PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With the recent uptick of COVID-19 cases in Berkshire County, two well-frequented restaurants have temporarily shut their doors because of exposure to the virus.
Both said they wanted to be transparent to their customers and staff about what had happened.
Owner of the Olde Heritage Tavern in Lenox, John McNinch, made the decision to shut down temporarily after two COVID-19 positive customers dined there on different days, and owner of Methuselah Bar and Lounge in Pittsfield, Yuki Cohen, shut the doors temporarily after her staff were exposed.
On Wednesday, Cohen made an Instagram post that read: "Please note that due to staffs' exposure to Coronavirus, as a precaution, we will be closed until we know it is safe to get back to work. Stay safe everyone!"
Mayor Linda Tyer on Friday reported that the city had seen a spike of 46 COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks. She told WMAC that cases were linked to a party at Mazzeo's that ended up at Methuselah's and to an event at PortSmitt's Lakeway Restaurant. PortSmitt's closed its doors for good last week, citing financial pressures from the pandemic.
Cohen hopes to open for business sometime next week. Methuselah is operating with a skeleton crew of just four people, all of whom are young and healthy and Cohen, also a city councilor, said she is thankful for this fact.
She said she is being thorough with testing and sanitization, taking all measures to ensure a safe reopening.
"It has been really threatening and difficult," she said referring to operating the lounge during the pandemic.
McNinch said his restaurant was following the protocols to limit exposure to the novel coronavirus but two customers had failed to quarantine before receiving their test results.
"We had a person come in on Monday and then call us Tuesday morning and say they tested positive for COVID-19," he said. "And then the same thing happened the next day, so obviously they had gotten tested because I don't see any rapid testing around here.
"Then instead of being in quarantine they decided to go out to a restaurant and have a meal."
Because of this, McNinch made the decision to close down until all his staff is tested and receives negative results. He said the Board of Health and the local COVID-19 tracking nurse did not tell him he had to shut down.
McNinch said he made the decision on his own to be extra cautious.
"I'm very frustrated, and it's not just the people who did it here, there are people who do it all of the time and it's very frustrating," he said. "The governor just came out with rules and the reason he did is because it is the younger generation who thinks they're infallible and they are frustrated with staying in so they are going out and doing more."
McNinch's son was one of the servers who waited on the infected patrons. Because of this, McNinch's wife is not able to visit her mother and aunt at Kimball Farms for 14 days and until she gets tested.
He said everything has an effect, and when someone exposes others, it goes down the line.
"I think we were out and open, out front and open," McNinch said. "So most people I have talked to are thanking me and reassuring me that the Heritage is always clean and that they always feel safe there."
Since reopening after the initial pandemic shutdown, the Heritage has been doing COVID-19 tracking, increasing sanitization, and enforcing social distancing. McNinch wants to make sure that the restaurant's reputation isn't altered by this experience, and so far, patrons have been expressing that they can't wait until restaurant opens back up so they can come back, he said.
Cohen was able to stay open through grants, a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and help from her family.
After reopening when indoor dining was allowed, Methuselah had a slow start, doing about 50 percent of normal sales. Toward the fall, when visitors started to come back to Pittsfield, Methuselah reached almost 70 percent, including for takeout food and cocktails.
To reduce exposure, she reduced her days and hours and, in preparation for a second surge that could shut down indoor dining, has been putting away money to cover the costs.
She is especially worried about the entire industry going forward.
"My restaurant's health is going to recover," Cohen said. "But I wonder if the indoor dining industry is going to recover."
Cohen said she and her staff are excited to see Methuselah's customers once they can open again.
"I felt really badly," she said referring to the staff's exposure to the virus. "But then I realized that it's a pandemic and there is no blame, it just is at the moment."
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Pittsfield Fire Victim Flown to Mass General With Severe Burns
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A city man is in critical condition after being rescued by firefighters from a burning second-floor apartment on Friday.
The victim was found suffering from severe burns in a room next to the kitchen where the fire started in Apartment 4 at 483 Peck's Road. He was taken to Berkshire Medical Center by Action Ambulance and later flown to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The blaze in the six-unit structure was reported at about noontime. Brown smoke was reported coming from the eaves of the building and a hose was stretched to the second floor apartment to extinguish the kitchen fire. Crews from Engines 3 and 5 entered the building and found the victim. Personnel from Engine 1 did a primary search of the structure for any other individuals and to determine the extent of the fire.
The fire damage was largely confined to single apartment but the occupant of the unit underneath on the first floor was displaced. Red Cross was contacted to assist the person. The rest of the building suffered degrees of smoke damage.
The temporary shelter set up at the former St. Joseph's School to comply with pandemic restrictions was closed in July, leading to many of the shelter's occupants camping in Springside Park.
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Mayor Linda Tyer pitched this program back in 2019 to help eligible residents improve their homes. This program would provide zero-interest loans to residents for undertaking certain home improvement projects in an effort to improve the housing stock in the city.
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Mayor Linda Tyer this week said the city of Pittsfield is feeling discouraged from the lack of community organizations willing to host a warming shelter that will house homeless individuals during the hours that the St. Joseph's temporary winter shelter on Maplewood Avenue is closed. click for more
This has been a long-standing tradition between the sheriff's office and the Christian Center. For the last decade, staff and inmates at the Berkshire County House of Corrections have prepared Thanksgiving meals for hundreds of people at the center under the guidance of Food Service Director... click for more