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COVID-19 cases in Berkshires rise to 71, nearly double from Tuesday

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PITTSFIELD — The number of novel coronavirus cases reported in Berkshire County on Wednesday nearly doubled as a slew of test results returned from the lab at the same time.

As of Wednesday, the county has 71 cases, up from 37 on Tuesday, when the state Department of Public Health announced the second death of a county resident who was hospitalized for other health problems.

There's a reason for the swift jump, said Michael Leary, media relations director for Berkshire Health Systems, which is performing nearly all of the county's testing.

It's due to both a lag in results from earlier patient samples sent to the state's lab in Boston, and a faster turnaround from another lab that was authorized last week to start processing. 

BHS, which runs Berkshire Medical Center, is now able to send test swabs to Quest Diagnostics, which it typically uses. 

Of the more than 400 people tested so far, the positive rate for COVID-19 is 15.8 percent, Leary added. A total of 393 people have been tested in the hospital's drive-thru, and more as inpatients.

And as of Wednesday afternoon, the hospital network had 10 patients who have tested positive, and 28 additional people with virus symptoms who were awaiting results. 

Cases also rose statewide since Tuesday's tally, with an increase of 679 for a total of 1,838, and four new deaths for a total of 15 since the outbreak started. 

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The spike comes amid the spread of the virus nationwide as health care systems scramble to increase testing and equipment supplies amid shortages. 

In the Berkshires and statewide, the test shortages slowed the pace of testing earlier this week.

Local doctors say that without widespread testing, positive case counts do not give a meaningful picture of the extent of the virus' march through the county.

COVID-19 has also been detected for the first time at a nursing home in the Berkshires, after a resident of Williamstown Commons tested positive this week.

The spread of infection is sparking extraordinary measures. 

Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday ordered all schools and day care programs closed until May 4, with the exception of emergency child care for medical and other essential workers. The state will, in turn, increase its online learning resources for students. Baker is also fortifying the state's housing coffers to protect people from eviction, and has ordered a 60-day stay on foreclosures.

His directive also gives guidance to essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies to protect patrons. This includes offering free paper bags, and lifting of municipal bans on plastic bags.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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