Mayor Thomas Bernard gives an update on the city's coronavirus changes.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The day word came that another Berkshire County resident had succumbed to the novel coronavirus, the mayor strongly urged citizens to stay home and abide by social distancing.
"The governor and leaders across Massachusetts are stressing the message about social distancing with every fiber of our being. We are all following DPH and CDC guidance," Mayor Thomas Bernard said to television viewers at Tuesday's City Council. "Now is not the time to ease up on these recommendations, nor is it the time to place the goal of being back in business above the health and welfare of our people, or our health-care system. So please stay home."
Five city residents have tested positive for COVID-19, he said, two of whom were no longer symptomatic.
He urged citizens to stay home even if they aren't feeling sick, to only go out for food, medicine or medical attention and to avoid crowds. And to always wash their hands.
"The message is clear, we expect the numbers in Berkshire County and Massachusetts to increase, perhaps dramatically, especially as new testing sites come on up," he said, noting the numbers of tests and positives and jumped in just 24 hours.
The mayor has been putting out a regular newsletter and social media updates on changes occurring because of the pandemic but acknowledged that the city's obsolete website has been a major communication gap. Updates have been posted under emergency management on the site but he also noted that the Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee has been doing periodic live updates.
"We're also testing the new website and getting it ready for launch as quickly as we can," he said.
The mayor didn't yet know how much the city's response to the pandemic would cost — or save with some departments working reduced time — but said a separate line item had been set up to track expenses.
"We expect that we will see much, if not most of those reimbursed at some point down the line," he said.
Bernard also publicly offered his "unbelievable appreciation" for municipal employees who have been "stepping up with professionalism and dedication" during this difficult time.
The mayor's update to the council took place under the new normal — no citizens in the seats, councilors sitting more than 6 feet apart and three councilors connected by phone.
The executive office's emergency order last week allowed for governmental bodies to meet remotely and prohibit citizens to prevent further spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 700 across the nation and two in Berkshire County.
There were a few technical troubles as Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. had difficulty logging into Zoom and then ended up on both Councilor Marie T. Harpin's phone and the conference phone. Both were resolved fairly swiftly.
"We're kind of like in the twilight zone tonight," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, who attended in person with Councilors Lisa Blackmer, Keith Bona, Harpin, President Paul Hopkins and Jason LaForest. Moulton, Benjamin Lamb and Jessica Sweeney dialed in. "We're all sitting six feet apart. The city clerk is in the timeout corner over there. And it's all, it's all kind of surreal."
The council postponed until the end of May and early June a half-dozen orders related to the Public Arts Commission, public safety, and a community working group.
A request to declare the former Jarisch Box Co. land surplus was withdrawn at the mayor's request and the council approved the reappointment of Robert Burdick to the Planning Board for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2025, and to lift the winter parking ban as of April 1.
Bernard said he had not intended to return with this issue after changing the winter ban from April 30 to April 15 last year. Nor, he joked, had he been aware of the forecast that left a half-foot of snow on Monday.
"However, with a lot of other pressures on people's minds right now, if we can lift this particular concern from from people a little earlier I think it's just a, you know a small gesture on the part of the city that hopefully will be will be appreciated."
A request by the Department of Conservation and Recreation to waive the 120-day notice prior to acquiring land in the city was postponed with a request for more information. The DCR is seeking to buy two lots totaling 45 acres but councilors had questions about the ownership of one of the lots and the reasoning behind the purchase.
Though much of the agenda was pushed off, Wilkinson said it was important that citizens can actually watch their government working during a crisis.
"I don't know if we're going to be able to have another one of these meetings and I'm told, maybe not," he said. "But I want the citizens North Adams reassured that your city government is functioning for you to keep you as safe as possible."
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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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