PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Indoor dining will return to Pittsfield on Thursday, Dec. 3.
The Board of Health on Wednesday rescinded the ban imposed on Nov. 12 and issued new guidance that changes the maximum seating to six people per table from 10.
Restaurants will also be required to retain a name and phone number or email from one person in each dining party for contact tracing, as recommended by the state.
Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong said the ban was intended to be temporary and that it has helped stop the cluster spread of COVID-19.
Within the past week, she said most of the general community spread has not associated with restaurants.
"We felt we had really good outcomes from this intervention in temporarily suspending indoor dining services," she said at Wednesday's meeting.
Indoor dining had been suspended in response to a surge in cases of the novel coronavirus that had been traced to several private parties and large groups in restaurants.
But a group of local restaurateurs called on Mayor Linda Tyer to lift the ban, saying their businesses had suffered financially. Tyer met with the group over Zoom on Tuesday and the compromise on table numbers was reached. There also was an agreement to keep the coalition, started by Craig Benoit of the Hot Dog Ranch, in the loop on COVID-19 guidance.
Benoit and representatives from Mazzeo's, Proprietor's Lodge, Panera Bread, and Applebee's also called into the Board of Health meeting to express their concerns.
Armstrong said suspending indoor dining was an obvious and immediately aggressive way to address the clusters of infection from spreading into the overall community.
"We saw a dramatic increase in cases shortly after Halloween," she said.
Just before the Nov. 12 order was issued, the city experienced a spike of more than 100 cases within a 14-day period.
Armstrong said this is a very dramatic transition rate for a community that was doing very well.
The cluster trend related to indoor dining and private parties took off quickly, she said, and was difficult to manage with contact tracing alone.
Contact tracing interviews found that some of the super-spreader house parties involved employees from several different local restaurants.
As a result, some restaurants voluntarily closed for up to a week because of the transmission between employees or customers.
Armstrong said she was happy to report that the city has gotten the surge under control, though the rates of infection are not as low as they were in the summer or in April.
With the reopening of indoor dining, restaurant owners will be expected to police their own operations on COVID-19 guidelines with diligence. This includes enforcing the use of masks, social distancing, increased sanitation, and obeying capacity regulations.
Board Chairman Dr. Alan Kulberg stressed masking guidance for people seated indoors at tables after the ban is lifted.
The original state Department of Public Health guidelines for people seated at tables stated that masks can be removed after being seated, he said, but Gov. Charlie Baker revised this order to certain scenarios for when masks can be removed after being seated, such as when a person is eating or drinking.
Kulberg suggests that diners replace their masks after food is taken from their table and before the food arrives.
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Regional Planning Commission Tackling County Housing Issue
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is taking steps to address the ever-growing problem of housing that Berkshire County faces.
"What we have been hearing and learning is that housing is becoming increasingly a problem in Berkshire County," Executive Director Tom Matuszko said at Thursday's commission meeting. "And a problem for a number of different ways and a number of different venues."
BRPC has partnered with countywide economic development organization 1Berkshire to develop a regional housing strategy, a policy that will set the stage for solutions and legislative support. The commission's former director, Nathaniel Karns has agreed to take this project on and help shepherd it through the process.
Matuszko explained that a group of planners and other housing-related entities has been formed to develop the regional strategy. This group will dive into the issue of housing in Berkshire County and brainstorm solutions whether it be a legislative fix, additional funding, or another programmatic element from the state government.
This initiative is not just about affordable or subsidized housing, Matuszko said, because you have to have higher-end housing for those in the applicable income bracket to move into, which then frees up more affordable housing for another group.
BRPC has partnered with countywide organization 1Berkshire to develop a regional housing strategy, a policy that will set the stage for solutions and legislative support. The commission's former director, Nathaniel Karns has agreed to take this project on and help shepherd it through the... click for more
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, grant funds were re-purposed to purchase tents, tables, chairs, traffic control devices, traffic cones, sandwich boards with changeable letters, and a trailer to haul the items with the thought of using the supplies for traffic flow control during vaccination... click for more