Pittsfield Health Board Changes Mask Directive to Advisory
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With COVID-19 metrics continuing to improve, the Board of Health on Wednesday voted to move the city's masking directive to a masking advisory.
The advisory will match the state Department of Public Health's guidance that was updated on Feb. 15. It suggests that a fully vaccinated person should wear a mask indoors if they have a weakened immune system, are at increased risk for severe disease because of age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in the household has a weakened immune, increased risk, or is unvaccinated.
Director of Public Health Andy Cambi recommended the change to the board and revealed that the way things are going, the city will likely reach the 5 percent positivity rate threshold within the next few weeks.
This would push Pittsfield out of the red incidence rate for transmission and into the yellow incidence rate.
While the mask directive would be lifted, the board still recommends masking if a person falls into the aforementioned categories.
"I think there's a fundamental shift here," board member Brad Gordon said. "Sort of an underlying driver, it's shifting responsibility now based on the data, and the responsibility is shifted to the individual."
In early November, the board voted to implement a directive stating that masks should be worn in all publicly accessible indoor spaces in the city unless seated at a table eating food or drinking.
It was influenced by a rise in cases, the delta variant, and number of children who were not or could not be vaccinated.
The directive suggests that if not abided by, a stricter directive with fines and license and permit suspensions could follow. The board avoided using the term "mandate" but the language makes clear the directive is not advisory although venue operators are "respectfully" asked to comply.
Board member Stephen Smith recognized that this was somewhat unclear.
"Our directive was never a mandate, and so I do believe there was a little unclarity about that in the public, I'm not totally sure but I think that you know, what exactly was a directive compared to a mandate was a question mark," he said.
"I would want to make sure moving forward that the difference between an advisory and a directive is really clear."
The holiday COVID-19 surge reached a peak in mid-January and has been declining since.
"We are on the downward trend from the spike that we experienced over the winter," Cambi reported during a COVID-19 update.
As of Monday, there were 56.9 daily cases per 100,000 after peaking at an all-time high of 283.1 on Jan. 16. and the percent positivity rate was 8.1 percent, down from 18.1 during the peak.
There are currently 134 estimated actively contagious cases and there are seven COVID-19 hospitalizations in Berkshire Medical Center. For every one hospitalized resident that is vaccinated, there are about 2.5 unvaccinated.
The city even has a day with no new cases on Feb. 12.
Cambi reported that the city has received a shipment of test kits that are available at the Health Department at 100 North St. For city residents, the allowance is two test kits per household.
Seventy-five percent of the city is fully vaccinated and 87 percent have received at least one dose. Once the metrics have dropped into an acceptable range, Cambi said the Health Department would like to focus on having small vaccine clinics to reach people who have not been vaccinated.
In other news, the board announced that it is moving forward with its cease-and-desist order for Verizon to remove its cell tower at 877 South St. An executive session was held to discuss the details with City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta.
"We, through our executive session, had a lively discussion with the city solicitor and have made the decision to not change our intention to move forward with the cease-and-desist order," Chair Bobbie Orsi reported.
"We will, however, align our resources towards a strategy that will afford us the best possibility of success, and so that will be what we will do next."
The action was approved in early February. The order was held in abeyance for seven days and if the wireless provider did not agree to have a meeting with the board and demonstrate a desire to cooperate to the board's satisfaction, it was intended to go into effect.
Board members acknowledged that this action is a long shot and would be expensive to the city if it has to go to court, but they said they felt it is their duty to do everything they can to protect the health of residents.
Since the tower's erection in August 2020, Alma Street resident Courtney Gilardi has spoken during open microphone about negative health effects from electromagnetic fields (EMF) generated by the antennae on the 115-foot pole.
Other residents have also joined her protests.
At the meeting, Gilardi, family members, and a number of neighborhood residents spoke in support of the order and thanked the board for their efforts.
Tags: BOH, COVID-19, masks,
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