Linda Tyer

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer on Friday announced the establishment of a grant program that will provide up to $5,000 to city restaurants suffering from the impacts of the pandemic.

PITTSFIELD — City health officials attribute most of the “alarming rise” in new coronavirus cases in the past couple of weeks to large private gatherings — namely house parties and groups dining together at restaurants.

There were 46 new positive COVID-19 cases reported in Pittsfield over the past two weeks, according to a city news release. Mayor Linda Tyer has said that, until recently, the city had been averaging about five cases over a two-week time period.

“The alarming rise in new cases ought to grab everyone’s attention. We must all double down on the COVID-19 safety practices that got us through the surge,” Tyer said.

Coronavirus cases have been on the rise statewide recently, and Friday, new coronavirus rules targeting household gatherings and restaurants went into effect. Under the new rules, residential gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

And in Pittsfield, it was house parties and groups dining together at restaurants that mainly drove the sharp rise in cases, according to the release issued Friday afternoon by the mayor’s director of administrative services, Roberta McCulloch-Dews.

“The cases are exploding and they are related to a couple of specific gatherings,” Health Director Gina Armstrong said in the release, calling on the public to avoid gathering indoors or in proximity to others.

“The ripple effect is significant,” she added. “That’s why we are urging residents to follow the safety guidelines. Avoid indoor and close quarter gatherings as these spaces are prime environments for spreading COVID.”

One effect of the recent uptick was a rush of people concerned about their exposure and seeking a test, said Public Health Nurse Kayla Donnelly, according to the release. She outlined the “very specific set of actions” residents must follow to get the most accurate test results.

“First, self-quarantine as soon as you know you’ve been around someone with COVID-19. Second, individuals who are experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms should promptly seek testing through the Berkshire Medical Center testing site,” she said.

Those who believe they might have been exposed to COVID-19, but are not experiencing symptoms, should take care not to get tested for the virus prematurely, Donnelly said.

“I understand why people would want to be tested immediately, but there really needs to be a four-day incubation period after first learning of exposure to prevent a false negative,” Donnelly said.

The city is strengthening coronavirus health and safety protocols and adding more public health nurses to its team of contract tracers. The nurses will continue calling close contacts of those with positive results.

To arrange a COVID-19 test, the BMC Link Line, at 855-262-5465, is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week.

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

Cops and Courts Reporter

Amanda Burke is Cops and Courts Reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.