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The Harper Center on Church Street is home to Williamstown's Council on Aging.

Council on Aging Key to Williamstown's Response to Pandemic

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Williamstown Council on Aging Director Brian O'Grady, seen in this file photo, addressed the Select Board on Monday during its virtual meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for most Americans.
 
At the Williamstown Council on Aging, they had a little recent experience to draw on.
 
"This is not our first disaster," COA Director Brian O'Grady told the Select Board during Monday's virtual meeting. "We had problems with all the people who lost their homes during [2011's Tropical Storm] Irene. We kind of had a good idea of what we were going to end up having to do.
 
"The issue was setting up all the things that didn't exist before. On Friday morning, you're running an exercise class. By Monday, you're trying to find food for people. It's been an interesting dynamic."
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch invited O'Grady to address the board because the latter has been "an invaluable resource," for Town Hall since the advent of the novel coronavirus crisis in March, Hoch said.
 
"Brian has been doing yeoman's work, generating updates and adding daily insights for us that go up on our website and Facebook page," Hoch said. "He's done a good job keeping track of a variety of resources in town not only for seniors but, of note, for the entire community."
 
O'Grady said that although some things have changed — like the suspension of in-person programming at the Harper Center — there is a lot of "business as usual" at the COA, where they continue to provide counseling to older residents.
 
They also have been doing a few new things, like connecting seniors with volunteer grocery shoppers and obtaining and distributing face masks.
 
O'Grady credited the Mount Greylock Regional School District with coming through and helping distribute food to seniors as part of the "grab and go" lunch program the district created to continue school lunches right after its three school buildings were closed to students in mid-March.
 
"And we had grants designed to do other things — like an outdoor walking program or a program called 'Aging Mastery,'" O'Grady said. "What we needed to do was redirect those funds to allow us to purchase food for people, to buy supplies like masks.
 
"We would never have been able to buy food with a state grant except under these circumstances."
 
As for residents' emotional needs, O'Grady said the COA is making calls daily to check in with residents, and his grief counselor is available to talk to anyone who needs that service.
 
"I don't think there's anything we can't do short of physically going over and holding their hand," O'Grady said.
 
O'Grady told the board that he has been asked to serve on a statewide committee of COA directors to provide recommendations about how to open senior centers under the governor's plan for generally reopening the economy.
 
As for his agency's internal operations, O'Grady took steps like regularly having the town's COA van sterilized. And that van operates a lot differently than it did two months ago.
 
"No more than two [passengers] at a time, and we try to keep it to one," O'Grady said. "We've eliminated a lot of the things people like to do. No more trips to the hairdresser. Now, it's all life support activities — medical transport and grocery shopping. We're able to schedule people where one sits in the front, and the other person sits in the back, and everyone wears a mask."
 
O'Grady said he has supplied reusable masks to everyone at the Meadowvale Apartments, and he is turning his attention to Proprietor's Field and Highland Woods apartments next.
 
Select Board member Hugh Daley asked O'Grady how many more masks his department needs.
 
"How many people live in town?" O'Grady replied. "The more the merrier. … If someone needs one, let us know. Don't stay in your house, get out and walk around. After [Tuesday], it's going to be really nice. Get out of your house and go for a walk."
 
O'Grady said that from his vantage point, Williamstown residents already are following that advice.
 
"I can tell you that people are not necessarily staying in their homes," he said. "They're wearing masks, they're socially distancing. But they're out there. A majority of people are continuing to do their own thing — with a mask on."

Tags: COA,   COVID-19,   


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Williams: 120 Students Moved to Remote Status in Wake of Party

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The president of Williams College on Sunday confirmed that 120 students are transitioning to remote study in the wake of a Feb. 26 incident at a residence hall.
 
"Last weekend's party unleashed tremendous feeling," Maud Mandel wrote in an email to the college community. "It shook many campus and community members' sense of safety. It resulted in painful consequences for students who acknowledged their involvement. And it is requiring that we say temporary goodbyes to people we care about. Some individuals have reached out to tell me how mad they feel, including about my decisions."
 
The college's actions have included an investigation by its Campus Safety and Security Department into a Friday night party that reportedly drew 80 to 100 people to Wood House in contradiction to the school's COVID-19 protocols.
 
Before they could come on campus for the fall and spring semesters this year, Williams students had to sign a "Community Health Commitment" letter. The last line of the letter, printed in bold type, reads, "you agree that you will comply with the college's public health rules and protective measures, and that any failure to comply may be subject to sanction or discipline in accordance with college policies."
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