Citing the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant in Berkshire County, the Tri-Town Health Department, based in Lee, is considering a formal public health advisory recommending indoor masking in public settings.
The regional health agency covers Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge; each town has its own health board. Meetings are planned for next week to discuss the proposed new guidance, said Tri-Town Health Executive Director James Wilusz.
“The numbers aren’t looking good,” he told The Eagle on Thursday. Lead nurse Amy Hardt and her colleague, Jill Sweet, of the Southern Berkshire Health Collaborative, are seeing some breakthrough cases among residents who have been vaccinated fully, Wilusz pointed out.
He cited momentum among towns in South Berkshire, including Great Barrington, Sheffield and Monterey, where mask advisories have been issued. Lenox has re-imposed masking for staff and visitors at Town Hall.
“I’m asking the local health boards in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge to support an official recommendation for indoor masking in public settings,” Wilusz said. But, he also stressed that he is avoiding any suggestions of mandates at this time.
But, Wilusz added, “this is a first-step call to action, and we are poised to issue mandates if and when the data requires them.”
He also strongly is recommending that school districts in Lee and Lenox consider universal masking, at least for the first 30 days of the school year, subject to review as needed.
“We’re nowhere close to being out of the woods,” Wilusz said. “We need to protect those who don’t yet qualify for vaccines. The virus isn’t gone, and we can’t forget what we went through earlier this year and last year.”
The Stockbridge Board of Health plans to meet Monday at 10 a.m. The Lenox Board of Health will meet Aug. 19 at 1 p.m.
This week, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, which enrolls students from Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, mandated COVID-19 vaccination for all staff members by Sept. 15, and will require anyone in Great Barrington’s three public schools to wear masks, regardless of inoculation status.
Medical and religious exemptions will be considered and vetted by Superintendent Peter Dillon and the district’s attorneys. Proof of shots either will be accessed through the state’s database, after permission from the employee, or with vaccine cards.