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The latest COVID surge may be leveling off. But Berkshire County remains in the high level of community impact

Woman in mask selling candy at store (copy)

Robin Helfand, the owner of Robin’s Candy in Great Barrington, wears a mask in the store back in February, when cases were at a high level. The latest COVID surge appears to have plateaued in the Berkshires, but the number of cases remains high.

The “fifth wave” of COVID-19 cases appears to have crested in Berkshire County, with daily cases averaging 106 as of Tuesday, a 13 percent decline over the past two weeks.

However, the community level remains high based on cases and hospitalizations, according to the latest CDC update reported by the New York Times coronavirus tracker.

• Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, at least one out of five Berkshire residents have been infected, a total of 27,351 reported cases. However, with the increase in home testing, the actual number of current infections could be 3 to 5 times higher since those results typically are not reported to the state.

Berkshire Health Systems was treating 21 patients as of Monday — 19 at BMC and two at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington. The two hospitals have had 31 COVID patients in the past week, and 65 in the past two weeks, for a pandemic total of 1,189.

• During the past two weeks, Pittsfield has reported 752 cases, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The total for North Adams is 152; other “hot spots” include Williamstown (150), Great Barrington (107) and Dalton (102).

In her recent update, Amy Hardt, the lead nurse for the 10-town Southern Berkshire Public Health Collaborative, cited a very slight decrease in newly reported South County cases. But since mid-month, local COVID-positive hospitalizations have increased, compared to last month.

Across Massachusetts, the daily caseload average, at 3,792 on Tuesday, appears to be leveling off, with a 2 percent increase during the past two weeks, according to The Times database. At least one in four state residents have been infected, with the total number of cases approaching 1.9 million.

Nationally, 108,000 cases were tallied on Tuesday, a 40 percent increase over the past two weeks. The current average is the highest since February, with cases rising in most states, along with hospitalizations.

However, the number of people in hospitals nationally remains well below peak levels of last winter — 25,000 currently, compared to nearly 160,000 in late January.

Indoors masking for everyone is currently recommended by the CDC, Hardt stated. “High-risk folks should consult with their doctor about possibly limiting their community exposures until local cases come back down,” she added.

Limited data for the 10 towns in the Southern Berkshire Public Health Collaborative confirms that reinfections exist, Hardt said. “Very likely, there have been many more than are reported — either not detected through testing or only found via an unreported home test.”

But, Hardt commented, the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19 reinfections is likely to be quite low, “given how our immune systems typically respond to repeated exposures of the same virus family.”

On the other hand, “we don’t know the risk for long COVID with reinfections,” Hardt said. “And without a surveillance system in place, it’s a guessing game to determine true reinfection risk for the general population.”

Hardt suggested immunocompromised individuals may want to consult with their doctor about medications to boost immunity, and/or make a plan for reducing the likelihood of severe disease if they do become infected.

“While approved oral antivirals and monoclonal antibody treatments are not for everyone, for those who are eligible and can take them safely, they can be a lifesaver,” she emphasized.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter

@BE_cfanto.

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