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For seasonal residents, Berkshires provide shelter from the storm

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For second-home owners with deep ties to the Berkshires, what better place to wait out the coronavirus outbreak than in a setting far more pastoral and peaceful than the densely populated New York or Boston metro areas?

It's a phenomenon also observed on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, as well as New York's Catskills and Adirondack Mountain resort areas.

An uncounted number of urbanites have settled in to their vacation retreats, condos and short-term Airbnb rentals, setting up shop to work remotely and taking walks in the woods and on trails along the Housatonic River.

But, reflecting concern among some year-round Berkshirites about potential exposure to COVID-19 from recent arrivals — especially from the nation's virus epicenter, New York City and vicinity — the Tri-Town Health Department covering Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge is discouraging lodging and rental hosts from booking guests from outside the area.

Joined by the Stockbridge Select Board, Tri-Town Health urges people from outside the county to self-quarantine for 14 days if they have been in the New York metro area recently. Gov. Charlie Baker issued similar statewide guidance on Friday, applying to all travelers entering Massachusetts, and discouraging visitation for the time being. Great Barrington town officials also are discouraging second-home owners from descending to town, citing a strain on resources.

Several part-time residents contacted by The Eagle emphasized their regimen since arriving in South Berkshire — self-isolation, abiding by the rules set by the state when venturing outside.

Claudio and Penny Pincus decamped from their Summit, N.J., primary residence to their Stockbridge condo two weeks ago, joined by their son, Daniel, and daughter-in-law, Becky, who live in Manhattan's West Village neighborhood and who are expecting a baby in August.

"Penny and I are in the dangerous group, so we felt we should all be together and try to help each other in a safe area," Claudio Pincus said in a phone interview.

"We're staying in the house, we haven't interacted with anybody," Penny Pincus said. "The days go by so quickly, everybody's working. There are quite a few people here from New York, New Jersey, Boston. The city is a scary place to be right now."

Living in a wooded area where they can take solitary walks while maintaining self-isolation, the family arrived with food and medicine. They stock up from Big Y via the Instacart delivery service and pick up prescriptions from the drive-through window at a Lenox pharmacy.

"We have been happy to have the capacity to maintain an active work life from here, consulting and book-publishing," said Claudio, who's president of a pharmaceutical consulting company. "We are prepared for the long run, we don't have to mingle with anybody, and since everybody's suspicious of everyone else, we maintain our distance."

Maintaining long-standing connections to the Berkshires, singer, actor and voice artist Deborah Grausman, a Manhattan resident, said she decided after careful consideration to relocate to her family's second home in Lenox, where she could stay indoors with more space and help out her parents with food and pharmacy needs, since they are "at higher risk due to their age."

"I feel very at home in the Berkshires," she said, citing a decade as a camper and staffer at Belvoir Terrace, the Lenox arts camp, vocal student at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and apprentice and performer at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge years ago.

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A 30-something who has trained and performed at Shakespeare & Company and organized several "Broadway in the Berkshires" fundraisers there, Grausman stressed that she maintains 6 feet of social separation when running errands and shopping, using wipes and hand-sanitizers, and purchasing via Apple Pay, wherever possible.

"I am taking this seriously to protect the health of my family and also the health of the community," she explained in an e-mail interview. "I wear a scarf and put it up over my nose and mouth, if I feel the need — mostly as a reminder not to touch my face. I take walks when the weather is nice. It's invaluable to be so close to nature at a time like this."

Grausman, who had been self-quarantining in New York City, avoided public transportation as well as physical contact with anyone who has the coronavirus.

Now, she's only leaving the house for necessities, and — except for her family at home — restricts social interaction to FaceTime and the Zoom teleconferencing app to practice TV and film auditions with actor friends.

Grausman has voiced a character on public TV's "Sesame Street" in recent years. "Being in the voice-over industry is a blessing at a time like this," she said. "I am lucky that I can audition and book work from home."

A semi-retired physician from the New York area and his wife, who preferred not to be identified, returned to their South County second home three weeks ago.

"We decided to spend time here because we were in the heart of everything," she said, "since his work situation put him in the middle of the clinical crisis. We knew we had to get out, it was essential, especially with our underlying health conditions. We're in our 80s, the most vulnerable group."

In a joint phone interview, the couple said they are continuing to self-quarantine "not just to be prudent, but because it's medically correct." They take self-isolation very seriously, having groceries delivered and stored in a garage for several days to eradicate the potential presence of the virus.

They also support electronic warning signs as "a terrific idea" to alert travelers to the state's strict self-quarantine requirements for non-residents.

"We will be here until we consider it safe to return home, another month or more if necessary," the couple said.

"I'm continuing to be in touch with patients in need via the telephone, since many doctors' offices have been closed in New York City," the physician pointed out.

"We don't let anybody in our house," they said. "For us, it's a matter of survival."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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