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Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders talks about the new in-school rapid test on Wednesday.

Baker: Negative Test for COVID-19 Not a 'Kevlar Vest'

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — The state is launching a COVID-19 testing initiative in schools, starting with 134 educational systems that hit the six criteria for administering the test required for the program. 
And Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday continued to caution Bay Staters about traveling or holding large gatherings for Thanksgiving — or thinking a negative test gives them enough security from transmitting the novel coronavirus in those settings. And he was struck by the number of people on news shows saying they were being tested so they could travel.  
"Part of what I'm concerned about here is, it's pretty clear based on those lines that a lot of people are going to travel over the holidays and there's not much at this point, that we can do," he said. "I would say we think that's not a great idea and encourage people if they do do that to recognize and understand that a test is not, you know, a Kevlar vest. It's a moment in time."
The great migration of thousands of students returning home for the holidays is being paired with ramped up testing on campuses. Any student leaving school should receive a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure. 
"Testing students before they leave campus will reduce the risk of college students bringing the virus home to other family members during Thanksgiving, and the upcoming holiday season," Baker said. Students who test positive should be isolated in campus housing until they test negative. 
The same process is in effect for students returning to campuses after the new year whether they live on or off campus. 
Anyone coming in from an area other than Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii also must isolate for 14 days or have a negative test 72 housr before arriving. 
The state's current pandemic orders are to limit indoor gatherings to no more than 10 and outside to 25 and for people to stay home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. with exceptions for work and necessities. And people should wear masks and social distance around those with whom they do not share a home.
"I know people are tired of hearing me talk about this stuff," the governor said. "But we are in the midst of a second surge, and it's critical that we take all the necessary steps that are not only designed but proven to keep us healthy."
A message from Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel will be sent to 4.5 million phone lines across Massachusetts via the Everbridge resident connection alert system, reminding residents of the increased risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 over the coming holiday season.  
Colleges and universities have been implementing fairly robust testing systems and now the state is also standing up a rapid testing program kindergarten through Grade 12 schools. Massachusetts is purchasing at least 2 million Abbott BinaxNOW diagnostic tests for that will be rolled out to school districts, educational collaboratives and special education systems over the coming months. 
Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley on Wednesday said 134 public school districts will begin receiving the tests in December. 
"This is a voluntary initiative with test kits provided to schools at no cost, and designed to help schools continue to provide in person instruction," he said. "Schools chosen for phase one need to meet six criteria, including the ability to complete [Department of Public Health] reporting requirements and ensure staff would administer the tests are trained schools must also obtain parent Guardian consent. ...
"With these measures in place and evidence that schools can operate safely for in person learning, we continue, we need to continue to work hard to get to keep as many students in school learning as possible."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the test is a short swab that is placed between a card. After 15 minutes, the outside of the card will turn black for negative or pink for positive. The test is only $5 but must be administered by a trained technician or health-care provider. 
"This is a rapid test, 15 minutes, and it will give you a very good, a very strong sense of whether the kid has COVID or not, or has something else going on like a flu, and you send them home so that you don't have transmission coming in at school," she said. "And that's really what this is, this will be very useful far." 
Baker said the federal government had ordered the first 150 million run of the test so there should be a good handle on its accuracy and effectiveness as it begins to be used in the schools. 
Sudders said the future is self-administered, inexpensive tests, a number of which are in production but not available yet.  
"There was one approved, I think last night, which is the first self-administered test at home," she said. "The price point of that is prohibited for people, it will probably be about 50 bucks. But that is sort of the future until such time you have a widely available vaccine."
Until that time, Baker urged for residents to continue to abide by the masking and social distancing protocols to prevent spread of a disease that's killed more than 10,000 Massachusetts residents and a quarter-million across the country.
"The pandemic obviously has bought a tidal wave of challenges to our state our country and, in fact, the globe," he said. "And it's been extremely difficult. People have made huge sacrifices. People have given up on all sorts of things that have been part of their daily routine, or people have lost loved ones, along the way. And the virus is going to be with us until there's a vaccine or treatment."

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North Adams Taking Up Short-Term Rental Regs

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The General Government Committee is recommending a revamped short-term rental ordinance that will target units being run primarily as a business.
It won't really affect homeowners who want to rent out a room or two in their primary residences or in a building that they live in, like a duplex. But it will require property owners who do not live on the same property or who live in a building with more than five units to have a permit.
"The people that want to run it as a business, we're going to treat you as a business so you're gonna have to get a special permit," said Chair Wayne Wilkinson said at Monday's meeting. "You're going have to do what all businesses and commercial properties in North Adams have to do."
This latest iteration of the draft ordinance was hammered out by an ad hoc group consisting of Wilkinson, Mayor Jennifer Macksey, Building Inspector William Meranti and Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie, with input from consultant Zachary Feury, who had developed the original ordinance while working for the city.  
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