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2 dead, 1 hospitalized in Charlestown crash Thursday night
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CHARLESTOWN — Two women died Thursday night when their cars collided on Route 12, shortly after one of them was seen driving erratically, according to local police.

Charlestown police did not name either woman — both of whom were pronounced dead on the scene — saying they first planned to notify the victims’ families.

A man who was a passenger in one of the cars suffered serious injuries and was initially taken to Springfield (Vt.) Hospital, Chief Patrick Connors said. The man was later transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, where he was conscious and talking late Thursday, Connors said. His exact condition was still unknown, however.

An initial investigation determined the head-on crash occurred when one of the women, driving a 2006 Ford Mustang, crossed into the opposite lane while traveling north on Route 12 (Claremont Road), according to the news release.

Charlestown police had earlier — around 7 p.m. — received a report that the Mustang was driving erratically and didn’t have its headlights on, the release states. Witnesses said the car had been going into the breakdown lane on the right side of the road and then swerving into the opposite lane.

The collision occurred a short time later near the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park off Route 12, police announced.

The Mustang’s driver was ejected from her vehicle and killed, according to the news release. The woman driving the other car — a 2013 Subaru Forrester — also suffered fatal injuries, and her passenger was hospitalized.

Route 12 remained closed shortly after 11 p.m., according to Connors, who said he expected police to reopen the road about half an hour later.

In addition to local authorities, N.H. State Police, Golden Cross Ambulance, the Springfield, Vt., Fire Department and the N.H. Department of Transportation responded to the scene.

Charlestown police continue to investigate the crash. Anyone with information is asked to contact Chief Connors or Lt. Jonathan Graham at 603-826-5747.

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COVID in New Hampshire
COVID-19 cases increase in NH, hospitalizations remain steady

COVID-19 indicators for New Hampshire have risen sharply in the last week after three weeks of steady declines. The number of new cases per day is now nearly double what it was at the peak of the first wave at the end of 2020.

According to data from the state’s official COVID-response dashboard, New Hampshire averaged 1,495 new cases per day for the week ending Tuesday, up 41 percent from 1,057 a week earlier. The seven-day average for the share of antigen and PCR tests coming back positive was 20.6 percent, up from 15.2 percent a week ago. A total of 503 people were in New Hampshire hospitals with the disease as of Wednesday, including 359 people with active infections and 144 people who are no longer infectious but still need critical care. (This last type is now being referred to in state data reports as “COVID-recovering.”)

“The last week has been especially challenging with our highest number of admitted COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began,” said Dr. Timothy Scherer, chief medical officer for Southern N.H. Medical Center in Nashua. His hospital admitted 39 patients last week, the majority of whom were unvaccinated.

Cheshire Medical Center in Keene continues to see high levels of coronavirus-related hospitalizations, too. The Dartmouth-Hitchcock affiliate reported 24 COVID-19 inpatients, six of whom were in the ICU as of Tuesday, the latest data available from the hospital.

The number of COVID-positive inpatients is down slightly from 27 last week — the highest number Cheshire Medical has seen at one time — but this is still a lot for the hospital to manage, officials say, especially as it anticipates another surge throughout the next week caused by holiday gatherings.

Dr. Jose Mercado, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s COVID-19 response leader, noted that the recent rise in cases statewide is part of a broader trend, “a significant spike in cases, which we expected to see after the holidays.”

Even though omicron has now been present in New Hampshire for several weeks, Scherer warned that omicron’s effects are still hard to predict, since the variant still accounts for less than 15 percent of all cases in New Hampshire.

“Early reports from other countries did not show a significant increase in hospitalizations with the spread of omicron,” Mercado said, which has led to assumptions that this variant may be less severe than others. But Mercado cautioned against reading into these reports too deeply.

“If we allow it to spread through our communities, we may still find ourselves in a situation where our health-care system is overwhelmed,” he said. His greatest worry is that a surge in infections among health-care workers would significantly reduce hospitals’ ability to care for the broader population.

This would exacerbate staffing issues Scherer has seen in his own hospital. “Many of our staff have left the hospital setting due to the stressors and concerns over COVID-19 to work in different areas,” he said, “or even different fields.”

“Our remaining staff remains vigilant and dedicated to the care of our community, but they are tired, working to help our patients despite having less helping hands to accomplish this goal,” he said.

The latest surge has pushed daily case numbers to all-time highs. The seven-day moving average for new daily cases in New Hampshire had fallen in the first half of last year, bottoming out at just 16 at the end of June, but has quickly risen since then. After dropping slightly in mid-December, the state is now averaging roughly 600 cases per day more than it was at the height of the first wave in December 2020.

Like all New Hampshire counties, Cheshire is still seeing substantial levels of community transmission, the highest of three tiers designated by the state health department. As of the state’s data update on Wednesday, Cheshire County had a 14-day average of nearly 1,082 new cases per 100,000 people, down slightly from last week.

The local test positivity rate over the previous seven days stood at 15.6 percent, up two percentage points from a week ago, according to the state health department. Cheshire Medical Center set a new record for percent positivity on tests performed at the hospital, with a rate of 23.5 percent during the week ending Dec. 30, compared to 19.7 percent the week before. Prior to the current COVID-19 surge, which began right after Thanksgiving, the hospital’s highest test positivity rate had been in September, at 11.3 percent.

New Hampshire’s per-capita case count of 120 per 100,000 has risen by nearly 50 percent since last week, but surges around the country mean that New Hampshire’s numbers remain far below the national per-capita average, which is 176. The states with the highest numbers are now New York and Rhode Island, at 353 and 351, respectively.

Even though the case count in New Hampshire has increased again, the burden on hospitals has remained roughly steady in the last week. The total number of hospitalizations has dropped slightly from a week ago, but the number of available ICU beds has also declined. As of Wednesday, just 14 staffed adult ICU beds were available in the state, out of a total of 233. This is fewer than was available last week, but is still more than were available at the beginning of December when hospitalizations were at their peak. The good news is that ventilators remain plentiful. Less than a quarter of the state’s inventory is currently in use.

The monoclonal antibody teams that the state was expecting to arrive this week were delayed due to overwhelming needs in other parts of the country. In a statement delivered on Monday, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that FEMA is hoping to send the teams by next week.

“While we were surprised by the delay in their arrival, we are appreciative of the federal government’s assistance,” Sununu said. “Since making our initial request a month ago, their assistance has become even more critical now as we manage the peak of the winter surge.”

As of Dec. 31, which is the last time the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services has updated its long-run statistics on COVID-related deaths, an average of seven Granite Staters were dying of COVID each day, down from a high of 11 on Dec. 25. These numbers are still less than the peak of 11.7 deaths per day during the first wave.

As of Thursday, there were 14,937 current COVID cases diagnosed in New Hampshire. There have been 211,952 confirmed cases and 2,017 COVID-related deaths in the state since the pandemic began.

Vaccination rates continue to rise, though state and federal vaccination data for New Hampshire remain out of sync. Recent data from DHHS show that 63 percent of Granite Staters had received at least one dose, while the number from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was much higher, at 95 percent. Similarly, DHHS reported that 56 percent of Granite Staters were fully vaccinated, while the CDC’s number was 11 points higher, at 67 percent. The difference between DHHS and the CDC in terms of total doses administered was roughly 692,000.

The CDC continues to recommend that anyone 5 years and older get vaccinated. For adults, the agency recommends getting one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), rather than Johnson & Johnson, but the CDC emphasizes that any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated. Children between the ages of 5 and 17 can get the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine.

The CDC on Wednesday dropped the minimum age for Pfizer boosters to 12 years old. This means that the CDC now recommends that anyone 12 to 17 years old receive a booster shot five months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination. Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized and recommended for these young people.

The state is offering boosters through a second mass vaccination program this Saturday at 14 locations around the state, including at 62 Maple Ave. in Keene. Advance sign-up is required. Only booster shots will be available at Booster Blitz locations; first and second-dose vaccinations will not be offered.

Analysis: Biden, in blasting Trump, concedes the nation has yet to heal

WASHINGTON — For the better part of the last year, President Joe Biden has sought to ignore his predecessor as he has tried to deliver on a campaign promise to return the country to some semblance of political normalcy.

But in a passionate speech at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of the bloody insurrection, Biden essentially conceded he could not reconstruct a world before Donald Trump’s tenure, nor could he deliver on his promise of protecting democracy without calling out the former president’s role in lying about the 2020 election results and inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol.

“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol,” Biden said from Statuary Hall, a historic chamber in a Capitol building that Biden, a former senator, reveres.

Biden avoided using Trump’s name, following a practice he has tried to abide since taking office. But it hardly mattered. Like a prosecutor delivering a closing argument, the president methodically detailed Trump’s conduct as the slow-motion riot accelerated. He described how Trump lit the fuse and watched it on television from the White House, “doing nothing, for hours” to stop it.

In concluding his case, Biden hit hard at Trump’s motive:

“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said. “He can’t accept he lost.”

This was not a commemoration filled with calls for unity or a return to normalcy as much as it was a plea for Americans to accept the truth of what happened a year ago. There was no attempt to say the nation had healed and has come together with common purpose or belief.

On the contrary, Biden spent much of the address debunking Trump’s claims of a rigged election, point-by-point, asking why many of the Republicans who have supported the former president’s fraud claims have not disputed their own victories, on the same ballots.

Few thought such a speech would be necessary a year after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, inflicted injuries on more than 100 police officers, contributed to the deaths of five people and forced the evacuation of lawmakers from the complex. Biden certainly hadn’t anticipated needing to make such an address. He pitched his candidacy on the idea that he was a seasoned hand who had worked across the aisle, one of the grown-ups in the room. The nation, he believed, could snap back from a twice-impeached president who smashed norms and challenged bedrock institutions.

“The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House,” Biden said in his first 2019 campaign visit to New Hampshire. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

On the night he was declared winner of the election, Biden still believed healing would come.

“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” he said.

But many elected Republicans and conservative media figures — even those who once agreed Biden had won the election or who texted Trump begging him to stop the insurrection — have since paid Trump homage at his Florida home. They have amplified his false rhetoric. The lies have taken hold among the rank-and-file in the party: 3 in 4 Republican voters in a recent National Public Radio poll agree with Trump that there were “real cases of fraud that changed the results.”

The closest Biden came to reaching across the aisle on Thursday was an offer to work with Republicans who accepted the election and a concession that “some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against” the lies. But even then he went only so far, quickly pivoting back to his harsher argument: “Too many others are transforming that party into something else.”

Biden seemed to understand that his words were unlikely to win him Republican converts and the risk of further politicizing the event. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, acknowledged in a statement Thursday that he “cannot believe that a mob was able to take over the United States Capitol during such a pivotal moment — certifying a presidential election.” He then blasted Biden’s speech on Twitter, saying it was a “brazen politicization of January 6.”

The president’s willingness to attack Trump, if not in name, will come as a relief to some Democrats who believe Biden’s determination to seek bipartisanship and convey normalcy has slowed his agenda. In particular, they believe his strategy has prevented him from articulating the full case for a voting rights bill in the face of Republican-led efforts at the state level to change the rules.

They point to senators like Graham, who once prided themselves as bipartisan dealmakers, as evidence of a changed party.

Biden has resisted giving up on his view that the parties can work together and will likely point as evidence to his $1 trillion infrastructure bill that he signed in November. But Republican leaders were absent from Thursday’s commemoration and are likely to drive an even harder partisan wedge as this year’s midterm elections approach.

Those who see this moment as an emergency for American democracy may have finally gotten the speech they wanted. As he was leaving the Capitol Thursday morning, Biden was asked whether calling out Trump would lead to more division than healing.

“The way you have to heal, you have to recognize the extent of the wound,” Biden told reporters. “You can’t pretend. This is serious stuff.”

Los Angeles Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.

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Chamber honors Peter Hansel, Monadnock Co-op and public health network
  • Updated

The Greater Keene & Peterborough Chamber treated its annual gala Thursday night like a TV show, broadcasting to the wider community from the Colonial Performing Arts Center’s Showroom.

And the stars of the show were the winners of the chamber’s 2021 awards — Peter Hansel as the Citizen of the Year, The Monadnock Food Co-op as the Windsor Brooks Business of the Year and the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, which was recognized with a special Presidents Award.

In front of a scaled-down studio audience of about 50 people, Chamber President and CEO Luca Paris hosted the virtual gala. Paris said that the chamber had originally planned to hold the gala in-person at Keene State College but changed venues in order to create a safer event due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hansel, whose family business Filtrine Manufacturing Co. in Keene won the chamber’s business of the year award in 2017, received the 2021 Citizen of the Year Award. The chamber presented the award to Hansel — who has served on more than 20 local organizations and boards, working on issues ranging from the environment to low-income housing — with a surprise ceremony in his driveway that was recorded and shown during the event.

In the video, Hansel said it is “truly humbling” to be among the “august group” of civic leaders who had received the award in years past.

While announcing the award, Jane Shapiro — who received the citizen of the year award last year — kept Hansel’s name a secret until the end.

“He understands how deeply we are all connected to each other, as individuals, as organizations and as a community,” Shapiro said, quoting one of Hansel’s colleagues. “He understands that jobs, economy, housing, environment, arts, children are all interrelated and how important it is to lift everyone up.”

Hansel, who has lived in Keene for more than 40 years, has deeply impacted the community, she said. His work, Shapiro added, has included encouraging entrepreneurial businesses, advocating for historic preservation, providing low-income families with housing opportunities, building homes in El Salvador with Keene High School students and being a champion for conservation and open space.

In the 1980s, Hansel helped found Citizens for Orderly Retail Expansion, or CORE, which helped reign in a development proposed where Home Depot now stands, winning a lawsuit that limited the development and expanded floodplain regulations. He also served for nine years on the board of the Harris Center for Conservation Education, chairing the board for three years, and has promoted community solar projects for Keene businesses.

The Presidents Award, which is not given every year, but which Paris said couldn’t be overlooked in a year when “our community stepped up like no other time in history,” went to the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network for the group’s mass COVID-19 vaccination efforts. The organization has held 30 local clinics throughout the region and, with aid from more than 300 volunteers, has provided more than 80,000 vaccinations region-wide.

Jane Parayil, the health network’s emergency preparedness coordinator who moved to Keene in November 2020 to help administer vaccines, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

“We are a year into our vaccination efforts and our volunteers have never given up and shown up every day with a smile on their face and a positive attitude regardless of weather,” Parayil said.

The Monadnock Food Co-op won the Windsor Brooks Business of the Year Award. A video shown at the gala highlighted the member-owned store, which sells products made from more than 350 local farmers, brewers and makers.

The video highlighted the co-op’s Healthy Food for All Program, which provides a 10 percent discount on all purchases for community members receiving government food assistance. The co-op has also given $87,000 since 2017 to support regional farms through its Farm Fund program.

Since 2013, the grocery store has more than doubled its sales and, responding to demand, went on to expand between 2019 and 2021, growing its cafe and shelf space and hiring almost 30 new staff members. The rooftop of the business is also home to the first locally-owned and community-supported solar project in the Monadnock region, according to the video.

Michael Faber, the co-op’s general manager, accepted the award on behalf of the store. “As a community-owned business, this award really goes to our entire community to celebrate,” Faber said. “No matter what your role is, undoubtedly you have been a part of our co-op and our success and for that I really want to thank all of you.”