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Pittsfield Opts Out Of Truck-Mounted Mosquito Spraying, Remains In “Yellow” COVID Designation

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting
Josh Landes
The April 27th virtual Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council meeting.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts City Council got a COVID-19 update and voted to end a controversial mosquito spraying program at Tuesday night’s virtual meeting.

Mayor Linda Tyer told the council that the city remains in the state’s “yellow” designation for COVID-19 transmission, but that cases per 100,000 are dropping from a 14-day average of 37.21 on April 12th.

“Today, the case rate is 24.38 per 100,000 – so you can see that we have a nice trend, a nice downward trend here,” she said.

Tyer said the same trend applies to positive test rates per 100,000.

“On April 12th, the 14-day positivity rate per 100,000 was 4.16," said the mayor. "And today, the positivity rate is 3.02.”

As of April 27th, three Pittsfielders were hospitalized due to COVID-19, with one in the intensive care unit. The city has 64 active cases, a slight uptick in a gradual overall decline in cases after a late March spike near 140.

Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales gave a vaccination update, both on Pittsfielders who have received at least one shot – “As of 4/22, we have 48%” – and Pittsfielders who have received both shots: “We have 32% as of April 22nd.”

All city residents 16 and older are now eligible, and 2,000 first doses are available at all three Berkshire County clinics.

“We are projecting by May 9th, we have 44% of Pittsfield residents vaccinated, fully vaccinated,” said Morales.

Tyer noted that there are a high number of open appointments at the Berkshire Community College clinic in Pittsfield.

The council also voted to leave the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project’s controversial truck-mounted spraying program over health concerns about the chemicals used. Director of Finance Matt Kerwood made it clear that the state could still override the decision if diseases like Eastern Equine Encephalitis emerge in Pittsfield as a result.

“Certain circumstances would warrant it, specifically an outbreak of Triple E, where the state could come in under the state mosquito control board, and take certain actions in an effort to address the public health concerns associated with again, a specific outbreak, most likely Triple E," said Kerwood. "That’s usually the case where they would where they would step in, just given the dangerousness of Triple E to not only to animals but also to humans. West Nile, maybe not so much.”

Kerwood said other communities like Stockbridge and Becket have fully opted out of the BCMCP, which uses multiple methods of curbing insect populations beyond the truck-mounted spraying.

At-Large city councilor Earl Persip, who previously supported the spraying, said he had doubts about the trustworthiness of BCMCP Superintendent Chris Horton, who was not at the meeting.

“I have completely changed my mind after, you know, listening to Mr. Horton and, back then, tell us that the spraying was safe," said Persip. "And then we read articles about how the spraying is completely not safe. They didn't know what was wrong, happened to be the bottle, the spraying material, was kept in. This program really seems unnecessary to me. I don't think we're getting the truth from Mr. Horton. I think we've been bamboozled into thinking this is something we need. We're watching other communities opt out. And I would support opting out of the whole program.”

Horton was not available for comment in time for broadcast.

The council also unanimously approved a $100 donation to the Pittsfield Police Department from Darrell R. Croshier Jr. without debate or discussion. Croshier Jr. pleaded guilty to multiple counts of child rape and abuse in 1998, for which he served four years in prison. In 2017, Judge John Agostini awarded Croshier Jr.’s victim $2.6 million in a civil suit before the Berkshire Superior Court. Multiple city councilors told WAMC they were unaware of Croshier Jr.’s history before the vote, and did not know the nature or intent of the donation.

Police Chief Michael Wynn told WAMC that “there was no specific purpose or restriction included with the donation,” but did not offer further comment on its acceptance.

Mayor Linda Tyer, who submitted the donation to the council, did not respond to a request for comment from WAMC.

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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