The Keene City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee considered several matters Thursday related to the potential hiring of a part-time employee to handle duties created by the recent approval of a social host ordinance.
The city’s social host ordinance is designed to hold the hosts of rowdy parties accountable for any unruly behavior. To manage the administrative tasks associated with the new ordinance, a part-time position is needed, officials say.
The responsibilities of the position, which would be within the police department and funded in equal parts by the city and Keene State College, would include tracking fines and notifying landlords when tenants at their properties have been cited.
The committee took three votes related to the proposed position Thursday, each of them passing unanimously. The first was to recommend that the council amend the city’s existing municipal services agreement with Keene State College to allow for the hiring of a community liaison specialist. This person would work 20 hours a week at an anticipated hourly rate of $28.52.
City Manager Elizabeth Dragon explained during the committee meeting that the position would be handled through a temporary employment agreement, noting that the position would be associated with a new program.
“This will allow us time to evaluate the demand for the position and the potential additional ways we can align duties with Keene State College,” she said.
The second vote related to the acceptance of Keene State’s portion of the funding for the position. The amount — $7,500 — would cover a six-month period starting when the social host ordinance goes into effect at the end of December and terminating when the municipal services agreement expires June 30.
The final vote was to recommend that the city transfer its half of the funding from its marketing and development account to a police personnel line to pay the employee.
Dragon said the marketing and development account generally pays for marketing, materials for the economic development office and the city’s downtown coordinator position. She said there will be enough funds in that line after the transfer to continue to cover the downtown coordinator position and support the economic development office.
Passed earlier this month and going into effect on Dec. 31, the social host ordinance is the result of several years of work by the Concerned East Side Neighbors, a grassroots advocacy group that has expressed concern about parties in their neighborhoods that they say often get out of hand.
The penalty for the first violation of the ordinance is a $300 fine, with escalating fines for subsequent offenses within a year. Guests at unruly gatherings can also be fined if they continue to violate the ordinance after receiving a verbal warning from the police.
The committee’s recommendations will head to the full council for further review.
Six new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in Cheshire County on a day when the state announced a record 323 new positive test results for the disease.
“If you ask me where we’re gonna be in two weeks, I think we’re over a thousand,” said Gov. Chris Sununu at a news conference Thursday.Cheshire County, with 90 known cases, has about 3.6 percent of the total cases in New Hampshire, according the Department of Health and Human Services. The statewide total of current cases stands at 2,528.
The state health department also reported three additional deaths, two women from Hillsborough County and a man from Coos County. All three were age 60 and older and associated with long-term care facilities. The total deaths in the state since the beginning of the pandemic now number 495 people.
Keene has the highest number of known cases in the area with 24. The city is also seeing its first outbreak at a long-term care facility, involving eight residents and two staff members at the Hillside Village assisted-living facility. (See story, page A1)
Rindge has 22 cases, Jaffrey has eight, Charlestown has seven, Chesterfield and Hinsdale six and Dublin five.
The following local towns have one to four cases (the state does not identify the exact number when it’s fewer than five): Antrim, Bennington, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Richmond, Stoddard, Surry, Swanzey, Troy, Westmoreland and Winchester.
Of the 323 new positive results, 270 tested positive through the PCR test, and 53 by the antigen, or rapid, test. The positivity rate for the PCR test is 2.6 percent, still under the 5 percent regarded by public health officials as “too high.” The state does not provide positivity rates for the antigen test.
There are currently 64 people being treated in the hospital for the viral disease. This number may include out-of-state residents who are in the hospital in New Hampshire and/or people readmitted for treatment.
Sununu noted that two metrics — the rise in the positivity rate, which was 1 percent in September; and the increasing numbers of hospitalizations, which were at 17 a month ago — show that the increase in overall cases is not just due to more people being tested.The state says that community transmission continues to occur in all 10 counties, and that, for cases where they have a person’s complete risk information, most were infected either through an outbreak or through close contact with a person with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
“This pandemic virus is now widespread in our state,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan. “The number of infections is also increasing, the hospitalizations are increasing, the test positivity rate is increasing and the number of people dying from COVID-19 is also increasing.”The total number of known COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire since the start of the pandemic is 13,470.
Dispatchers at Southwestern N.H. District Fire Mutual Aid in Keene handled requests for medical aid and fire calls Thursday, Nov. 12, including the following:
7:26 a.m., Rindge Fire Department to 270 Thomas Road, carbon monoxide call.
11:37 a.m., Keene Fire Department to 5 Central Square, service call.
12:13 p.m., Peterborough Fire Department to 50 Jaffrey Road, fire alarm.
6:18 p.m., Keene Fire Department to 6 Green St., vehicle crash, no medical transport.
6:36 p.m., Rindge Fire Department to Old Jaffrey Road, vehicle crash, no medical transport.
11:15 p.m., Peterborough Fire Department to 2 Webb Road, carbon monoxide call.
Ken Jue of Keene is a former chairman of the board of Monadnock United Way. He no longer holds that position. His role was misidentified with a letter that ran Monday.
Monadnock Community Hospital’s safety protocols allow for only one healthy visitor at a time to see terminally ill inpatients. Other inpatients are not allowed visitors. A description of the hospital’s policy was incorrect in a report Tuesday.
The Sentinel regrets the errors.
COVID-19 is surging around the country, and the increase in cases hasn’t spared New Hampshire — or the local area, with numbers rising to new heights in Jaffrey, Rindge and New Ipswich.
“In recent weeks, we have seen COVID-19 cases trending upwards in all regions of the state, and while hospitalizations remain relatively low today, they have more than doubled in the past month,” the New Hampshire Hospital Association wrote in a joint statement issued Wednesday afternoon.
On Thursday, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services announced 323 new positive test results for COVID-19 — a positivity rate of about 2.6 percent among those tested by nasal swab. With the most recent positive test results, New Hampshire now has 2,528 current cases, and there are currently 64 people in the state hospitalized due to COVID-19.
Schools impacted by rising rates
The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District decided this week to pivot to remote learning for at least three weeks, after identifying three COVID-19 cases in the school community.
Cheshire County, where both Jaffrey and Rindge are located, is the only county in the state which has not reached a level of “substantial” transmission, as defined by the N.H. Department of Public Health, but is trending upward.
In a letter to the community on Tuesday, Superintendent Reuben Duncan noted that if that upward trend continues at its current rate, Cheshire County is likely to reach “substantial” levels of transmission rate by the end of the week.
Highbridge Hill Elementary School in New Ipswich is in remote learning due to staff quarantine, the majority of which stems from direct contact with a single positive COVID-19 case. While the middle and high schools will continue with in-person learning, Highbridge Hill Elementary School will conduct remote learning through at least Nov. 30.
An additional COVID-19 case was reported within the district on Wednesday, triggering a remote-learning day for Mascenic High School and Boynton Middle School on Thursday to allow for contact tracing.
Anticipating a teacher shortage after the upcoming holidays, Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District is currently in the hiring process for five long-term substitutes in an effort to keep in-person learning happening five days a week in the district.
School Board member Charlie Post said the district intends to discuss school closing and community protocols during the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 24, due to the increasing positivity rates but said there have not been any serious issues within the schools themselves so far.
“We’re trying to put it off as long as possible and keep the kids learning in school,” Post said. “But it may be inevitable.”
Identity Coffee Lab closes pre-emptively
Identity Coffee Lab in Rindge temporarily shut down on Wednesday morning, due to the sudden spike in cases in Rindge, coffee shop co-owner Brendan Ojala said in an interview Wednesday.
Ojala said that every day he speaks to people, including his employees, who know someone who has tested positive. With nearby Hillsborough County leading the spike in cases in the state, he said he wanted to exhibit an “abundance of caution” and shut down while watching the numbers.
“This is happening so fast. We’re taking it day by day,” Ojala said. “We’re such an interconnected, small community, it’s just a matter of time. I’m most worried about our staff. Their safety is our first priority.”
He said the shop is likely to remain closed at least for the rest of the week, and possibly longer, if transmission rates don’t stabilize or drop.