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Gov. Charlie Baker and local officials speak at Pittsfield City Hall on Thursday.

Governor Baker Calls on Feds to Certify Testing Facilities

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday called on the federal government to loosen restrictions on public and private laboratories to expedite testing for COVID-19. 
 
Speaking in front of City Hall, Baker, who was accompanied by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Mayor Linda Tyer and the Berkshire delegation, said the state has received enough materials to test 5,000 more people. 
 
"We're seeing an uptick in presumptive positive cases in part as a result of increased testing," he said. "And we expect this testing continues to increase, the more cases will be reported in the near future."
 
The state Department of Public Health on Thursday reported 102 presumptive cases of the novel coronavirus and six confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 
 
The state's DPH testing is more advanced than it is in many other states, the governor said, and that enabled the lab to process four times as many samples as it was able a week ago.
 
"But we need much more testing capability and we need the federal government to help us get there," Baker said. "We've been asking the federal government to support more places, both private labs and hospital labs, to run these tests. And we need the FDA and the CDC to act on these requests."
 
The United States has lagged well behind other countries in ramping up testing for the virus; while the efforts are improving, at the beginning of this week, by contrast, fewer than 2,000 people had been tested while South Korea had tested 189,000.
 
The problem has been both the shortage of test kits and the inability for laboratories to get emergency certifications for testing. Currently, only the state public health lab is qualified to do testing. Those results are "presumptive" and samples are then sent on to the CDC to be confirmed. 
 
Baker said the supply for today was "adequate" but it was essential that the CDC and federal Food & Drug Administration give hospitals and testing facilities the capacity to begin testing.
 
"This is among our highest priorities," he continued. "I think there are probably a lot of people all over the country who are engaged in similar kinds of conversations. But this is a critical issue for us."
 
The governor reiterated that the disease is serious for older residents and those with pre-existing conditions such as heart or respiratory diseases. Children and young people, however, are at a much lower risk but may be carriers. 
 
"But we must step up our mitigation efforts to avoid large numbers of people requiring medical care around the same time," he said. "China and other countries that saw early outbreaks are making progress and pushing back against the disease. But it's only possible if everybody plays their part."
 
The governor also said the Board of Registration in Nursing on Wednesday had voted to ease regulations for out-of-state nurses to work in Massachusetts. 
 
 "One of the primary concerns folks at Berkshire Medical Center had was their ability to staff appropriately given some of the folks that are currently self quarantined," he said. The health-care system has at least 50 workers out on self-quarantine after coming into contact with possible COVID-19 positive individuals. 
 
Baker said the state of emergency he declared on Tuesday "put in place an emergency procedure that will make it possible for licensed out-of-state medical professionals and nurses to get licensed here in Massachusetts in one day."
 
The governor also said there are conversations between the Departments of Public Health and Elementary and Secondary Education, along with local officials, and that guidance on schools should be forthcoming on Friday. Schools in Berkshire County have stayed open for the most part, with only Clarksburg School closing for the week after the first case of COVID-19 in the county was identified as being from the town. North Adams is also closing its schools on Friday for sanitizing, but so far expects to reopen on Monday. 
 
The state DPH has also provided the county with two epidemiologists who have been working with Pittsfield Public Health Director Gina Armstrong. 
 
"They are helping us to establish our systems for contact investigation, communications with providers, the monitoring, and ensuring that we are building our capacity to handle the the rise in testing, and the rise in potential cases that are identified through the increase in testing," she said. 

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City Council Appropriates $500k For Tyer's Home Program

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Mayor Linda Tyer hopes the At Home program will be successful enough to  attract financing from other agencies and organizations. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council last week approved an appropriation of $500,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund for a residential exterior home improvement program titled "At Home in Pittsfield."
 
Mayor Linda Tyer pitched this program back in 2019 to help eligible residents improve their homes. This program would provide zero-interest loans to residents for undertaking certain home improvement projects in an effort to improve the housing stock in the city.
 
At the time, the council rejected the program.
 
Tyer originally asked for $250,000 from the General Electric account to kickstart the program so that homeowners could then get loans of up to 10 percent of the appraised value after renovations, or a maximum of $20,000.
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