Pats on clock in 7 days

The NFL draft is one week away, so the Pats are now on the clock in deciding how they should proceed.

Given how many holes they have to fill, the question is what will they prioritize since they likely can’t get immediate help for all of them?

Last time we saw them they were getting blown out 47-17 by Buffalo in the playoffs when the D did not stop the Bills from scoring even once all day, and with the offense stifled most of the day as well, it’s fair to say both units need an infusion of talent.

However, since then they’ve lost their best defender as J.C. Jackson left for a giant free agent contract, along with two very reliable but on-the-back-nine linebackers in Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. On O they lost both starting guards though Michael Onwenu takes over one slot.

They did lure Malcolm Butler out of retirement to (hopefully) replace Jackson at DB, along with adding the latest Alabama import, Mack Wilson, and safety Jabrill Peppers as acquisitions on D. Of course since last we saw Butler was being mysteriously benched during the SB loss to the Eagles, the trade price for Wilson was just Portsmouth-loving LB disappointment Chase Winovich, and with Peppers coming off ACL surgery you wonder how much help they’ll provide.

Meanwhile, in between stupidly firing their coach Brian Flores and having an alleged NFL illegal plot to steal Tom Brady from Tampa Bay that was undone by Flores’ subsequent lawsuit, the Dolphins added RB Chase Edmonds, wideout Cedric Wilson and the electric Tyreek Hill to juice their offense, and Buffalo made wideout Stefon Diggs happy with a big extension and added edge rusher Von Miller to its already very good defense.

So it appears they’ve taken a step back in the AFC East as Coach B fiddles away with Rome burning.

Thus they need to come out of this draft (via picks or trades) as productively as last year in getting Mac Jones, Christian Barmore and all-name-teamer Rhamondre Stevenson.

The so-called experts tell us they need help on D at cornerback, a big run-stopper on the line and probably two mobile linebackers. On O, it’s a starting guard and a tackle for depth. I’ll add, even with the acquisition of the solid DeVante Parker, an A-level receiving target.

They’re not likely to get all that next weekend. So what should they do?

Prevailing wisdom says take the best available player regardless of position to improve wherever they can. But if they do that, it’ll likely get some improvement, but not make them great on either side of the ball.

To my way of thinking it’s better to have one dynamic unit than two mediocre ones because the dynamic one gives you a better chance to control the game than mediocre units do.

I’d focus the draft on just offense for these reasons, to get more out of their young QB and solid runners by putting better pieces around them.

In Year 1 without Josh McDaniels, it’s more likely Coach B can coach up the D better than they’ll be able to do on O.

In Butler, Jackson, Van Noy, Rob Ninkovich and others they’ve always been able to take undrafted free agents or guys off the scrap heap and find productive roles on defense more than on offense.

In Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Ronnie Perkins they’ve invested in three linebackers from the top three rounds the last two drafts, while red shirt LB Cameron McGrone supposedly only fell to Round 4 because of his late 2021 ACL surgery. So time to find out if they can play.

With offense the focus, my top priority is an A+-level receiver. They’ll be reluctant to do that. But just look at the difference Ja’Marr Chase made for worst-to-best Cincy as they went from scoring 311 points in 2020 to 463 after he arrived. Ditto for Stefon Diggs in Buffalo and look what Cooper Kupp means to the Rams. And to those who point to the acquisition of Parker, I’ll ask, if he was that good why did Miami need to get Hill? He’ll make the overall receiving better but he’s an injury-prone two.

How do they get that guy? Given their abysmal record for drafting receivers, they need to trade for one.

Like in 2007 when they used picks at the top of the draft to trade for Wes Welker (a 2) and Randy Moss (3). All that did was deliver 210 new catches, 2,600-plus receiving yards and 31 TD’s to turn Tom Brady into TOM BRADY and a defense-first team to offense-first that averaged 12 wins a year and five SB appearances over the next 12 years as the D went from in decline to downright awful before the arrival of Darrelle Revis in 2014.

They won’t get something that incredible this time, but that’s what they should do. Of course they’ll have to be willing to part with their top pick for sure and another high one (at least) preferably in the future.

I’m fine with either of the two biggest names rumored to be on the move in advance of big 2023 contract demands, DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel. Patriots rarely do that, but Moss was at the top of the market and so was Gronk eventually, so their history shows it works. A trade now for either in the last year of their rookie contract makes them affordable now and with $29 million from Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor coming off the books after 2022, their big number extension goes into their slot.

Then with their second and third pick (if they still have them) go for O-line help unless they can trade picks for immediate help there as well. Then next if need be go all D.

There you have it. That’s my plan.

Connected cause

A look at a local effort to help Ukraine

Following “An Evening for Ukraine: Art Exhibition & Conversation,” an event she organized that was held on April 11 in Bedford, Ukrainian-American artist Katya Roberts of Bedford talked about her ongoing efforts to raise awareness and funds to help people affected by the war in Ukraine.

What’s your personal connection to Ukraine?

I was born and raised in Kyiv, which is the capital of Ukraine. My family immigrated to San Francisco, California, when I was 12.

What was going through your mind during the invasion of Ukraine in February?

When I went to bed the night of Feb. 23, knowing armed forces from Russia were … beginning to cross over [into Ukraine] and bombings were starting to happen, I was just devastated. I cried myself to sleep. I fully expected I’d check the news in the morning and it’d say Ukraine is back to what it used to be, when it was part of the U.S.S.R. and under Russia’s control. I thought, ‘This is it. I’ll never be able to go back to my home country. I’ll never be able to take my kids there.’ I grieved. It’s hard to explain the feeling your homeland is as good as gone … but it’s been amazing and miraculous to see how Ukrainians have defended their homeland and are fighting for the future of their children. … I’ve gone from feeling absolute despair to feeling really proud of the Ukrainian people.

What are your main efforts?

The realization there could be no Ukraine one day terrified me, and I thought, ‘No. That’s not an option. I can’t stand still. We have to do something.’ First, I wanted to get information out there so people know what’s actually happening. … I can speak and understand Ukrainian and Russian. … There’s an online message board internal to Ukraine … and I’m translating and sharing that information … and stories from the ground on social media. … Secondly, I wanted that information to empower people here in the U.S. who want to help … so I’ve been sharing specific things people can do … like reaching out to our government representatives, voicing what the Ukrainians are dealing with, what they’re asking for and what we want to be done. The third thing I’m doing is helping raise funds for refugees. … I’ve been in contact with Inna Sovsun … who’s a Ukrainian parliament member in Kyiv … [to find out] how we can donate so [funds go] directly to people who are actually on the ground.

What’s next for you?

Combining art with a call to action is going to continue being my formula going forward. I have something in the works [to take place] probably in June. Another thing I’m working on is the idea of an ‘adopt-a-family.’ My family members in Ukraine have identified families whose stories they know intimately who are struggling. Their homes are gone, and even if they returned to the areas they came from, there’s nothing there; they have to start over. Some have family members who passed away due to war or illness because they were no longer able to receive [medical] treatment. Financial hardship is a story we’re hearing over and over; someone’s line of work is no longer viable, or they’re living in another country now that has a much higher cost of living, and they can’t find a job. … I want to take [donated funds] and send them over for [struggling families] to access directly so they can pay for food and lodging. … I’m testing this on a small scale with trusted individuals in my life … and I’ve found someone in my neighborhood … who’s also interested in doing this, so I’m going to partner with them … and pull our efforts together with other people who are thinking along the same lines so we can do this on a larger scale.

How can people join your efforts?

I’ve created a website … which I’ll be constantly updating with my current efforts and ways people can contribute. In the coming days, for example, there’ll be information on there about how to contact members of Congress, along with some sample letters. … It’ll be a great resource for people. … I’m going to limit it, though, and keep it really simple. I want to make things as easy as possible for busy people who mean well and want to help. … There’s so much being thrown at us all the time, and it’s overwhelming. Part of my work is sorting through everything and taking out a few things to bring to people’s attention. I think that’s more effective than trying to include everything.

To follow Katya Roberts and her local efforts to help Ukraine, visit katyaroberts.com/ukraine.

Featured photo: Katya Roberts

News & Notes 22/04/21

Covid-19 update As of April 11 As of April 18
Total cases statewide 304,365 304,365
Total current infections statewide 1,544 1,544
Total deaths statewide 2,459 2,459
New cases 1,355 (April 5 to April 11) 1,828 (April 12 to April 18)
Current infections: Hillsborough County 421 572
Current infections: Merrimack County 112 157
Current infections: Rockingham County 284 435
Information from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

Covid-19 news

On April 13, at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Transportation Security Administration extended its federal mask mandate on all areas of public transportation for an additional 15 days through May 3. In a statement, the TSA cited the recent increase in Covid-19 numbers across the country over the past several weeks, due in part to the highly transmissible omicron BA.2 subvariant, which now makes up more than 85 percent of all cases nationwide. But on April 18 a federal judge in Florida voided the mandate, saying the CDC “improperly failed to justify its decision” to extend it, according to an AP report.

On April 14 the U.S. Food & Drug Administration authorized the first Covid-19 diagnostic test using breath samples, which provide results in under three minutes. According to a press release, testing can be done in most places where the specimen can be collected and analyzed, such as doctor’s offices, hospitals and mobile Covid testing sites, using an instrument about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage. The InspectIR Covid-19 Breathalyzer uses a technique called gas chromatography gas mass-spectrometry to separate and identify chemical mixtures, according to the release. A study of 2,409 individuals conducted to validate the test’s performance found that it had a negative predictive value of 99.6 percent, meaning that people who receive a negative test result are likely truly negative in areas of low disease prevalence. InspectIR expects to be able to produce about 100 instruments per week, and testing capacity is expected to increase soon by about 64,000 samples per month.

In New Hampshire, 143 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on April 18, according to health officials. As of April 18 there were 2,102 active cases and 18 hospitalizations statewide.

LPN program funding

Last week, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted to accept and expend a $2.6 million ARPA-funded expansion of the Community College System of New Hampshire’s licensed practical nurse training program, according to a press release. “To make investments into our economy, we must make necessary investments into our workforce, and doubling our LPN nursing program is the right move,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement following the vote. The funds will expand the state’s LPN workforce programming to meet critical needs in health care settings, the release said. The Community College System of New Hampshire LPN training program, which was launched in 2020, can be completed within one year and offers immediate entry into the LPN level of nursing workforce. Graduates can also choose to continue their education and progress to the RN level, the release said.

Involuntary admissions

Last week the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee also voted to accept and expend $2 million to centralize Involuntary Emergency Admission processes by creating a statewide mental health docket, an effort to reduce the number of patients waiting for mental health care in hospital emergency rooms. According to a press release, the funding will cover a centralized filing system, two circuit court judges, staff and counsel for patients who are subject to an involuntary emergency admission, plus technology for hospitals to allow patients to remotely attend court hearings. “We believe this approach will ensure the rights of patients are protected and will help provide a permanent and sustainable solution to the longstanding emergency room boarding issue,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald said in the release. “We are prepared to move forward as quickly as possible on its implementation.”

InvestNH Housing

In another vote last week, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee approved the expenditure of the $100 million InvestNH Housing Fund, according to a press release. “As a result of our InvestNH Fund, more housing will get built and our workforce will grow — a once-in-a-generation, historic investment,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement following the vote. “Our focus remains on building as many units as quickly as possible, and this $100 million investment will transform New Hampshire’s housing market, providing better outcomes for our citizens.” The investment will increase affordable rental units for lower and middle income workers, such as health care and child care providers, machinists and teachers, the release said.

Holocaust awareness

The state Board of Education has approved the new Holocaust and Genocide education rules for the state. According to a press release, “clearly understanding how the Holocaust and other genocides occurred may be key to preventing similar violence in the future, which is why education on this sensitive topic is vitally important to promote peace among future generations.” According to the education rules, “Each district shall incorporate instruction in Holocaust and genocide education into at least one existing social studies, world history, global studies, or U.S. history course required as a condition of high school graduation for all students,” among other specific guidelines pertaining to the teaching of the subject. The rules can be found at education.nh.gov.

Urgency to hire

The Nashua School District is now offering signing bonuses to candidates for positions that are critical to operations, as there is “an urgency to hire qualified talent,” according to a press release from the district. “We’re hiring from paras to plumbers,” Garth McKinney, Superintendent of Schools said in the release. “The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the national teacher shortage and other education-related and school operations-related fields. Our needs are real and we look to rebuild a full complement of staff.” This incentive is being offered to teachers on the NH Department of Education Critical Shortage List and nurses ($1,000 sign-on bonus) as well as food service employees ($300) and security monitors, lunch monitors, crossing guards and 21st Century Extended Day Program staff ($300). According to an April 18 report from WMUR, the Manchester School District is also in need of staff members for nearly every department and is also offering sign-on bonuses, as well as retention checks after six months of employment.

YES!

The Yes, Every Student (YES!) scholarship program is back for a second year to help kids whose education was negatively impacted by the pandemic by providing $1,000 tutoring scholarships to New Hampshire students. According to a press release, the New Hampshire Department of Education is offering scholarships to public, non-public, home-educated and Education Freedom Account students. The scholarships can be used for tutoring provided by certified New Hampshire educators, certified New Hampshire special education teachers or licensed therapists. About $2.3 million in funding from the federal Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund under the CARES Act will be used; last year, nearly $1.9 million was awarded to almost 500 recipients for tutoring and other needs, the release said. This year’s round of funding is available to any school-age student who resides in the state, regardless of their family’s income level. To apply for a Yes! scholarship, visit yeseducation.nh.gov.

Voices of Wildlife in NH held a fur trapping protest outside New Hampshire Fish and Game’s annual Discover Wild NH Day on April 16 in Concord. According to a press release from the group, the protest of the annual event will continue as long as Fish and Game sanctions fur trapping.

Earth Day Neighborhood Clean-Ups will be held at several spots in Manchester on Saturday, April 23. According to a press release, the city’s Department of Public Works will be stationed at four schools from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to provide clean-up materials, including trash bags and gloves, and each site will be used as a drop-off location for the collected trash. The four schools are Jewett Street School, Northwest Elementary, Smyth Road School and Beech Street School. Manchester Urban Ponds will be hosting a clean-up that day as well, from 9 to 11 a.m. at Black Brook/Blodget Park.

United Way of Greater Nashua is hosting an electronic waste recycling event at its office on Broad Street April 22 through April 29 from 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. According to a press release, United (w)E-Recycle is an opportunity for the public to drop off used laptops, desktop computers, tablets, printers, mobile phones, fax machines and many other types of electronic waste. Donations are requested; on April 23 the proceeds of those donations will benefit the Humane Society of Nashua while the proceeds from all other days will support the United Way of Greater Nashua’s School Supply Pantry. Working laptops will be distributed to students through the School Supplies Pantry, the release said.

A healthier future

I worked for over seven years to increase awareness of an important health condition that warrants everyone’s attention as 1 in 10 of us have it, and 1 in 3 of us are at high risk of developing the mostly preventable version — diabetes.

Every year as November approached, we would see and begin the preparations for Diabetes Awareness Month, and yet I would think to myself: “Every day is diabetes awareness day!” Thus my mixed feelings toward awareness days even as I knew that 1 in 5 people with diabetes don’t know they have it, and more than 8 in 10 individuals with prediabetes are unaware. This for a health condition that has the potential for significant improvement or control, and potential prevention — if we have the understanding of how to care for ourselves and manage our diabetes or prediabetes.

There are other kinds of awareness events, such as National Wear Red Day (on Feb. 4, this year), which raises attention to heart disease being the No. 1 killer of women, and all of February being American Heart Month; June being Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and Sept. 5 to Sept. 11 being National Suicide Prevention Week. The calendar is now full with these kinds of awareness events and it’s difficult to register their existence, let alone keep track of them. Which has helped me now realize there actually can be a benefit to focusing much-needed attention, and has me wondering: As all of us are touched by one or more of these health issues, how do we support and amplify each other’s concerns so that we can all, together, contribute to building a healthier future?

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. And we have long considered the United States to be the land of opportunity. Yet our current standing among developed countries as having the worst maternal mortality — where most maternal deaths are preventable — reminds us that we face a significant threat to the opportunity for all to thrive and contribute to this country’s future prosperity. There are many contributing factors for our current situation — some relate to individuals, many relate to our living conditions, and even more relate to systemic factors such as the availability of health insurance coverage, access to health care, bias that may be built into how things are done and more. Thankfully, more attention is being focused on helpful policy solutions that impact how care is provided in the clinical setting as well as the supports that can help all birthing people have healthy and positive perinatal experiences and contribute to community well-being.

This year April 11 through April 17 marked Black Maternal Health Week — I hope we will all be curious to learn why we should all care enough to be aware.

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