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Pittsfield City Council Considers COVID, Police Spending And Snow Storm Response

A stone building with a colonnade lit by lights sits in front of a brick churck and a street lamp
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts City Hall.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council kicked off 2021 with a five-hour meeting Tuesday that addressed COVID-19, police spending and the city’s response to last month’s snowstorm. 

The meeting proper began with Mayor Linda Tyer giving a COVID-19 update. The city’s current case count per 100,000 is 63, with a positive test rate around 6%.

“As of today, councilors, we have 17 new cases," she said. "There are 59 people hospitalized. Seven of them are in the ICU.”

Pittsfield has seen a dramatic spike in cases.

“Last week we had 200 new cases in a five-day period," said Tyer. "In the last three days, it appears to have plateaued, and it’s my hope that this is the beginning of the decline in cases and positivity rates because so much depends upon our case counts and positivity rate declining.”

The city remains designated as high-risk for COVID-19 transmission by the state.

“Until we can see significant improvement in our case counts and positivity rate, we won’t be able to reopen our schools and I continue to be extremely concerned about the situations that continue to emerge at our long-term care facility,” said the mayor.

At the Hillcrest Commons nursing and rehabilitation center, at least 40 residents have died from COVID-19. While no cases are being reported among residents now, another Pittsfield nursing home, the Springside Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, is now reporting almost 70 active cases among residents and staff.

“At the end of October, we’ve just had an enormous increase in cases," said the mayor. "This is not news to all of you. We’ve been reporting on this on a regular basis. It’s our hope that we will start to see these cases continue to decline. We did see a drop in cases around mid-December, but we are npw back on the upward trend.”

So far, vaccinations have begun among frontline medical workers, first responders and staff and residents of long-term care facilities in Massachusetts. The first stage of the second phase – expected to begin in February – includes individuals who face a greater risk of medical complications from COVID-19, people over the age of 75, and residents and staff of public and private low-income and affordable senior housing.

“I am getting a lot of questions and concerns about the vaccine rollout once we are hitting Phase Two and there’s I think a lot of anxiety around how that process is going to go," said Ward 1 city councilor Helen Moon. “If we can do anything in terms of helping to disperse that information once there is a definitive plan in place, I just wanted to reiterate that and make sure that we can used as a means to getting information out to our constituents.”

In a conversation about a $234,000 grant for enhancing the city’s 911 service, Moon pushed Police Chief Michael Wynn to detail how his department spends on equipment.

“You say that it’s things that you need for the department, but we haven’t really heard any examples of what that means,” said the councilor.

“So, the – again, I don’t have all of this documentation in front of me," responded Wynn. "We’re working on putting together some five-year expense reports at the request of the mayor. And I don’t want to say that with 100% certainty this was always the case, because I was looking at the new equipment expenses and there was some Porta Potty expenses that were placed in there, so I’ve got to go through that and pull it out. But we’ve had several large-scale communications and technology upgrades in the last couple years that state 911 wouldn’t assist us with.”

Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales gave a report on the city’s response to the December 16th storm that dumped around 18 inches of snow on Pittsfield.

“That snowstorm ended up costing the city approximately $93,000, and that goes in with the typical cost of a snowstorm,” said the commissioner.

He said the city’s first attempt at implementing alternate-side parking regulations before the storm resulted in 16 cars needing to be moved and 20 being towed, which he said was normal for a weather event of its size.

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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