Virus Outbreak Deadliest Year (copy)

The global COVID-19 death toll passed 4 million this week, as the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to spread rapidly across the globe. That is equivalent to the population of Los Angeles, or more than half of the Bay State's population. Experts believe the number is an undercount. The United States hit 600,000 deaths in mid-June, and the rise in fatalities has slowed significantly in recent months.

The numbers are good – mostly.

Across the state, the seven-day rolling average of new cases has remained below 100 since the middle of June, well below the levels of last summer. In Berkshire County, infection numbers have fluctuated around the same level as last summer, with an average of one to three new cases each day.

But the good news comes as the Delta variant continues to spread, including in Massachusetts.

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of early July, the highly transmissible variant accounted for one in every three COVID-19 cases in the Northeast.

Across the country, the variant now makes up about 50 percent of new infections, compared to just 10 percent a month ago.

Health officials and doctors across the state say there’s no reason to panic — if you’re fully vaccinated. The vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States seem to perform nearly as well against the variant as they do against the original strain of the disease.

Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health, offered this explanation in The Boston Globe, to ease the fears of people living in a state with high vaccination rates, like Massachusetts, compared to those with much lower rates, such as Mississippi.

“Being fully vaccinated is like getting a great hockey goalie (think of Boston Bruin legend Gerry Cheevers) who blocks around 90 percent of attempts. In Massachusetts, there isn’t much virus around to even put a shot on target, and therefore little reason to wear a mask indoors. In Mississippi, there are simply many more shots on goal, and even a terrific goalie will occasionally let a shot in.”

Other experts still recommend fully vaccinated people wear a mask in particularly crowded indoor spaces, especially in areas where vaccination rates may be lower.

KEY STATS: Berkshire County saw no new COVID-19 deaths in the past week. To date, the county has has 288 reported deaths. The confirmed case count rose by 12 over the past week to 6,574.

TWO WEEKS AT A GLANCE: In its most recent report, the state Department of Public Health provided this COVID-19 data for Berkshire County, accurate as of last Saturday.

Cases in last 14 days: 26

Total tests: 417,401

Test positivity in past 14 days: 0.43 percent

STATE PICTURE: The DPH said 11 new confirmed deaths were reported in the last week, pushing the statewide total to 17,646 as of Thursday. Over the last week, confirmed cases rose by 508 to 664,406.

BOOSTER SHOTS: Pfizer will seek authorization for a third dose of its vaccine, a booster shot the company says could boost immunity, and some Massachusetts experts like the idea – while others are still waiting for the results.

”For those that are immunocompromised, I think that boosters are likely in their future,” Dr. Todd Ellerin, an infectious disease specialist with South Shore Health, told WCVB. “For most people, especially those who have gotten the two-dose vaccines, it’s not clear yet that a booster will be needed.”

U.S. health officials, including the Food and Drug Administration, have said there is not yet a need for another shot, as long as you are fully vaccinated.

SCHOOL PLANS: The CDC released guidance on school reopenings, which pushes for in-person learning and largely dovetails with state guidelines. The new federal recommendations say vaccinated children and teachers no longer need to wear masks but recommended three feet of distancing in classroom.

Massachusetts school officials, meanwhile, have dropped all distancing requirements for schools but also encourage unvaccinated students and teachers to be masked. State leaders have said they will decide this summer whether any additional health policies need to be in place.

The CDC did not include any recommendation for schools to require vaccinations, and Massachusetts has not announced any plans for such a mandate.

COMMUNITY DATA: Here are this week’s figures from the DPH on confirmed coronavirus cases by city and town. In alphabetical order, this lists all Berkshire County communities. The first number is the total number of cases during the pandemic. The second is the number of new cases in the last 14 days.

Adams: 353, fewer than 5

Alford: fewer than 5, 0

Becket: 71, 0

Cheshire: 130, 0

Clarksburg: 44, 0

Dalton: 300, 0

Egremont: 16, 0

Florida: 19, fewer than 5

Great Barrington: 461, 0

Hancock: 18, fewer than 5

Hinsdale: 72, 0

Lanesborough: 114, 0

Lee: 339, fewer than 5

Lenox: 243, fewer than 5

Monterey: 20, 0

Mount Washington: 6, 0

New Ashford: fewer than 5, 0

New Marlborough: 23, 0

North Adams: 590, 12

Otis: 65, 0

Peru: 12, 0

Pittsfield: 3,004, 5

Richmond: 42, 0

Sandisfield: 39, 0

Savoy: 16, 0

Sheffield: 118, 5

Stockbridge: 71, fewer than 5

Tyringham: 8, 0

Washington: 9, 0

West Stockbridge: 41, 0

Williamstown: 298, fewer than 5

Windsor: 25, 0

WIDER WORLD OF COVID: Global cases top 185,858,801, with 4,014,591 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has seen at least 33,808,117 cases and 606,773 deaths.

Across the world, more than 3.3 billion vaccine doses have been administered, Johns Hopkins reports. More than 331 million of those have been administered in the U.S.

HOSPITAL CHECK: Berkshire Medical Center reported caring for three COVID-19 patients as of Friday. Statewide, 87 people are hospitalized, 25 are in ICU and 11 are on ventilators; the number of patients in the hospital and the number of those in intensive care have both dropped since last week, while the number of ventilated patients has held steady.

COVID-19 VACCINES: For information on vaccines and to schedule an appointment, visit getvaccinatedberkshires.org.

Appointments are now available seven days a week for walk-ins at the testing sites in Pittsfield and North Adams. (See below for addresses). Vaccines are available from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Pittsfield and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in North Adams.

In South County, Fairview Hospital is administering vaccinations on-site at the hospital Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

TESTING: “Stop the Spread” testing sites are open at three Berkshire Health Systems locations. Tests will be conducted for any reason, with the state picking up the cost. To schedule a test, call the toll-free hotline, 855-262-5465, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

Locations are: Pittsfield, 505 East St., St Luke’s Square, adjacent to BHS Urgent Care Center; North Adams, 98 Church St., next to the city library; Great Barrington: 475 Main St. Tests can also be obtained through CVS by filling out a form online.

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Francesca Paris can be reached at fparis@berkshireeagle.com and 510-207-2535.