2020-11-13-PHSREMOTE

Pittsfield High School, and all other district schools, will remain in all-remote learning mode for at least another two weeks, the district announced Friday.

PITTSFIELD — With the city surging into the “high risk” category for coronavirus infections, Pittsfield Public Schools officials Friday said they will keep students out of classrooms through at least Dec. 18, and likely won’t shift back to in-person learning until after the holiday break.

“While the impact of an engaging, in-person educational experience cannot be understated, the health and safety of students — and our community — is an overriding factor associated with this decision,” interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis said in a notice posted on the district’s website.

Schools will remain closed “until data shows a decrease in cases over a two-week period that results in a percent positivity rate of 3% or less.” The 14-day average test positivity rate was 5.2 percent as of Wednesday, the most recent data point available on the city’s COVID-19 dashboard.

On Monday, middle and high school principals will release information about a “schedule enhancement” for all secondary students that will begin Thursday, Curtis said. He said the district also is “examining a more robust elementary schedule, and academic offerings, moving forward.”

The decision to prolong remote learning comes amid a record surge in coronavirus infections in Pittsfield, the state and the country. While the transmission rate within schools was “low” before the closure, Curtis said it “would undoubtedly rise given the large infection rates currently in our community, if in-person education resumed now.”

He said 81 of the district’s students live in households that are under quarantine, and acknowledged the impact on surging infections in the city on school staff.

{p dir=”ltr”}”Conscious that our schools are filled with not just students, but also with adults, the circumstances associated with COVID-19 testing, confirmed cases, contact tracing, and quarantining, also would inevitably cause a large disruption in the operation of in-person education if we were to resume,” he said.

When schools closed for in-person learning Nov. 12, officials said the earliest they would reopen would be Dec. 7.

Before the schools announcement was made Friday, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer said in an address on Pittsfield Community Television that the city is in “a very precarious and serious situation” related to COVID-19. She implored residents not to let their guards down, and extended her condolences to families grieving the loss of a loved one because of the virus.

Tyer also “strongly encourage[d]” residents to go through Berkshire Medical Center for coronavirus testing, rather than CVS or MedExpress, because BMC works closely with the city to rapidly share testing data with local health officials without delay. To inquire about getting a test or to ask questions about COVID-19, call 855-BMC-LINK, or 855-262-5465.

Though schools remain closed, the Board of Health this week gave the go-ahead to restaurants to resume indoor dining after a three-week pause, while setting in place new rules that say no more than six people can sit at one table, down from 10, and that all restaurants must collect the name and phone number of at least one person at each table to hasten contract tracing, if needed, because of a positive COVID-19 case.

The state encourages restaurants to collect that contact information, but the Board of Health made it a requirement in Pittsfield.

Tyer said the indoor dining pause was a temporary measure implemented after coronavirus clusters attributed to indoor dining and private house parties were identified.

“Once we were able to calm down the trend attributed to indoor gatherings at houses and restaurants, it gave us the confidence to allow the restaurants to reopen,” she said.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.