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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North Adams Trying to Determine 'Worst Case' Budget Picture
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city administration is looking at what kind of scenario North Adams can operate under without knowing how the state budget will play out.
Mayor Thomas Bernard told the City Council on Tuesday night that "worst case is a hard thing to project right now simply because with 44 percent of our budget coming from state sources, a worst case is something that we can't manage, so what we're trying to figure out is what the worst case is that we can reasonably operate under."
The mayor said, in response to Councilor Jason LaForest's questions about an "emaciated" budget, that they would be "slicing something that's already been cut pretty deeply." However, he is looking at how City Hall can streamline functions, such as in the finance offices by focusing on needs and not who is in which office.
The novel coronavirus is expected to devastate budgets across the state as revenues have dropped over the past two months both locally and at the state level. The Legislature is basically rewriting the fiscal 2021 spending plan and figures provided to communities early in the year are no longer in play. If a budget is not in place by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the city could have to adopt a continuation or 1/12 budget.