At Thursday evening's Committee on Public Health and Safety meeting, Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong and Board of Health Chairman Dr. Alan Kulberg gave a presentation on the emergency response plan for COVID-19.
"Pittsfield Health Department continues to work aggressively to keep the rest of Pittsfield and greater Berkshire County healthy," Kulberg said.
The Health Department is part of Mayor Linda Tyer's Coronavirus Task Force, which includes representatives from different city agencies such as police, fire, finance, and public services. This is a group of 10, including representatives from Berkshire Medical Center.
The task force participates in weekly conference calls with the state Department of Public Health and local health agents. It also speaks with representatives of other boards of health in Berkshire County in an effort to stay one as a county.
After the initial surge in the spring, Pittsfield saw a drop of novel coronavirus cases because of increased testing and thorough contract tracing. The uptick in the last week and a half is estimated to be caused by people traveling to higher disease areas, in-person education, and indoor gatherings because of colder weather.
Kulberg explained that public health nurse manager Kayla Donnelly-Winters has been working tirelessly with two other contract tracing nurses to control community transmission with Kulberg serving as their medical consultant. A fourth nurse will be added to this team because of demand.
"They have shown a real dedication to contact person involved in this outbreak," he said. "And to establishing necessary isolation and quarantine orders."
COVID-19 testing continues at Berkshire Medical Center but will soon be moved indoors to St Luke's Square. Testing will also be available at the hospital and at several private practices. BMC is getting a testing apparatus that will significantly increase testing capacity in the community.
Armstrong explained that Pittsfield has been fluctuating between gray and green (less than 4 cases per 100,000) on the Community-Level Data Map. The 17 new cases that Pittsfield has seen in the last two weeks is a less gradual spike than Armstrong and the team were expecting.
With this recent uptick, Pittsfield is almost where it stood with COVID-19 cases in early to mid-July.
Through public messaging and social media, Tyer is giving COVID-19 updates and asking residents to strictly adhere to safety guidelines, especially with Halloween and Thanksgiving approaching.
"This is really a critical time for us to do our best to social distance and don't have social gatherings where people are among each other for prolonged periods of time," Armstrong said. "Especially without face coverings."
Despite the rise of cases in Pittsfield, Kulberg said a majority of community members have been complying by wearing masks, social distancing, sanitizing, and staying home if they are ill.
"Overall, the level of compliance with health and safety measures in the Pittsfield community has been superb," he said. "It is because of this community-wide dedication to safety measures that we have remained in a good position through this whole pandemic. "
Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales coordinated a program to measure the resurgence of virus through a wastewater treatment program with Biobot Analytics, a company that maps population health by analyzing sewage. Samples are taken from Pittsfield's waste water and sent to Biobot where they can detect genetic material of coronavirus and if it's in the community.
It would only take about five or six COVID-19 positive residents to make the Biobot testing come back positive. The last sample was obtained on Oct 20. and did not detect a rise in genetic material of COVID-19. Kulberg said he anticipates and hopes that the testing proves to be sensitive enough to detect COVID-19 genetic materials in the next sampling two weeks from now after the spike in cases.
Kulberg, Donnelly-Winters, and Armstrong have developed a protocol to help nurses when a child becomes ill at school. Many symptoms including headache, cold, coughing, and gastrointestinal symptoms might be valid indication for doing testing and school nurses are preparing for that, Kulberg said.
Kulberg also made a frequently asked questions document to distribute to all pediatric doctors in Pittsfield to inform parents about COVID-19 and what schools are prepared to do in the event of a child becoming ill.
Pittsfield's Health Department is in support of Tyer's efforts to limit house-to-house trick-or-treating and is urging residents keep lights off if they don't want to participate.
"One of our concerns was that by clamping down on house-to-house trick-or-treating, that would encourage people to move indoors with parties, which is a worst-case scenario we would not want to see that happen and discourage people form doing that," Kulberg said. "You just never know who might be infected, and a person who looks well can be carrying the virus with minimum or no symptoms."
Kulberg concluded by strongly urging residents to get a flu shot, especially those who haven't regularly gotten the flu shot in past years.
"During this pandemic it is especially important to limit disease burden in the community," he said. "And because the more disease there, is the more testing would be needed and we would like to conserve testing as much as possible, not to mention we would not like to be dealing with a flu epidemic and coronavirus."
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