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Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders at Friday's press conference.

State Staying with County Numbers for COVID-19 Reports

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — At last report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, there are 5,752 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth and 162 cases — including five fatalities — in Berkshire County.
 
Of course, those numbers are always changing and likely will look different when the DPH updates its numbers again, which it does daily.
 
State officials are doing their best to report the impact of the pandemic, but they will not any time soon change the practice of reporting statistics on a county-by-county basis.
 
On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders fielded a question from a reporter asking why Massachusetts was not releasing data about the virus’ spread within specific towns.
 
"This is where we try to balance public health and individual privacy and avoid people being bullied," Sudders said in a news conference with Gov. Charlie Baker.
 
"There were cases, particularly in the early part of the crisis, of individuals being outed on Facebook or people who assumed someone tested positive. "That is the balance we continue to try to strike."
 
Sudders said local boards of health in cities and towns had access to more specific municipal data and that first responders are notified of addresses in their communities where the virus is known to be present so they can take additional precautions.
 
The county's two mayors have been releasing information on the numbers of cases in their communities. Pittsfield has established a community dashboard where residents can find a range of information from school closures to meal sites to numbers of COVID-19 cases.
 
The Berkshires' largest municipality has seen positive tests for the coronavirus rise from the first two identified on March 9 to 59 at present in addition to one death. 
 
In North Adams, Mayor Thomas Bernard has been posting a daily newsletter that indicates there have been at least 16 confirmed cases in the city. He informed the community of one death from the coronavirus on Saturday, a woman identified as Martha Robare by her family. 
 
Robare, 86, had been at Williamstown Commons, which has had 17 residents test positive for COVID-19. She was a Drury High graduate who spent many years working at the former Sprague Electric Co., local day-care centers and the YMCA.
 
Clarksburg has had two confirmed cases, both of whom have recovered. 
 
The Berkshires had been considered a "hot spot" for the coronavirus last week because of the number of cases per capita but the number of cases in other parts of the United States have grown rapidly. It's not clear how COVID-19 entered the community, which was first identified in one of the Clarksburg cases.
 
Sudders noted Friday that there is nothing stopping someone who has been diagnosed with the virus from informing their own community. Likewise, there is no restriction on a local board of health that wants to announce how many cases there are within a town or city. But the state won’t be the one to make that information public.
 
"If you live in a community of several hundred people, does that person want to be identified?" Sudders asked rhetorically. "If you share that kind of status about an individual, you also want to make sure they’re protected from being bullied."
 
Sudders was asked whether seeing specific numbers in one of the commonwealth's 351 municipalities — as opposed to its 14 counties — would do more to alert residents to the danger.
 
She said the numbers released by her department drive the point home.
 
"When you see the numbers of the counties who report every day, it's fair to say we have community spread in the commonwealth," she said. "We put out age data so no one can think this age group or that age group is immune."

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Trail Conservancy Cautions Pandemic Care When Hiking

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Although most of the Appalachian Trail is still open, hikers are asked to practice common sense during the pandemic while on the trail or to just stay home.
 
COVID-19 has challenged people to find new ways to stay active while practicing social distancing and local trail volunteer Cosmo Catalano, Jr said although folks are encouraged to stay home, common sense needs to be used to maintain social distancing. 
 
"The AT, along with other trails on public lands provides an important resource for people to get outdoors in a healthy way," he said. "With care and common sense, it's relatively easy for people to maintain appropriate social distance and enjoy the outdoors."
 
Catalano said the trail organization structure is complicated and is organized by a number of entities. In Massachusetts about half the trail is on state forest lands managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The other half is on lands managed by the National Park Service.
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