In August, as COVID-19 cases climbed yet again, Gov. Baker put a rigid mandate into place, requiring all state employees under his authority to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 17.
Unlike some of the Biden administration’s efforts to increase vaccination rates across the country, Baker did not leave room for employees to test weekly rather than vaccinating.
Several unions representing state workers – including state police and correctional officers – immediately spoke out in protest against the mandate.
But one of those protests failed on Thursday, when a Superior Court judge denied a State Police union request to block implementation of the mandate until the details could be be collectively bargained.
The decision leaves unvaccinated troopers with just days to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine or face potential disciplinary action, including the loss of their job, when they are not fully vaccinated by mid-October.
Judge Jackie Cowin ruled that the State Police Association of Massachusetts, which represents some 1,800 troopers, had failed to show that delaying implementation of the mandate would either cause irreparable harm to its members – or that a delay would serve the public interest.
“As such, suspending the deadline for union members to obtain full vaccination would be against the public interest which the defendants are charged with protecting, and cause more harm to the Commonwealth than is caused to the union by denial of such relief,” Cowin wrote in her decision.
Some 80 percent of the union’s members are already vaccinated, according to The Boston Globe.
It’s a decision that also has impact for the Berkshires, where state police operate out of multiple locations.
The ruling might also have ramifications for decision-making at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction.
Those employees do not fall under the purview of the mandate, according to Sheriff Thomas Bowler, and already have a vaccination rate of 80 to 85 percent. But when an outbreak struck the jail, infecting more than a dozen inmates and six staff, Bowler told The Eagle he was not looking into a vaccine mandate for staff, in large part due to concerns about union opposition.
“A lot of it is collective bargaining issues,” Bowler told The Eagle earlier this month. “We’re not considering it at this point, number one because we’re 85 percent vaccinated, but also because you run into some litigation [issues].”
At the time, he cited opposition to the state mandate as an area of concern.
KEY STATS: Berkshire County saw three new COVID-19 deaths during the past week. To date, the county has 312 reported deaths. The confirmed case count rose by 170 over the past week, to 7,995. The most recent 14-day test positivity rate reported for the county was 1.7 percent, as of Sept. 18.
STATE PICTURE: The state Department of Public Health said 92 new confirmed deaths were reported during the past week, pushing the statewide total to 18,154. Over the past week, confirmed cases rose by 11,137, to 749,440.
VACCINATIONS: According to the state’s latest report, 73 percent of Berkshire County residents have received at least one shot and 64 percent are vaccinated fully.
Note that this data, while the best available estimate, still might not accurately reflect the county’s vaccination rates for several reasons.
Part-time residents who moved to the county during the pandemic, or who left and received their shots elsewhere, might be artificially raising or lowering the rate. People who got vaccinated in other states are not counted in the data. The rates provided by the state also rely on census estimates, rather than new census data.
Town-by-town rates provided by the state also are inaccurate in many cases, since the state collects that data by ZIP code, and many Berkshire County municipalities share ZIP codes.
COVID QUESTIONS? From third doses to kid vaccinations to mask guidance, there’s a lot of virus news to pay attention to right now. Have questions? Want to see more data in this column? Send us your inquiries, concerns and feedback. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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 during the past 14 days. These data are accurate as of Sept. 19.
Adams: 457; 16
Alford: Fewer than 5; 0
Becket: 94; 10
Cheshire: 161; 7
Clarksburg: 60; fewer than 5
Dalton: 370; 10
Egremont: 24; fewer than 5
Florida: 19; 0
Great Barrington: 540; 13
Hancock: 19; fewer than 5
Hinsdale: 89; 7
Lanesborough: 146; 7
Lee: 389; 8
Lenox: 288; 8
Monterey: 28; fewer than 5
Mount Washington: 7; fewer than 5
New Ashford: 6; fewer than 5
New Marlborough: 31; 0
North Adams: 776; 26
Otis: 88; 6
Peru: 15; fewer than 5
Pittsfield: 3,519; 146
Richmond: 47; fewer than 5
Sandisfield: 69; 20
Savoy: 24; fewer than 5
Sheffield: 138; fewer than 5
Stockbridge: 82; fewer than 5
Tyringham: 9; 0
Washington: 15; 0
West Stockbridge: 53; fewer thn 5
Williamstown: 343; 17
Windsor: 28; fewer than 5
WIDER WORLD OF COVID: Global cases top 230,912,407 with 4,733,562 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has seen at least 42,758,909 cases and 685,759 deaths.
Across the world, more than 6 billion vaccine doses have been administered, Johns Hopkins reports. More than 387 million of those have been administered in the U.S.
HOSPITAL CHECK: Berkshire Health Systems reported caring for eleven COVID-19 patients as of Friday. Statewide, 606 people are hospitalized, 165 are in intensive care units and 96 are intubated.
COVID-19 VACCINES: For information on vaccines and to schedule an appointment, visit getvaccinatedberkshires.org.
Appointments now are available seven days a week at the testing sites at 505 East St. in Pittsfield and 98 Church St. in North Adams. Vaccines are available from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in both cities.
BMC Urgent Care, also located at 505 East St. in Pittsfield, is providing appointments until 7:30 p.m.
In South County, Fairview Hospital is administering vaccinations on-site at the hospital from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments are required. Call 855-262-5465.
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 also can be obtained through CVS by filling out a form online.
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State House News Service contributed to this report.