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The Board of Health meets Tuesday to discuss the cases of COVID-19 in the city.

North Adams Health Board to Caution Eateries Over Virus Cases

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health on Tuesday rejected the idea of putting further restrictions on local eateries despite a cluster of positive COVID-19 cases linked to restaurants. 
 
At least six cases — two employees and four patrons — were recently traced to a single private club.
 
"We are seeing, at least in North Adams we are seeing, several of our cases come from restaurants, and we are not seeing anything from museums, gyms, retail," said Health Director Heather DeMarsico told the Board of Health on Tuesday. "We were just not sure if we should be thinking about imposing more strict regulations for them or if it's just bad luck on their part or if that's because where everybody is congregating."
 
There are currently 50 active cases of the novel coronavirus in the city but DeMarsico estimated there were about seven or eight that have not been recorded in the state's Maven system. North Adams has hit something of a plateau, she said, with cases falling off as new ones are recorded.
 
The city has recorded 10 positive cases over the past two weeks but none in the last few days. 
 
Chairman John Meaney Jr. asked if the clusters were a matter of noncompliance with the state's protocols.
 
DeMarsico said she'd been visiting a lot of restaurants and, with the exception of the one, did not see a lot of noncompliance. However, she estimated that about 90 percent had had at least one case.
 
"Most of the restaurants that are busy are going above and beyond," she said. "They're spraying, they're disinfecting, they're doing the 25 percent capacity. I don't know if it's just bad luck."
 
Mayor Thomas Bernard had requested the board look at the numbers relative to the recent holiday week, which was expected boost COVID-19 numbers, and see if any action needed to be taken.
 
"I thought it was worth looking at the data and then just really doing a discussion of where we are based on that," he said, later adding he thought any drastic actions should not be done unilaterally by either City Hall or the board. 
 
Building Inspector William Meranti asked if the board had any inclination to increase restrictions at a local level. Gov. Charlie Baker on Dec. 26 had tightened restrictions to limit restaurant capacity to 25 percent and no more than four people at a table. That was extended this week to Jan. 24.
 
"A week ago, I think, quite frankly, and personally, I was more concerned than I am this week, even given the circumstances that we had," he said. "There hasn't been an enormous spike like I was kind of expecting."
 
Member October Cellana was concerned that if the city shutdown restaurants then residents would just to go elsewhere. 
 
"I think there's a couple of things, I mean anytime you have food and if the employee's positive, it's a great place for transmission," she said. "Then the other piece is the businesses in North Adams, if you close them to indoor dining, and everywhere else around them is doing it, people are just going to go to other places. 
 
"So are we solving a problem or are we hurting our business people?"
 
Member Kevin Lamb said they didn't want to harm the city's small businesses. DeMarsico added that Adams and Williamstown would not be likely to close their eateries. 
 
Cellana said it would be different if there was a facility consistently "putting out" cases. Choosing to out to eat, even takeout, was a risk factor and people willing to take that risk aren't going to stop, she said, and could potentially just spread the infection from another area. 
 
Lamb suggested a communication that the board was monitoring the situation. Meaney thought it should be a notice to the restaurants informing them of the uptick in cases and emphasizing the guidelines.
 
The mayor agreed that a direct communication to restaurants and private clubs letting them know that the board was not prepared to impose further restrictions should also remind them of the guidance.
 
"The good news is Bill and Heather through this have developed good relationships with the establishments and are very clear on the expectations of what we're looking at and what we're looking for from from them," he said. 
 
That could change board members agreed if the case numbers increased. 
 
Meaney also suggested that the board consider meeting biweekly to stay on top of the situation.
 
The mayor, later at City Council, confirmed the Department of Public Works was shut down on Friday because of COVID-19 but is "back up and running" after completed testing. A number of firefighters are still out on quarantine but a shift adjustment was done to make sure the department is fully staffed.

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Baker-Polito Administration Files $45.6B Fiscal 2022 Budget Proposal

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration on Wednesday filed its fiscal year 2022 budget recommendation, a $45.6 billion proposal that continues the administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and addresses critical priorities including promoting economic growth, fully funding the first year of the landmark Student Opportunity Act, and supporting cities and towns across Massachusetts.
 
This balanced proposal does not raise taxes on the commonwealth's residents and preserves substantial financial reserves for the future, according to the administration.
 
Submitted as House 1, this budget recommendation provides $246.3 million in new funding for the Student Opportunity Act including an increase of $197.7 million in Chapter 70 funding, with a particular focus on school districts serving low-income students. The administration is also proposing to allow municipalities to count $114 million in federal dollars toward their Chapter 70 required local contribution increases to further deliver on the commitments in the Student Opportunity Act. Additionally, House 1 maintains the administration's promise to cities and towns with a $39.5 million increase in unrestricted local aid, which is equivalent to the 3.5 percent consensus tax revenue growth rate.
 
"We are proud to submit a fiscal year 2022 budget proposal that despite the challenges of the pandemic, invests in economic growth and fully funds the first year of the landmark Student Opportunity Act — all without raising taxes on the commonwealth's residents," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "This balanced budget proposal allows the commonwealth to respond to the pandemic and promote our recovery, while investing in key priorities such as education, health care, substance misuse, and racial equality and diversity. We look forward to working closely with the Legislature to adopt a full spending plan for FY22."
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