PITTSFIELD — As local COVID-19 cases trend upward, the state’s new steps to stop infections will force families to scale back on planned holiday celebrations.
Over the past eight days, 24 new cases were reported in the city, Tyer said, above the number of new cases the city had been averaging over the past two months. In a social media announcement about the governor’s orders, Tyer said Pittsfield likely will jump into the “red” category on the state’s stoplight map, which denotes high risk, when the data is updated next, on Thursday.
Among other things, Baker’s orders limit the size of gatherings at private residences to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. He issued a stay-at-home advisory that asks people not to go out from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., with some exceptions, and requires everyone older than 5 to wear a mask in public spaces, either inside or outside, regardless of whether social distancing is possible.
Under the orders, 9:30 p.m. is the cutoff for a few different things — it’s when restaurants must stop table service, when liquor sales end and when residential gatherings must wrap up. The measures might seem draconian to some, said Dr. Alan Kulberg, chair of the city’s Board of Health, but they are necessary to slow the spread.
The city, Tyer said, is at a vital point when it comes to its ability to do that. Compliance by the public is key to keeping children in school and the local economy as open as possible.
“If everyone does the right thing, we can stabilize,” she said. “Pittsfield did it then, and we can do it again.”
The active cases in Pittsfield either were part of a coronavirus cluster or the result of community spread, the mayor said. Many of the new cases, Kulberg said, were related to a birthday party that happened two weekends ago, when, he said, revelers got together at a couple of local establishments.
“Many of them are related to a young adult’s birthday party, which drew people from various areas of the city together, and they congregated in a number of different places,” he said. “There was cross-infection occurring because of that.”
The cases included staff of two area care facilities — Lenox’s Kimball Farms and Berkshire Place in Pittsfield, according to Kulberg. Public Health Nurse Kayla Donnelly is heading up the effort to contact close contacts of those who tested positive for the virus.
Kulberg said the uptick isn’t surprising, as the weather has grown colder and people are spending more time inside. He expects that the governor’s orders on the size of gatherings will remain in place through Thanksgiving, and represent a “preemptive strike” against any temptation to throw a large celebration.
With the cap on indoor gatherings to decline to 10, as of 12:01 a.m. Friday, that means a family of four, he said, could invite no more than six others to their house without running afoul of the order.
“People ought to come to grips with the fact that Thanksgiving 2020 is going to be a different experience from what they’ve enjoyed in past years, in the interest of trying to reduce the spread of the virus,” Kulberg said. “Make peace with it, and maybe buy a smaller turkey this year.”
Face coverings also should be worn inside homes whenever nonhousehold members are present, he said.
Kulberg acknowledged the difficulty inherent in enforcing some of the regulations.
“The state’s not going to know exactly how many people you have in your house, so, a lot of this is going to rest on personal responsibility and the recommendations of local health authorities,” he said.
Tyer called on residents to follow the regulations, to do right by the grocery clerks, nurses, first responders and other essential workers on the front lines of the crisis.
According to Kulberg, a test performed on a sample of wastewater from the city’s treatment plant Oct. 20 did not show the presence of a genetic marker of COVID-19. He expects that won’t be the case for a subsequent sample whose test results were pending.
Yuki Cohen, the city councilor and owner of Methuselah Bar and Lounge, said she will have to find a way to soften the financial blow of not being able to offer late-night food service, which, she said, accounts for one-third of the establishment’s business.
“That will definitely affect our business,” she said, “but, we’ve had to pivot before.”
She said she doesn’t think her younger clientele will stop getting together with one another, despite the governor’s orders, and could end up somewhere without the benefit of the COVID-19 safety measures enforced at Methuselah.
“It’s not going to keep them from gathering; they’re just going to gather in a more unregulated manner,” she said. “If they gather in somebody’s home, will they follow the same rules?”