PITTSFIELD — The city will be keeping close watch to track whether Thanksgiving leads to a rise in coronavirus cases, as it could make or break hopes of bringing students back to classrooms early next month.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a plea to Americans urging them to celebrate Thursday’s holiday with household members only, guidance echoed by city officials. Hopes are that the city can avoid a repeat scenario of Halloween, which Pittsfield Public School’s Interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis said last week was followed days later by a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases.
The earliest that Pittsfield Public Schools students could return to hybrid instruction is Monday, Dec. 7, though Curtis told School Committee members last Wednesday that all-remote learning may be extended even longer, depending on what coronavirus transmission data show in coming days and weeks. He said officials should have a good sense of how Thanksgiving affected local coronavirus case rates by Dec. 4.
Amid the COVID-19 related closures in Pittsfield and Berkshire County, City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio submitted a few petitions for Tuesday’s council meeting, including one asking for a member of Mayor Linda Tyer’s COVID-19 Task Force to brief the council at each of their meetings, and another seeking information about any coronavirus safety violations the city identified at restaurants.
Along with large private gatherings, the city blamed indoor dining as contributing to rising coronavirus cases, and moved earlier this month to limit local eateries to takeout, pick-up and outdoor dining only.
Last week, the city decided to start enforcing existing park regulations that mean homeless encampments will no longer be tolerated in Springside Park, beginning Dec. 1, after officials expressed concern about the hazards of allowing camping on public properties during the cold winter months. Maffuccio also wants to know about any plans for opening a “warming station” for those experiencing homelessness this winter, and has a fourth petition asking the mayor to set up a task force “for the purpose of developing a permanent housing solution in the city.”
And, just when it seemed Tyer’s $500,000 exterior home loan program had the support of enough city councilors to become a reality earlier this month, the chief opponent of the funding source Tyer proposed for the program, Councilor Chris Connell, called a charter objection, effectively suspending all debate.
Debate about the program, called At Home in Pittsfield, is set to resume at Tuesday’s 7 p.m. virtual City Council meeting.
Tyer requested a half-million dollar appropriation from the General Electric Economic Development Fund to fund the program, which requires support from a supermajority of city councilors for approval. Her proposal would see 60 percent of the funds directed to homeowners in the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods, and the remainder to homeowners in all other areas of the city.
Just last week, the Tyer Administration celebrated after the state announced the city will be receiving a $3 million funding infusion for streetscapes on and along the heavily trafficked Tyler Street. The MassWorks money will be spent upgrading sidewalks, crosswalks and lighting with the goal of helping to stimulate extensive economic and resident investment, according to a news release.