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New COVID-19 cases put Berkshire County among hardest-hit areas in continental U.S.

PITTSFIELD — New daily cases of COVID-19 in Berkshire County pushed the region this week to the top of national lists, second only to a Connecticut county in the continental U.S.

As of Wednesday, even as newly confirmed cases fell, Berkshire County was behind only Middlesex County in Connecticut based on the number of new infections per 100,000 population, a standard measure.

That was 107 new cases by that benchmark, or 134 total cases, according to state data curated by The New York Times.

The numbers put Berkshire County well ahead of the state’s other 13 counties in terms of new infections by population, a situation that has been driving up hospitalizations locally.

Berkshire Medical Center reported Wednesday that it was caring for 20 inpatients with COVID-19, with another three at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington.

The percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus at BMC is close to the highest seen in the course of the pandemic, though the recent rise has not resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of deaths, as happened in January 2021, before widespread access to vaccines.

One resident of Berkshire County has died of COVID-19 in the last week, according to data from the state Department of Public Health, bringing the total to 379. That is four more deaths than two weeks ago.

In a recent interview with The Eagle, Dr. James Lederer, chief medical officer and chief quality officer at Berkshire Health Systems, noted that despite an increase in cases and hospitalizations, “deaths haven’t followed as closely.”

“That’s the good news,” he said. “Since we’re not seeing deaths yet from this, maybe it’s a less virulent strain, but it is certainly present.”

Testing rates

Test positivity at BMC was 23.7 percent in the last seven days, meaning that nearly one in four people tested was found to have been infected. Since March 1, 2020, the test positivity rate has averaged 18.5 percent; it was around 25 percent during the pandemic’s worst periods of transmission, according to BMC data.

The county’s two hospitals have seen 62 inpatients in the last two weeks, including 37 in the last week, Berkshire Health Systems reports.

The city of Pittsfield says 326 residents have active cases, with a test positivity rate of 16.6 percent, a level not seen in the city since Jan. 27, amid the initial omicron surge.

Variant (copy)

An electron microscope image shows a novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient. As of late February, the coronavirus mutant widely known as stealth omicron was causing more than one-third of new omicron cases around the world. 

Concerns about rising case numbers in the Berkshires prompted Williamstown residents to vote Tuesday to postpone their annual town meeting.

The Southern Berkshire Public Health Collaborative, which represents 17 communities, reports on its website that the area saw a 57.3 percent increase in cases in the last week. The seven-day test positivity rate for those communities was 11.2 percent between May 1 and May 7, up 31.1 percent from the week before.

Last week, the Pittsfield health director reported that the city’s current wave of cases, linked to a subvariant of omicron, may be leveling off, based on data from regular monitoring of wastewater. As of Wednesday, that sampling continued to show relatively high concentrations of virus particles.

Based on the county’s numbers, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks when visiting indoor public spaces. It lists the county as a community of “high” transmission.

The state recommends use of masks indoors in public places by people who are not vaccinated or are at high risk.

The case numbers reported by the DPH do not include people who have received positive results in home tests and did not follow up with tests at centers that report results to the state.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and

413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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