Pittsfield COVID Cases Trend Up; Officials Focus on Hospital Data
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — COVID-19 cases have been consistently rising since last month and local health officials say the vaccination rate has "really slowed."
"Unfortunately we are trending in the direction we hoped we would not this summer," Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
"This is consistent with countywide data, statewide data, and what we're seeing nationally."
Armstrong reported that the city currently has around 31 estimated active infections with five new cases from Monday. There are also 14 workplace "clusters" of transmission.
As of yesterday, the average case rate per 100,000 people was 11.38 and the positivity rate was 2.69. This is a significant increase from the case rate of early July, which was a record-low 0.5.
From iBerkshires' "Virus Brief" on Aug. 12:
"This was the second consecutive week that 124 new cases were reported. There have been 248 cases since July 29 compared to 86 between July 1 and 29. To date, there have been 6,896 cases in the county and 295 deaths. ... Pittsfield [over two weeks had] 67 [cases], though by Thursday, the city reported only 33 active cases."
In the last couple of weeks, around 10 city residents have been hospitalized for the virus. This includes younger unvaccinated people but the majority of hospitalizations are people ages 60 and over.
"Now we're focusing more on the daily hospitalization data, it's such an important indicator for us that the hospital is now sharing information about whether those patients were vaccinated or unvaccinated, what the outcomes are," Armstrong reported.
"We're monitoring that closely we're getting a lot of good information from there."
Seventy percent of Pittsfield residents have gotten their first dose of vaccination and 61 percent have been fully vaccinated.
At the end of July, Berkshire Health Systems urged all residents to get vaccinated because of an increase in cases and the impending Delta variant.
Last week, BHS mandated that all staff be vaccinated following an order by the state Department of Public Health that long-term care staff must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 10.
Armstrong said the city is not able to test specifically for the Delta variant in its Biobot sewage testing but is "assuming that most of the virus in the area is the Delta variant."
"The state has reported, and they do samples from Berkshire County included, that 83 to 86 percent of the cases now in Massachusetts are related to the Delta variant," she added.
The city has been doing outreach to people who, for whatever reason, are not vaccinated. This includes providing updated information on the Get Vaccinated Berkshires website and conducting mobile vaccination sites throughout Pittsfield.
Armstrong said the city's "robust" contact tracing system is still important in the fight against the virus along with testing.
"I think what we really need right now is for people in our community to really be open to the education and guidance from the contact tracing nurse team," she explained. "They have the most up-to-date information on COVID transmission control measures."
She and Mayor Linda Tyer are discussing issuing a citywide masking recommendation and more guidance.
Right now, the city is abiding by the state's updated masking guidance, which states that fully vaccinated persons should wear a face covering when indoors and not in their own home if they have a weakened immune system, are at increased risk of severe disease, an underlying condition, or someone in their household has these conditions or is not vaccinated.
There were two petitions on this meeting's agenda that called for mask mandating, one from Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio for masking in the whole city and another from resident Alex Blumin asking for a mandate in municipal buildings.
The council did not take up either of these petitions for discussion.
Armstrong also highlighted a statewide exposure notification system called Mass Notify, which went into effect on June 1 and currently has 1.2 million users. This program gives a text alert if a person tests positive and uses Bluetooth to anonymously share an alert to close contacts with consent.
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