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With COVID-19 surging heading into Thanksgiving, Pittsfield officials ask residents to stay safe

A chart showing COVID-19 cases surging in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in November 2021.
City of Pittsfield

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council received a grim COVID-19 update from health officials at its meeting Tuesday night.

As Berkshire County’s largest community heads into a long holiday weekend, it faces a challenging new chapter of the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we're seeing right now is a surge that we're experiencing in the city of Pittsfield, as well as in the county and throughout the state," said Interim public health director Andy Cambi. “We will look at the case data within the last 14 days, where we have seen numbers as high as 39 daily cases. These high numbers have made us, with the positive daily case rate of 5.10%, which has put us, has classified us as being in the red, meaning that we are in a high transmission state within the city.”

Testing rates have remained stable.

“The vaccination, we have seen an increase in the one shot," said Cambi. "We were at 81%. We started the pediatric vaccination once it was approved November 5th. We've collaborated with the Berkshire Public [Health] Alliance and with the Pittsburgh Public School staff, and we've we're offering six total clinics: three first dose, three second dose. We've had two clinics so far, which have been successful. We had 134 attendees at the first clinic, about 80 on the second clinic that we had.”

Cambi then turned to hospitalization data from Berkshire Medical Center, the county’s main hospital located in downtown Pittsfield.

“The BMC data has stayed relatively low, which we can be hopeful for what we're seeing with the high cases," he said. "You know, we want these numbers to continue to stay low. We experienced the surge around this time last year, and where we saw the cases in the hospital rise as well. So we can kind of correlate that this might be due to the vaccination rates that we've done with the county.”

Berkshire Medical Center currently has 14 positive patients hospitalized on precautions, with 27 in total over the past two weeks.

The city is reporting over 170 active contagious COVID-19 cases.

“I would like to take this opportunity to address everyone in our community," said Cambi. "With a recent surge that we're seeing, I think it's time to continue to do what we've been doing for the past couple of years and wearing our masks, staying in, social distancing, and washing our hands and remaining vigilant. I think it's very important for us to remain as a community so that we can keep our kids in school and protect our vulnerable population.”

Ward 5’s Patrick Kavey interjected.

“I also think it's important to note that anyone over the age of 18 can get the booster, no matter what vaccine you got," he said. "So if you’ve already been vaccinated, get your booster before winter comes, it’s going to be another winter like last year, so.”

“Yeah, that's a good point to make," responded Cambi. "You know, the boosters are readily available for anyone 18+, and anyone that- I always say this at each update that anyone that's considering getting the COVID vaccine, it's a great time to do it, as we're all going to be in indoor spaces. It's a great protection.”

Ward 2 city councilor Kevin Morandi questioned Cambi about the city’s plan for Morningside Community School, where second graders were sent home to quarantine after an outbreak among staff and students last week.

“I believe they were off until after the holiday- Is that still planned?" asked Morandi. "Are they going to bring the second grade, I believe, back?”

“Right," said Cambi. "There's certain classes that were requested to stay until past the Thanksgiving break.”

“So the plan is still to bring them back next Monday. That correct?” asked Morandi.

“Yeah,” said Cambi.

“And it warrants to bring them back, that the cases have gone down," asked Morandi. "Or-”

“Well, like I mentioned, our goal within the community is that we want to keep our kids in school," said the interim public health director. "So if they've passed a point, then we'll bring them back to school as that's our goal.”

“Well, I just want to make sure we're not jeopardizing families, other people, especially the school employees and school children," said the city councilor. "So that that's my concern.”

“Right,” said Cambi.

“So I hope that that will be looked at,” finished Morandi.

“Right," said Cambi. "Yes, all those factors are looked into so, before- They would make that decision based on what they're observing in other classes and throughout the community.”

Mayor Linda Tyer, who has prioritized keeping students in school, called on Pittsfielders to think about them when they celebrate this week in an interview with WAMC.

“It might be better this year to keep your Thanksgiving gatherings small, keeping in mind that keeping our schools open is the priority for all of us," said Tyer. "I think that it's also essential for parents with children and caretakers of children to consider the vaccination for kids now that it is available. And I know, families have concerns about it. I encourage parents and caregivers to talk to their pediatrician about the vaccination and how essential it is for keeping our kids safe, healthy, and in school.”

Earlier this month, Pittsfield’s board of health issued a citywide masking directive for businesses and public spaces. Other Berkshire communities including Adams, Williamstown, Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, and Stockbridge also have masking directives or advisories in place.

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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