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With Robin Hood pool closed, Keene announces free rides to Wheelock Park
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Many Keene residents were disappointed to learn the public pool at Robin Hood Park would remain closed this summer. But through an arrangement with a local bus service, city staff have worked to ensure people living in East Keene without reliable transportation still have access to a pool.

The city reached out to City Express to make it easier for people to get to Wheelock Park, which still has an open pool, in West Keene, said Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Andy Bohannon during a meeting of the City Council’s Municipal Services, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee last week.

He said the bus service, which is run by Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services, has been offering free rides to and from the pool since late June. The city will reimburse the Keene-based nonprofit for that service.

“Any individual who wants to go to Wheelock pool can pick up the City Express anywhere along the route,” Bohannon said during the meeting. “They will receive a voucher. They will not have to pay; it will be a free service. At the end of the month, City Express will indicate to us how many riders they had, and we will take care of that cost for them.”

This year, the Robin Hood Park pool is closed due to a shortage of qualified lifeguards, Bohannon explained during the meeting. He noted that the city has only one person with experience teaching swimming lessons, and said earlier this year that the city had found enough lifeguards to staff only one pool at a time.

Keene usually hires about 17 lifeguards for its pools at Robin Hood and Wheelock parks but has encountered difficulty with recruitment over the past several years. Back in mid-May, Bohannon said Keene had hired 11 lifeguards for the 2021 season, which he said was enough to staff one of the pools.

The American Lifeguard Association says a nationwide lifeguard shortage was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused class cancellations and limited the number of college and foreign-exchange students looking for lifeguarding work. Along with high-schoolers, these students typically make up a good portion of the applicant pool.

Bohannon also noted that the city has been planning a construction project at Robin Hood Park pool, which it plans to start while the pool is closed. He said that work is expected to kick off at the end of July.

Charlie Pratt, transportation director for Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services, said Wheelock Park, on Park Avenue, is known as a “flag stop.” This means that the buses don’t automatically stop there, but both bus routes pass by it, and anyone aboard can ask to get off there.

Anyone getting on the bus in East Keene can ask to be dropped off at the park, he said, and the driver will not charge a fare. While he said the goal is to cater specifically to people in East Keene who would normally go to the Robin Hood Park pool, located near the east end of Roxbury Street, Pratt said the offer is open to everyone.

The arrangement will continue for “the rest of the summer until the pool closes,” Pratt said.

Typically, each ride on the City Express costs a dollar. Buses run along two fixed routes from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. A route map can be found online at www.hcsservices.org.

Since the city announced last month that the Robin Hood Park pool would remain closed, some East Keene residents have lamented their diminished access to a public pool, particularly with the pool in West Keene staying open.

Roxbury Street resident John Hayes took these concerns to the MSFI Committee last week, when he urged councilors to consider reopening the pool. Hayes, who also wrote a letter to the editor in The Sentinel about the pool, said he recognizes the challenges the parks and recreation department is facing, but suggested splitting the time of the city’s pool employees between the two facilities to ensure children on the east side of the city have the same opportunities as those on the west.

“The plan I propose is very simple,” he said. “It’s three or four days of Robin Hood pool being open ... for swim lessons and recreational swimming and three or four days of Wheelock pool being open for swim lessons and recreational swimming. That way we can share the resources in a way that is fair to everyone.”

He added that the swimming season is short, and the construction work planned at Robin Hood Park pool could easily be pushed back a bit to accommodate swim lessons.

Bohannon said during the meeting that even if the city was prepared to open and staff the pool at Robin Hood Park, it would take until at least Aug. 1 to get it ready for swimmers. The season ends Aug. 19, he added.

“That’s three weeks of operations,” he said. “To me, as a manager, as a director, I’m not sure three weeks of operations is what you’re looking for.”

Drug overdoses soared to a record 93,000 last year

WASHINGTON — Deaths from drug overdoses soared to more than 93,000 last year, a staggering record that reflects the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on efforts to quell the crisis and the continued spread of the synthetic opioid fentanyl in the illegal narcotic supply, the government reported Wednesday.

The death toll jumped by more than 21,000, or nearly 30 percent, from 2019, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics, eclipsing the record set that year.

The increase came as no surprise to addiction specialists, drug counselors and policy experts who have watched the steady rise in deaths throughout the pandemic. But that did not make the statistics any less horrifying.

“Every one of those people, somebody loved them,” said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University and an expert on addiction and drug policy. “It’s terrifying. It’s the biggest increase in overdose deaths in the history of the United States, it’s the worst overdose crisis in the history of the United States, and we’re not making progress. It’s really overwhelming.”

The estimated number of overdose deaths reached 93,331 in 2020, according to the new data. Annual final numbers usually differ little from provisional figures like those released Wednesday. More than 900,000 people have died of overdoses since the U.S. drug epidemic began in about 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Center for Health Statistics is part of the CDC.

The most populous state, California, saw an increase in fatalities of 45.9 percent from December 2019 to December 2020, according to the new data. In Vermont, deaths rose by 57.6 percent, the largest increase in the country, followed closely by Kentucky at 53.7 percent.

New Hampshire was one of only two states in which drug fatalities dropped between 2019 and 2020, though in the Granite State’s case, it was only by two deaths, from 395 in 2019 to 393 in 2020.

Nationally, the number of overdose deaths was more than double the estimated number of motor vehicle fatalities. Those rose slightly to 42,617, despite shutdowns forced by the pandemic.

Opioids, primarily illegal fentanyl, continued to drive the death toll, as they have for years. Overdose deaths involving opioids reached 69,710 in 2020, up from 50,963 in 2019, according to the data. Deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine also rose.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview that fentanyl has so thoroughly infiltrated the illegal drug supply that 70 percent of cocaine overdose deaths and 50 percent of methamphetamine overdose deaths also involved fentanyl.

In many cases, she said, users are unaware that their drugs are laced with the powerful painkiller, which can halt breathing even if a minute amount is ingested. In other cases, users knowingly take multiple drugs.

“Most of the deaths are from multiple drugs,” she said.

But unlike past years, 2020 brought the added complications of a worldwide viral pandemic. Health-care resources were stretched and redirected toward the emergency. Anti-addiction medication was more difficult to obtain. Stress increased dramatically. Users were more isolated, leading to additional overdoses because other people were not nearby to summon first responders or administer the opioid antidote naloxone, experts said.

“The pandemic has led to increased substance use across the board, as people have sought to manage stress, isolation, boredom, anxiety, depression, unemployment, relationship and child care issues, and housing instability,” Kimberly Sue, medical director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group that tries to prevent overdose deaths, said in an email.

Sue, an addiction specialist at Yale University, also said the pandemic limited drug users’ access to anti-addiction medication such as buprenorphine and methadone, in addition to naloxone.

With COVID-19 having killed more than 300,000 people last year, “we took our eye off the opioid epidemic,” said Tami Mark, a senior fellow at the think tank RTI International. “When we weren’t looking, it got horribly worse.”

Humphreys said Congress too often has treated drug addiction as a short-term issue rather than a chronic problem like cancer and other diseases.

“We keep thinking it’s a short-term thing, and we just need one oomph to get past it. It’s not like that,” he said.

A modest dip in fatalities between 2017 and 2018 led Alex Azar, the Trump administration’s secretary of Health and Human Services, to proclaim progress against the drug crisis. But fatalities soon surged again before rocketing upward last year.

“I’m just heartbroken,” National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said in an interview. “We have another public health crisis, of major proportions. It’s not infectious, but is spreading across our county and taking far too many lives.”

Drug overdose fatalities have been increasing for much of the past quarter-century, a period when they became one of the leading causes of death in the United States and helped fuel small declines in overall life expectancy — a dismal sign for a developed nation with one of the most sophisticated health-care systems in the world.

There are some signs that the Biden administration and Congress are preparing to renew efforts to address what was the nation’s most serious public health crisis before the pandemic. President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated former West Virginia public health official Rahul Gupta to be his drug czar. Gupta has cited the shift from in-person care during the pandemic as one of the contributors to increased addiction-related public health problems.

The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control will hold a hearing next week on how to move forward against the drug crisis.

The White House has insisted that battling the overdose epidemic is an “urgent priority,” laying out a first-year slate of goals that include boosting harm reduction efforts and strengthening recovery supports. Biden’s proposed budget also calls for investing $41 billion in national drug program agencies — about $670 million more than the enacted FY 2021 level — with increased funding for evidence-based treatment and prevention services.

Volkow said the country must continue to remove obstacles that make it difficult for users to gain access to addiction medications such as methadone, buprenorphine and monthly injections of naltrexone.

During the pandemic, for example, users were allowed a four-week supply of methadone, which typically must be obtained in daily doses at clinics. In April, the Biden administration eased restrictions that had limited prescribing of buprenorphine by doctors and other health-care practitioners.

It’s time for the government to “provide medications for opioid use disorder for everyone who needs them, with no restrictions on cost or availability,” Volkow said.

Oof: tech, racial terms fill list of Dictionary.com’s newest words

The relentless coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s ongoing reckoning with race and identity, and the ever-changing world of technology continue to shape the English language — including slang.

The latest additions to Dictionary.com include a series of race- and virus-related terms, such as “Black Code” and “long hauler,” as well as increasingly common expressions like “yeet,” “oof” and “s--tshow,” the online lexicon revealed Wednesday.

“The latest update to our dictionary continues to mirror the world around us,” said John Kelly, the website’s managing editor. “Long COVID, minoritize, 5G, content warning, domestic terrorism — it’s a complicated and challenging society we live in, and language changes to help us grapple with it.”

Dictionary.com defines “long COVID” as a condition characterized by symptoms or health problems that linger or appear after recovering from the virus. “Long hauler” has a similar use, relating to the long-term effects of an acute illness or infection.

“Minoritize” was updated to define the action of making a person or group subordinate in status to a more dominant group or its members — one of multiple updates showing how the ongoing debate on race has changed the English language. “Black Code,” for instance, is now defined as any code of law that limited the rights of formerly enslaved African-Americans following the Civil War.

The website also updated its entry for “Aunt Jemima,” which is now defined as a disparaging and offensive term used to refer to a Black woman considered by other Black people to be subservient to or to curry favor with white people.

“DEI” — which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion — was also added to describe a conceptual framework promoting the fair treatment and full participation of all people, including those who have historically been underrepresented or subject to discrimination, especially in the workplace.

But the English language sometimes changes “just for fun,” Kelly said.

“Yes, yeet is now in the dictionary, which may prompt some of us to use one other of our new entries: oof!” he said.

The increasingly popular exclamation “yeet” is used to show enthusiasm, approval, triumph, pleasure and joy, according to Dictionary.com. “Oof,” on the other hand, is an exclamation to sympathize with someone else’s pain or dismay, or to express one’s own.

“Perhaps these lighter slang and pop culture newcomers to our dictionary reflect another important aspect of our time — a cautious optimism and a brighter mood about the future ahead after a trying 2020,” Kelly said in a statement.

Other interesting additions include:

5G: fifth-generation: being or relating to communications technology or a mobile device that supports much faster data-transfer speeds with significantly lower latency than previous versions.

a--hat: a foolish, annoying, or contemptible person; a—hole.

asynchronous: relating to or being a computer operation that can occur independently, without waiting for another event.

blamestorm: the process of assigning blame for a negative outcome or situation.

boondoggle: a wasteful and worthless project undertaken for political, corporate, or personal gain, typically a government project funded by taxpayers.

cultural appropriation: the adoption, usually without acknowledgment, of cultural identity markers from subcultures or minority communities into mainstream culture by people with a relatively privileged status.

domestic terrorism: the unlawful use of violence or threats against a country’s civilian population or government by an individual or group based and operating within the same country and without foreign direction, with the goal of furthering political, social, or ideological objectives.

deplatform: to prohibit (a person or people) from sharing their views in a public forum, especially by banning a user from posting on a social media website or application.

hypodescent: the classifying or identifying of a biracial or multiracial individual as a member of the lower or lowest socially ranking racial group from which that person has ancestry.

ingénue: the role of a young, innocent, and appealing character in a play, movie, TV show, etc., typically a female role.

lemming: a person who follows the will of others, especially in a mass movement, and heads straight into a situation or circumstance that is dangerous, stupid or destructive.

misper: a missing person.

one-drop rule: a social classification, codified in law in some states during the 20th century, that identifies biracial or multiracial individuals as Black if they have any known Black African ancestry, even from a Black ancestor many generations removed.

s--tshow: a person or thing that is a total mess, failure or disaster.

scrappy: having or showing spirit and determination

snack: a sexy and physically attractive person; hottie.

synchronous: relating to or being a computer operation that must complete before another event can begin.

TW: abbreviation; trigger warning. a stated warning that the content of the immediately following text, video, etc., may cause distressing psychological or physiological reactions, especially in people who have previously experienced a related trauma.

trap house: a place where illicit drugs are bought, sold or used.

y’all: you (used in direct address usually to two or more people, or to one person who represents a family, organization, etc.).

youse: you (usually used in addressing two or more people).

you-uns: you (used in direct address usually to two or more persons).

zaddy: an attractive man who is also stylish, charming and self-confident.

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84-unit development in Swanzey at ‘standstill’ over roof dispute
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SWANZEY — Plans for an 84-unit apartment complex on Route 10 are “on standstill” due to local officials’ demand that the new buildings have sloped roofs, according to the developer.

Swanzey’s planning board approved the project — which calls for a pair of three-story buildings, each with 42 units rented at affordable rates, to be built on a vacant lot near Gomarlo’s Supermarket — at its May 27 meeting.

Board members voted 7-0 at that session, however, to require that the Walpole-based Avanru Development Group build the structures with sloped, also known as pitched, roofs. The company’s initial proposal for the apartments included flat roofs.

Planning board Vice Chairman Scott Self said at the May 27 meeting that many buildings near the Route 10 site, like the Princeton Properties apartments, have pitched roofs, and argued that planning officials have the authority to ensure any new development “fits in with the surrounding neighborhood.”

That change would add nearly $1 million in expenses for the development project, according to Avanru President and CEO Jack Franks, who said Tuesday it was already slated to cost $20 million.

Franks said the buildings’ initial design was based on plans from a different developer for a four-story apartment complex on Monadnock Highway that Swanzey officials approved last year. That project, which will have a flat roof, as proposed, was “never given the same level of scrutiny” as Avanru’s proposal, he said.

“There was never any discussion of the aesthetics,” he said.

Franks said his company is analyzing the project’s new price tag to determine whether it’s still feasible.

“They’ve placed such an onerous burden on this development and really made it difficult to move forward from a financial perspective as a result of it,” he said.

Swanzey’s site-plan review rules allow officials to request architectural changes to ensure that development projects are “harmonious and compatible” with the surrounding area, according to the town’s director of planning and economic development, Matthew Bachler.

“We want to make sure that new development is done appropriately and is within the context of the neighborhood it’s going in,” he said.

Bachler said that after getting its plans approved by the planning board in May, Avanru would be able to start construction on the apartment complex once it files a building permit with the town. Swanzey is “ready to work with the developer,” he said, if the firm wants to proceed with the project.

Franks accused planning officials, however, of treating the Avanru development in a “disparate manner” from other residential projects because it would include affordable workforce housing — again contrasting it to the Monadnock Highway proposal, which is expected to have market-rate units.

“We have just been treated so poorly,” he said. “… It’s just shameful what’s going on.”

Bachler said Wednesday that while he “appreciates” Franks’ concerns, the planning board reviewed Avanru’s proposal with “a standard that’s applied to any development that comes into town.” He noted that board members voted unanimously to request that the buildings have pitched roofs.

“Sometimes to fit in and be an appropriately designed building, it may have some additional costs,” he said.

Avanru has also proposed a 76-unit apartment building, available to seniors at affordable rates, at 115 Old Homestead Highway (Route 32) in Swanzey, though that project has been mired in a legal battle for more than a year over the zoning board’s decision to deny it necessary approval. The N.H. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case but had not yet issued a ruling as of Wednesday evening.