PITTSFIELD, Mass. With Pittsfield still in the highest incidence rate for COVID-19 transmission, the Board of Health addressed a possible nationwide decision that the virus is no longer an emergency.
In late January, President Joseph Biden announced an intent to end national and public health emergency declarations in May. This could reportedly affect insurance coverage of tests, vaccines, and treatments.
Public Health Nurse Patricia Tremblay said that there is an expectation to hear a verdict in April and the city will continue to follow guidance from the Center for Disease Control and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
"There is a lot of changes, I think, that are coming," she said to the board on Wednesday.
She also reported nationwide conversations around vaccination that shift it to a regular yearly shot, similar to the flu vaccine.
"I know that the vaccine organizations, the (Food and Drug Administration) and the CDC, are all looking at the option of doing one booster a year but none of that has been voted or settled," Tremblay reported.
Berkshire County Head Start was notified by the state that they should put in their spring order for COVID test kits that are used for mitigation and were told that the free kits would no longer be provided after that time.
Board member Steve Smith asked "if and when" health facilities will no longer require masks and Tremblay said that there have already been efforts to remove that requirement in New York state.
Smith wondered what the declaration would mean for the BOH and the city.
"For a long time, we every month revisited our mask directive, which was never a mandate, but we talked about when to dismiss or get rid of the directive and when to reapply the directive," he said.
"And I just don't know, in this discussion about COVID I'm just wondering where we are."
He pointed to some peoples' view that the virus is here to stay and will have to be managed like the flu.
"I just wonder where we are with that," Smith added. "By the federal government if it's no longer an urgent type of health issue maybe it won't be back?"
On Wednesday there were 19.7 cases per 100,000 people, 12 new cases, and 55 estimated actively contagious cases. The positivity rate was around 10 percent.
Sewage concentration has been identified as the truest way to judge the virus's impact on the community, as other metrics don't include at-home tests. There were 1.5 million copies per liter on Wednesday, compared to about 650,000 copies per liter in mid-Feburary.
There are around 7 hospitalizations for the virus at Berkshire Medical Center.
"We've had a little uptick but it was school vacation week last week and it had gotten to the point where we had relatively small numbers of cases every day, a couple of days we didn't have any cases," Tremblay explained.
"Typically the two high-risk populations we look at are children under 18 and adults 65 and over. We were getting anywhere from two to six adults in that risk population and the children were not as frequent."
The city remains in the "red zone" for transmission, having more than 10 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate above 5 percent. It has essentially remained in this category since last year with some reprieve in the spring that put the city in the lesser "yellow zone."
Late last year, there was a death, bringing the city's count to 92.
Tremblay said it is "sort of sad" that only 77 percent of residents are fully vaccinated and 89 percent have received one dose, a metric that has been consistent for some time.
She also reported seeing two kinds of families when it comes to testing, those who test regularly and utilize the health department's free kits that are available to the public and those who are "pretty religious" about not testing for a variety of reasons.
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BCC to Hold 'Experience BCC'
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Community College (BCC) will hold Experience BCC on Wednesday, April 19 from 9 am-12 pm.
Designed to introduce potential BCC students to a typical day on campus, the event is held during Berkshire County high schools' spring break, making it easy for high school students to attend.
Potential BCC students have the opportunity to sit in on a classroom experience and discover how BCC offers the same high-quality education as other colleges, but for a fraction
of the cost. Participants will:
Meet faculty, staff and students
Enjoy a free breakfast and lunch
Learn about paying for college
Hear about more than 50 programs of study offered at BCC
Get the scoop on transferring
Take a tour of the campus
Participants start the day with a free breakfast, followed by breakout sessions featuring faculty-led, hands-on experiences from 9:30-10 am and 10:10-10:40 am. Sessions include:
Nursing with Dean of Nursing Lori Moon in the SIM Lab
STEM with Assistant Professor of Engineering José Colmenares
Allied Health with Physical Therapist Assistant Program Director Michele Darroch
Writing workshop with Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator Liesl Schwabe
And on Saturday, dozens more from Berkshire, Hampden and Hampshire counties were at Lenox Town Hall for state Sen. Paul Mark's "Beacon Hill in the Berkshires" featuring chairs of Senate committees and State Auditor Diana DiZoglio. click for more
The Hall, which was started in 2013, inducted one other coach on Saturday, Wahconah's Jim Duquette, along with players Stephanie Young Kerr (Lee), Nicole LaFave Patella (Lenox) and Sara Hamilton (Wahconah). click for more