PITTSFIELD — One hopes the sense of anti-climax holds. The city of Pittsfield on Tuesday officially lifted the state of emergency that Mayor Linda Tyer declared in March 2020, acting on the same day the state’s governor ended his COVID-19 order.
Both moves Tuesday came 17 days after Gov. Charlie Baker ended restrictions on how many people could gather.
“This is an administrative step that allows us to be in alignment with the state,” Tyer said in a statement from her office.
The mayor’s action lowers the temperature on the city’s response to the pandemic but doesn’t close out a sense of watchfulness in the city’s Health Department.
Gina Armstrong, Pittsfield’s health director, said Tuesday that people in her office still have work to do. They are contacting the few people with new positive test results for COVID-19 and are working to extend the reach of vaccines locally.
“We have to wait and see how this all plays out,” Armstrong said Tuesday.
On June 2, the Board of Health lifted two emergency orders that it had put into place, in accord with the easing of social distancing restrictions in light of steady progress made over the spring to create widespread immunity to the disease through vaccination.
In the previous state report, Pittsfield moved into the “gray” category of least risk by having fewer than 10 new cases over a 14-day period. The city led the county on the number of new cases during those two weeks, but the number was small, just nine, bringing the pandemic total to 2,998 as of Thursday.
New cases in the county have slowed to a crawl, adding just two since late last week.
“Right now, we’re at a very good place,” Armstrong said.
Nonetheless, the city’s Health Department continues to work with several nurses who handle contact tracing efforts after positive COVID-19 cases are identified. That work is overseen by Kayla Donnelly-Winters.
“They’re going to stay on board. We’re going to keep them on board and be able to scale up as we need,” Armstrong said of those nurses. At one point, the city had as many as a half-dozen public health nurses reaching out to people found to have the novel coronavirus, in efforts to curb the spread of the disease, particularly in the weeks after Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Armstrong said the city has seen a few cases of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 despite having been fully vaccinated. The public health staff also is on the lookout for signs of virus variants.
On the prevention side, Armstrong said a key focus in the weeks ahead will be shaping strategies to reach the unvaccinated in Berkshire County. As of the latest state report, last Thursday, 55 percent of the county’s residents have been vaccinated fully.
On Tuesday, Baker announced that the state will award five $1 million prizes to adults who received vaccines and $300,000 college scholarships to five adolescents.
“All incentives are good,” Armstrong said.
In Pittsfield, special steps will be taken to reach people ages 12 to 15, and also those ages 20 to 29, she said.
“We’re doing very well. The percent of those vaccinated in Berkshire County is very good, but we want to continue to really work on those categories,” she said.
Armstrong paused when asked to reflect on the pandemic year’s lessons. Despite the uncertainty and challenges, and the death of 287 county residents as of Tuesday, she said she is thankful for the way health officials hurried to collaborate to protect the public.
Her list of partners is long. She mentioned Tyer’s coronavirus work group, which took advantage of the March 2020 emergency order to shape a unified approach to the crisis throughout the city, drawing together a range of senior city officials to fight the pandemic.
She also praised other local and state officials who rallied. In a follow-up email, Armstrong felt compelled to be even more specific.
“I also want to also include Berkshire Health Systems, the Berkshire County Board of Health Association, the Health Department staff and our contact tracing nurse team, members of the Board of Health, our local [legislative] delegation, the Western Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps and Berkshire Community College.”
“It was remarkable how we were able to respond to the emergency. So, I’m grateful for that,” she said.