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Neal, BMC Answer COVID-19 Questions In Telephone Town Hall

A sign with directions for various departments of a hospital stands at a crossroads
Josh Landes
The main sign at Berkshire Medical Center's Pittsfield campus

Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal held a telephone town hall Tuesday to answer constituents’ questions about COVID-19.

The Democrat from the 1st District hosted the call with Dr. James Lederer, the chief medical officer and chief quality officer at Berkshire Medical Center – the county’s largest hospital in Pittsfield.

Lederer addressed a question about what criteria is required to receive a coronavirus test.

“Those with fevers and respiratory symptoms, particularly lower respiratory tract symptoms, with chest tightness and cough and chest congestion – that person is much more likely to have COVID virus than someone with scratchy eyes and runny nose with allergy season just starting up,” he said.

While the number of asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 remains unclear, CNN reported Wednesday that 50% of positive tests conducted by a biopharma company in Iceland came from people not actively showing signs of illness.

Nurses at BMC have publicly demanded that the hospital outfit all staffers who interact with any patient, not just those with COVID-19 to be given N95 masks – the highest level personal protective equipment. Nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center and Baystate Noble Hospital in Greenfield and Westfield have also called for the same standard.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association – the state’s largest nurses’ union – says almost 100 nurses at BMC are under quarantine for potential exposure to the virus, not all of whom worked in direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

Lederer offered his own interpretation of what led to their exposure.

“It is true that some of our employees have had either been exposed to patients in the hospital, now possibly even much more likely being exposed to people in the community is what we’re seeing with our current employees who are ill is more of them have no known contact and that likely it came out of the communities themselves,” he said.

Lederer says BMC has about two weeks’ worth of tests for the public and its staff – not as much as the hospital would like.

“Quest – the diagnostic lab – is supplying us with a few kits day over day and so that 20 days could probably be stretched to about 30," said Lederer . "What we’d really like to see is many more point of care tests available, the kind of tests that we would use our machines in our lab to do, which would be a real-time assay that the ER physicians and the hospitalists up on the wards could get their answers in minutes, if not an hour, and would be able to better manage their patients that way. But those haven’t yet been fully FDA vetted, nor have the kits been developed and sent out to us.”

Lederer also offered his own guide to shopping in the COVID-19 era.

“When I go to the grocery store I don’t necessarily wear a mask, but I do make sure I’m standing 6 to 8 feet behind the person in front of me at the checkout," he said. "I don’t harbor and linger in a crowded aisle. I usually bring some sani-wipes to wipe down the cart itself, the handle.”

You can hear the full town hall with Neal and Lederer here:


Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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