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5 asymptomatic staffers test positive for coronavirus at Williamstown Commons

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WILLIAMSTOWN — With state testing guidelines loosening to acknowledge asymptomatic cases, all staff at Williamstown Commons have now been tested, revealing five so far without symptoms.

Some 73 residents have tested positive, according to Lisa Gaudet, communications vice president for Berkshire Healthcare Systems, which owns the nursing home. Of the 73, 15 have died, 17 have recovered, 35 remain in the nursing home's COVID-19 unit, and six are at the hospital receiving higher-level care.

Test results for an additional 15 staffers are still pending, Gaudet said, and results for 102 more came back negative.

State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, said he wishes the state had acted sooner to loosen testing guidelines that previously required the presence of symptoms. Doing so would have allowed facilities like Williamstown Commons to get a handle sooner on how the virus was spreading through the building.

"That's the thing that bothered me more than anything," he said, noting he started pushing for buildingwide testing in late March. "They could have been ahead of the curve."

Despite the darkness and uncertainty, there are still signs of hope within the building as more residents show signs of recovery.

Kevin Thomas, of North Adams, said his mother is a resident of the facility who has recovered from the virus. He said his mother, Barbara Johnson, 79, has type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia, and still she fared well.

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"It was such a mild case that I didn't even know she was sick," he said.

Thomas said he speaks with his mom several times a week by phone, and the staff helps to arrange a weekly video call between them.

Asked how he thinks she managed a mild case, Thomas said he's not sure.

"I have no idea, but I think it's something that tells us a lot about this illness," he said, noting younger, more athletic people have died, while his health-challenged mother "could just sail through, as if it were a very minor cold."

Thomas said the whole ordeal has been nerve-wracking, but the staff continues to prove worthy of his trust in the face of the unprecedented conditions they're working under.

"At a time when I can't just drop in and take a temperature in the room at the nurses station, I'm really banking on that trust," he said. "That is something that helps me sleep at night."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-464-2859.


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