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BMC Reinstates Visitation Restrictions As Berkshire COVID Count Rises

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.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Berkshire County after Halloween-related gatherings stoked community spread. Its largest hospital – Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts – has once again imposed restrictions on its visitation policies. Starting Thursday, visitors will only be allowed into the building on a case-by-case basis, while they are fully barred from the Emergency Department, Birth Center, Pediatrics and other sectors of the facility. WAMC spoke to Berkshire Health Systems Director of Media Relations Michael Leary about the move, and how the hospital is preparing for a possible post-Thanksgiving coronavirus surge.

LEARY: It will be probably at least a few more days, if not several days before we're able to see whether or not the warnings that were issued by the Governor and the state and certainly Mayors Tyer and Bernard, along with other local officials across the county, have given when it came to gathering for Thanksgiving. You know, it usually takes seven to ten days beyond that to really see whether or not there's a surge that is associated with that. We're hoping that most people did follow those guidelines and held very small, more intimate gatherings of far fewer than 10 people if possible and certainly using as much social distancing and masking.

WAMC: There's been outbreaks at nursing homes throughout Berkshire County. Are you concerned about a similar sort of quick-burning fuse impact of disease spreading inside hospitals, or are you concerned about an overwhelming number of patients inside the hospital at a given time?

Our concern is we want to make sure that we're providing the safest environment for our staff and our patients, and with the increasing numbers throughout the community and the fact that they come from community spread and not from the institutional setting, we're just concerned about making sure that we provide that safe environment for our staff and our patients.

There's been a lot of conversation about the current surge echoing that of the one back in the spring. From your standpoint, is that the case? Are we seeing a spike on par with March and April?

We’re certainly seeing much higher numbers than we've seen in months. During the spring and summer, when we were able to flatten the curve, we regularly had zero or maybe one or two COVID positive patients at Berkshire Medical Center. We're now at a point where over the past couple of weeks we have gone from, you know, 10 to 12, and we're now currently up to 32 inpatients at BMC who are COVID positive. The highest number that we did reach back in March and April was around 60 inpatients. Again, we're hoping that common sense is prevailing and that the number of patients will start to go down if people go back to doing what they should be doing what they should be doing to maintain safety during COVID-19.

When talk of vaccines being spread before the end of the year, where does Berkshire Health System see that trajectory for Berkshire County?

Well, you know, when it comes to the vaccine, you have to understand that it will be issued in very limited quantities initially and in very specific guidelines as to who will receive the vaccine. The governor's office is the one that is working on establishing those guidelines for Massachusetts and how the vaccine will be distributed. You know, we do know that the Pfizer vaccine is the first on the horizon, and hospitals across the state are preparing as is Berkshire Medical Center and Fairview Hospital to vaccinate our frontline workers based on the highest tier that the governor's office establishes and those at the highest risk, but you know, we're still a little bit in the dark as to exact timing when that will happen. We know that it's supposed to happen in a few weeks, but we also are being told that the vast majority of the vaccine will not come until probably the first or second quarter of 2021.

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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