NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee has opened an operations center to coordinate efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The center will be staffed weekdays for the time being with representatives including health officials, first-responders, public safety and partner organizations.
"We have a centralized COVID-19 operation center that is committed to unifying all our regional partners," said Amalio Jusino, co-chairman of the REPC and the multi-agency communications coordinator. "Our commitment is to be a single source of communication directly to FEMA to streamline resources and potential assets that are needed. And to ease some of the burden of multiple calls and requests for answers."
Northern Berkshire COVID-19 Operations Center, established in partnership with the city of North Adams, will be a centralized hub for the communities of North Adams, Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Savoy, New Ashford, Florida and Williamstown, and Stamford, Vt., all mutual aid partners. It will also be the coordinating agency for declaring states of emergency for the participating communities.
The center has also connected with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Williams College, both of which continue to remain open for staff and which are still housing a small number of students who could not go home when the schools closed this week.
The center will allow the eight communities and related agencies to streamline communications and requests to local, state and federal partners. The North County group is one of three regional centers being established, with the others in Central Berkshire and Southern Berkshire.
An operations hotline has been set up at 413-662-3614 and will be answered between 8 and 5 weekdays and has voicemail for after hours. Or use the email at email@example.com. The focus of the hotline is to answer questions that individuals and agencies may have specific to COVID-19 and what services they may need. In order to be as proactive as possible, the group operating the center needs to know what services individuals or community members and organizations may be able to offer.
Jusino, in a statement announcing the center's establishment, said they want to "strive for partnerships with all community agencies as we recognize their value. We have community liaisons available to receive information immediately. These agencies may include places of worship, homeless shelters, food pantries, libraries, restaurants and many more."
The operations center will also provide a regional point of distribution of assets if necessary and is working with health-care partners both locally and federally to assist with drive-through testing if warranted.
The group was in the process of ensuring all its gear and communications were in place on Monday but had been working with partners to set up the space over the past week. In the past, the REPC had used the Northern Berkshire EMS building as an operations center, such as during Tropical Storm Irene, but has moved to a larger and more accessible location.
"We're kind of mirroring the operational recommendations from the governor as far as doing these regional plans and our focus in the next couple of hours is to be able to stand up all three regions -- Central and South and North -- and start connecting communications across these," Jusino said.
In terms of outreach, Jusino, also assistant chief with Northern Berkshire EMS, has done several educational presentations for local Councils on Aging about the virus and keeping safe.
North Adams Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said the most important way to prevent spread is social distancing, the keeping 3 to 6 feet away from others.
Motor traffic has continued to be about average for regular day, he noted, despite the rash of closures ordered by the governor's office over the last few days. But former Adams Board of Health member Bruce Shepley said he'd stopped at a local establishment to pick up some breakfast and was the only one there, which was a good sign people were grabbing and going.
"We're hoping that the social distancing will be on a large scale," said Meranti. Those efforts were on display at the center, as visitors coming were required to use hand sanitizer and teams were being somewhat isolated.
"We want our community members to know that we are united," Jusino wrote in the release. "The participating cities and towns have been joining forces to achieve operational success. We ask everyone to please be patient, practice social distancing and focus needs to be to stop the spread."
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March 28 COVID-19 Briefs: Public Parks Push Passive Use
Group Games Banned in Public Parks
Communities including North Adams have been removing hoop rims to discourage youth congregating at public parks.
Reminder that playgrounds and sports facilities are closed during the state of emergency. Walking paths, fields and benches are still open but group activities and sports such as basketball are prohibited. Playground equipment is not being sanitized and should be used. Remember to maintain social distancing of 6 feet or more.
North Adams Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the hoop rims were removed from parks including Noel Field and UNO because young people were gathering there.
"Right now parks only for passive recreation," he said. "We removed the rims because even if they're passing a basketball between them, they're making contact through the ball. ... We want them to socially distance."
North Adams has installed large signs at the parks reminding residents of the rules but Canales acknowledged it has been difficult to enforce at the skate park.
The online tool developed by Buoy Health allows users to enter information about symptoms they may be feeling and directs them to resources that are available to them, like testing for the novel coronavirus, if it is recommended.
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The state has found itself bidding against other states as well as the federal government in trying to find materials, particularly personal protective equipment desperately needed by medical facilities and first-responders.
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