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State Senator Hinds says the western counties seem to have passed their COVID-19 peaks and may be ready to open sooner than the rest of the state.

Hinds: Berkshires May Be Ready for Reopening Ahead of State

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Sen. Adam Hinds is floating the idea that the Berkshires may be ready for a phased opening sooner than other parts of the state based on the number of COVID-19 cases. 
In an interview on iBerkshiresTV on Thursday, Hinds noted that Gov. Charlie Baker is considering how the state will "reopen" after the stay-home advisory expires on May 18. 
"Everyone's keenly aware that we don't want to open up and then have another surge medically on our health institutions," said Hinds.
But, he said, it's also apparent that the "surge" in medical cases of the novel coronavirus is peaking at different times across the commonwealth.
"The Berkshires are different from Boston, in a lot of ways," Hinds said. "But, you know, first and foremost, the data basically says we peaked at the start of April. Over in the valley, you know, Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, seems to have peaked around Easter and Boston is maybe right now coming off of a peak. And so that's nearly a month difference."
Hinds is representing the state Senate as an observer (and likely member) on the economic reopening advisory board set up by the Baker administration to develop guidelines for reopening businesses. Led by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, the board includes representatives from a wide range of business, medical and municipal fields. 
The senator said the challenge will be looking at different industries and how they can open safely regarding sanitation and social distancing, and ensuring that personal protective equipment is available. 
"That's why you kind of hear a difference in opinion on things like construction," he said. "Whereas, you know, if you're doing a construction in an outdoor environment versus in a skyscraper in downtown Boston, it's a very different scenario."
Officials have been watching what other states and nations are doing as they gradually reopen from lockdowns to contain the pandemic, Hinds said, and Massachusetts doesn't want to get into a situation where there's a spike in COVID-19 from opening too soon. 
However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking at how restrictions could be eased by mid-May in Upstate New York, which has had far fewer cases than New York City. 
"Personally, I'd like to see that here. And especially as we're trying to get into our summer season," Hinds said, while also being thoughtful about mental health and other impacts. "If we can achieve it here, then let's start to do that, because we're in a different scenario."
One of the first cases of community transmission of the novel coronavirus in the state occurred March 7 in Clarksburg, which caused a shutdown of public buildings in the small town that rippled into the surrounding communities. 
The Berkshires saw its numbers jump from that one case to nearly 300 in one month. Three weeks later, the number stands at 442. Over the past two weeks, the average increase in daily cases has been 3.9. The number of deaths in Berkshire County is now 35, with just over half from a local nursing home. There have been nine deaths over the past two weeks. 
The consensus of infectious disease experts is that restrictions should not be eased until new cases consistently drop over a two-week period and testing is available to track spread. The state has embarked on an ambitious testing and tracing program but testing is still limited to those showing symptoms or who are in certain front-line positions. 
Hinds said the advisory board's discussions, the examples being set around the world and the continued tracking of the Berkshires will have to be watched.
"So all that feeds into the considerations and where we'll end up," said Hinds. "But for the time being, we're locked down for another three weeks."
Look for Jeff Snoonian's full conversation with state Sen. Adam Hinds later Friday.

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