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The state has released tips for a safe Thanksgiving: keep it small, wear your mask.

Baker Warns of Coronavirus Spread Through Younger Population

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — The number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the over-60 crowd compared to the under-30s has flipped since April. 
 
While this is good news for the state's most at-risk residents, the rising number of cases of the novel coronavirus in younger people is concerning, say public officials, pointing to numerous social and sports gatherings with lax protocols as propelling the increase. 
 
"According to our most recent data, about 300 people per day under 30 have contracted COVID-19, tested positive for it, with about 38,000 people in this age group diagnosed since March," said Gov. Charlie Baker at Tuesday's update on the pandemic. "Rising cases in this demographic has implications.
 
"First, our contact tracing shows over half the commonwealths' new cases are attributed to housing social gatherings and household transmission. The science is quite clear that COVID spreads rapidly indoors, particularly in combined confined spaces when people aren't wearing face coverings are practicing social distancing. ...
 
"Local officials especially continue to report that house parties and gatherings are happening now indoors as the weather cools and as people have let down their guard down."
 
The number of communities in the "red" or highest transmission level is now 20 percent, largely in the eastern part of the state. Boston Public Schools last week moved to full remote learning because of the spike and several known parties held over the past month have forced other schools into remote, including schools in Marblehead and Wilmington after police broke up a house party on Friday. 
 
The state's also shutdown ice hockey rinks for two weeks after the Department of Public Health investigated multiple positive cases related to the sport. 
 
Baker said DPH investigated 30 clusters and discovered more than 100 positive cases and 22 probable that have impacted 66 communities. 
 
"The data is real and probably undercounted due to the lack of cooperation by so many adults who are contact tracing team reached out to and to the fact that most teams wouldn't make rosters available so that we can follow up with the kids and the families on the teams," he said. "It's likely coming from all the activity around hockey, and some irresponsible behavior from parents and coaches when it comes to COVID."
 
Baker said teams and parents are gathering at rinks, staying there all day during while games are played or traveling to out-of-state rinks and doing the same activities.  
 
"Parents and coaches have an obligation to protect their kids and themselves and their teammates," he said, adding "we've worked hard to open up most of our economy. We urge people to pursue what we would describe as supervised and organized and safe events out there social network, try to stay away from the stuff that clearly has a lot to do with what's driving the virus."
 
Secretary for Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said new outbreaks are being seen in two particular settings — social clubs and churches being used for retreats or social gatherings. They are not coming from schools — public or parochial — or worship services. Officials said there have been 120 positive cases out of 450,000 schoolchildren.
 
The new dashboard being rolled out over the next couple weeks will more closely identify where these clusters are occurring.
 
The governor and Sudders also had some sobering news for Thanksgiving — it's not a good time for traditional family gatherings. 
 
"I know that's hard to say and in some respects it will be even harder to do," Baker said.
"The science on this one's pretty clear. gathering in groups indoors for an extended period of time with family and friends is likely the worst possible scenario for spreading the virus."
 
The DPH has released advice on how to safely celebrate the iconic holiday that started in Massachusetts. It shouldn't be 18 people around a dinner table, said the governor, referring to how his family celebrated last year. Small gatherings, and virtual connections are the way to go, he said. 
 
"Every family here in the commonwealth needs to think long and hard about the well-being of your loved ones before you make your plans," Baker said. "If you have a loved one who's at high risk for COVID, it's simply a bad idea to risk exposing."
 
The public health officials are recommending small get-togethers in line with the state's limits, not sharing food or utensils, keeping windows open for ventilation, single-use servings and disposable dinnerware, social distancing and mask wearing inside, and isolating before and after holiday gatherings. 
 
"November, December or months of significant holiday gatherings, from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah to Christmas. It's a time when family and friends come together," said Sudders. "We know Thanksgiving is top of mind once we get by Halloween. Being with one another is something that many of us need and want more than ever.
 
"But we must remain vigilant and incorporate code and safety precautions into everything we do, including holiday celebrations."
 
When asked if his faith in citizens have been shaken by the recent upsurge in cases (the last week has seen positive numbers comparable to May), Baker said he understood that people are "hungry" for social connections after so many months. 
 
However, throughout the presser, he stressed the need to wear masks and social distance to avoid the "silent spread of COVID."
 
"If people let their guard down, if they don't do their part, all that preparation and all that sacrifice that we've made to bring our numbers down won't be sustained," the governor said.
 

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MCLA Food Pantry Receives $3,000 Grant from James and Robert Hardman Fund

NORTH ADAMS, MASS.—The MCLA Food Pantry has received a $3,000 grant from the James and Robert Hardman Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.  
 
The Hardman Fund grant will support the diversification of the food pantry's offerings, including the addition of more fresh and perishable food items, one of the pantry's longtime goals. The pantry will also purchase carts so guests can pick up pre-packaged meals and supplies outside the pantry. Funds will also be used to hire student employees to take inventory and maintain the pantry's physical space, as well as work on its resource page which launched this spring on MCLA's curriculum software Canvas. Student employees will also restart MCLA's Swipe Out Hunger program, paused due to the pandemic, which allows students to donate excess parts of their meal plan to redistribute to students in need. 
 
The MCLA Food Pantry opened in 2017 and provides canned goods, prepackaged meals, and supplies such as toilet paper and cleaning products to MCLA students from its location in the Amsler Campus Center. Half of MCLA's students are eligible to apply for a Pell Grant, which are available for college students who demonstrate extreme financial need. In 2020, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice conducted a national survey that found that 41 percent of four-year college students are food insecure. Of MCLA's students, 37 percent have self-reported experiencing food insecurity. The pandemic has greatly increased this need and the pantry has experienced more demand for their services.  
 
The pandemic has provided new challenges for the pantry. When MCLA pivoted to remote learning, the pantry lost many of its student employees and volunteers, and had to restructure their distribution system to accommodate remote ordering and pickup. MCLA's Director of Civic and Community Engagement Spencer Moser said the biggest concern has been "decreased and irregular contact with our students. We are frequently alerted to students struggling with basic needs by professors or staff and will work with students to provide aid beyond immediate relief." These services include counseling in how to apply for SNAP benefits and rental assistance, as well as how to access transportation. These are resources the pantry hopes to make more accessible with the Hardman Fund's grant by hiring a part-time student to refine the pantry's online resources.  
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