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Williamstown Board of Health Opts Not to Pursue At-Home Testing Program

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Board of Health on Wednesday declined to look into a state-sponsored program that allows municipalities to purchase at-home COVID-19 test kits.
The main reason the idea did not garner much interest among the board members is that between the time it posted the Wednesday morning meeting and the time it actually met, the commonwealth announced that its Stop the Spread testing program is expanding to three sites in Berkshire County, including North Adams.
"Like everything else going on with COVID these days, events have moved beyond this," Williamstown Health Inspector Jeff Kennedy told the board. "Since this meeting was scheduled, Berkshire Health System and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center both stepped up a lot of their testing. I'm not sure if this is applicable to the Board of Health anymore."
Dr. Jim Parkinson agreed that recent events made the commonwealth's At-Home Testing Program less of a need for the town.
"With North Adams now having testing and Bennington — I got a thing from Bennington saying anyone can come up there and have a free test, not at the hospital but at the fire station, I believe it was — there are opportunities," Parkinson said.
There were other issues raised at Wednesday's meeting, including the cost. Kennedy noted that the package of tests under the state program that would be most functional had a minimum order of 500 test kits at $109 per test — a $54,500 price tag.
"I haven't heard of any other communities in Berkshire County doing this," Dr. Erwin Stuebner said. "There did seem like there was a lot of infrastructure that had to be planned … as well as a lot of regulatory action and a supervisory role that I didn't think we'd have the bandwidth to do.
"I also had questions about the reliability of the tests, the facilities doing the test. It just seemed unnecessarily complicated. [Project] Beacon required the test to be supervised even though it was done at home. So Jeff would have to go to everyone's home. It didn't seem like it was feasible to proceed with that for our little community."
The reliability question weighed heavily on Parkinson.
"If we have people testing themselves, and they say, 'I don't have COVID, so I'm going to go out and socialize' or whatever … I don't see the purpose of it," Parkinson said.
The board voted unanimously not to direct Kennedy to look into the project.
The references to the testing program in nearby Bennington, Vt., though, raised a separate issue for Stuebner.
He pointed out that tests conducted across the state line "almost certainly" would not be counted in the town's and Berkshire County's statistics on the Department of Public Health's COVID-19 dashboard. While positive results would be reported to the appropriate contact tracers, negative tests might not be incorporated into the town's and county's stats, thus keeping their positivity rates artificially high.
After Kennedy said he could not confirm one way or another whether tests in Vermont would make their way into Massachusetts' system, Stuebner asked him to check with SVMC to find out for sure.
"It's important for the positivity rate, which schools are going by [to determine whether to have in-person instruction]," Stuebner said. "I'd encourage people to use the Berkshire Medical Center sites so we can have that counted in our county statistics."
He referred residents watching the virtual meeting to call Berkshire Health Systems' COVID-19 hotline at 855-262-5465 for information.
Stuebner used the Wednesday meeting to report to his colleagues about what he learned at a meeting of the Berkshire Health Systems Board of Directors meeting this week. The good news is that while hospitalizations for COVID-19 are up significantly after being almost non-existent in late summer, the Pittsfield hospital still has plenty of surge capacity, he said.

Tags: BOH,   COVID-19,   

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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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