Pittsfield Schools Mull Re-Masking as COVID-19 Cases Dramatically Rise

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — COVID-19 cases are dramatically rising in the city and the schools may see a return of face coverings.

"The last 14 days, our positivity rate has increased dramatically," Director of Public Health Andy Cambi said at Wednesday's Board of Health meeting.

"What we've been doing locally at the department is we've been speaking with the schools, with the superintendent, he's very open to possibly bringing back masking temporarily, but again, we're all just looking at data and he sent out a communication from the school to the parents and staff members about what could happen. I think that kind of brings light to, 'OK, we're experiencing a surge, let's all take the protective measures.'"

On Tuesday, the positivity rate was 12.2 percent and there were 81.4 cases per 100,000 people. This is a stark contrast to late March when the positivity rate was 2.1 percent and there were 13 cases per 100,000.

Pittsfield entered the red incidence rate two weeks ago when its positivity rate rose to 5 percent, which is defined by having more than 10 average cases per 100,000 and having a higher than 5 percent positivity rate in a 14-day period.

As of Tuesday, there were 67 new cases of the virus and an estimated 245 actively contagious cases.

There are currently seven patients in Berkshire Medical Center because of COVID-19 and there were 14 a couple of days ago. Cambi said the number of intensive care patients remains low and there are no new deaths reported.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Joseph Curtis sent out a communication to the Pittsfield Public Schools community that reported 71 current cases in the district with an increase of 17 from the previous day.  He disclosed a possible return of masking and distancing practices if case counts continue to rise.

The rise was attributed to the district's spring break that ran from April 15 to April 22 but there is concern that the cases have continued to rise more than a week after it concluded.

"A rise in case counts is very typical after any vacation or long weekend as we have experienced during the entire duration of the pandemic," Curtis wrote.

"Past patterns would indicate that our case counts typically begin to rise the Thursday and Friday following any vacation or long weekend. Unfortunately, our case counts continue to rise this week, which is a cause for concern for our student and staff well-being and the staffing operation of our schools."

In early March, the city's positivity rate dipped into the yellow zone after spending months in the red. 

To be in the yellow zone, a community must have 10 or fewer average cases per 100,000 people or have a 5 percent or less positivity rate.

Around that time, Curtis announced that mask-wearing is now optional in the district. Earlier in the month, he stated the mask mandate would be lifted in the first or second week of March.

In February, the Board of Health voted to move the city's masking directive implemented in November to a masking advisory.

Cambi reported that many residents have been retrieving free at-home test kits from the Health Department and that the city still has a large supply. State-sponsored Stop the Spread testing ended at the beginning of April.

In other news:

  • The board accepted a 2022 comprehensive mosquito control plan from Berkshire Mosquito Control Project and will be presenting it to the City Council asking it to reconsider mosquito spraying.
  • The board OK'd a $511,571,38 fiscal 2023 budget for the Health Department. It will go to the City Council for final approval during budget hearings.
  • The board went into executive session to discuss litigation for the cease-and-desist order of the 877 South St. Verizon cell tower. The panel is requesting $84,000 from the city for legal counsel.  It was on the agenda for last week's City Council meeting but was continued because it needs to go into executive session for it because it is a matter involving litigation.

Tags: BOH,   masks,   Pittsfield Public Schools,   

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DA Clears Trooper in Fatal Hancock Shooting

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

District Attorney Timothy Shugrue says the results of an autopsy by the medical examiner will not change his findings, which are based on the video and witnesses. With him are State Police Lts. Chris Bruno and Ryan Dickinson and First Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — District Attorney Timothy Shugrue has determined that State Police Trooper William Munch acted in compliance during what is being described as a "suicide by cop" earlier this month.
On Sept. 9, 64-year-old Phillip Henault reportedly placed a fictitious 911 call about an ongoing violent assault. Body-camera footage from the trooper shows the man advancing on him with two knives before being shot twice and collapsing in the street in front of his Richmond Road residence.
"Mr. Henault was actively using deadly force against law enforcement. There were no other objectively reasonable means that the trooper could have employed at the time in order to effectively protect himself and anyone that was in the home or the public. By virtue of his duties as a police officer, the trooper did not have the obligation to run away from Mr. Henault," Shugrue said during a press conference on Friday.
"Mr. Henault posed an active threat to the trooper and to the public. The trooper had a duty to arrest Mr. Henault who was engaged in various felonies. His arm was an active threat."
The DA determined that Munch's decision to fire his weapon at Henault under the circumstances was a "lawful and reasonable exercise of self-defense and defense of others" compliance with the policies of the State Police and commonwealth law, clearing the trooper of criminal charges and closing the investigation.
The lethal force was labeled as an "unavoidable last resort."
A preliminary autopsy determined the unofficial cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the torso with contributing factors of wounds to the wrists that were inflicted by Heneault. The final report from the medical examiner has not been issued.
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