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New England News

Tyer On Pittsfield’s COVID-19 Status, New Sewage Monitoring Plan

A white, brown-haired woman in a blue blazer stands with a microphone before her in a room lined with purple curtains
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer

Pittsfield, Massachusetts Mayor Linda Tyer says the city has had just seven new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks. Now, the city is undertaking a new effort to monitor its sewage for evidence of the virus spreading. Tyer spoke today with WAMC.

TYER: We are in a really good place in terms of our hard work in slowing the spread of COVID-19. As you know, March, April, May and June were filled with lots of work to protect the public from the spread of the virus. And we were, and have been and continue to be successful in that effort. And it's really the result of the people of our city taking the guidance and the guidelines and the recommendations seriously. And so while we've made incredible progress, we have to continue to maintain vigilance. As you know, there are a number of states around the country that have seen massive setbacks from a second surge, so we really want to do what we can to prevent that from happening here.

WAMC: As far as the reopening process and phase three of Massachusetts’s reopening plan coming to Pittsfield- What's your analysis of that so far? Has it been a successful reopening? Certainly, I'm thinking in terms of those safety concerns you expressed a moment ago.

So I think that it's important to point out that we continue to see positive cases of COVID-19 in Pittsfield and in the Berkshires. It's significantly lower than what we experienced several months back. So knowing that the virus continues to spread, I think that our phased reopening has not produced concerning rates of infection. So the phased approach has been beneficial because we can open one element of the economy, wait a couple of weeks, and see if there was a surge or an increase in cases. And to date in Pittsfield, we've been very steady in our rates of infection and throughout each phase of reopening.

Pittsfield is now attempting to monitor COVID-19 in its sewage. Can you speak a little bit to that effort, what it entails and what it's going to tell the city about the pandemic?

Sure, this is really cutting edge innovation, and we have contracted with Biobot Analytics. They are a Massachusetts company that provides testing of the city's sewage. And so last week, they were here getting some baseline data. But the goal is to test the city's sewage on a regular basis, monitor it for the presence of COVID-19. So as we have infection, the virus is shed through a number of our normal human bodily excretions. And testing the sewage has been identified as a way to anticipate when we might see an increase in cases. So it'll show up in our wastewater before we start to see positive cases. So as we monitor the city's wastewater, and if we start to see COVID-19 in our sewage, then we can prepare a response that's rapid and efficient if we see an increase in that.

At this point, how many cases are in the city? What is its infection rate, and as far as a possible rise due to the reopening, what would be the red flag for you to start putting in new measures to combat that?

Well, in the last two weeks, we've had seven new cases. So that's quite low compared to where we were when we would have seven cases in one day. And so I certainly would rely upon the expertise of our public health professionals. So, Gina Armstrong and Dr. Kulberg and our public health nurse Kayla Donnelly-Winters. We would work in conjunction as we do every day monitoring the rate of infection to assess whether or not we're approaching a circumstance that requires us to slow our opening or pause our opening. But Pittsfield is following the Massachusetts statewide reopening plan. And so far, we've been successful in reopening various aspects of our economy without seeing an impact on the rate of infection.

I want to turn to tomorrow night's city council meeting. I know you're submitting an order to accept a grant of funds of over $280,000 for the Community Preservation fund budget for eight projects. What are those projects?

So these are projects that were submitted to the city's Community Preservation Committee. And the projects encompass a number of activities, from housing projects to historic preservation. One of the projects that was submitted and originally planned for funding included an irrigation system at one of our parks. But there were some concerns raised by neighbors and so we've put a pause on that while we assess the situation and address the concerns of the neighborhood. So, we have some work happening at the Allen Heights playground. We have some work happening at Burbank Park. We are going to partner with Berkshire Community Rowing for a new dock. There's a whole bunch of efforts around our parks. We're working with Berkshire Theatre Group to do some work on their facade that's historic. We're going to conduct a historic inventory. We're partnering with the Christian Center to plan and engineer some Christian Center space. And we're working with the Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity on a new housing project.

The city's police advisory and review board is preparing to deliver their first annual report. What are you expecting to hear back from the board?

Well, they have submitted their annual report. I'm looking forward to the presentation by the chair, Ellen Maxon. I think it's going to be a very important sort of checkpoint in terms of where we are after their first year of service. And what are some of the elements that the board themselves see in terms of how they can continue to do their work, or are there proposals that they would like to suggest for advancing their work.

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