cinemas 6 and the Peterborough Community Theatre, are waiting until mid-week to open their doors. Both plan to do so Wednesday, starting off by showing older movies.

On the other hand, The Colonial in Keene announced Monday that it will extend its closure to expedite a construction and renovation project. Plans call for enhancing the existing Main Street theater and adding a smaller theater on Commercial Street. In a news release, the theater said it makes better economic sense to stay closed rather than sell only a fraction of the tickets it normally would due to public-health restrictions.

Monday also marked the last day that larger Granite State hotels were restricted to operating at a lower capacity. When hotels were permitted to reopen June 5, those with more than 20 rooms were limited to booking at half capacity.

Matthew Blanchette, general manager at the Courtyard by Marriott Keene, said he’s hoping to see an increase in traffic once that restriction expires Tuesday. He said the hotel, which stayed open throughout the pandemic to house essential workers, has already seen an increase in guests since reservations were allowed to resume at the beginning of the month.

“We have seen an uptick in traffic since [the state] lightened the restrictions on leisure travel,” Blanchette said. “We’ve been full.”

Throughout May and June, the state has staggered the reopening of various industries. In May, restaurants resumed outdoor service, retail establishments could open at reduced capacity, and hair salons and barber shops were given the go-ahead to provide basic cuts and coloring services. In June, restaurants were able to offer indoor service again, camps were able to reopen and were hotels permitted to accept reservations.

Like many other businesses, The Toadstool Bookshop in Keene managed to remain open during most of the stay-at-home order by offering curbside pick-up. The store continues to offer the service to its customers, despite having been open for in-person shopping since June 15, according to store manager Don Luckham. The book retailer also has locations in Peterborough and Nashua.

Although the bookshop could have reopened in mid-May, Luckham said Toadstool held off for a couple extra weeks to ensure it could be done safely. The store has masks and hand sanitizer available at the door, has put more space between registers and is keeping a close eye on how many people are inside the shop at a given time.

While the days haven’t been too busy, Luckham said, they also haven’t been slow. He said the steady stream of customers seems to be divided between excitement to be in a store again and concern that reopening public spaces will cause further spread of the virus.

“Every day, we’re getting people who are thanking us for opening up,” Luckham said. “At the same time, there are those that are hoping there isn’t a second wave.”

Observing the spike in cases in other states, he said, customers are “concerned we might have to close down” again in the future.


Local
top story
Colonial to stay closed to performances during expedited renovations

On the first day indoor movie theaters and performance venues were allowed to reopen, The Colonial announced its downtown Keene theater will stay closed to performances while undergoing a renovation and expansion project expected to wrap up next fall.

The historic Main Street theater, which has been closed for the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain that way to allow the planned construction project’s timeline to be sped up. In the meantime, The Colonial has already begun work on a smaller, more intimate venue known as Showroom, which is set to open on Commercial Street this fall, the theater said in a news release.

The renovations and second theater were announced last year.

Alec Doyle, The Colonial’s executive director, said keeping the main theater closed and expediting the renovations was the smarter economic choice.

“Under the state’s phased reopening guidelines, our theatre would have only been open to partial-capacity audiences at best for a significant period of the upcoming season,” he said in the release. “Completing our renovations in half the originally planned time is a smarter alternative for our patrons and for the organization’s long-term fiscal stability.”

Expected to begin in September and finish late next fall, construction will involve renovation and expansion of the inner and outer lobbies and will create a larger ticket lobby, a patron lounge, a concessions area, elevators to all floors, improvements to restrooms and new administrative offices. The project will also include a number of backstage improvements, such as new rigging and staging technologies, a new artist lounge and new dressing rooms.

The new, smaller theater at 20 Commercial St. is already under construction; The Colonial acquired the property — the former location of Downtown Fitness Keene and previously, Lady of America — in April. The venue will offer seating for 150 patrons. The retractable seating can quickly be converted into a flat surface for concerts, dances or other functions with up to 200 guests.

“Showroom is going to be a wonderful place to present emerging national artists, established local and regional performers, spoken-word events, educational presentations, film and media and lots of other programming that complements the Colonial’s main auditorium presentations while also appealing to a younger, more diverse audience,” Doyle said in the release.

Abigail Abrash Walton, chairwoman of The Colonial’s board of directors, said the renovation project will allow the theater to attract more renowned performers and enhance patrons’ experience.

“It is our hope,” she said in a prepared statement, “that The Colonial Performing Arts Center can be an integral part of the revival and reemergence of downtown Keene and the larger Monadnock area.”


Local
top story
Community rocked by Crotched Mountain School closure

Parents of students, former staff members, and the Greenfield community are reeling after last week’s announcement that the Crotched Mountain School is set to close by the end of this year.

“I just can’t imagine that facility not being there and being a part of our town and the Monadnock Region,” campus chaplain Rev. Dan Osgood said. “The things I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve had, how I’ve seen the amazing healing that’s taken place there, the dedicated staff, many of whom I know — it’s very sad.”

“I love Crotched Mountain and had no idea this was on the horizon. We are shocked. We don’t know what we are going to do,” Elizabeth Lee Davis said. Her 8-year-old daughter, Quinn, has spent the last two years at Crotched Mountain School. “Crotched Mountain has been a godsend, an answer to our prayers,” Davis said. “I’m terribly sad for my child and for all the other children that aren’t going to get what Crotched Mountain offers. They fulfilled their promises to these children and it’s just a huge loss.”

Davis lives in St. Johnsbury, Vt., and has hosted two fundraisers for the school, in addition to collecting personal protective equipment for staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. She wanted to help out in order to be supportive, and didn’t know the school was in financial trouble at the time.

“The one thing I love is they’re honest about what they don’t do well,” Davis said. “If they make a mistake or do something wrong, they don’t sugarcoat it. They’re really honest with communication,” she said. “That might be why this is such a blow.”

Davis’s daughter Quinn was adopted from China. Her main disability is microcephaly and severe brain damage, and she’s autistic, Davis said. “We had her at home for five years, we did everything that we could to meet her needs,” she said. “She requires round-the-clock care, two caregivers all the time when she’s awake and one when she’s asleep. She never, ever stops moving,” Davis said, putting her at constant risk for breaking things, hurting others and herself.

Staff at Crotched Mountain taught Quinn to eat solid foods and feed herself, as well as to be more purposeful with her movements, Davis said. “One of her IEP goals is to sit for, I think, a minute,” she said. The staff were open to learning Quinn and adjusting everything around her, rather than forcing her to fit into an existing system, Davis said. Over the past two years, the staff became the authority on her daughter’s needs, Davis said, and she wonders who will train her daughter’s next caretakers. She is now in conversation with Quinn’s case manager, discussing whether there’s “anything else in the world out there” for her daughter.

Crotched Mountain School was “by far” the best special residential facility for her daughter in New England, Davis said. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Davis said she was afraid the school would have to close down, but the school reassured her with all the steps they were taking. “I knew they were doing everything they could,” she said.

The sudden announcement reminds Davis of another from this spring, when her alma mater Northern Vermont University proposed closing three campuses. The outcry from students, employees, and alumni reversed that decision, Davis said, but Crotched Mountain stakeholders don’t have the same agency. Partly due to HIPAA privacy regulations, Davis has almost no connections to parents of other students. “The alumni of Crotched Mountain are people with severe special needs,” she said, and that she was unaware of any Facebook groups or mailing lists that could help stakeholders to mobilize. “This feels like I have no connections and nothing I can do. We don’t know each other,” she said.

“Anger, sadness, it’s the whole grieving process,” Osgood said, describing the reactions he’s heard from staff and families. “I know they’re going through a very tough time.” Osgood became Crotched Mountain School’s chaplain in 1987. At the time, there were no classes at seminary on providing ministry to people with disabilities. At the time, he said you could hardly find someone in Greenfield who hadn’t worked at the school at some point. “I was just sort of thrown into this and scared to death,” he said, but some of the best of his ministry happened on campus over the next 34 years.

At one point, Osgood ran three services a week on campus: one for the hospital, one for people in the brain injury unit, and one for the residents in group homes. There were one-on-one and group bible studies for residents, big Thanksgiving and Christmas services, and a joint service with the Catholic chaplain to commemorate the week of prayer for Christian unity, he said. Osgood served as chair of the ethics committee and taught ethics to new employees. He remembers hosting a large group of interns from Korea, who participated in a bible study and came to his house for a cookout. Sometimes residents would vacuum and clean the ministry center with their staff, Osgood said. Greenfield Covenant Church worshiped on the campus for the past 11 years and some of the congregation are employees, he said. Osgood has been interacting with the school remotely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said he hopes for an opportunity for current and former staff and alumni to gather and celebrate the institution.

“I guess it wasn’t a complete surprise,” Osgood said; he’d seen programs close on campus over the years. “I’m just praying that something new will happen there. I can’t believe that facility would just sit there and crumble,” he said. “I’m sad but also a little disturbed that we as a culture and a society don’t place the value on people with disabilities that we should. There’s a lot of talk, but the money’s not there. The resources are not there.”

“The question to be asked is, what is the state of special education in New Hampshire, what are the services for people with intellectual disabilities and people that present unique challenges?” Jon Eriquezzo asked. Eriquezzo was vice president of innovation when he left the school in 2019 after 18 years on staff, and is a guardian for someone who had been looking forward to attending the school.

“When we closed our hospital, there was a lot of support from the state and we were able to coordinate with other hospitals, both for employees and for patients. This is a little different. There aren’t beds out there for these people. There aren’t classrooms out there,” he said. “I do know and trust that Crotched Mountain will be doing everything they can, it’s just not apparent they can do it alone.”

COVID-19 was a hard hit for many nonprofits supporting people with disabilities, after four years with insubstantial pay or funding increases, Eriquezzo said. “For the average students with special needs, it’s fine, but there are a lot of outliers out there that need unique services,” he said. “I have people asking me, “Should we move to Vermont?” Does that show families have unrealistic expectations, or the state has a lack of crucial services?” he asked. “I really hope that families can get the support from the state in terms of transition.”