Standout citizen

Health director commended for pandemic leadership

Manchester Public Health Director Anna Thomas is the recipient of the Greater Manchester Chamber’s Citizen of the Year award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated leadership, vision and civic pride while making significant contributions toward the betterment of the Manchester community.

How did it feel, being named Citizen of the Year?

I’m honored and humbled, but there are so many people in the community who should be recognized for their contributions; [the recognition] really can’t go to just one person. I see it as more of a ‘citizenry of the year’ than a ‘citizen of the year’ award, because everyone has sacrificed and done their part to be part of the solution during this pandemic.

What did you find to be the most successful or effective part of your approach to the pandemic?

Throughout Covid, our decision-making has been very data-driven and evidence-based. We monitor the data on a daily basis and use science and the best research we have available to be very strategic about what we do. … Another [successful approach] has been pooling resources and collaborating to solve community issues. Our individual programs are excellent, but we know we can make a bigger impact by leveraging the strength of multiple programs working together.

Is there anything that you learned or that surprised you about public health over the last year?

I’ve learned how much politics can enter the world of public health. When you’re making decisions dealing with [protecting] human life, sometimes you’re stepping on people’s individual choice or civil liberty. A lot of people don’t want to be told what to do by the government; they want to be informed and then left to make their own decisions. I respect everyone’s individual choice, but unfortunately, during a pandemic or any kind of public health emergency where one person’s choice can impact the health and well-being of others, executive orders have to be made. … It’s certainly not the first time I’ve seen how public health issues can tug on people’s ideologies and philosophies, but in this pandemic, I’ve seen it played out much more significantly.

How would you describe your leadership style?

It’s very team-based. I don’t believe in being the dictator at the top saying, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’ No one is an expert on everything; everyone has different skill sets. Innovation and creativity comes from having multiple perspectives. … Working on a large population level, we have to have perspectives from all sides to give us a bigger picture for how to inform our process and make the most well-rounded decisions that we can so we can serve the entire community.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your position?

One of the challenges is the sheer magnitude of people we’re trying to reach. … Manchester is the largest city north of Boston; it’s an urban center, and the work we do really falls under the umbrella of urban health, which comes with an entirely different level of priorities … than the suburban and rural communities that [make up] the majority of New Hampshire. … That’s why we have a division focused on family and neighborhood health. Different neighborhoods have different needs and different strengths, so just like the state [narrows down] public health to a community level, we as a city look at how we can tailor our services to meet the needs in specific neighborhoods.

What is your focus right now for Manchester’s public health?

It changes day to day, sometimes even minute to minute. It’s still all about Covid, for the most part. … We’ve moved away from the community-based testing that we’ve been doing throughout the pandemic, and now we’re heavily focused on getting people vaccinated and back on their feet. … We’re also trying to get back to [addressing] more of the basic public health [issues] that we did prior to the pandemic … [such as] school health; … refugee health; … infectious diseases other than Covid, like HIV, STDs and TB; … environmental health, [like] testing mosquitoes for Triple E and West Nile virus; water sampling; … septic inspections; … assessments of [buildings with] lead, mold or bed bugs; … community dental care; …home visits with expectant mothers; [and] opioids and addiction. … We’re also doing a lot of work in the arena of mental and behavioral health, and we actually have a behavioral health specialist on staff now.

What should people know about the current public health situation?

They can be optimistic and hopeful about the future. We’re at a better place now. Things are definitely taking a turn for the better, and there’s a lot to look forward to.

Featured photo: Anna Thomas

News & Notes 21/06/10

Covid-19 updateAs of May 30As of June 7
Total cases statewide98,72698,941
Total current infections statewide476353
Total deaths statewide1,3531,357
New cases377 (May 25 to May 30)215 (May 31 to June 7)
Current infections: Hillsborough County13693
Current infections: Merrimack County3832
Current infections: Rockingham County7550
Information from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services

Covid-19 news

During the state’s weekly public health update on June 3, state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan reported that there was a daily average of between 50 and 60 new daily infections of Covid-19 in New Hampshire over the previous week, numbers that are “substantially down” from the peak of the most recent surge of cases over the winter, when averages were between 800 and 900. “We’re making great progress in bringing the number of new infections down,” Chan said. “Our test-positivity rate over the last week has averaged under 2 percent.”

More than 660,000 people in the Granite State, or just under 50 percent of the population, are now fully vaccinated as of June 3, according to Dr. Beth Daly, Chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control of the New Hampshire Department of Health & Human Services. “The state-run fixed sites are now closed for new people wanting to get vaccinated,” Daly said. “However, they will continue to provide those second-dose vaccinations through June … and there are many other locations to get vaccinated, either through hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers and community clinics run by our local health departments and the Public Health Networks.”

Later during the press conference, Gov. Chris Sununu announced plans for a few new Covid-related relief funds for certain business sectors in the state. They include a lodging relief program, a live venue assistance program, and a recoupment relief program for businesses that applied for grants but ended up experiencing better-than-anticipated revenues in 2020. “If you’re on the line to repay money back to the state, and really back to the federal government, they can now deduct Covid-related expenses to offset what they owe,” Sununu said. “So we’re creating a new program to allow these businesses to keep money, and we do that by allowing them to show us what their costs of Covid were.”

When asked about the United States-Canada border, and Canada’s role in New Hampshire’s tourism season, Sununu said that it “definitely has to be open.” The border remains closed to nonessential travel through at least June 21. “I understand Canada is way behind the United States in terms of vaccine distribution. In fact, if we have extra vaccine, I’m more than willing to give it to Canada. … We’re waiting to hear from the president,” Sununu said.

Psychiatric beds

As of June 7, New Hampshire had no adults in hospital emergency departments waiting for inpatient psychiatric treatment for the first time since the pandemic began. According to a press release, the Department of Health and Human Services has been following an executive order made by Gov. Chris Sununu on May 13 to implement immediate solutions that give New Hampshire residents experiencing a mental health crisis timely and appropriate medical care. This has included offering long-term care facilities a $45,000 per bed incentive to accept geropsychiatric patients from New Hampshire Hospital or the Glencliff Home, which has created an additional 25 beds at New Hampshire Hospital, the release said. The long-term plan will require increased community-based services; in the next month DHHS will present contracts to the Executive Council for mobile crisis response for all populations, contracting with children’s residential providers to provide continuum of care. The department will also continue its work to implement the 10-Year Mental Health Plan to further address barriers to mental health care, the release said.

School survey

Parents, educators and community members are being asked to take the 603 Bright Futures Survey, which was created to give the New Hampshire Department of Education insight into people’s thoughts on school districts’ responses to the pandemic, and how this past year’s experience should influence plans for fall learning. According to a press release, a similar survey last spring regarding remote learning and the return to school generated more than 56,000 responses, which helped the state create its K-12 Back to School Guidance plan. The 603 Bright Futures Survey is now open and will stay open until June 30. For families with children in K-12, preschool and private schools, the survey can be taken at For staff in public and private schools, the survey is at And for community members without children in local schools, the survey can be found at

Help for Hampton

Hampton will have more help from the state to help keep the beach town safe this summer, according to a press release from the Department of Safety. Additional resources are being made available to the town to assist with operations, as part of a collaboration between local, county and state law enforcement agencies. There will be more patrols along the beach and surrounding roads, the release said, and the increased police presence is meant to keep large crowds safe and maintain a welcoming environment. “Travel is expected to be at record levels this summer across the country and New Hampshire, and Hampton is no exception,” Hampton Police Chief David Hobbs said in the release. “We are incredibly grateful for the collaboration between the New Hampshire State Police, county law enforcement, and the Hampton Police Department to ensure that visitors and residents enjoy all that Hampton has to offer this summer.”

More produce

Families participating in the NH Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program will be able to buy more fruits and vegetables this summer. According to a press release, the state is providing a temporary increase in benefits specifically for produce, provided by the US Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The program, which typically allocates a monthly stipend of $9 per child and $11 per mother for the purchase of fruits and vegetables, will temporarily provide $35 per person each month from June through September. WIC participants will be able to use the funds to purchase more fresh, canned, and frozen fruits and vegetables through 158 participating vendors across the state. The stipend will automatically be added to the eWIC benefit card, the release said.

The Contoocook Railroad Museum Visitor Center will be able to open for summertime hours, through Labor Day, thanks to a grant from the Kearsarge Area Chamber of Commerce. According to a press release, the site includes the historic 1849 depot, the world’s oldest surviving railroad covered bridge, a 1907 Pullman Coach car and a late 1800s section house, and it is located next to the Contoocook River in Village Square in Contoocook.

After being closed for nearly 60 years, the Lakeport Opera House in Laconia will be opening for the first performance in six decades, according to a press release. The Flutie Brothers Band, featuring former NFL star Doug Flutie and his brother Darren, will perform Saturday, June 12, at 8 p.m.

The Manchester Health Department, located at 1528 Elm St., is offering free walk-in vaccination clinics on Mondays from 9 to 11 a.m. and Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. for ages 12 and up. According to a press release, the clinics were scheduled to begin June 9. No appointment is necessary, and all three vaccine types will be available while supplies last.

The Southern New Hampshire Comic Bash will host the 2021 Nashua Comic Book Festival: Free Admission Special Edition on Saturday, June 12, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Holiday Inn (9 Northeastern Boulevard, Nashua). According to the event website, there will be plenty of boxes of comic books, original comic art and comic-related collectibles. Masks will be required for all attendees and vendors. See

My friend Chris

We all know the old koan: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The question is said to be an exercise in perception and observation.

My friend Chris is no tree, but there is a certain parallel between him and the timeless question. You see, he is a 39-year veteran high school teacher in a rural and very economically distressed part of northern New England and he is retiring. Considering the demographic of the teaching profession these days, Chris could be described as part of the old growth, as the number of colleagues whose time teaching goes back to the early 1980s is increasingly rare.

Like a long-standing tree, Chris has been a stalwart at his school and in his community. Since his first day in the classroom, he has dressed in a suit and tie. That is something of a rarity in schools today. When asked why he has done so, he offers modestly, “It sets an example to the students that what we are doing together is important business and that I should dress to show that.”

While formal in dress, Chris is compassionate and deeply solicitous for his students. The door to his classroom has a sign: “You are most welcome here” in German and French, the languages he teaches. As a result, his classroom is a sanctuary, especially for those who sometimes just need a break from the tensions and challenges of high school daily life. He has been a counselor, cheerleader, and ever faithful confidant for nearly three generations of students.

Knowing how important dress and appearance are, not only for social events, job interviews or just self-esteem, each year Chris sets up a rack of his suits, shirts and ties in his classroom so that students can choose items that their modest financial resources could not stretch to buy.

Annually, Chris has taken 20 to 30 of the students at his school on a two-week study trip to Germany and France. For virtually all of them, this is their first trip abroad, and for some, even out of state. He has photographs of students’ faces as they get their first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. For many, the trip under his tutelage is the spark that generates a career trajectory, whether to travel or, for some, to follow Chris in his profession.

Alums of his classes are now published writers, teachers, entrepreneurs and civic leaders. News of his impending retirement has triggered a flood of emails and calls.

Yes, when a great tree falls, there should be a sound, a very loud and appreciative one. Thank you, Chris.

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