All counties in Massachusetts now are classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at a high or substantial level of community transmission, which means that CDC masking recommendations now apply statewide.
Dr. James Lederer, chief medical officer at Berkshire Health Systems, encouraged county residents to mask, given how infectious the delta variant is, compared with earlier strains of the coronavirus.
“With the delta variant in the forefront of infections across the state and country, masking while in an indoor setting makes sense and can help to stem the spread of COVID-19, just as it did with the previous strains of COVID-19,” he told The Eagle. “Masking provides a level of protection for both those who are vaccinated, to help prevent them from spreading the virus, and not vaccinated, to prevent contracting or spreading it.”
Lederer also recommended social distancing, “particularly when in an indoor area.”
When the CDC first put the recommendations into place in late July, Director Rochelle Walensky said that the policy was sparked by a high rate of new infections and data that showed vaccinated people could spread the delta variant.
“Most of what we’re sequencing now is delta variant, and delta is just a different kind of beast,” she told CBS. “If you are vaccinated and you are one of those rare breakthrough infections, you actually have the capacity to pass it to someone else.”
At that time, Berkshire County and most of Massachusetts fell below the substantial transmission threshold. Cases across the state have risen quickly in the past few weeks. Berkshire County has been rated at substantial or high transmission or above continuously since early August.
The CDC classification rates a county at “substantial transmission” if it has 50 to 99 weekly cases per 100,000 residents — or if the positivity rate falls between 8 and 9.9 percent. “High transmission” means 100 or more weekly cases per 100,000 residents, or a positivity rate at or above 10 percent.
As of Monday, Berkshire County had just over 100 cases per 100,000 residents during the previous week.
Officials in Pittsfield and North Adams urged community members to follow the CDC guidelines but have not implemented universal indoor mask mandates, which have begun to reappear in other Massachusetts municipalities.
Pittsfield Health Director Gina Armstrong said she was glad to see some workplaces institute their own mask mandates for employees and visitors.
“We appreciate their effort to protect everyone as much as possible,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think people should wait until they hear that their co-worker tested positive for COVID to mask up. It’s so easy to just wear a mask and feel good about protecting those who are vulnerable to COVID illness.”