Monadnock Region schools, businesses weigh options as COVID cases climb

  • Monadnock Community Hospital Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/12/2020 5:35:06 PM

COVID-19 is surging around the country and the increase in cases hasn’t spared New Hampshire – or the Monadnock Region, 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, which includes Peterborough’s Monadnock Community Hospital, wrote in a joint statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

Rising cases across the state

On Tuesday, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services announced 222 new positive test results for COVID-19 – a positivity rate of about 2% among those tested. With the most recent positive test results, New Hampshire now has 2,197 current cases, and there are currently 64 people in the state hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Of the new cases recorded Tuesday, Hillsborough County has the most cases of any county in the state – 85 – while Cheshire County currently has 13.

Cheshire County currently has a total of 79 active cases of COVID-19, and Hillsborough has a total of 640, with 293 of those cases being in a town other than Manchester or Nashua.

Manchester and Nashua remain hotspots, with 181 cases currently in Manchester and 166 in Nashua.

Keene has 21 positive cases – the highest in Cheshire County – but Rindge has recently risen to 20 positive cases, with just two of those reported at Franklin Pierce University after its most recent round of weekly community testing last week.

Jaffrey currently has eight active cases, and New Ipswich nine. All the other towns in the Ledger-Transcript’s coverage area are in the 1-4 active cases zone.

Schools impacted by rising rates

The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District has been monitoring transmission rates both within the school and the wider community since the start of the pandemic, ready to consider a change in their education model if either number reaches the category of “substantial.”

Cheshire County, where both Jaffrey and Rindge are located, is currently the only county in the state that has not reached a level of “substantial” transmission, as defined by the New Hampshire Department of Public Health, but is currently trending upward.

In a letter to the community on Tuesday, Superintendent Reuben Duncan noted that is 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.

On Tuesday, the Jaffrey-Rindge School District was notified of a positive COVID-19 case within the Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School community. The district is currently completing contact tracing procedures and has or will notify all impacted individuals via telephone requesting they quarantine.

Duncan wrote that he has already started a discussion with the New Hampshire public health officials and the district administration, and the school board is scheduled to take up the matter of whether to switch to a different instructional model during its next meeting, scheduled for Monday.

“Either way, the topic will need to be reviewed at each board meeting from here on out, unless the community transmission decreases and the level is changed,” Duncan said.

Highbridge Hill Elementary School in New Ipswich currently is in remote learning due to staff quarantine, the majority of which stem 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 be 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. It’s not yet known if students will be able to return to school as usual on Friday.

Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District is also anticipating a teacher shortage after upcoming holidays, and 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 increasingly positive rates, but said there has 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 shuts down

Identity Coffee Lab in Rindge temporarily shut down on Wednesday morning, due to the sudden spike in cases in Rindge, 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 currently leading the spike in cases in the state, he said he wanted to exhibit an “abundance of caution” and shut down and watch the numbers.

“This is happening so fast. We’re taking it day by day,” Ojala said. “We’re such an inter-connected, 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.

(Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.)

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