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BCC Holding Regular COVID-19 Testing for Faculty, Students

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Community College has been doing its part to keep the college campus healthy with regular COVID-19 testing.

The college's program was designed to address its needs in compliance with Phase III of the state's reopening 

Every two weeks since the beginning of the semester in September, BCC has offered free testing to any staff, faculty, and on-campus student. This service is volunteer and offered through vendor County Ambulance. 

So far, 153 BCC community members have been tested and testing will continue until the end of the semester.

"Our testing protocols are part of our Phase III reopening plan. We opted to create a surveillance testing plan by testing every two weeks since the beginning of the semester," Vice President of Administration & Finance Andrea Wadsworth said. "Our footprint is very small on the campus. We feel this component helps to support the safety of our on-campus students, faculty, and staff."

Wadsworth hopes that Pittsfield will become eligible for this program in light of the dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases the city has seen since the end of October.

"We are so lucky to be working with County Ambulance on our testing protocols. We are a small college and in order to take advantage of bulk testing, we would have to order a minimum of 3000 tests.  Our capacity to use that quantity is not feasible due to our small on campus footprint," she said.

The funds used to cover the cost of this program are from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief funds. GEER funds were issued to assist COVID-19 related expenses. These funds are awarded to local educational agencies, institutions of higher education, and other education-related entities which are governmental, nonprofit or for-profit entities within the State that provide services that support preschool, elementary, secondary, or higher education.

Across the United States, GEER funds have allocated $2,953,230,000 for education emergency relief funds to different states, $50,843,703 of that being allocated to Massachusetts.

BCC is also providing students with assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, funds through the college's financial aid office. Since the beginning of the semester, BCC has provided a total of $6,488 to students for additional emergency financial grants and $949 in reimbursements for tuition, housing, and room and board with this funding from the CARES Act. In all, it has disbursed more than $526,000 in aid to students.

Wadsworth explained it is important to conduct testing on site because students come from surrounding communities for an education at BCC and local health departments take care of contact tracing, so if a person from another county tests positive, that information may not get back to the college.

Even one case from a different county could have a ripple effect, she said.

BCC is still operating under a remote learning model except for degree programs that require in-person education such as nursing program and lab sciences.

Correction: this article erroneously attributed to the college's testing program to the state's Stop the Spread program. The state's program is available in a number of high-transmission areas but does not include the Berkshires. iBerkshires regrets the error and has corrected the article.

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MassWildlife Asks Public Not to Feed 'GE Deer'

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If you have ever driven down New York Avenue and seen the deer grazing behind the fencing that encases General Electric's property, it is likely that you have been inclined to feed them.

Though this action is rooted in kindness, it is not healthy for the woodland friends and could be fatal, which is why MassWildlife has put up signs asking that residents do not throw food over the fences.

"Obviously, people see the deer in there and they probably think 'what are they going to eat? They're limited in there they're stuck in there.'  I will say, they're definitely not stuck in there," MassWildlife's wildlife biologist Nathan Buckhout said.

For decades, the deer have found an unlikely sanctuary in the former GE site that includes two landfills, Hill 78 and Building 71. Buckhout explained that they have been there for decades, spawning offspring and becoming completely self-sufficient within the fenced area.

"They're doing just fine," he said. "And they obviously are getting enough food and water, otherwise their population would be limited, they wouldn't be able to produce their offspring so there would be fewer fawns, and eventually they probably would have disappeared — but they haven't."

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