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'Lines out the gate': On the ground at Keene's vaccination site
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The COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene continues to hum along, despite recent logistical challenges, as the state prepares to open registration to all adults this week.

Tricia Zahn, director of the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, one of 13 public health networks leading New Hampshire’s vaccination push, said the drive-thru site in Keene administered 1,457 doses Wednesday — the most it has given since opening in late December.

Also last week, the Krif Road site surpassed 30,000 total doses administered, according to Zahn.

“It’s been a milestone week for us,” she said Saturday.

Caleb Symons / Sentinel Staff  

Jay Punt of Walpole receives the COVID-19 vaccine Saturday at Keene’s vaccination site, as his Bernese mountain dog, Henry, looks on.

People arriving early for their appointments created a bottleneck at times last week — one of several factors that Zahn said caused some people to wait at the site for more than two hours.

Workers on site, who include N.H. National Guard members, medical professionals volunteering to give vaccines, first responders and non-medical volunteers, have also been slowed by a recent software shift, she said.

Some vaccine recipients registered in a federal database, while others registered in a state-run system — known as the Vaccination and Immunization Network Interface, or VINI — that launched earlier this month. The two systems do not coordinate with each other, so workers must navigate between both of them to identify people arriving at the site. (They also briefly resorted to using paper records Monday when VINI slowed during heavy online traffic, according to Zahn.)

Caleb Symons / Sentinel Staff  

Members of the N.H. National Guard check people in at the vaccination clinic on Krif Road in Keene on Saturday.

In addition, Zahn said the federal database, VAMS, did not let volunteers schedule people’s second appointments online when they received a first dose. That exacerbated delays when some people returned when administrators were not expecting them, she explained, since the state has told public health networks not to turn people away.

“Some days we’ve got lines out the gate,” she said. “ … Monday through Wednesday were rough.”

Zahn explained that shifting to VINI will improve the process; however, because scheduling the second appointment when people receive their initial dose should reduce confusion around when they are supposed to return, she said.

The Krif Road site now has at least 10 people administering vaccines at a time, she said, in addition to other volunteers handling check-in and a system to quickly request more help, if necessary. Zahn praised the National Guard troops — some of whom she said have been pulled from their families elsewhere in New Hampshire to work in Keene — and the volunteers “doing this out of the kindness of their heart.”

“It’s just constant change,” she said. “They’ve done a really good job rolling with the punches.”

The volunteers include Karen Osgood, a Swanzey resident who works for an in-home senior care provider and signed up to work at the Krif Road site in January after getting vaccinated there earlier that month.

“I was like, ‘We need to get these into people’s arms,’ ” she said.

Osgood said that while she usually works at the vaccination site on Saturdays, she offered to help Thursday evening after seeing a long line of cars at the site. Despite occasional delays, she said most people are excited to receive the vaccine and treat the volunteers kindly. One woman gave Osgood and another volunteer bouquets of orchids Saturday.

Wait times at the Krif Road site Saturday were shorter than the two-hour delays last week, and vaccine recipients said the process ran without any significant hitches.

Catherine Welch, 77, of Harrisville complimented volunteers for managing a smooth operation. After getting her second dose of the vaccine Saturday, Welch said she looks forward to spending time with family members in northern New England whom she has not seen indoors during the pandemic.

“We’ve just been doing video calls and drive-by [visits],” she said.

Caleb Symons / Sentinel Staff  

Dawn Welshman, a volunteer at the Krif Road vaccination site in Keene, checks in Catherine Welch of Harrisville on Saturday.

Christine Bemis of Keene received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Saturday, which she said felt like a typical flu shot. (People are asked to wait in their parking spot for 15 minutes after getting vaccinated to make sure they show no adverse side effects.)

Bemis, 50, said she waited about an hour before getting the shot, showing the e-book reader she brought to pass the time. An analyst for Liberty Mutual Insurance in Keene, Bemis said she is excited to work in the company’s office again and also looks forward to feeling safer around unmasked strangers after getting her second dose.

“It would be nice to see people again,” she said. “That’s the major thing I miss.”

All adults in New Hampshire will be eligible to register for the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this week, Gov. Chris Sununu has announced.

Caleb Symons / Sentinel Staff  

Joan Punt of Walpole, a volunteer at the COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene, greets her Bernese Mountain dog, Henry, as Punt’s husband, Jay, is vaccinated.

Residents 40 and older can register Monday for their first dose, and those 30 and older can sign up Wednesday. Anyone age 16 or older can register Friday. (None of the three available vaccines have been authorized for children under 16.)

Sununu said at a news conference Thursday that everyone 16 and older should be able to get their first shot by Memorial Day.

Despite the expanded eligibility, Zahn said she expects the number of people getting vaccinated at Krif Road to stay “relatively steady” because the state has not announced plans to increase its vaccine allotment to the site.

“We’re not planning to do 2,000 a day,” she said.

Zahn added, however, that public health officials will continue to improve the process in an effort to reduce wait times further. She said people scheduled to receive the vaccine can help by arriving on time — not early — for their appointment, completing the pre-vaccination questionnaire in advance and having their identification ready upon arrival.

The state’s public health networks are also working to identify indoor sites for vaccination clinics, which would help them continue operations in inclement weather and reduce the need for additional personnel to manage traffic, according to Zahn.

She said an indoor venue would replace the existing outdoor site but cautioned that no plans have been finalized yet and that Krif Road remains the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network’s sole COVID-19 vaccination site. (Walgreens in Keene is also administering doses by appointment only.)

At the end of a busy week Saturday, volunteers were in positive spirits — encouraged by their work and a recent spate of warm weather.

Sally Garhart of Peterborough pointed to her blue jeans between administering vaccine doses, explaining that she had worked in snow pants earlier this year.

Garhart, who served as medical director of the Concord nonprofit N.H. Professionals Health Program — which offers health and work-related guidance to medical professionals — until retiring last month, said she volunteers at the Krif Road site about three days a week. Vaccine recipients are often just as cheery as the volunteers, she said.

“There have been some pretty long lines, but most people are upbeat because they see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Derek Chauvin trial represents a defining moment in America's racial history

MINNEAPOLIS — George Floyd pleading for his life under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has become a defining moment of our time.

What began 10 months ago at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue has transformed into nothing less than an American reckoning on justice, racial equity, the proper role of law enforcement and the historical wrongs society has perpetrated on Black people.

Monday morning, that moment leads to the 18th-floor courtroom of the Hennepin County Government Center, where a jury will begin to hear a murder and manslaughter case against since-fired police officer Derek Chauvin.

The trial itself is about what happened that May evening, but it will also be a vessel into which a splintered society places its rage, anxieties and hopes. Like the trial after Rodney King’s beating, like the trial after Emmett Till’s murder, like the Scottsboro Boys’ trial, this case will be viewed as another chapter — perhaps a turning point — in America’s racial history.

“Everything is riding on the outcome of the trial,” said Keith Mayes, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of African American and African Studies. “Yes, Chauvin is on trial, and it’s about the Floyd murder. … But an argument can be made it’s about all the other folks that didn’t receive justice, too. That’s why a conviction is necessary for us to reimagine what a future can look like, because these cases continue to happen until the police are thoroughly reformed.”

Still, while some look at Chauvin as emblematic of law enforcement as an institution that’s misguided at best or racist at worst, others see what happened last Memorial Day as an anomaly: that Floyd’s death was the rare exception instead of proof that police are the bad guys.

“I try in my head to better understand that broad-brush mentality, but I have a hard time,” said Tim Leslie, the Dakota County sheriff. “If a plumber gets arrested for DUI, are all plumbers drunks? If a pilot crashes a plane, are all pilots incompetent? No. Yet Chauvin does that, he murders somebody, and all law enforcement needs to be reformed. Is that the same?”

History on video

When Mayes saw the Floyd video, the 53-year-old professor had a visceral reaction: What if that were me?

“You almost see yourself lying on the ground with the police officer’s knee on your own neck,” Mayes said. “You can’t help but … be engulfed in this kind of anger and rage and disappointment in the system that continues to allow this to happen.”

Growing up in Harlem, Mayes had two distinct types of interactions with police: One with housing police, who were familiar and respectful, and the other with city police, who were feared. Decades later, even as an author with an Ivy League degree, those feelings linger.

After Floyd’s death, Mayes joined protests and paid respects at 38th and Chicago. That’s how he processed it: by sharing his grief with the grief of the community. He thought about George Floyd, but he also thought about Philando Castile, and Jamar Clark, and Amadou Diallo, the Guinean immigrant killed by New York police while Mayes lived in New York.

“I put this incident along this spectrum of other incidents,” he said, “where police either assaulted or killed Black people. And they just get stacked up.”

Heroes or villains

For police officers, the national debate about where the profession falls short has often felt jarring and unfair.

“We’ve disappointed some of our constituency — that’s the bottom line,” said Leslie, the sheriff in Dakota County. “We have to take a look in the mirror and figure that out.”

The past year has been an emotional whirlwind for police. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, they were painted as heroes; after Floyd died, they were painted as villains.

Leslie has tried to think deeply about the issues Floyd’s death brought up. He’s read books such as “How to Be an Antiracist” and “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” He’s hired a community outreach and equity coordinator, and he’s focused more on deputies’ mental health.

But Leslie has been in law enforcement for four decades. He knows innumerable police officers who went into the field for honorable reasons. He knows policing is an emotional profession to begin with: seeing dead bodies, dealing with people in crisis, always remaining on edge. The past year has made it more so.

“We’re in a really tough spot right now,” he said. “We’re supposed to deal with people with mental illness, chemical addiction, all sorts of family drama, poverty, undereducated. These are not police problems. These are social problems. We’re trying to be everything for everyone, and I’m not sure we’re able to do that without disappointing some people sometimes.”

Global impact

Chauvin’s knee became a symbol of Black oppression worldwide: in Australia and Japan, in France and Germany, in Kazakhstan and Indonesia.

The case “has really become a global indictment of police forces,” said Brenda Stevenson, a professor of history and African American studies at UCLA. “This is now representative of what happens everywhere — at least, that’s what many people believe. … People are really watching to see if the U.S. can get it right this time.”

Thabi Myeni, a 23-year-old law student in Johannesburg, South Africa, had been to plenty of protests before last spring — mostly over racial equity in tuition fees.

When Myeni saw the video of Floyd’s death, she thought it would be another example of racial injustice going unnoticed. “I had no idea it would spark a global movement,” she said.

What changed for her was when South Africa’s ruling party decried Floyd’s killing as a “heinous murder.” It struck Myeni as hypocrisy. While Americans protested Floyd’s death, South Africans were protesting the death of a man named Collins Khosa. Khosa lived in Johannesburg’s poor Alexandria township, and he was beaten to death by soldiers who said Khosa had been drinking alcohol in public, a violation of COVID-19 lockdown rules.

After Floyd’s death, Myeni organized a march to Parliament. Racial justice protests were sweeping more than 60 countries around the world, but in South Africa, they felt especially resonant. It has been nearly three decades since apartheid ended, and yet institutionalized segregation still has a long tail in South Africa. It was, she thought, no different from America’s legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

“These things are transnational in nature, the global nature of Black oppression,” she said. “I think of America as I think of South Africa, where the government — the people of power, the people of privilege — don’t want to acknowledge racism still exists.”

Policing questions

For some, Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck told a story of America’s history of racism. Calls for an overhaul of policing — to defund or even abolish police — also functioned as calls to disrupt America’s power structures.

The reason Floyd’s death had more impact than other instances of police violence is simple, said James Mulvaney, a law enforcement professor who worked in New York’s Division of Human Rights. Technology made Floyd’s death immediate, graphic and personal.

“We’re no longer viewing these things through a telescope — we’re witnessing them in our living rooms,” Mulvaney said. “America watched George Floyd die at our house.”

In the months since, police reform has become a heated topic in Minnesota and around the country.

Brendan Cox, the former Albany, New York, police chief who now works as Director of Policing Strategies at the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion National Support Bureau, believes the message needs to be the system cannot be fixed by police alone.

“If the community does not trust us not only as individuals but as a system, then we really can’t do our job,” he said.

Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City who has written extensively about police training, has been frustrated with the national conversation about policing after Floyd’s death. Too much has been driven by loud voices instead of insightful ones, she said. The better discussion, she believes, should have been about centralizing America’s police system. Each state having a single police force would help funding and streamline training.

Chauvin “is a classic example of someone who should not be on the job, who was poorly trained,” Haberfeld said. “I didn’t see all the unrest [Floyd’s death] would trigger, but in a way to me I was waiting for something of that nature. I’ve been writing about this for 20 years. And nobody’s been listening.”

The cataclysmic national moment that began 10 months ago at the corner of 38th and Chicago will not come to a tidy end at the conclusion of Chauvin’s trial. The three other officers at the scene are scheduled to be tried in August, and Floyd’s death is certain to reverberate much longer than that.

But Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the civil rights icon, said he believes the impact of this trial cannot be overstated. An acquittal would mean our criminal justice system must be rethought, he said.

“It may set a tone for how people perceive whether justice can be achieved, specifically for Black people,” King said. “Nothing brings this young man’s life back. … But his legacy can be that his tragic death mobilized people all over the nation and the world so that we don’t go backward, but we as a world community go forward in terms of addressing racial issues.”

Upper Valley health-care providers combat vaccination hesitancy

WEST LEBANON — As the Twin States expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, questions remain about how many people will step up to get the shots that health officials say are necessary for life to return to pre-pandemic normal.

In an effort to boost those rates, Upper Valley health-care providers are combating disinformation by answering individual concerns, scheduling information sessions and balancing encouragement with gentle hands-off gestures, such as keeping the vaccine voluntary and, in one case, declining to track employee vaccination rates.

In the first three days of eligibility, 88,000 people between the ages of 50 and 64, known as Phase 2b, had signed up for vaccine appointments in New Hampshire, representing 44 percent of the estimated 200,000 people in that category. Everyone 16 and older in New Hampshire will be eligible for vaccination by next Friday and in Vermont, by April 19.

“It’s not too late to say yes to vaccination,” said Beth Daly, chief of New Hampshire’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, during a Thursday news conference. “We hope that you will make this choice.”

It’s not yet clear exactly what percentage of the population will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, which prevents the spread of disease from person to person and includes protection from illness even for those who can’t be vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said it may be as high as 90 percent.

The path to a return to normal may not require a vaccination rate quite that high, but public health officials say they aim to vaccinate everyone they can, especially since no vaccines are currently approved for use in children under 16.

The Twin States still have a long way to go. In Vermont, about 189,500 people, or nearly 35 percent of the population 16 and over, had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Friday. In New Hampshire, 354,800 people, or 26 percent of the 16-and-up population, had gotten at least a first dose as of Thursday.

Twin State health-care workers — who were offered COVID-19 vaccines beginning in December at clinics in hospitals and long-term care facilities, meaning they have been eligible for COVID-19 longer than other groups — have accepted shots at relatively high rates, perhaps providing a path forward for other residents.

Statewide in New Hampshire, hospitals estimate 70-85 percent of workers have chosen to be vaccinated, said Jake Leon, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

A January study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as of Jan. 17, New Hampshire was the state with the highest rate of vaccine uptake among employees at long-term care facilities, at somewhere between 60 and 79 percent. Vaccination rates have increased since then.

“We know that some health-care workers initially declined, but many have reconsidered their initial decision and gotten vaccinated at a later opportunity,” Leon said.

As of Friday, 74 percent of employees at Vermont’s long-term care facilities had gotten at least one dose, said Ben Truman, a spokesman for the Vermont Department of Health.

Upper Valley providers seem eager to step up. So far, 80 percent of workers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock have opted to get vaccinated, as have 85 percent of workers at the White River Junction VA Medical Center and 80 percent at the White River Junction-based Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire, a member of the D-H health system.

None of these organizations have made vaccination mandatory. Instead, both D-H and the VA are offering information to workers and patients with questions and concerns about the new vaccines.

“Pregnancy-related concerns are a common reason for declining, and we’ve tried to address the most commonly asked questions on our public website,” said Dr. Michael Calderwood, chief quality officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in an email.

“We know the hesitancy gap is shrinking nationally as more people are vaccinated, but we continue to focus our efforts to address concerns and combat misinformation to encourage not only our staff, but the community to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.”

On its website, D-H encourages women who are pregnant or planning to become so to consult a health-care provider about the benefits and risks of getting a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as their own personal risk of becoming infected with the virus. Pregnant women are at an elevated risk of developing severe illness should they become infected, but the trials did not evaluate vaccine safety in pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Though lactating women were excluded from the trials, D-H’s website says that the benefits of vaccination for women in this category outweigh the “very small safety concerns” based on experience with other vaccines.

The website notes that women who choose not to be vaccinated during their pregnancies can choose to get shots after their babies are born.

Meanwhile, at the VA, leaders have offered “open educational sessions for our employees who wish to learn more about the available vaccines to support them in making an informed decision,” said spokeswoman Katherine Tang. Veterans with questions are encouraged to talk to their health-care provider, Tang said.

Similarly, the New London-based Lake Sunapee Region VNA & Hospice has focused on providing employees with information and encouragement, going so far as not to keep statistics on employee vaccination rates.

“As is the case with the general public, some health care workers want to wait because this is all new,” Jim Culhane, the organization’s CEO, said in an emailed statement.

Those opposed to vaccination appear to be in the minority. In an early February interview, Dr. Fay Homan, a family medicine physician who works at the Little Rivers Health Care’s Wells River clinic, said she does get some questions from patients about the speed at which the vaccines were developed and about side effects, but most people wanted to know “how soon they can get it.”

When people have concerns about the speed of the vaccines’ development, Homan explains that they were developed quickly because of “unprecedented cooperation” among pharmaceutical companies and governments. She also explains that the vaccines have been studied and evaluated for safety in the same way other vaccines have.

“I think if you just keep reminding people that this is how you begin getting back to normal [and that] this vaccine has the potential to eradicate COVID completely from our population,” Homan said, “I do think people will get there eventually.”

This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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'Stop Asian Hate,' dozens say at Keene's Central Square Sunday

A steady rain Sunday afternoon didn’t stop dozens of people from gathering in Keene’s Central Square to take a stand against racism toward Asian Americans.

The square was packed with people holding signs bearing messages like “Stop Asian Hate” and “Diversity Makes Us Stronger.” Event organizers and guest speakers spent more than an hour sharing their stories, visions for change and messages of hope.

Event organizer Jamie Melvin of Keene described herself as biracial and said she struggled with her identity growing up. She said there was a pressure to erase her Asian heritage, which caused her to “absorb the white narrative.”

“Unlearning these cultural biases within myself has been a journey, one that I’m not finished with yet,” she said. “I still have work to do, I admit it. Society still has work to do, we must admit it.”

Mia Summerson / Sentinel Staff  

Jamie Melvin of Keene holds a sign with the names of the victims of the Atlanta shootings.

She pointed to research done by the group Stop AAPI Hate, which found nearly 3,800 reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans between March 2020 and February 2021. She said these crimes have spiked since the start of the pandemic.

The protest was planned in response to a shooting spree in earlier this month in the Atlanta area, which claimed the lives of eight people, including six women of Asian descent. A collage celebrating the lives of the victims was on display, and their names were read aloud, along with brief comments on who each person was, by co-organizer Pauline Moll of Keene.

Melvin said she teamed up with Moll after meeting her in a group chat for local Antioch University students. She said they bonded over their shared life experiences, and when Melvin learned there wasn’t a local response planned to the Atlanta killings, she asked Moll to help her organize Sunday’s rally.

Mia Summerson / Sentinel Staff  

Dozens gathered Sunday at Keene’s Central Square to stand against anti-Asian hate.

Much of Sunday’s conversation dealt with the idea of Asians as “the model minority.” It’s a notion that Moll said started after World War II in an effort to “save face” following the U.S. government’s policy of imprisoning Japanese Americans in internment camps.

“The model minority myth then came of age,” she said. “The idea that Asians are the model of what a minority should look like: hard-working, law-abiding, studious, quiet, obedient. And everyone else — especially Black people — were painted as lazy, incompetent, reckless and chaotic.”

Moll said this narrative has contributed to stereotypes about Asian Americans and has also been used to pit Asian American communities against Black communities. In an effort to dispel that narrative, representatives from Black Lives Matter Nashua also spoke during the protest and advocated for solidarity.

Ben Chan, who identified himself as Chinese American and a New York City native who came to the area last summer, said Keene and New Hampshire may not necessarily be known for being racist, but examples of the impact of racism on policymaking do exist.

He spoke about the use of city planning to segregate city communities, or in the case of Keene and New Hampshire, he argued, to keep minorities out all together. He called on the Keene and New Hampshire governments to do better, contending that restrictive policies that keep affordable housing from being built have effectively preserved “Keene’s white identity.”

“This did not happen by accident, it’s not a natural outgrowth of free-market capitalism,” he said.

Chan said Keene‘s white residents need to become aware of the ways that racism impacts the community and take a stand against it. He said that while people in the city may say Keene is welcoming to all and reject the idea that the city lacks diversity, he said they’d be unable to point to a specific action they’ve taken to fight racism.

“Until enough people in Keene and New Hampshire choose liberation, anti-racism,” he said, “the term ‘live free’ won’t be a real option for white people, but an unattainable fantasy.”