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State Offers Testing in Agawam, Springfield as COVID-19 Rate Inches Up

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — A reported outbreak of COVID-19 at Springfield's Baystate Health coincided Monday with the commonwealth's plans to provide free testing to asymptomatic residents in two Western Massachusetts communities.
 
On Monday afternoon, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that Springfield and Agawam are among eight sites chosen for the next round of "Stop the Spread" testing, which aims to provide expanded testing in communities where postiive test rates are among the state average and testing volume has fallen off.
 
Monday morning, the CEO of Baystate Health reported that an outbreak of infections of the novel coronavirus has affected 23 employees and 13 patients of the Springfield institution, though Dr. Mark Keroack declined to identify which units of Baystate were affected, according to the Springfield Republican.
 
Baker addressed the Baystate Health outbreak during his daily press availability.
 
"There's recent information about an employee at Baystate [Health] who went to a hotspot state, came back and was lax with respect to wearing a mask," Baker said. "And there are now a number of people who work at Baystate and a couple of patients who were there, as well, who tested positive."
 
Keroack told the Republican in a story posted on its website, Masslive.com, that prior to the recent outbreak, there were no documented cases of COVID-19 transmissions between patients and employees at the hospital.
 
Baker used the Baystate incident and a widely reported cluster on Cape Cod linked to a house party to again emphasize the importance of remaining vigilant in the fight against the pandemic.
 
"We can also assume that there's simply a lot more mobility out there, some of it the result of the economic activity associated with opening up some of our commonwealth's businesses and employers, but some of it's also just people being out and about," Baker said. "It's warm out, and people, generally speaking, are in contact with other people more than they were in the months of April and May and even June.
 
"We should all remember where we were when we started this reopening program in May. We were seeing positive test rates north of 10 percent on much fewer tests. That's why we can't say enough about how important it is, and until we have a vaccine, that everybody continue to play their role. When we let our guard down, the virus will make gains."
 
Statewide, the positive test rate remains below 2 percent, though the seven-day average nudged up slightly on Sunday to 1.9 percent after hovering around 1.7 or 1.8 percent last week.
 
 
The positive test rate was even higher, 2.3 percent, in the eight communities chosen for the second round of the state's Stop the Spread testing program.
 
That initiative began on July 10 and is expected to run through mid-August in communities in eight communities eastern Massachusetts.
 
On Monday, Baker announced that it will expand to Agawam and Springfield as well as Worcester, Brockton, Methuen, Randolph, Revere and Taunton.
 
"These eight communities make up approximately 10 percent of the population but constitute 15 percent of the commonwealth's positive tests in the past week," Baker said.
 
Baker was asked Monday to react to a tweet from the president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, who pointed to a recent rise in positive test results in the commonwealth and suggested rolling back the administration's stages to reopen the economy.
 
"The data is early, but it looks like we are on the way back up," Dr. David Rosman wrote. "We should consider backing down a phase."
 
Baker indicated it is too soon to take that step.
 
"At this point in time, the most important thing we need to do is to continue to do the things that got us here in the first place," Baker said, referring to guidance on social distancing, face covering and hygiene. "When we look at the where clusters are that have been created so far, many of them are the result of people simply not doing the things we've been telling everybody to do, which has a lot less to do with the nature of what's open and what's not open.
 
"I think, certainly, the public health data is going to drive our decision making. But, so far, most of the data we've seen about where the clusters have come from have a lot more to do with people letting down their guard a little bit than anything else. The Chatham thing was a big outdoor party in someone's backyard. The Baystate thing was somebody not really abiding by the mask guidance and criteria that existed in the hospital.
 
"Most of the time, when people do the right things, we should be successful in containing this."

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Mount Greylock School Committee Votes Down Remote Learning Start to School Year

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two months of input and advice from Mount Greylock’s working groups looking at the reopening of school were undone in four hours of discussion by the School Committee on Thursday night.

On a 6-1 vote, the committee directed interim superintendent Robert Putnam to submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education a radically different plan for the start of the year that moves more children into the school building more quickly than the administration was recommending.
 
Subject to approval by DESE and, not insignificantly, collective bargaining with the district’s unions, there will be no two-week period of fully remote learning as Putnam was proposing.
 
Putnam went into Thursday’s meeting with plans based on input from groups established in the spring and summer by him and his predecessor with the goal of getting the School Committee's blessing for the plan he has to submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday.
 
Putnam laid out a plan largely like the one he presented in a virtual town hall on Tuesday evening and told the School Committee he was looking for guidance.
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