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Two years since COVID began, DPH says Massachusetts is in a 'much better place'

Masked woman getting COVID shot

Margo Mazzeo, a nurse in the COVID-19 testing center, is the first to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, in Pittsfield in 2020. Two years later, since the coronavirus pandemic was declared an emergency in Massachusetts, the Department of Public Heath says the state is in a much better place with regard to the virus.

BOSTON — Almost exactly two years to the day that the coronavirus pandemic was declared an emergency in Massachusetts, the state’s top public health officer painted a brightening picture of the pandemic Wednesday and said she is optimistic about the trajectory of the state’s response.

“With vaccines and boosters and new COVID-19 therapeutic treatments, we are in a much better place than we were at this time last year,” Commissioner of Public Health Margret Cooke told the Public Health Council. “Residents have finally been able to gather more safely with family and friends. Students are in classrooms, where they should be, and more people are returning to their workplaces. I am confident that the commonwealth and the department will continue to make progress on the COVID-19 front and, with our help, will bring life to a new normal.”

Cooke said the state’s COVID-19 data points are encouraging “across the board.” The numbers look good in the Berkshires, too.

Since the Public Health Council’s previous meeting Feb. 9, Cooke said, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has decreased by 65 percent and COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased by more than 70 percent. About 77 percent of Massachusetts residents now are vaccinated fully against the coronavirus, she said.

In Berkshire County, cases have fallen even more steeply during the past month, from more than 115 per day to fewer than 30, a decline of nearly 80 percent. Hospitalizations also have fallen, from 20 COVID-19-positive inpatients a month ago to just one as of Wednesday.

In about two years, there have been 1,545,910 confirmed coronavirus infections in Massachusetts, and at least 22,916 people have died of the disease here. The Berkshires has seen 22,688 confirmed cases and 407 deaths.

On March 10, 2020, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency around the pandemic, and the state of emergency lasted until June 15, 2021. Since the early days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 tests were in short supply and extremely hard to secure, Massachusetts has administered more than 41.3 million tests for the virus.

Cooke stopped well short Wednesday of declaring victory over the coronavirus. About 10 months ago, when Baker ordered the end of most state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, he came as close as any elected official has come to putting the pandemic in the past.

“Unless something very odd happens, I would say that it is pretty much over, but ... I would put an asterisk on anything that says it’s over,” the governor said May 28. “But, I do believe that it is certainly on the run in a big way and, given the data as it currently exists right now, Massachusetts is in a place where we can lift these restrictions and do so with a fairly high degree of confidence that people have done the things that we needed to do to beat this thing down.”

The asterisk Baker put on his statement turned out to be warranted. After remaining at favorable levels through last summer, the delta and omicron variants fueled a fall COVID-19 resurgence, during which new cases skyrocketed above previous surges, though vaccines and treatments helped to hold down hospitalizations and deaths.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the Public Health Council also voted to amend its regulations dealing with the reporting of potential exposures that first responders like EMTs, paramedics and police officers have to infectious diseases dangerous to the public health.

In addition to setting up a multistep framework for the reporting of potential exposures, the council also voted to add COVID-19 and hepatitis D to its list of “infectious diseases dangerous to the public health.”

The Eagle’s Francesca Paris contributed to this report.

Francesca Paris can be reached at fparis@berkshireeagle.com and 413-447-7311, ext. 239.

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