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Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Gov. Charlie Baker show where testing sites are located, including three expected to open in Berkshire County next week.

Baker Announces Test Sites in Berkshires, Curtailment of Elective Services at Hospitals

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday announced new state COVID-19 testing sites in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington.
 
The sites are part of an expansion of state testing in four counties, three in Western Massachusetts: Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, as well as Barnstable on Cape Cod.
 
"We're working with Berkshire Health Systems to expand free testing across a number of sites in Berkshire County," Baker said during his daily press briefing.
 
He said the sites will be operational by the end of the month.
 
For more information on current testing or to make an appointment, call the BHS coronavirus hotline at 855-262-5465 seven days a week from 8 to 4:30. 
 
Baker said that with Monday's announcement, the commonwealth will be supporting free COVID-19 testing in 25 communities — up from eight when the state announced its Stop the Spread testing initiative in July.
 
"Last spring, when we first launched this program, the commonwealth was completing around 3,000 tests per week in our state-operated sites," Baker said. "By the end of December, with this new plan in place, the state will have the capacity to complete 110,000 tests per week through free testing sites that are sponsored by the commonwealth, which represents a 50 percent increase for state-financed and organized sites alone."
 
The announcement comes at a time when the state is well into its "second surge" of COVID-19 cases and was paired with an announcement that, effective Friday, hospitals across the commonwealth will be cutting back on elective, in-patient procedures.
 
Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders emphasized that the order that goes into effect on Friday is different from the restrictions that the commonwealth ordered in the spring in order to preserve hospital capacity during the first wave.
 
"This is a limited curtailment of elective procedures to promote the redeployment of staff that perform non-essential elective procedures to support the essential and urgent inpatient medical care," Sudders said of the order that takes effect on Friday. "It is not the blanket, across-the-board curtailment that we implemented in the first surge."
 
Preventive care such as mammograms, colonoscopies and pediatric check-ups will continue to be available after Friday, she said. And Sudders urged people with scheduled appointments to check with their providers to confirm that they will be available.
 
The "partial curtailment" of hospital services is meant to address a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday. On Monday, Baker reported that as of Sunday, 1,400 Bay State residents were hospitalized due to the novel coronavirus, 230 were in intensive care units, and the statewide seven-day positivity average for COVID-19 tests stood at 5.3 percent.
 
Baker said there is no doubt that Thanksgiving gatherings drove the recent spike.
 
The stay-at-home advisory in early November that urged residents to not go out between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and a limitation on gatherings to 10 people did have an effect on the spread of the virus, he said, but a curve that was starting to flatten shot up significantly about a week after Thanksgiving.
 
"If you track our data, after some of the regulations we put in place in early November, you can see positive test rates stop growing day over day for 10 days," Baker said. "And about five to seven days after Thanksgiving, they took off like a rocket."
 
In answer to a reporter's question, Baker pushed back against the notion that indoor dining in restaurants is the culprit.
 
"When people sit down at a table at Thanksgiving with 10 or 20 people, they face each other, they mingle, they're there for hours and they never wear a mask," Baker said. "It's a really different situation and circumstance than families, couples, people who live together, wearing masks everywhere except when they're at a table in front of food going to a restaurant.
 
"There are no rules when people are in their home."
 
On the other hand, Baker said, there are guidelines in place for restaurants, just like any other business, and he touted enforcement measures at the state and local level to make sure those rules are being followed.
 
"Honestly, if you were to ask me the thing I fear the most, I still would say the informal gatherings because there are no rules, there are no masks, there is no guidance, there are no time limits," Baker said. "It's a completely different problem.
 
"The people who have the authority to actually enforce guidance, in many cases have actually done that and have cited people, fined people and shut people down who weren't abiding by the rules. There are enforcement entities who are in a position to do something when people have violated those rules, and they have."

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Williamstown Employees Resign After Complaint; Board Member Leaving

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two employees of the town resigned Monday in the wake of a complaint about employee conduct.
 
And one member of the five-person Select Board will be leaving his post a year ahead of schedule.
 
Those were the surprises to emerge from a meeting that mostly focused on the town's efforts to investigate accusations of wrongdoing in its police department and develop a plan to replace its recently retired chief.
 
Select Board Chair Jane Patton announced the employees' departure at the start of the meeting.
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