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Pittsfield Schools Extend Remote Learning as COVID Cases Rise

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Public School will remain in remote-learning for the immediate future because of the high numbers of COVID-19 cases. 
 
All schools in the district had switched to full remote from their hybrid structure beginning Nov. 12, the same time the city also suspended all indoor dining. 
 
In a press release, interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis wrote that as of Dec. 4, health metrics began to show development of a downward trend and in-person learning could possibly resume no earlier than Friday, Dec. 18.
 
Nonetheless, he stated that current data indicates that students are unlikely to return to in-person education before the traditional holiday break begins on Dec. 23.
 
"While recognizing that the suspension of in-person education certainly continues to add to the challenges that families, students, schools, and communities have been presented with during the COVID-19 era," Curtis wrote. "The health and safety of our students and staff remain at the forefront of all considerations."
 
The seven-day positivity test rate would have be 3 percent or less over a two-week before schools could reopen. The 3 percent benchmark has been part of numerous teacher contracts. 
 
Mayor Linda Tyer stressed the importance of strictly adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines in her update on Friday.
 
"These are very trying and emotionally challenging times for all of us," she said during her address on Pittsfield Community Television. "I am so very sorry for the grief and heartbreak that some of our Pittsfield families are experiencing because of this pandemic."
 
Tyer said a great deal of discussion took place regarding the schools and that Curtis began sharing daily updates with the school community to keep a focus on the data that will drive important decisions ahead.
 
"There was a lot of hard work by many people to open our schools, I consider in-person learning a top priority so it was truly discouraging returning to remote learning," she said. "Having our kids in school is vital to development and is very important to family life."
 
The latest post-Thanksgiving data reflects increasing positivity for the virus, officially pushing Pittsfield into the state's red designation, meaning it's considered higher risk for transmission. Localized contact tracing indicates that clusters of infection have shifted to household transmission, she said.
 
According to the city's data, 311 cases have been documented over a 14-day period — Nov. 19 to Dec. 2. As of Dec. 2, the 14-day average per 100,000 people is 50.05, and the 14-day positivity rate is 5.2 percent.
 
"This is a much worse situation than we ever experienced in late winter and early spring," Tyer said. "We are in a very precarious and serious situation, and this is not the time to let our guard down."
 
When a Massachusetts community becomes high risk, the state offers a consultation with the COVID-19 Enforcement and Intervention Team. That will happen on Monday.
 
Tyer addressed the Board of Health's decision to restore indoor table service with additional restrictions effective. She assured the public that decision making is done with a great deal of analysis, thought, care, and discussion.
 
The indoor dining was suspended on Nov. 12 because public health data showed infection clusters attributed to several local restaurants and private house parties. Tyer said the pause was designed to mitigate the spread and was never meant to serve as a permanent solution.
 
Once those numbers dropped, it gave officials the confidence to allow restaurants to reopen.
 
While restaurants across Massachusetts are currently permitted to have 10 people per table, in Pittsfield only six patrons will be allowed. Restaurants will have to maintain a daily log of diners and employees for contact tracing, which is recommended by the state but not mandatory.
 
Pittsfield diners will also be required to wear a mask at all times except when eating and drinking. This means that customers will be masked when seated, leaving the table, placing an order, waiting for service, and immediately after the table is cleared.
 
Tyer encouraged the public to use Berkshire Medical Center's link line and testing center for COVID-19 care, as streamlined communication between the city and testing providers MedExpress and CVS does not exist.
 
By collectively adhering to the basics of restricting activities and doubling down on COVID-19 safety practices, the mayor said the city can slow the spread and lower case counts and positivity rates.
 
The number one thing to avoid is indoor gatherings with people outside of your household, Tyer said, and remaining to be vigilant with tried and true methods such as mask-wearing, social distancing, staying at home if ill, and hand washing.
 
Anyone who believes they have been exposed should immediately quarantine for 14 days and/or arrange COVID-19 test at BMC by calling 855-262-5465. 
 
When the state receives a positive COVID-19 case from Pittsfield's public health nurses, a text will be sent to the positive person to notify them that a call will be coming within 24 hours and includes instructions on quarantining and next steps.
 
Tyer encouraged any residents who get a call or a text message to respond and provide information.
 
"Pittsfielders, every time you follow the safety protocols you are keeping yourself safe as well as those around you," she said. "We've still got a long way to go, we must be disciplined, today let’s strengthen our resolve and promise to do the right thing for each other. We did it before and we can do it again."

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Methuselah Loses License for Two Days

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A bar and restaurant owned by a city councilor had its license suspended for two days for violating state COVID-19 guidelines.

On Monday, the Licensing Board voted to suspend Councilor at Large Yuki Cohen's liquor license for Methuselah Bar and Lounge, scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday, after a hearing for three alleged pandemic violation complaints that included pictures and anonymous testimony.

Because of the anonymous nature of the evidence submitted, the board weighed in on the fact that this is not Cohen's first time in front of the Licensing Board, as Methuselah faced a five-day liquor license suspension in 2018.

"I feel like in light of what the history is, I don't think we can just pretend that there's no history,"  Chairman Thomas Campoli said, concluding with the other board members that this case had to be handled differently than if it was a first violation.

On Jan. 15, the board held a hearing for two of the violations occurring on Aug. 22 and Dec. 11. It was decided to continue the hearing for the third violation and voting until Monday, Jan. 25.

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