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Jaffrey couple indicted in connection with murder of Keene man

Jaffrey resident Armando Barron has been indicted on murder charges in the September slaying of Jonathan Amerault of Keene, the N.H. Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday.

Barron, 31, was charged with capital murder when he was arrested in September. On Tuesday, the Attorney General’s Office said in a news release that a multi-county grand jury had indicted him on one count of capital murder, as well as one count of kidnapping Amerault, and a count of second-degree assault alleging he kicked him in the head. Barron was also indicted on two counts each of criminal solicitation of murder and criminal solicitation of first-degree assault that allege he told his wife, Britany Barron, to harm Amerault.

In addition to the capital murder charge, which alleges that Armando Barron murdered Amerault during a kidnapping, he was indicted on an alternative charge of first-degree murder, alleging that he purposefully caused Amerault’s death, according to the news release.

In a police affidavit, N.H. State Police Sgt. Stephen Sloper wrote that Britany Barron, 31, told law enforcement that her husband shot and killed Amerault, 25, during the overnight hours between Sept. 19 and 20, having lured him to Annett Wayside Park in Rindge after discovering that she and Amerault were romantically involved. Britany Barron said her husband had tried to make her kill Amerault, but that she refused, the affidavit states.

She told police that the couple then took Amerault’s body north, driving Amerault’s car and their own vehicle, according to the affidavit. Amerault’s body was discovered by N.H. Fish and Game officers on Sept. 22 in Coos County.

Britany Barron, who was charged in September with three counts of falsifying evidence, admitted to removing Amerault’s head from his body, trying to hide his remains and attempting to clean his vehicle — all, she said, on her husband’s orders — according to the affidavit.

Armando Barron has also been indicted on two counts of second-degree assault, one count of domestic violence and one count of reckless conduct-domestic violence that accuse him of assaulting his wife just before Amerault’s murder. The state has also filed complaints charging him with two additional counts of domestic violence.

Britany Barron was indicted on three counts of falsifying evidence, and the Attorney General’s Office has filed two complaints charging her with abusing a corpse, accusing her of decapitating Amerault and trying to conceal his body.

Armando Barron is being held without bail, and his arraignment on the indictments will be scheduled in Cheshire County Superior Court. Britany Barron is also being held without bail, and her arraignment will be scheduled in Coos County Superior Court.

Scott Parker noted that this great blue heron was doing its best swan impression in water along Airport Road in Swanzey last week.

The CDC says:
Fully vaccinated people can go without masks outdoors except in crowded settings, CDC says

WASHINGTON — Federal health officials said Tuesday that fully vaccinated people should feel free to go without masks outdoors when walking, jogging or biking, or dining with friends at outdoor restaurants — a milestone development for tens of millions of pandemic-weary Americans after more than a year of masking up and locking down.

President Joe Biden touted the relaxation of guidance as another reason for people to get vaccinated, urging them to move forward to protect themselves and those around them, and so they can live more normally, by “getting together with friends, going to the park for a picnic without needing a mask.”

Biden had set July 4 as a target for when people could get together for backyard picnics with a sense of normalcy, and both the new mask guidance and his remarks were geared to encouraging people to continue getting the shots.

“I ... want to thank everyone who has gotten the vaccine for doing your patriotic duty and helping us get on the path to Independence Day,” Biden said in remarks on the North Lawn of the White House. He arrived at the podium wearing a mask. He returned to the White House without one, saying he did not have to put it on until he got back into the building.

The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes as more than 52 percent of eligible people in the United States have gotten at least one shot, but the pace of inoculations appears to be slowing in the face of vaccine hesitancy, especially among rural residents and Republicans who say the risks from the virus are overblown. Uptake has also been slower among communities of color because lack of health services and transportation have slowed access.

Officials said the changed guidance was aimed at helping those who are fully inoculated return safely to old routines, while encouraging others to get their shots to counter highly contagious new variants.

“Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Tuesday. “Today, I’m going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated.”

The recommendations also address growing calls from experts in infectious diseases and other public health fields to relax mask mandates for the outdoors because breezes disperse airborne virus particles, distancing is easier, and humidity and sunlight render the coronavirus less viable.

For that reason, the guidance says that even unvaccinated individuals may forgo masks when walking, jogging or biking outdoors with household members. Officials still caution that crowded outdoor settings pose risks and urge everyone — vaccinated and unvaccinated — to wear masks when attending sporting events, live performances and parades.

A growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infections or transmit the coronavirus to others. Officials do not know how long protection lasts and how much the vaccines protect against emerging virus variants.

But “taking steps toward relaxing certain measures for vaccinated people may help improve coronavirus vaccine acceptance and uptake,” the guidance states. “Therefore, there are several activities that fully vaccinated people can resume now, at low risk to themselves, while being mindful of the potential risk of transmitting the disease to others.”

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Walensky cited several factors motivating the change in guidance: Falling coronavirus case rates and climbing vaccinations (more than 37 percent of those over 18 are fully protected) make outdoor settings safer than before. Indoor settings have almost 20 times the risk of transmission than outdoor ones, she noted.

If more people continue getting inoculated and case numbers drop further, she said, the CDC will release additional guidance for the fully vaccinated.

Asked how she would describe the nation’s situation now compared to last month when she spoke of a feeling of “impending doom” as infections mounted, Walensky said that if the United States follows measures taken by other countries where “vaccinations continue to soar and the cases plummet, that we should be in good shape.”

In addressing states that have outdoor mask requirements, Walensky said it is no longer necessary for fully vaccinated people to wear masks unless they are in crowded outdoor venues, such as stadiums and concerts, where it is hard to know who is vaccinated and who is not.

Tuesday’s guidance includes a color-coded chart that shows activities that fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people can do indoors and outdoors, and which ones can be done without masks. The safest activities, highlighted in green, are outdoors in small gatherings. Activities with the greatest risk are indoor settings that involve behaviors such as singing, shouting, heavy breathing, inability to wear a mask or inability to maintain physical distancing, such as indoor high-intensity exercise class.

The nearly 96 million Americans who are fully vaccinated can now forgo masks for many outdoor activities, including:

Walking, running, hiking or biking outdoors alone or with members of your household

Attending a small outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated family and friends

Attending a small outdoor gathering with a mix of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people

Dining at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households

Officials say some factors increase risk: crowding, time spent, lack of ventilation and high community transmission. That’s why the CDC says it is safest for fully vaccinated people to continue to wear well-fitted masks in these settings, including:

Attending a crowded outdoor event, such as a live performance, parade or sporting event

Visiting a barber or hair salon

Going to an uncrowded indoor shopping mall or museum

Going to an indoor movie theater

Attending a full-capacity service at a house of worship

Singing in an indoor choir

“The examples today show that when you are fully vaccinated, you can return to many activities safely ... and begin to get back to normal,” Walensky said. “And the more people who are vaccinated, the more steps we can take toward spending time with people we love, doing the things we love to enjoy. I hope this message is encouraging for you. It shows just how powerful these vaccines are.”

The agency also provided guidance for fully vaccinated people in regard to working, quarantining and testing. Fully vaccinated workers no longer need to quarantine after an exposure, as long as they do not have symptoms. And fully vaccinated people without symptoms or known exposures may be exempted from routine screening tests — a change of enormous significance for schools trying to plan for summer school and fall reopening.

Monica Gandhi, an infectious-diseases expert at the University of California at San Francisco, applauded the CDC’s action after saying accumulating evidence shows the low risk of outdoor transmission.

“Viral particles disperse effectively in the outside air,” she said in an email, citing numerous studies, including one in Wuhan, China, that found that one of 7,324 infection events investigated was linked to outdoor transmission.

Gandhi noted that the World Health Organization says masks are not necessary outside unless physical distancing, which the agency defines as about 3 feet, cannot be maintained.

She and others have said it’s important for public health officials to provide incentives as “a great strategy to encourage those who are on the fence to get vaccinated.”

“Public health messaging since the time of HIV that focuses on positive, rather than negative, reinforcement has been shown to be more effective, so the CDC guidelines that vaccinated people don’t have to mask outdoors will hopefully help persuade some of the vaccine hesitant in the U.S. to get the vaccine,” Gandhi said.

The CDC guidance said there is limited data on vaccine protection in people who are immune compromised. It urged people taking immunosuppressive medications to discuss the need for personal protective measures with their health-care providers, even if they are fully vaccinated.

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Even before the CDC’s announcement, some states were moving to ease mask mandates: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, on Monday cleared groups of fewer than 1,000 people to gather outside without masks. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, on Tuesday said his state’s rule requiring masks outdoors would expire Friday, except in situations where social distancing is impossible.

The issue has become even more politically charged recently as conservative media figures have used their platforms online and on cable news to turn outdoor masking rules into a cause celebre. Fox News host Tucker Carlson urged viewers this week to contact child protective services to report the parents of children who wore masks outdoors.

“Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid in Walmart,” he said on his show, which is among the most watched on cable, regularly drawing 3 million viewers. “Call the police immediately, contact child protective services. Keep calling until someone arrives.”

His instructions were echoed Tuesday morning by Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor at The Federalist, a conservative publication. She tweeted: “Even if you’re an outdoor mask enthusiast at this late date, despite the complete lack of scientific support for same, I think we all can agree that masking children outdoors, at the very least, is abusive, right?”

The comments illustrate how face coverings, which were scorned by President Donald Trump, remain a marker of political identity more than a year into the pandemic.

The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker and Ben Guarino contributed to this report

Some NH cities to spend more on motel assistance

Some New Hampshire cities say they’re spending more on hotel assistance for their most vulnerable residents.

Low vacancy rates, rental turnover and high rents have made it tougher for residents to find permanent housing.

State law requires municipalities to provide financial assistance for basic needs like shelter, rent and utility payments.

Lynne Goodwin, Lebanon’s human services director, says when her office is assisting people facing homelessness, she first calls local shelters to see if they have a spot.

But with reduced capacity because of the pandemic, there are fewer beds available in shelters.

That means cities like Lebanon are putting up more people in local motels, Goodwin said.

In 2019, the city spent about $6,000 in motel assistance. Last year, that rose to about $70,400, and about $18,000 of that was reimbursed through the CARES Act.

“Some of the challenge is that even when we provided the temporary emergency housing had to stay in a motel longer than necessary due to having difficulty finding permanent housing,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin says that trend isn’t showing signs of slowing down. The city has already spent about $20,673 in motel assistance in the first quarter of 2021.

With the CDC eviction moratorium, and last year’s state and federal moratoriums, Goodwin says there’s been a lack of turnover in rental properties.

“The moratorium on evictions was a blessing for many, many households that didn’t have to fear being evicted for nonpayment of rent,” she said. “But it also meant that households that were looking for housing didn’t have the stock that they might normally have to choose from.”

And if there was a vacancy, it’d be snatched up quickly. Landlords now have many more applicants to choose from for the units they have available.

The city of Keene started providing hotel assistance in 2019. Natalie Darcy, Keene’s human services director, says she also saw an increase in 2020, particularly during the winter.

She says there are public housing options, but not enough.

“The housing that is available is so expensive, that many of our clients can’t either afford it, or they can’t pass the background checks to get into it. So they’re basically left homeless and needing hotel assistance,” she said.

“Lack of affordable housing for both families and individuals, and it’s not just in Keene, it’s all over New Hampshire,” said Darcy. “It’s quite frankly terrible.”

Some of the clients Goodwin is working with in Lebanon do have a housing voucher and are looking for apartments. The amount of rent those vouchers cover is based on something known as the Fair Market Rent, set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For all of Grafton County, the fair market rent is $834 for a one-bedroom apartment, and $1,083 for a two-bedroom.

“It’s almost impossible to find a one bedroom unit for that cost [in Lebanon],” Goodwin said. “Typically you’re looking at $950 to $1,000 or more.”

Two households she’s working with are still in a motel — with a voucher — because they can’t find a unit.

“We can’t just pass off the increased or we can’t just pass off the difference in the rent from the fair market and the market,” she said. “Because that would not make the rent affordable for these households.”

Goodwin said there should be a change in those rates for lower Grafton County, which she says is experiencing higher rents.

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Vermont Bread Company closes, 91 out of work in Brattleboro
  • Updated

BRATTLEBORO — More than 90 employees at Vermont Bread Co. lost their jobs Monday, when an investment firm permanently ceased operations at the Brattleboro bakery’s parent company.

Mass-termination notices filed with the Vermont Department of Labor that day indicated that workers at Koffee Kup Bakery, which owned Vermont Bread Co. and was acquired April 1 by American Industrial Acquisition Corp. (AIAC), were laid off.

That included 91 employees at the Koffee Kup plant on Cotton Mill Hill in Brattleboro — where Vermont Bread Co., founded in 1978, manufactured its baked goods — and 156 at its Burlington, Vt., location. Koffee Kup also had a facility in Connecticut.

Koffee Kup employees were informed of the company’s closure Monday, according to AIAC adviser Jeff Sands.

Sands said in a news release Tuesday that Koffee Kup had suffered financial losses in each of the past four years. That bakery had been unable to find a new investor “willing to commit the resources necessary to bring the company back to health,” he said.

AIAC, a private equity firm based in New York, acquired Koffee Kup just 25 days before the bakery’s closure, according to an April 7 news release from Koffee Kup’s financial adviser, G2 Capital Advisors. The bakery was previously owned by an organization called KUPCO, the release states.

“The completion of this transaction will certainly drive the development of KKB in the interest of all its employees as well as financial partners and suppliers,” KUPCO owner Hubert Aubery said in the release.

A G2 Capital Advisors associate involved with the AIAC acquisition declined Tuesday to comment on Koffee Kup’s closure.

The bakery was founded in 1940 and acquired Vermont Bread Co. in 2013, according to the April 7 news release from G2. Koffee Kup had 500 employees across its three facilities earlier this month, it stated.

The company manufactured baked goods, including bread, donuts and English muffins, and distributed products to more than 4,500 locations in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, according to the release.

Brattleboro selectboard member Tim Wessel blasted Koffee Kup’s closure on social media Tuesday, calling it a “callous move” and saying it had “blindsided” the town.

Koffee Kup route drivers based in Raynham, Mass. — one of several distribution hubs — had not heard from the company as of Wednesday morning, according to Frank Machado, a driver at that location for nearly six years.

Machado, 49, said he learned of Koffee Kup’s closure from news reports Tuesday. Route drivers in Raynham suspected trouble when they were asked Monday to return their trucks to the warehouse because the truck supplier wanted them back, he said.

“That right there didn’t sound good at all,” he said. “That sounded like the business was coming to an end.”

The drivers’ boss texted them that night, telling them not to show up for work the next day, according to Machado, but they were never informed that Koffee Kup had closed.

“We don’t even know whether we’re going to get paid for [Monday], he said. “… At this point nobody knows.”

Calling the Koffee Kup closure “very unprofessional,” Machado said he has found an open job as a route driver for another baked-goods supplier, though it would require a longer commute from his home in Mattapoisett, Mass.

Vermont’s Labor Department has been making sure Koffee Kup employees know of the company’s closure since Monday, according to spokesman Kyle Thweatt. Those conversations include offering workers help applying for unemployment benefits and finding other employment opportunities, Thweatt said.

“We do our best on our side to provide support as immediately as possible,” he said.