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Billboards on River Street in North Adams are part of a national artist-driven effort to raise awareness of ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Williamstown Board of Health Discusses COVID-19 Awareness Effort

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Williamstown Health Inspector Jeff Kennedy, top left, meets with members of the Board of Health last week.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Health last week gave its blessing to a new wave of public service messages to promote compliance with efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
 
The Williams College Museum of Art, the college's Davis Center and '62 Center for Theatre and Dance are working with the town on an initiative to wrap bus stop shelters with public health messages to fight the pandemic.
 
The signage is part of a national campaign spearheaded by Carrie Mae Weems, an artist in residence at Syracuse University. Locally, the "Resist COVID/Take 6" campaign includes billboards recently installed by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and efforts by other institutions, including the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Clark Art Institute and Vermont's Bennington College, Bennington Museum and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
 
In Williamstown, the campaign comes on the heels of the Board of Health's effort to put reminders on Spring Street to wear face coverings and socially distance.
 
BOH member Dr. James Parkinson noted that new and different signage can help keep the message fresh in people's minds.
 
"Signs tend to get old unless they change," Parkinson said at Monday's meeting. "Any time we can make new stuff, it helps.
 
"One of my mentors said: No attention is bad attention. Even if someone looks at [signage] and doesn't like it, the message still gets through."
 
In general, the board members agreed that the message is getting through to Williamstown's residents and visitors.
 
"Of course, the students were very good when they were here, and I saw just two people on Spring Street, walking dogs, who didn't have their masks on on Saturday, but everyone else did," Dr. Win Stuebner said. "Even exercising -- bike riding, hiking -- I think the town has done a good job."
 
Parkinson did relate one anecdote that shows how important it is to keep educating the public.
 
"I had occasion to talk to someone with a mask on but not over their nose," Parkinson said. "I ended up saying to him: Do you know how they test for COVID? They put a swab up your nose and stir around. Why do you think they do that? That's why you put the thing up over your nose; that's where the virus is.
 
"It's an argument I've used before with people. It's fairly straight-forward."
 
In general, the town officials agreed that people are doing what they need to do to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
 
"I'm particularly impressed, like Dr. [Devan] Bartels, with the banners and trash barrel wrapping [on Spring Street]," Health Inspector Jeff Kennedy told the board. "Bus kiosk signs are good.
 
"In areas where it matters, I'm seeing a lot of compliance in town. Businesses are doing a great job. The food sector is doing a great job. In congested areas like Spring Street, people are doing well masking. People in wide open spaces or on deserted streets, even if they're not masked, when they approach someone, they're masked.
 
"There's a lot of courtesy and good behavior going on with the people of Williamstown."
 
And, so far, the "good behavior" has led to good numbers for the virus.
 
Other than one institutional outbreak early on in the pandemic, the town's numbers have stayed fairly low. The Department of Public Health reported the week before that the town had nine new cases in the most recent 14-day reporting period and had a test positivity rate of 0.13 percent in the same period.
 
On Thursday, the weekly community update reported eight cases over the prior two weeks, keeping Williamstown in the gray even as larger surrounding communities are tipping into the higher-risk zones. 
 
Kennedy said he is staying in touch with his colleagues countywide, including in Lenox, where 26 cases and a positivity rate of 3.41 percent pushed the town into the "red" on the most recent statewide COVID-19. He said that, as was the case in Williamstown, the issue in Lenox has been institutional spread due to a spike at a single facility and not community spread.
 
Williamstown's largest institution, Williams College, has earned praise from the Board of Health for both the plan for bringing students to campus and the behavior of those students during the fall semester.
 
The college has conducted more than 45,000 tests of students, faculty and staff with 10 positive results for a positivity rate of 0.022 percent.
 
"There were 10 students placed in quarantine who weren't able to go home until the weekend after Thanksgiving," said Stuebner, one of the board's liaisons with the college. "As [a college official] said, there were a number of unhappy parents, but they stuck to their guns and finished up the isolation."
 
The college, as planned this summer, moved to fully remote learning this week. With the end of in-person instruction, Williams' residence halls closed to the majority of students after Wednesday.
 
Stuebner said about 100 students remain on campus through the close of the semester, and a handful will return in January. The majority are slated to return in mid February, and they will follow the same routine -- testing, isolation and retesting before being released from their dorms -- that they followed in September.
 
In other business on Monday morning, the board discussed a regulatory action against the Berkshire Hills Country Inn on Cold Spring Road (Route 7).
 
Kennedy told the board he received a letter from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection notifying the town that the inn had not met the state's requirement for water testing. The DEP asked the board to consider not renewing the business' license for 2021.
 
"Motels have to follow the minimum standards in the state sanitary code," Kennedy said. "Part of the state sanitary code is to have a safe water supply. They cannot operate without a Board of Health permit and cannot operate without a proven water supply. The DEP handles licensing and regulation for their water supply, so I usually take the lead on that."
 
Kennedy said that he emailed the owner of the inn after receiving the letter from DEP but had not received a reply. Following a unanimous vote of the board on Monday, he said he will send a hard copy letter of warning to both the business and, if he can find one in the assessor's office, a separate address for the proprietor.
 
The deadline for applications to renew licenses with the health department for 2021 was Tuesday, but at Monday's meeting, Kennedy asked the board if it wanted to waive the late fee in light of all the other challenges facing businesses this year. The board agreed to do so on a vote of 5-0.

Tags: BOH,   COVID-19,   


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Mount Greylock Negotiating to Modify COVID-19 Agreement with Union

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee continues to hear from parents concerned about the lack of in-person instruction for most children in the PreK-12 district even as the panel works to modify the agreement with its unions to allow just that.
 
The committee held an executive session after last Thursday's meeting to discuss strategies with respect to collective bargaining with its union personnel. And Superintendent Jason McCandless said on Friday that he has asked the committee to look at some dates for a special meeting to consider a revised memorandum of understanding with the Mount Greylock Educational Association.
 
The next regular meeting of the School Committee is Feb. 11, but it was clear from the public comments at the start of last week's meeting that some in the community are unwilling to wait until the middle of next month for a revision to the MOU that allowed classes to begin in September.
 
The committee was reminded that a petition calling for in-person instruction received more than 200 signatures in 36 hours, and that those families continue to be frustrated with the district's move from hybrid instruction to fully remote learning in early December.
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