Tri-Town Health, the regional agency serving Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, is continuing its COVID-19 directive for masking indoors in public spaces and outdoors if social distancing isn’t possible.
But, members of the combined health boards in the three towns voted 9-0 on Wednesday to revise the directive, first approved Sept. 2.
Now, it specifies that only “large outdoor events with a capacity of 5,000 or more shall consider postponement where social distancing of a minimum of 6 feet per person cannot be maintained. Events less than 5,000 shall implement mitigation strategies such as masking and social distancing.”
Tri-Town Executive Director James Wilusz pointed out that the widely disseminated original directive sent a strong message to enlist the public in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic’s dominant delta variant. But, it did not include the number of people attending large-scale events, he acknowledged, leading some to think that they might have to reschedule celebrations.
“We’re not expecting people to cancel bar mitzvahs, weddings and other things happening in the community,” Wilusz emphasized. “There’s no enforcement mechanism; we’re asking the public to take responsibility, we’re not issuing fines and we haven’t actually shut down events. We’re asking people to do the best they can.”
The number of 5,000 was based on previous state Department of Health guidance on large events, Wilusz explained.
All public and private schools are directed to follow state Department of Education guidelines on masking that run until Oct. 1, unless extended, according to an additional Tri-Town amendment.
“Overall, while we can’t inspect every single business, there seemed to be a rallying of the community to welcome the directive,” Wilusz said, despite some initial confusion over several details.
Multiple businesses contacted the agency “to thank us for helping to keep them open,” he commented. “Our message was loud and clear, but was it 100 percent? Probably not. But, the community responded really well to the call of action.”
During the meeting, nurse leader Amy Hardt of the 10-town Southern Berkshire Public Health Collaborative reported that for the first three weeks of September, caseloads have dropped notably in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, as well as in Great Barrington.
So far this month, Lee has 16 cases, down from 36 during all of August. There have been 14 in Lenox, down from 30 last month, and one in Stockbridge, compared with nine in August. Statistics for Great Barrington were not immediately available.
“Things are improving, and some of this we expected with the departure of our summer visitors, with cancellations and everyone masking up again, reducing transmission,” she said. But, significant transmission continues, especially affecting younger-adult age groups with lower vaccination rates, Hardt stated.
Household spread causes the majority of new cases, she added, along with some limited workplace transmission.
As Tri-Town Health Boards Chairman Dr. Charles Kenny observed, the current case levels indicate a continuing high rate of transmission countywide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tri-Town Health’s masking directives align with CDC recommendations, Hardt said.
Wilusz noted that the board will reconvene next month to review trends and data to determine whether any further directive revisions are needed.