Dalton Town Hall Won't Reopen Until Case Count Drops to 25

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Health Agent Jayne Smith talks case counts in a virtual meeting of the Dalton Board of Health.

DALTON, Mass. — Town Hall will not reopen until Dalton's COVID-19 case count is 25 or less, the Board of Health reaffirmed on Monday.

There are more than 100 cases in the community with almost 70 occurring in the last seven days.

In mid-December, the offices closed to the public until further notice because of an uptick of the virus.  The 25-case cutoff was established as a measure for closure based on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's original guidance for schools.

This meeting was virtual because of the closure.

"So where that 25 cases came from was that used to be the DESE guidance for closing school," Health Agent Jayne Smith said. "And so it's no longer as relevant as it once was."

Town Manager Tom Hutcheson asked the board members if they still agree with the number.  He wanted to ensure the metric for Town Hall closure is objective.

He referenced the omicron variant's trend in South Africa, where it was first detected in November and is now subsiding.

"And as far as I'm concerned, 25 is is a fine measure," Hutcheson said.

"I think what we're seeing with the recent rise is pretty much omicron and if South Africa is any example, it's going to go down as steeply as it went up, so it could be that by the end of January we'll be back down, close to that 25 level or below it, so that's what I'm hoping for."

Smith said that one year ago, cases were unlike how they are now because they came from a different variant of COVID-19 and were before vaccinations were available. A good portion of the population is vaccinated, she reported, and a lot of the cases are from unvaccinated individuals.

"It's hard to take a moment in time from a year ago and apply it to now because a lot has changed since a year ago, so it's just something to kind of look at," she added.

"If the board doesn't feel strongly about it, then they'll just be continuing to have the ability to kind of look at what's going on locally, certainly if we have an increase in cases at Town Hall whether we were allowed 25 or not, if we were having an outbreak at Town Hall, that would be another consideration."

Because this is an existing metric, the board did not have to take a formal vote on it and just agreed to keep it the same.

Smith, along with former Chair Daniel Doyle, had announced her resignation and is training Agnes Witkowski to succeed her as the health agent. The board said goodbye to Doyle in December.

Witkowski gave the COVID-19 update.

Over the last 14 days, from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, the case count is more than 102 with 68 cases occurring in the last week. This number does not include antigen self-tests, which have been consistently selling out of local stores.

The town departments including the Town Hall, the highway department, the senior center, and the library have been doing BINAX testing to stay open. They have done four outreach events and have not come up with any positive results.

For Berkshire County, the average daily number of cases per 100,000 is 54.4, and statewide is 83.  Dalton's neighbor Pittsfield has 109.9 cases per 100,000 and 530 estimated actively contagious cases.

In other news, the board voted to make a recommendation for Dr. Amanda Staples Opperman, who was recommended by Doyle, to fill a vacant seat on the panel.  

Conservation Commission member Dr. Henry Rose was also interested in being on the board. Member Ed Gero abstained from the vote because he is on the commission with Rose.

Gero also agreed to temporarily represent the board on the Solid Waste and Recycling Committee, a seat that Doyle vacated.

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