4 employees, 1 resident test positive for virus at Elm Wood Center

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CLAREMONT — Four Elm Wood Center employees and one resident have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to Genesis Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Feifer.

In an email correspondence Tuesday, Genesis Healthcare officials confirmed the positive case count following a report submitted to the Eagle Times early Tuesday by someone affiliated with the assisted living facility that alleged that staff members had been tested and subsequently confirmed to have COVID-19.

“To date, Elm Wood Center has had one resident and four employees test positive for COVID-19,” Feifer said in a statement. “I can assure you that we are working round the clock to keep our patients and residents healthy and as safe as possible. We are doing everything in our power – and everything medical experts know as of this time – to protect our patients, residents and employees.”

Officials say they are implementing several strategies to limit the spread including “screening residents and patients for symptoms" three times a day, screening all personnel upon entering the facility and requiring all staff to wear personal protective equipment at all times in the facility.

The facility is not permitting visitors — except for exceptional circumstances such as end-of-life situations — but encourages loved ones to reach out to the center.

Elm Wood Center has continued to follow guidance provided by the New Hampshire Department of Health, as well as other health agencies in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus within the nursing home.

"As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began providing protocols and guidelines for the coronavirus, we have diligently followed them and in many cases, has gotten out in front of public health guidelines, adopting even more stringent infection precautions than were recommended at the time," the statement reads.

No additional information about the four employees and one resident has been revealed at this time.

This article will continue to be updated when more information becomes available.

24-hour event to raise money online for NH nonprofits

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CONCORD (AP) — An annual, 24-hour online giving event for nonprofits is coming up in New Hampshire.

NH Gives is taking place from 6 p.m. Tuesday to 6 p.m. Wednesday. People can choose which nonprofits to support and take advantage of matching gifts to increase the impact of their contributions. They can log on to NHGives.org.

Every gift of up to $1,000 will be matched by New Hampshire Charitable Foundation funds for the first $250,000 given during the event.

More than 500 nonprofits across New Hampshire are participating.

“NH Gives takes on new meaning this year as nonprofits face the impact of the global pandemic. Organizations are rising to the needs of their communities, even while they’ve lost revenue from cancelled fundraising events and programs,” said Kathleen Reardon, CEO of the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits.

NH Gives, an initiative of the center, has raised nearly $1.5 million for New Hampshire nonprofits since its inception in 2016.

School board, officials discuss instruction options, graduation ceremony restrictions

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CLAREMONT — The Claremont School District is forming a study committee to explore viable instruction options next school year if educational institutions can’t resume traditional learning, Claremont Superintendent Michael Tempesta told the school board Wednesday.

The New Hampshire Department of Education is still forming its school reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school year, but Tempesta said that a traditional reopening, where students and teachers fully return to the classrooms, “is highly unlikely.”

“What we’re most likely planning for is a hybrid [model], or people have also spoken about staggered schedules and other possibilities,” Tempesta told the board.

The state Department of Education is still studying options for the eventual reopening of schools. An appointed task force - the School Transition, Reopening and Restructuring Taskforce (STRRT) - recently closed a statewide survey filled out by parents and educators. The task force expects to submit their preliminary recommendations to the governor and education commissioner on June 30.

In Claremont, a similarly purposed committee will explore different instructional models and options in regard to the local district to facilitate district planning and further inform STRRT’s study.

Tempesta said that the committee will likely comprise of 10 to 15 members and include district administrators, faculty, staff, school board representatives and parents.

“We want to get many viewpoints on how those different models will play out in our schools,” the superintendent said. “Obviously we want to have the best possible environment for our students.

Claremont School Board Vice-Chair Rebecca Zullo volunteered to join the committee.

A “hybrid” model generally means a combination of in-class instruction and remote leaning. One possibility under consideration is a staggered schedule, in which a class of students is divided into smaller groups that alternate days in the classroom.

Tempesta said that whatever the state decides, his goal was to return learning “as close to normalcy as possible.”

Financially, the district expects to have sufficient funding through virus-related aid to schools, which the district will use to strengthen its remote learning resources and redesign classrooms for adequate social distancing, according to Tempesta. The district plans to ensure that all student’s homes have internet connectivity, which might include setting up special Wi-Fi hotspots that only connect with the student’s school Chromebook. Next year, every Claremont student will have a personal Chromebook, a plan that the district already intended to implement prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tempesta said that most classrooms in Claremont are large enough to accommodate smaller class sizes safely if using a staggered schedule. The district may also consider purchasing different types of furniture, such as tables, to allow students to learn while spacing them at least six feet apart, as recommended by state and federal health guidelines.

District’s attorney explains graduation attendance restrictions

Each graduating senior at Stevens High School will be able to bring two vehicles of family or friends to the graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 11, at the Claremont Motorsports Park. However, other members of the public will not be allowed to attend, said Matt Upton, attorney for the school district.

In an update for the school board, Upton said that Gov. Chris Sununu’s office remains firm about “scheduled gatherings,” which includes graduation ceremonies, and not having more than 10 people in congregation, even if the event is outside.

“There’s been a lot of confusion [in the community] and perceptions that if we’re social distancing and outside that everything is fine, but that just is not the case,” Upton said. “The governor’s office has been very consistent to this extent that they do not want people gathering.”

Based on conversations with the governor’s office, Upton said that schools may hold ceremonies in which guests remain in their cars. The governor’s office will allow people to exit a vehicle to take a photo, provided the total number of people - including the school administrators and photographer who are already outside - does not exceed the maximum.

However, the Claremont ceremony plans for all guests, including the graduate, to remain in their vehicles, including when each student receives their diploma. According to Stevens High School Principal Pat Barry, a professional photographer will take individual pictures of each graduate.

Tempesta said that letting friends and families out to take photographs could pose safety issues.

“The perspective was that if everyone was able to exit the car and circle around to take pictures, it could quickly turn into a free-for-all, and controlling that can be hard once the ceremony starts,” Tempesta said.

Claremont School Board Chair Frank Sprague said that Stevens High School eliminated the practice of letting parents come forward to take photos during the handing out of diplomas several years ago. Since then the school has entrusted a professional photographer to take those pictures.

“It’s a safety issue,” Sprague said. “But quite frankly,we can get a much better photograph [of the graduate] with a professional.”

Claremont Motorsports Park to host race with no spectators, virus measures in place

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CLAREMONT — Claremont Motorsports Park will break from the pack of New England auto racetracks Friday by holding the first race in 2020 — without fans in attendance.

The Claremont raceway will host the season-opening event for Granite State Pro Stock Series, a traveling circuit which competes at speedways across New Hampshire, including Claremont. The company will stream the event via a live pay-per-view (PPV) broadcast on Speed51, a short-track racing website.

“It’s just a way to get a buzz going about the speedway, because we’re the first raceway in New England that’s doing this type of [empty seat] event,” said Mike Parks, founder and promoter of Granite State Pro Stock Series.

The event ends a six-week delay to Granite State Pro’s season-start, due to state government restrictions placed on large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sporting venues still haven’t received permission to have audience-attended events, but Parks said that state and local officials gave him the go-ahead to hold Friday’s race without fans.

A race without fans poses a financial risk, but Parks said that, with sponsorship help and the PPV agreement, hosting the event became financially feasible.

“The Speedway’s not going to get rich doing this event whatsoever,” Parks said. “If we come out breaking even, I’ll be very, very happy.”

The event will host races from four divisions: Granite State Pro Stock, R.E. Hinkley Street Stocks, LaValley Building Supply Pure Stocks and Six Shooters. Each division represents a different class of race car.

The race must still follow state guidelines directed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to Parks. Each car is limited to a certain number of crew members and the speedway must keep each crew station at least six feet apart in the pit area. Masks are not mandatory but still highly recommended to crews and hand sanitizer will be sufficiently available.

Parks said that spacing vehicles poses no complications because the Claremont speedway is much larger than most parks in the region.

“Following all the guidelines, I can put way more race cars in the pit area than I’m going to have Friday night,” Parks said. “The place is just so big. That’s one of the advantages this speedway has [to hold this event].”

The state is currently considering conditions for reopening the speedways to fans, but any announcement is unlikely for at least a couple of weeks, Parks said. The plan will likely limit venue capacity to 50%, which would not impact attendance at Claremont Motorsports, as its grandstands can hold 7,000 people, far beyond than event attendance.

“I’ve been going there since the mid-eighties and there’s never been 7,000 people there,” Parks said. “We could put 2,000 people in there and that would be a very, very good night.”

The fiscal challenge for speedways won’t be a capacity regulation but allowing them to reopen soon, Parks said. The stock-racing season is only 20 weeks long, or the equivalent to 20 racing events. The season has already lost six weeks due to the pandemic closure.

“It’s definitely a financial burden, but we’re doing the best we can with it,” Parks said. “I’m not complaining, because I understand the situation… We just have to find other ways to make it work in the time being.

For PPV purchase or information, visit www.speed51.com. Information is also available on the Facebook pages for Claremont Motorsports Park and Granite State Pro Stock Series.

The PPV cost is $24.95 and revenue generated from the event’s broadcast will help pay the purse and other expenses associated with hosting an event without fans.

The time trials will begin at 7 p.m. and the main event for the Granite State Pro Stock Series is scheduled to start at 9 p.m.

Crazy Horse Racing, in Maine; R.E. Hinkley Oil Company, in Claremont; and R&R Public Wholesale in Hooksett are sponsoring the event.

“We want to thank everyone for their support and hope they enjoy the event,” Parks said. “The last thing I want to do is have an event with no fans. They are our lifeblood and we want them back, as soon as we can possibly do it in the state of New Hampshire.”

Community garden blooms hope, peace for residents during pandemic

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CHARLESTOWN — A new community garden in Charlestown — the result of a two-month project that officially opened on Saturday — is a perfect illustration of how a local community can still come together, despite statewide closures and social distancing.

Alissa Bascom, 39, of Charlestown, said that she first had the idea to start a community garden in town 15 years ago, but other life responsibilities and a lack of networking experience held her vision at bay.

Earlier this year, the idea resurfaced, Bascom said. Between an increasing number of families using the town’s food shelf and the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic spurring concerns about grocery supplies, Bascom felt that providing more people a means to growing food was essential.

“Not knowing what the future’s going to hold was driving people back to some of those homesteading roots, where we can take care of ourselves.”

Starting a community garden gives residents who lack land “a first step toward helping themselves,” Bascom said.

The project was arguably a textbook-definition of “a community effort,” taking just two months to complete.

Bascom developed the idea in late March with her uncle, Vic St. Pierre, from Charlestown, also expressed interest in a community garden. The Charlestown Economic Development Association (CEDA), a nonprofit development group, freely offered use of their commercial land on Fling Road for the garden. The Rotary Foundation of Charlestown took over the project’s development, contributing a donation and soliciting other resources. The Claremont Savings Bank donated $250 from its Community-Giving Fund and the Greater Sullivan County Public Health Network donated $1,483 toward a water system. St. Pierre Inc., a Charlestown construction and landscaping supplier, donated the loam and compost, weed-blocking fabric and filling equipment. Woodell & Daughters Forest Products in Langdon donated the boards to build the raised beds.

Even the Charlestown Fire Department is contributing to the project, Bascom said. When the project developers learned that building a connecting water line to the garden, Fire Chief Charlie Baraly secured a temporary water tank, which the fire department will fill as needed. Bascom said a larger tank will likely be purchased in the future, but the current tank will serve well in the time being.

Bascom said that there is no charge to any Charlestown resident who wants to use the garden.

To illustrate the speed, collaboration and effort in which this garden came together, Bascom said it took only nine days to construct. The land agreement was finalized with CEDA on Thursday, May 14, and the first residents began planting in their boxes Saturday, May 23.

“I am blown away by the support this has gotten,” Bascom said. “Charlestown really amazed me in their fortitude and perseverance right now. They know that things are changing and they are going to make the effort. It’s really incredible and the beginning of a lot of good things.”

Any question Bascom had at the onset regarding the interest in a community garden has been answered as all 28 garden beds have been claimed, with other residents adding their names to a waiting list.

Most of the raised beds are eight feet by four feet, with the smallest boxes measuring four feet by four feet. Bascom said that some residents are sharing seeds and plants. All but about four or five boxes have plants and signs already, and the remaining users plan to access theirs this weekend.

The garden was built to be portable, in the event that CEDA someday sells the land for development, Bascom said.

Moving to a location is always a possibility, as is expansion or creating new gardens, according to Bascom.

“I am hoping this is the first of many,” she said. “There’s a woman in Alstead interested in one. Maybe next year I’ll go and help her put one out there. [This project] was so easy and so smooth, I think every town should have one.”

City council moves forward with non-binding mask-wearing resolution

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CLAREMONT — A majority of Claremont City Council members voted in favor Wednesday night of creating a resolution encouraging residents to wear face masks in places of business to reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.

In an 8-1 vote, the council said it hopes the resolution — which will be non-binding and carry no penalty for non-mask wearers — will support businesses that adopt mask-requirement policies for customers while educating and motivating residents to wear masks in shared spaces like stores and public spaces.

“This is a public health issue,” said Councilor Deborah Matteau. “The mask doesn’t protect you from [contagious particles], it protects the people around you from your droplets getting out. To me, it’s common courtesy.”

Matteau voiced her concerns about the city’s senior population, including those living in residential facilities, who are arguably the highest-risk group in coronavirus-related fatalities.

Recently, an employee at Sullivan County Health Care tested positive for COVID-19, according to Matteau.

“Where that employee picked up the virus, I don’t know,” Matteau said. “It could have been at [a local retail store] where she was shopping for her family after her shift, because there are so many people who refuse to wear a mask for 30 minutes to shop.”

Councilor Abigail Kier, who proposed a council resolution on Wednesday, May 13, delivered a presentation to the council at the start of the discussion.

Wearing a mask in occupied spaces is recommended by the U.S. Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente, Kier said. The CDC says that wearing a mask should be practiced in tandem with social-distancing, not as a replacement for maintaining separation.

Kier said that, contrary to some beliefs, “there is no evidence that wearing a standard or surgical mask is harmful to the public,” with the exception of individuals with respiratory or pulmonary issues.

The reports about people experiencing breathing issues from wearing masks only applies to a prolonged use of N-95 masks, not the commonly worn cloth masks, Kier said.

To date, Sullivan County has been less affected by coronavirus cases than elsewhere in New Hampshire. To date, Sullivan County has only reported 16 positive cases of the novel coronavirus, with only three active cases in Claremont.

However, Kier pointed out that as New Hampshire’s tourism season begins many visitors and summer residents will be entering the state.

In a letter to the council, Michael Demars, owner of tech company CCI Managed Services in Claremont, voiced objection to a council resolution, calling a requirement to wear masks an infringement on people’s liberties and could discourage people from patronizing businesses in Claremont.

“We should be careful to consider more than the small amount of lives we’d be saving,” Demars stated. “We should also consider the quality of life of all our citizens and those who visit our city. As strongly as you may feel that it’s a good idea, there are just as many people who feel it’s a personal choice.”

Councilor Jonathan Stone, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the resolution, equated it to government “overreach.”

State Rep. Walt Stapleton (Ward III) disagreed with the resolution being an infringement.

“This is a recommendation, a non-binding resolution essentially telling the community that we’re going to set a standard for caring and responsible behavior,” the representative said.

Stapleton called the resolution “a great idea.”

“It’s a good message to say to our neighbors to stay safe and follow the recommendations of the medical community,” he said.

Councilor Nicholas Koloski, while voting in favor of the resolution, said he still worries that some community members might treat the resolution like an enforceable declaration or reason to stoke conflicts.

“When an argument breaks out and it turns into what we’ve seen online, what is the expectation?” Koloski asked.”Because we certainly can’t overtax the police department with this responsibility.”

Mayor Charlene Lovett said she and City Manager Ed Morris solicited input from Gov. Chris Sununu about a resolution in a phone conversation on Thursday, May 14. According to Lovett, Sununu said that municipalities have authority to impose more restrictive regulations for mask-wearing than the state, but advised that a council be careful and consider how to enforce such an ordinance first.

Sunapee ‘Senior Night’ honors student-athletes impacted by coronavirus pandemic

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SUNAPEE — The notion that the grass is always greener at the baseball field proved especially true Tuesday afternoon when Sunapee Middle High School athletic department administration and family members gathered at Memorial Field to celebrate the achievements of senior student-athletes rightfully earned through relentless persistence on the field.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic became more prevalent in the U.S., effectively eliminating any potential for a spring sports season out of contention, there was a lot that didn’t sit right with Sunapee Athletic Director and men’s baseball head coach Tom Frederick. His major concern spawned from the realization that most of the institution’s student-athletes who compete in the warmer tailend months of the academic school year would be tagged out of any memorable senior athletic moments in the pursuit of shared championship aspirations.

So Frederick began planning with fellow administration officials, including varsity women’s softball coach Bonnie Cruz, to brainstorm a way to bring some positivity to an unfortunate situation. Ultimately it was decided that a spin on an annual tradition would be the best course of action.

In an effort to shine light on the school’s senior student-athlete population for all they have done representing Sunapee through local and statewide competition, Frederick and high school administration hosted a “Senior Night” on Tuesday, allowing nine of the Class of 2020’s 37 soon-to-be graduates to receive applause and uniforms to commemorate their careers.

Frederick opened the festivities with a special hand-written speech thanking the student-athletes for their unwavering dedication to their respective game and impeccable ability to represent the best of Sunapee.

“The Class of 2020 is facing much diversity and uncertainty as they come closer to graduation day,” said Frederick in his opening speech Tuesday afternoon. “Although I am sure that this is not what they imagined their senior year looking like as they started school in the fall, they have met this new challenge with flexibility, strength and grace. Most of our athletes realized that even though we would not have our season, they needed to continue to do their assignments and finish the year strong. We would like to recognize our senior athletes today and congratulate them for their sum of hard work over the last four years. We will never know the team and individual accolades we would have received, but I am certain that we are all better off for practicing, competing and knowing one another all of these years.”

The event also allowed for seniors to take photos alongside fellow teammates, coaches, family and custom decorations that ranged anywhere from cups spelling out their names to the scoreboard in left field displaying 20:20 for time and a score of 20-20.

“We just wanted to give [the student-athletes] a chance to be recognized for their play — most of them for four years,” Cruz said. “It’s hard for their season to end so abruptly by not having any type of closure so this is a nice way to show our appreciation and thank the parents too for all the years they have been to games supporting the kids, supporting the teams. [Senior Night] offers a bit of closure.”

For Cruz, the experience of traversing the athletic world amid the pandemic has undoubtedly been a challenge. While she keeps in touch with her athletes via email, it is difficult not to have in-person practices or meetings to connect in a more personable way. To keep spirits high, the team came together — virtually — to create a video collaboration of them throwing the ball to one another, a trend that many high school teams across the country have participated in.

Varsity softball player Ellie Frederick, who plans to carry on with sports at the University of New Haven in Connecticut this fall, was honored that the school and family members would go to such great lengths to give them such a memorable sendoff.

“It’s really special just to have everyone back together,” Ellie said. “Obviously we all wish we could be back on the field together but it’s really special that our parents were willing to go the extra mile for us. It’s nice just to be here all together one more time.”

As it gets time to leave Sunapee Middle High School, Ellie has greatly enjoyed her time representing her town on the field and this unconventional “Senior Night” will be one memory on the field that doesn’t involve playing.

“[Playing for Sunapee] has been amazing,” Ellie said. “Sunapee is such a great community and so to be able to play in a town like this is just awesome. There are a lot of people at every single game cheering you on, wishing the best for you. Little wins go big ways.”

Congratulations Sarah Frederick (Track Team), Maddie Blewitt (Track Team), Austin Davis (Baseball Team), Anthony Borelli (Baseball Team), Quinn Fair (Baseball Team), Darren Hulton (Baseball Team), Jordan Chappell (Baseball Team), Tess Palin (Softball Team) and Ellie Frederick (Softball Team).

A message from Bellows Falls High School alumni

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The governor has declared that there will not be any in-person graduation ceremony this year. Due to COVID-19, many social gathering restrictions are still in place and will be for an undetermined amount of time. To that end, the Bellows Falls Alumni Association has decided to postpone Alumni Weekend. We are all so very sad that we cannot celebrate together on Father’s Day weekend and welcome in our newest alumni.

The good news is Alumni Weekend will be rescheduled for Sept. 25-27. This date coincides with the Bellows Falls High School’s Homecoming Weekend and it is our hope that many graduates from 2020 will be able to make it home to celebrate and be welcomed into the Alumni Association. All alumni festivities will be celebrated that weekend just as we do in June with the exception of alumni sports games. Alumni dances will be held on Friday, Sept. 25; alumni reunions will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26; and our beloved alumni parade will be held on Sunday, Sept. 27. In addition, there are many home sporting events held that weekend for our alumni to attend.

We are counting on our alumni to come and celebrate in September just as you have always done in June. So start planning your reunions, start designing your floats and plan your travel for September to celebrate BFHS Alumni Weekend!

Please keep in mind that while we are moving forward with planning for Sept. 25-27, the pandemic is an ever-changing situation and if there are regulations beyond our control, the weekend may be subject to change.

Please reach out to our association with any questions you may have or any assistance you may need.

2020 alumni officers

President Jill James, (802) 598-6204, BFAlumni.President@gmail.com

1st Vice President (Parade) Stacey Reeve, (603) 726-0725, BFAlumni.Parade@gmail.com

2nd Vice President (Waypoint Dance) Katie Elliott, (802) 735-3938, BFAlumni.Dance@gmail.com

Local Dues Heather Murphy, (802) 345-2010, BFAlumni.Dues@gmail.com

Treasurer Darlene Kelly, (802) 733-7476, BFAlumni.Treasurer@gmail.com

Secretary Jessica Illingworth, (802) 376-4208, jessicapleasant@hotmail.com

ABC Chairman Chad Illingworth, (802) 376-4207, chadillingworth@yahoo.com

Scholarship Chairman Thomas MacPhee, (802) 463-3356, tsmacphee@comcast.net

Gym owner who reopened early urges state to reclassify fitness centers

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NEWPORT — In absence of any official indication of when fitness centers will be permitted to reopen, Newport resident and business operator Heidi North has started to speak out. Owner of Newport Fitness & Spa, North wrote last week to Gov. Chris Sununu in an appeal to classify gyms as an “essential business.”

“It is clear that this [fitness] industry is being ignored [by the governor’s reopening task force],” North told the Eagle Times on Wednesday.

North briefly reopened her gym last week on Monday, May 11, but closed the business two days later after Newport Police Department officers delivered North a letter from New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald which detailed potential penalties on businesses that violate the governor’s emergency orders.

North said she wants to stay in compliance but is frustrated by the state’s discrimination against the fitness industry while allowing businesses such as liquor stores to operate, despite receiving proposed safety guidelines from the fitness industry on Tuesday, May 5.

In a reopening proposal to the task force, Michael Benton, a New Hampshire fitness facility operator, said that, if permitted to reopen, fitness facility regulations would include: reducing their occupancy and class sizes; spacing workout stations at least 8 feet apart; keeping saunas and steam rooms closed; and strict policies for frequent equipment sanitizing, social distancing and masks.

Benton said he hoped the state would reopen gyms by Monday, May 18. But the state still has made no indication when gyms may get the green light.

In her letter to Sununu, North asserted that fitness centers are essential to people in law enforcement and fire departments, whose members often use private gyms to exercise and condition, which is required in their occupations.

“Across the country, a significant portion of the gym-going population includes police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, corrections officers and firefighters,” North wrote. “Here in New Hampshire, as is the case in most states, individuals seeking employment as law enforcement officers, corrections officers or firefighters must pass a physical fitness test prior to their hiring and appointment, and in many instances [including New Hampshire] police officers must maintain that standard in order to maintain their certification and appointment.”

North said she is well stocked with disinfectant, hand sanitizer, masks and touchless thermometers. Gym members would need to take their temperature prior to using the gym. She will reduce the maximum occupancy to approximately 20 people. With 8,000 square feet, the gym is currently allowed 38. Masks will be available for members who wish to have one.

“I would never do anything to harm my community,” North said.

North said that people should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to frequent businesses or stay at home. People with compromised immune systems should not be made to work, though the state should also factor the demographics and regions most affected by the pandemic, rather than lump all New Hampshire communities under the same guidelines.

Sullivan County has 16 of the state’s 3,868 confirmed cases as of Thursday, May 21, the second fewest of any county behind Coos which has four.

“Some members have said that they aren’t comfortable going back to a gym right now, and that’s fine,” North said. “But if other members are saying they feel comfortable and want to use the gym, they should be able to.”

Though the exercise floor remains closed, North has been operating the juice bar, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., giving away free frozen yogurt and smoothies to gym members. North said she is grateful for her members who still want to support her during this period.

Official: Reports to DCYF down statewide amid pandemic draws concern

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CLAREMONT — With the closure of public schools and reduction in community services, state agencies have seen a concerning decline in child-abuse or neglect reports, according to family-services providers.

The New Hampshire Division of Child, Youth and Families (DCYF), a child-protection agency, has seen a statewide drop in reports concerning alleged child abuse or neglect since schools began their transition to remote learning on Monday, March 23, according to a local DCYF official.

“We’ve seen it both statewide and in our area,” said Nic Richard, assistant supervisor of the regional Department of Health and Human Service office in Claremont, which serves the communities in Sullivan and Grafton counties.

Schools have traditionally been the largest reporter of alleged child abuse or neglect, due to their level of interaction with children and families, Richard said. Family-assistance groups and police departments are also an important reporting-source, as they do a lot of face-to-face interaction with local families.

With the shift of education to online communication and the decline in face-to-face visits by community partners — including the police, who are trying to manage non-emergency calls by phone due to COVID-19 concerns — “all these [reporting] pieces are going away,” Richard said.

Potentially an educator, for example, might still report a concern based on something witnessed during a phone or video conversation with a child, according to Richard. That concern could include something overheard in the background of the meeting or the appearance of an unsafe environment.

But each school is operating its remote learning differently, Richard noted. With limitations in the quantity of daily interaction with students and the technology, it is more difficult to get a clear picture of what might be happening in the home.

DCYF follows-up on reports to determine the validity of the concern and whether the family needs assistance.

“Just because we show up doesn’t mean something is happening,” Richard said. “We want to make sure everything is going alright and to help families get what they need. It’s not our goal to disrupt or ruin lives.”

Case management is the only major role of DCYF, which includes meetings with families and providing assisting services such as counseling and family services. The needs vary on a case-by-case basis, but technology like online video chat and telephone meetings have replaced nearly all the face-to-face visitations.

“We’ve had to find creative ways to do the things we can do without imposing health risks to families. “Child safety is always our first concern, but we don’t want to impose a risk either.”

Some families do not have internet, or even adequate phone service, according to Richard. Some geographical sections of Sullivan and Grafton County still lack internet connectivity, for example. In homes lacking connectivity, DCYF might do a face-to-face visit if believing there’s an unsafe situation is occurring.

The one upside, according to Richards, has been an improvement by some families to participate in meetings with DCYF, because the families feel more comfortable communicating by phone or video than face-to-face.

“Everything has been an adjustment, but we’re all navigating through it,” Richards said,”It’s a tough time for all of us and we just have to work around that.”

Richards urged all communities to be attentive to families who may need support.

“Child safety is all our responsibility,” Richards said. “I’d like to encourage everyone to keep their eyes and ears open for everyone, children or adults, who need support because the help they need isn’t coming to them.”

DCYF may soon allow parents separated from their children to resume having facilitated family visits at TLC Family Resource Center, in Claremont, according to TLC Executive Director Maggie Monroe-Cassel.

TLC, a multi-service non-profit organization, partners with DCYF by providing facilitated visits between separated families and protective-programs such as parent support groups.

Monroe-Cassel said that DCYF hopes to resume the family visits at TLC next week, depending on the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Personal connection is the key to success for people, so it’s been a challenge to deliver that contact through technology,” Monroe-Cassel said.

TLC still uses video and phone technology to provide many of its services, and has employed video-conferencing to check in with families during New Hampshire’s stay-at-home order.

With the arrival of warmer weather, TLC hopes to hold its parent support meetings outside, where it is easier to accommodate social-distancing spacing.

Additionally, TLC’s Center for Recovery Resources, located on Pleasant Street, began hosting Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in their building three weeks ago.

“There is a strict protocol in place, but people are hungry for in-person meetings,” Monroe-Cassel said. “A lot of people don’t like to wear the masks that we require of them, but that’s better than not getting together at all.”

Recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have had to transition their meetings to online formats like Zoom because the churches, which host the majority of their meetings, have closed.

Monroe-Cassel said that all attendees must wear a mask and maintain the six-foot separation from other participants. Additionally, only 10 people are allowed in each room. Because the meetings have been increasing in attendance, Monroe-Cassel said that the center will open other rooms in the center so the attendees can divide into smaller meeting groups.

Covid-19 In The News

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LEWISTON, Maine — The nation's 3,000 or so private bus lines — and the millions of people who rely on them for cheap, basic travel — fret that they will go under without the same kind of federal help trains and planes are enjoying as a pandemic-immobilized America tries to get back to work a…

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Much of New England is slowly emerging from a six-week lockdown, with greenhouses, golf courses and barber shops rolling out the welcome mat for customers eager to return to some sense of normalcy.