PITTSFIELD — With coronavirus metrics improving and attention turned to large-scale vaccination efforts, the medical adviser of the city’s Coronavirus Task Force has decided the time is right to step down — or “re-retire,” as he put it.
“I gave it a lot of thought and I weighed various priorities in my life and compared that with what the needs are in the Health Department,” said Dr. Alan Kulberg. “I felt the Health Department and the city was in good shape, and I felt it was a good time; that I could step back.”
Kulberg told The Eagle on Friday that he was resigning from that post immediately, but that he would remain in his role as chairman of the city’s Board of Health.
Kulberg, a retired pediatrician, still was running the Berkshire Medical Center Concussion Clinic when the coronavirus pandemic arrived in early March, he said.
On March 7, Kulberg and his wife were in central New York to attend a play when he received a text message from Gina Armstrong, the city’s director of public health. The first positive case had been detected in Pittsfield; shortly thereafter came the second.
The pandemic had arrived.
When Kulberg came back to Pittsfield at noon the next day, he went straight to the Health Department, Mayor Linda Tyer said, and joined the first meeting of her fledgling Coronavirus Task Force.
“He invited himself into our first meeting, and I couldn’t be happier, and actually prouder and more grateful, that he did that,” Tyer said. “I want to thank Dr. Kulberg from the bottom of my heart for all his work.”
Kulberg describes March 8 as “five-and-a-half hours of planning and problem solving” aimed at kicking the city’s response into high gear; work he said essentially “didn’t end until today.”
“Every day after that, it has been a full-time job for me going in and doing what needed to be done,” Kulberg said.
The 22-member task force includes the city’s team of public health nurses and a hospital liaison, as well as leadership from the police, fire, health, finance, community development and public works departments.
It has been essential to the community when it comes to developing recommendations and approaches aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus and providing education and resources to business and families as they attempt to navigate life during the pandemic, said Armstrong, who highlighted Kulberg’s expertise, humor and responsiveness in an email to colleagues.
“We found strength in his presence, decisive action and leadership through every phase of this pandemic. His humor got us through many stressful days. Many people don’t realize that his dedication to this was 24/7, handling calls and emails 7 days a week,” she wrote. “That responsiveness alleviated uncertainty and anxiety for countless people.”
What needed to be done encompassed a range of things, from analyzing data, counseling the team of public health nurses and answering the phone calls from residents who called the Health Department for medical guidance.
Callers had so many needs, medical and financial, and “very often you could hear the frustration and the fatigue in their voices when you spoke with them,” he said.
The task force was meeting twice a week last spring, Armstrong said, and Kulberg was integral in helping first responders develop staffing plans to protect employees after several Pittsfield Police officers fell ill with the virus.
Police Chief Michael Wynn said that, without Kulberg, the department could not have developed its emergency staffing plan, which firewalled officers in groupings to prevent the virus from ripping through officer ranks.
“He was supposed to retire last year and he stayed in the fight with us,” Wynn said. “He’s been a godsend, honestly.”
As of this week, amid improving metrics, the task force suspended its weekly meetings but remains intact and ready to “activate” if need be, Tyer said.
The remainder of the student body is poised to return to classrooms for hybrid learning next week, despite a division among the district and the United Educators of Pittsfield about the terms for restarting in-person school. Kulberg said he believes that the district is well-prepared to return more students back to classrooms part time.
“We are at a point now in our data where we have the lowest rate of cases per 100,000 [residents] that we’ve had in the past five months,” he said. “We’re in good shape now.”
The city now is classified in the low-risk “green” category, and new cases have been falling since mid-January.
As the region focuses on vaccinations, Kulberg isn’t bowing out altogether. He will remain on the Board of Health, where he has been for about five years, about two of them as chairperson, and will continue serving as a vaccinator at the Berkshire Community College clinic site.
But first, he is off to visit his children and grandchildren in Colorado.