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Keene panel backs Main St. brewery's request to serve beer outdoors

The Keene City Council’s planning, licenses and development committee recommended Wednesday that the council grant a Main Street brewery’s request to serve alcohol on a sidewalk patio, a week after it was sent back to the committee for further review.

During an evening meeting held via teleconference, the committee voted unanimously in favor of allowing Modestman Brewing to serve beer in the front of its building at 100 Main St. The full council still needs to vote on the application.

Brewery owner Ash Sheehan said the business is still pretty new, and the request to serve beer outside was submitted before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our business is about six months old. It’s a nano-plus brewery,” Sheehan said during the meeting. “It’s the first time we’re applying for a patio license.”

He added that the brewery also plans to serve food on the sidewalk patio. In addition, he said, he’s received approval from the city to create another patio behind his building, which will not be on city property.

Restaurants can begin serving customers outdoors Monday as part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s amended stay-at-home order.

Sheehan’s request to serve alcohol on the sidewalk was on the City Council’s agenda when it met last week. But the application was sent back to the committee, after some debate among councilors, amid uncertainty about whether Modestman would be serving food.

At last week’s council meeting, councilors questioned if it would be appropriate to allow businesses that strictly sold alcohol to allow people to drink on sidewalk patios and said they needed a closer look at the request.

Councilors who were in favor of granting the request said at the council meeting it is important to help small businesses get back to work when given the opportunity to do so. They also noted that restaurants with existing sidewalk seating often serve drinks to the diners there.

Sheehan explained that his brewery has a small kitchen inside and guests can order food at all times that alcohol is being served. He said he also owns the Guru Food Truck, which parks behind the Modestman building and serves food to guests.

Several committee members, as well as other councilors who were watching the meeting, said they were satisfied with Sheehan’s responses.

“We want to hear that he’s compliant,” Councilor Philip Jones, a committee member, said.

Keene Building and Health Officer John Rogers said a plan submitted for the patio seems to be compliant. He said the city would review the design again when it’s set up.

Because sidewalk seating requires council approval if alcohol will be served, the earliest Modestman would be able to bring beer out onto the front patio would be after the next meeting, which is set for May 21 at 7 p.m.


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Without a vaccine, college life may not be the same

Many colleges expect to reopen in the fall, but how they do so fluctuates with the ever-changing data and science behind the spread of the coronavirus.

The University System of New Hampshire’s, which includes the University of New Hampshire in Durham, Keene State College, Plymouth State University, Granite State College and seven community colleges, announced on May 8 that it plans to “welcome new and continuing students onto our campuses for the fall semester for in-person instruction.”

However, until a vaccine is developed to stop infections from COVID-19, the operations of any college campus will look different from the environment of September 2019.

In an hour-long video message to the Dartmouth community, Provost Joseph Helble said, “It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the opportunity for a flip the light switch return to normal, business as usual, operations is, well I won’t say impossible, highly unlikely for us or any of our other peer higher education institutions.”

Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell said Friday she is co-leading the USNH team to coordinate a system-wide reopening plan for all of New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities.

“We’ll have blended classrooms, because there will be students quarantined, self-isolating, away, choosing maybe not to come back for portions of the semester,” Treadwell said of Keene State.

Normal operations at most universities, where students resume all their classes with face-to-face instruction, is not likely until the fall of 2021, according to research from the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Universities will need to scrap large college-wide events, limit study abroad opportunities and reexamine courses with hands-on components.

Helble expects some fraction of the Dartmouth student population to return, with others attending remotely. How the fall term is structured remains uncertain; however, “we’re not cancelling the fall quarter.”

USNH spokesperson Lisa Thorne imagines a similar scenario of hybrid operations. For example, half of residential students may participate one day in person and one day remotely and then swap days with the other half of their classroom colleagues.

Thorne says USNH is requesting monies from the CARES Act that the state received to equip about 50 percent of classrooms with Zoom technology to enrich the blended options.

“The classroom experience that most of our surveyed, traditional aged students desire is interactive and in-person,” she says. “We balance this requirement with a population who needs flexibility to download resources when available.”

Before the pandemic, most on-campus college professors had little or no experience with conducting class discussions and delivering assignments through video conferencing and other remote technology. To prepare for a hybrid model, USNH will offer additional training to its faculty members to help them instruct in an online format.

Thorne also says the chancellor and college presidents are communicating with regional and national organizations to review occupancy restrictions for classrooms, cafeterias, dorms and libraries.

A letter to the community on the UNH website reports that university leaders expect to develop a “robust testing system” for anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 and is providing space to quarantine anyone who tests positive.

During a Senate hearing Tuesday of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Dr. and Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, spoke by a video link and said the country should have the capacity to conduct between 40 million to 50 million tests per month by September.

When committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., asked if the country had enough testing for college students to return in the fall, Giroir said, “Yes, it’s certainly possible to test all the students.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, presented a more somber outlook. “If this were a situation where you had a vaccine, that would really be the end of the issue in a positive way. But as I mentioned in my opening remarks, even at the top speed we’re going, we don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term.”

Southern New Hampshire University, in a pivotal move that surprised the industry, announced in late April that incoming freshmen now and into the future would not attend classes in person, but instead would take all their courses online while still having the option to live on campus. University leaders are deferring an announcement about the fall semester for sophomores, juniors and seniors until late June.While most colleges are planning virtual commencement events, Colby-Sawyer in New London is scheduling an in-person commencement ceremony for its more than 200 graduates for Saturday, Aug. 8. Spokesperson Gregg Mazzola says officials will follow social distancing and any other protocol s as per state and CDC guidelines.

As they wait for updates about how their campus will open, high school graduates around the state are mulling commitments about whether to attend and reside on campus, take a gap year or choose an educational alternative less expensive and closer to home.

As Dr. Michele Perkins, president of New England College in Henniker, wrote on its college website, “Unfortunately, in this new era, we must convey, ‘stay tuned’.”


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Winchester nursing-home resident tests positive for COVID-19 (print only)

WINCHESTER — A resident of Applewood Rehabilitation Center tested positive for COVID-19, according to a spokeswoman.

This is the nursing home’s first case of the viral disease, spokeswoman Lori Mayer said in an email Wednesday.

The resident, who is still staying at the center at 8 Snow Road, tested positive May 9, she said.

All residents and staff will be tested for COVID-19 Thursday, Mayer added.

The 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 Mayer.

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 medically necessary, have been canceled.

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.

Overall, the state health department announced 63 new positive test results for COVID-19 Wednesday, and eight additional deaths.

One of the new cases was a Cheshire County resident, though it’s unknown if that case is the one in Winchester.

The deaths were of residents of Hillsborough, Rockingham and Merrimack counties.

New Hampshire has had 3,299 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date, 45 of them in Cheshire County.

Of that total, 1,236 have recovered, 326 have been hospitalized and 150 have died.

There were 126 current hospitalizations as of Wednesday morning.

More than 39,000 New Hampshire residents have been tested for the disease so far. On Tuesday, more than 1,900 test results were reported to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, the highest single-day total to date, according to a news release from the department.


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Local restaurants swap ideas for safe reopening

With restaurants set to take the first step toward reopening Monday, owners of local establishments are getting together — virtually — to discuss their plans.

Starting Monday, restaurants will have the option of serving diners on outdoor patios as part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s amended stay-at-home order, after being restricted to take-out and delivery since March.

Luca Paris, of Luca’s Mediterranean Cafe in Keene’s Central Square, has been hosting weekly meetings to help members of the local restaurant industry prepare.

During Wednesday’s meeting, held via the video-conferencing platform Zoom, Paris discussed some new ideas to make dining out safer. He said he’ll create QR codes that guests can scan with their smartphones to call up a digital menu, eliminating the need to distribute physical copies, which would need to be sanitized for the next guest.

Paris also discussed using plate toppers and said he has been handing out sanitizing wipes with pens when customers need to authorize their payments.

He also said he’s not taking any chances when it comes to staff who are sick, and is sending home anyone who feels under the weather. He recently did so with an employee who wasn’t feeling well, even though his symptoms did not match the ones associated with the coronavirus, Paris said.

Danya Landis, a co-owner of Machina Arts: Kitchen and ArtBar on Court Street, said weekly meetings with other members of the local restaurant industry have been an important part of the reopening process. She said they’re able to work together to navigate the changes and keep up with a rapid influx of information.

“As a restaurant owner during a pandemic there are a lot of challenges to face,” she said. “Keeping up with current information is even more critical to our success in this time — and these meetings are giving us a forum to keep each other informed, share ideas and help lift each other up.”

In an effort to enable as many restaurants as possible to benefit from outdoor dining, the city of Keene is allowing some additional flexibility when it comes to licensing.

City Manager Elizabeth Dragon, who was on hand for Wednesday’s meeting, said the city has talked to a number of dining establishments to see what options they have to open or how they could expand their outdoor seating.

For those simply renewing licenses for patio seating, Dragon said there has been some new language related to COVID-19, including social-distancing policies.

For restaurants looking to expand patios they already have or install outdoor seating for the first time, she said, the city is approaching each request on a case-by-case basis to see what options are on the table.

“We have been going out and doing inspections and working with people to try to make sure we can maximize [seating],” Dragon said. “We are much more flexible at the moment in terms of use of city property or sidewalk space because of the need to create this social distancing. So what we’re doing is granting temporary expansions for the period of this emergency.”

She explained that the temporary licenses would be in effect for as long as restaurants are unable to operate at full capacity.

While new licenses to serve food on city sidewalks can be approved administratively, those involving alcohol must receive council approval. Dragon said the city is working to move these licenses forward as quickly as possible.