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New Hampshire schools face virus-related loss of funds

School districts across New Hampshire are losing money because the state’s funding formula is based on metrics heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sixteen mayors and school board leaders wrote to Gov. Chris Sununu and legislative leaders this week expressing their concerns.

They explained that while districts have been providing more free meals than ever to students, fewer families have filled out the paperwork to document participation in the free and reduced price meal program. Because the funding formula is based in part on enrollment in the program, Manchester, for example, faces a $3.6 million decrease in funding.

Similarly, enrollment overall has decreased as more parents sent children to private school or homeschool during the pandemic, the group wrote.

“Districts across the state are concerned that since adequacy aid is based on the enrollment of the previous year, if enrollment numbers increase to a pre-pandemic level, that they will be left educating a significant number of students for which they did not receive adequacy aid,” they wrote.

The Republican governor said the two federal virus relief packages passed by Congress include about $220 million for education-related expenses in New Hampshire, and the state will work with communities to help families sign up for the meal program.

“It’s very legitimate concerns on their part. And between the funding and the state support, I think we can close the gap,” he said.

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AHEAD OF SCHEDULE

New Hampshire has started its latest vaccination phase a bit ahead of schedule. Registration opened Friday for roughly 325,000 people over age 65, those with multiple medical conditions, corrections workers and those living or working in facilities for people with developmental disabilities.

The first appointments were supposed to be Tuesday but instead, some were able to get vaccinated as early as Saturday, state officials said.

In coronavirus news elsewhere in New England:

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VETERANS HOMES

Most residents and staff members of two state-run veterans care facilities in Massachusetts have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state officials and an analysis by Masslive.com published Saturday.

Of an estimated 304 full- and part-time staff at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, 240 — or about 79% — have received at least one dose. Of those, 153 have already received both doses, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said.

At the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, an estimated 70% of workers have received at least one dose.

Both facilities will host a final vaccination clinic on Feb. 9 to complete second doses.

As for residents, 163 have received at least one dose in Chelsea and 116 in Holyoke.

The Holyoke home had one of the country’s deadliest virus outbreaks at a long-term care facility. Seventy-six residents died after contracting the virus in the spring, and a 77th died last month.

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BOSTON-AREA TRANSIT

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s new commuter rail schedule that suspends weekend service on some lines in response to a steep drop in ridership during the pandemic took effect Saturday.

Now, commuter rail will only offer weekend service on the Newburyport/Rockport, Framingham/Worcester, Fairmount, Providence, and Middleborough Lines. More trains have been added to those lines.

Commuter rail ridership in the fall of 2020 was about 8% of what it was in fall 2019.

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BY THE NUMBERS

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Saturday reported 4,330 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 75 more deaths.

There have now been more than 472,000 cases and nearly 13,800 virus-related fatalities in the state.

The state’s seven-day average positivity was about 5.2% as of Saturday, the department said.

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VERMONT OUTBREAKS

On average, only 10% of coronavirus cases in Vermont recently are associated with outbreaks, said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

More than half the people with COVID-19 had contact with someone who was infected, and only one in four had an unknown source of exposure, Levine said at Gov. Phil Scott’s virus briefing Friday.

“This tells us that so far people are more likely to get COVID-19 through close contact to another person who had the virus and less likely for their infection to be associated with an outbreak,” he said.

While the state’s positivity rate is 2.5%, transmission is clearly happening across communities and often within households, Levine said.

“Which is why we continue to advise everyone to keep their guard up because you never know when you might be placing yourself in a risking situation, especially knowing the high rate of asymptomatic spread of this virus.”

Vermont reported 148 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, and one more virus-related death. The state has now had more than 10,900 cases and 170 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

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UVM ATHLETICS

The University of Vermont has paused all on-campus athletic activity, including games, team practices, and individual workouts because of what it calls “an increase in positive COVID-19 test results in the athletics program.”

The pause will last until Feb. 4.

The move was made “to ensure the health and safety of all student-athletes, coaches and staff,” the school said.

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RH0DE ISLAND VACCINES

Rhode Island officials are looking at possible changes to the state coronavirus vaccine rollout program to prioritize age before occupation.

According to the proposal presented Friday to the state’s vaccine committee, during Phase 2 people ages 65 to 74 would be vaccinated first, with accelerated distribution to people based on their vulnerability. Factors would include geographical location and prior health history.

Members of the committee questioned how the change would affect teachers and people in other public-facing jobs.

Rhode Island Department of Human Services Director Courtney Hawkins explained the proposed plan will still address people in those careers who have underlying conditions.

A finalized plan for phase two is expected in the coming weeks.

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CONNECTICUT INMATE DEATH

A Connecticut inmate has become the fifth state prisoner this month to die of COVID-19 complications, according to the Department of Correction.

The inmate, who was not identified because of medical privacy laws, died Friday at a hospital where he was transferred about three weeks ago, the department said.

The 57-year-old man was serving a 40-year sentence for arson and murder relating to crimes in the 1990s. Prison officials said he had underlying conditions that led to his death.

The man was the 18th state prison inmate to die from COVID-19.

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MAINE CASES

There have been an additional 328 cases of the coronavirus in Maine and four more virus-related deaths, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Saturday.

The state’s death toll from the disease is now 544 and the total number of confirmed and probably cases climbed to almost 36,600.

Of the new deaths, two were Cumberland County residents while one each lived in Androscoggin and Penobscot counties.

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