Workers bringing Pittsfield City Hall closer to reopening

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer urged residents to use caution amid a spike in COVID-19 cases over the weekend. “Within your families, friends, and professional networks, please encourage everyone to DOUBLE-DOWN on their COVID-19 safety practices,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda Tyer is calling on residents to recommit to COVID-19 safety measures after 10 new positive cases were reported in the city since Sunday, and health officials believe the majority were due to community spread.

Tyer said in a statement posted to social media on Monday that the new infections were detected in people as young as 16 and as old as 78.

“Within your families, friends, and professional networks, please encourage everyone to DOUBLE-DOWN on their COVID-19 safety practices,” she wrote.

She called the new cases “very concerning” in light of the past two months, when fewer than five new cases were being reported in a two-week timespan.

The city has launched contract tracing efforts with the new crop of cases, Tyer said. It is also waiting on information from the wastewater testing company Biobot Analytics about the presence of COVID-19 in sewage.

In recent months, the bulk of the city’s coronavirus cases have been contained in clusters in which the source of new infections is apparent to contact tracers, said the city’s Public Health Nurse Kayla Donnelly. And in most of those cases, the virus was introduced to a cluster by someone who traveled outside of the state and failed to properly quarantine or isolate.

However, nine of the 10 new cases, which were reported to local health officials on Sunday and Monday, were the result of community spread. One of the 10 patients worked at a shared living facility, and is believed to have infected one other person.

“Community spread is much more concerning, because of the nature of how it was spread in the first place,” Donnelly said. “It’s not confined to one area [like an office or nursing home].”

Whether the remaining cases are linked remains unclear, she said. She and two other part-time contract tracers are working to try to find the source of those infections and get in touch with close contacts.

It’s too early to tell whether the region is seeing the beginnings of a so-called “second wave” of the virus, she said. But it’s crucially important that residents returning from higher-risk states follow Gov. Charlie Baker’s order to quarantine for 14 days, or test negative.

To hold the coronavirus at bay, Donnelly said, residents must follow the public health guidance that helped the state begin to rein in the virus in the first place.

“Don’t let your guard down, wear your masks, socially distance, stay home if you’re sick,” she said. “Every day there’s the potential for it to become better, and there’s the potential for it to become worse.”

“People don’t realize how quickly one case can turn into 10, and 10 into 100, if people don’t listen to public health experts,” she said.

In an interview Friday, Tyer said she believes the city is prepared to deal with an expected increase in cases, as people spend more time indoors in winter weather. A task force that had met daily in the early days of the pandemic, then less often, can be called back into regular session, Tyer said.

"If we see a trend, we have a solid foundation in place," she said. "We know now what works in terms of keeping people healthy. I am hopeful that the people of Pittsfield continue to be vigilant about those things."

The foundation of readiness, Tyer said, includes public understanding and acceptance of the frontline of defense against the spread of the novel coronavirus: use of masks or face coverings, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

"We've learned a lot since March," the mayor said.

With holidays approaching, Tyer acknowledged that adhering to public health precautions, particularly those that limit social gatherings, is wearing on everyone.

"All of this has just upended lives — the traditions we cherish and enjoy," she said.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.

Amanda Burke covers Pittsfield City Hall for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. Find her on Twitter at @amandaburkec.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass, investigations editor, joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and CommonWealth Magazine.