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Great Barrington Town Manager Mark Pruhenski demonstrates that the South County town is COVID-19 safe because it follows CDC and public health guidance. A declaration using the town's name calls for attaining herd immunity through infection.

Great Barrington 'Riled' by Think Tank Declaration on COVID-19

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GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Town officials are upset with a statement released by a local libertarian think tank that used the town's name on a controversial statement endorsing "focused herd immunity." 
 
In a communication sent to iBerkshires, town leaders say Great Barrington has strived to be a safe community from the transmission of the novel coronavirus and that the "Great Barrington Declaration" from the American Institute for Economic Research is undermining that. 
 
The town had no role in, or forewarning of, the declaration bearing the town's name, say officials, and that it's publication has "riled" many local residents, business owners and town leaders.
 
"We are a COVID safe community, we are not tossing off our masks," said Town Manager Mark Pruhenski. "This declaration has gained national headlines and has created harmful misperceptions — just as we are doing all we can to protect residents, employees and visitors."
 
The declaration, written by epidemiologists and professors Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University, Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxfor University and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya,  of Stanford University Medical School, says the physical and mental health impacts created by COVID-19 policies outweigh the benefits. They support the concept of "focused protection" by allowing those least at risk from COVID-19 to become immunized through infection, and later a vaccine if possible, and keep the most vulnerable — largely the elderly and those with underlying conditions — protected. 
 
"Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal," they wrote, later adding "People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity."
 
It is co-signed by more than 40 international academics in a variety of medical fields. 
 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Controls has consistently stated that large groups, particularly inside buildings, and close contact can spread the disease. It encourages wearing face coverings, washing hands, avoiding travel to affected areas and social distancing at least 6 feet. The declaration refers to proper hygeine and hand washing but says nothing about face coverings and encourages the reopening of schools, universities, and work places, and the resumption of sports. 
 
It does recommend all precautions be made for the at-risk population. 
 
COVID-19 has proven particularly deadly to those with comorbidities, which are illnesses or underlying conditions. An estimated 45 percent of the population has at least one chronic condition, which can range from obesity to heart disease to diabetes to cancer. 
 
Townspeople have been following protocols for preventing virus transmission, say Great Barrington's leaders, by following CDC and other public health guidance, and common sense. Businesses are following the town's GBSafe program for both employee and customer safety.
 
"We wear masks, keep safe distances as we can in public," said Selectboard Chair Stephen C. Bannon. "We find enjoyment in our vast open spaces, trails, lakes and rivers, hiking, biking, and exploring. We have safe social pods with neighbors, family and friends.
 
"We are among the lowest risk towns in the state, and we hope to keep it that way."
 
The Berkshires have been at a low level of transmission risk from the start and is currently categorized among the lowest in the state. As of Wednesday, Great Barrington had a total count of 84 positive cases since March and one positive report within the past week. 
 
In there communication, town leaders say they believe "herd immunity is a dangerous COVID-19 strategy: Achieving herd immunity levels could cost millions of lives, and this is unacceptable, particularly in a nation where far too many people live with risky, underlying health conditions. Many hospitals and front-line workers have been overwhelmed by vast waves of stricken patients."
 
The Berkshire Edge reports that Selectboard member Leigh Davis will be presenting a communication to the board at Monday's meeting denouncing the Great Barrington Declaration and asking the town to disassociate itself from the views presented within it.
 
In the meantime, town officials are inviting anyone to visit and "see how COVID-safe works in a small New England town."

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Great Barrington Appoints Permanent Police Chief

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Acting Police Chief Paul Storti, a 26-year veteran of the Great Barrington Police Department, has been appointed as the town's next chief of police.

Storti, 53, was among 30-plus candidates screened by a Police Chief Search Committee, comprised of town residents and led by the recruiting firm Community Paradigm Associates LLC, headquartered in Plymouth. Storti was the only internal job candidate.
 
"After interviewing three finalists for the position, Paul Storti emerged easily as the very best candidate to build on the progressive groundwork laid by Chief Walsh," said Town Manager Mark Pruhenski, referring to retired Chief William R. Walsh Jr.
 
Pruhenski said that during his 10 years as a sergeant, and in a few weeks as acting chief, Storti has earned the respect of other officers and has been a leader in advocating for a department open to change and 21st century policing practices.
 
Storti has been serving as acting chief since Dec. 23, when  Chief William R. Walsh Jr. retired after 40 years in the job. He joined the Police Department in 1995 as a full-time officer after working part-time in neighboring towns. In the community, he's also been a volunteer coach and referee for community and school sports teams.
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