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Gov. Baker's press conference on Wednesday about his budget proposal for FY2022 was dominated by questions regarding slow rollout of the novel coronavirus vaccine in Phase 2.

Baker Acknowledges Frustration of Those Trying to Sign Up for Vaccines

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — On the first day residents 75 and older could sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Charlie Baker said he knows people are frustrated about the time it takes to get those appointments, but the commonwealth continues to be constrained by the supply of vaccines on hand.
"I think the biggest challenge we're going to face on this rollout, and we've said this several times, is if demand does outstrip supply, which is where we're going to be for some period of time until the federal government can get to the point where their distribution to us reaches some level that's consistent with the number of people who are eligible to get vaccinated," Baker said in his daily press availability on Beacon Hill.
"This process, for people, will be frustrating. I understand that, and I think we all appreciate it's going to require a certain amount of patience for people to realize it may take several trips to the website before they can get an appointment."
Starting Wednesday, the Berkshire County COVID-19 hotline, 413-449-5575, began running a recorded message that advises county residents 75 and older to visit one of two state websites, either or for information.
"If you do not have internet access, you can call the Council on Aging in Williamstown, Adams, North Adams, Dalton, Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington or Sheffield for assistance," reads the recorded message drafted by the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association.
The media covering the governor's daily briefing pressed him repeatedly for information about why so many residents were complaining about not being able to make appointments for the start of Phase 2 vaccinations, which begin on Monday. And he was asked whether the state should be trying to streamline or centralize the appointment process for the scores of vaccination sites around the commonwealth, including eight in Berkshire County for Phase 2.
"We're working on whether there are other ways we can help people navigate this," Baker said. "But the other thing that's important for us to incorporate into this is making sure our colleagues in local communities — which in many cases, especially for seniors, is where they go first — have the information they need to help them, as well."
Baker said that while Wednesday marked the first time that residents at the start of Phase 2 (75 and up) can make appointments, there are still people in Phase 1 who are scheduling appointments to receive either their first or second vaccination.
"This thing is a rolling rollout," Baker said. "There are home health workers and personal care assistants who haven't been vaccinated. There are first-responders who haven't been vaccinated. Folks over 75 are eligible to make appointments, but that's going to be through a process that is open to folks in Phase 1, many of whom have been vaccinated.
"That's one of the reasons why this is going to feel constrained for people, and absolutely it's going to feel frustrating. We can only play with the supply we've got. Hopefully, the vaccine piece will catch up."
Baker reiterated that the administration's strategy is to build up infrastructure to distribute vaccines that likely will exceed the initial supply in hopes that the federal government's vaccine distribution program will ramp up.
And he relayed some good news on that front.
On Tuesday, the same day President Biden announced plans to purchase an additional 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, the National Governors Association got encouraging information from Biden administration officials, Baker said.
"This call with the NGA was the first call the new administration had with governors, and, thankfully, they spent a good part of that conversation talking about the two things that have mattered the most to governors," Baker said. "No. 1: What's the story with respect to visibility going forward? How many weeks can we actually plan on with some degree of certainty. They talked about developing a more consistent way of communicating that.
"Second was saying that they believed they would be able to increase, starting next week, the amount of vaccines people got each week. Both of those things will start to make a really big difference."
On a day when Baker's remarks were focused principally on the release of his proposed state budget for fiscal 2022, most of the questions continued to be about COVID-19, including the vaccines and the concerns expressed by teachers unions about restarting in-person instruction during the pandemic.
He pointed to research, including a report released this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and anecdotal evidence that supports the notion that schools can reopen with modifications and not present a risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.
"Many school districts, many private schools, many parochial schools located in all kinds of communities around the commonwealth have pulled this off and successfully served kids in person since the fall, safely," Baker said. "We are also about to receive, as a commonwealth, roughly $700 million that will go to cities and towns and school districts to be spent on making whatever additional investments people need to make to safely serve kids in school.
"The problems we're creating for kids, both emotionally and educationally, by not having them in school, is not insignificant. … Can't we all just work together on behalf of the kids and give them what most of them are hungry for: to be in a classroom with their friends, with a teacher, face to face, the way it has worked in so many places around the commonwealth over the course of the last nine months?"

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Williamstown Holiday Walk Weekend Returns Friday

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

The Holiday Walk features a variety of activities, sales and raffles. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The 40th annual Holiday Walk is bigger than ever, with even more opportunities to ring in the season — in and out of Williamstown.
The three-day celebration gets underway on Friday and includes a jam–packed schedule Saturday that begins in the neighboring town of Hancock and ends in the city of North Adams.
"There's a ton going on in the region the next couple of weeks," Williamstown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Briggs said this week. "I was just on a call talking about that. Berkshire County likes to celebrate our holidays, and there are only a couple of weekends to do it.
"It's a busy time."
Falling each year just after Thanksgiving and before Williams College turns its attention to final exams, Holiday Walk is one of the signature events of the Williamstown Chamber.
And this year, organizers made a slight tweak to one of Holiday Walk's longest standing traditions: the Reindog Parade.
"The parade is an hour earlier," Briggs said. "Judging is at 1:30, and the parade will be at 2."
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