With COVID cases surging across Massachusetts, Pittsfield – the largest city in Berkshire County – suspended in-person education through December 4th and restaurant table service last week. WAMC spoke with Mayor Tom Bernard of North Adams, the county’s second largest community, about the measures he’s taking to control the spread as one city high school has closed following four positive cases in the past week.
BERNARD: The district did move quickly at Drury to suspend hybrid learning through Thanksgiving because of the reports of cases – I don’t want to say in the school, but of people at the school testing positive. So that's allowing for deep cleaning of the school, that's minimizing the risk of contact through the schools. We have not at this point seen similar situations at the elementary schools. But again, if we if we start to see those trends change, we will move, you know, we'll move quickly to do what we did at Drury and go to go to fully remote learning for those schools as well.
WAMC: Amid this surge, Pittsfield has also suspended at-table service in city restaurants. Do you foresee North Adams following a similar path?
You know, what I’ve said is right now we haven't seen the conditions that led Pittsfield to make that decision. I did put out a communication last week just sort of saying to restaurants to continue to encourage them to follow guidance. I know that the Board of Health Association for the county has a really good restaurant guidance that they've shared. And we're going to we're going to be sharing that again out to our restaurants just to make sure they understand what are the current guidelines say, what are the risks and protective measures they need to follow. But again, if everything starts to trend in a worrisome direction, we're going to have to make tough choices. And I say “we” advisedly because I will be talking to our health inspector, I'll be talking to the Board of Health and the Chair of the Board of Health who serves on our regional COVID-19 operations center. And that team is a big part of this as well, because they're seeing the regional view. And that's been something that's happened from the beginning. We have a great regional Emergency Planning Committee, which pivoted into a COVID-19 operations center. And what that's really helping is with a regional view. So Pittsfield is the largest community in the county, what we're doing is really making sure that we're looking at all the partner communities in Northern Berkshire as we as we share information, as we make decisions. And that's really been a help because, again, a community that doesn't have a restaurant may be sending people or maybe residents from that community coming to our restaurants. So we want to make sure that we're looking at that that as a factor as well.
We’ve spoken in the past about the difficulty of enforcing private social gathering limits during the pandemic, given that social gatherings have been the cause of a lot of spread of COVID here in Berkshire County. Do you have a message to your community for this upcoming Thanksgiving week, or any new methods of enforcement in advance of the holiday?
You know, I'll start with the message, which is, you know, this year, I hope everyone makes the decision, that we're looking forward to be thankful next year, for everyone still being together. I think as much as possible, the message is the one that communities everywhere putting out: Just please don't gather. Make the sacrifice this year in the interest of the community, of keeping your loved ones, keeping your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends, the folks that your kids are in school with safe. You know, the enforcement, I don't want us to get to the point where the public health or public safety are knocking on the door to disrupt someone's holiday celebration. But you know, I don't know what other options there are other than as with everything, people recognizing the role that they have in keeping us safe, the role that they have in protecting themselves and the community. And, you know, masks work. Social distancing works. Limiting gathering works. We know what works. And we know that when we don't follow those things, and you hear, you know, you hear the governor of Massachusetts say that, you hear the governor of New York say that when we don't follow those, that's when we when we start to see things going in the direction we don't want, which means that we're all looking at making difficult decisions for ourselves, for our community, for our economy. And we can look at other places in the country that have not acted or that have been resistant to act early and to say, we don't want to find ourselves there. We don't want to find ourselves having difficult conversations about the capacity of our healthcare system. You know, I want the- I want to keep this community safe. I want people to want to keep this community safe, and to do what they can to be part of this. I mean, there's a social contract here as much as there is, you know, rules and guidance and enforcement and you know, one of the things – and these will be rolling out over the next, you know, few days or weeks – that the operation center that I mentioned did some PSAs to try and not be talking purely about, you know, enforcement and compliance but trying to have a little bit of a little bit of fun with a tough message, a little bit of, you know, light heartedness to encourage social distancing, to encourage mask wearing and hand washing. And as part of that, I volunteered to do an on-camera COVID test just to show people that it's not that bad.