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Look Ahead, Pittsfield: City braces for peak coronavirus impacts, economic fallout

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PITTSFIELD — The coronavirus surge that leaders have feared could arrive in the Berkshires this week.

Statewide, Gov. Charlie Baker predicts case counts will peak between April 10 and April 20, exceeding existing capacity by 500 hospital beds.

With the surge on its way, Mayor Linda Tyer urges residents to double down on social distancing. It's getting harder to stay home, she acknowledged during her Friday address, but it's more important than ever to keep at it. Without these measures, COVID-19 hospitalizations could push the local hospital system beyond its limits.

Berkshire Health Systems has been working to keep the hospital's census low, freeing up beds throughout its network for a possible surge. Berkshire physicians have also been pushing telehealth appointments as a way to monitor virus-positive patients, as well as others who may need to be monitored in hopes of avoiding hospitalization for all kinds of reasons.

Meantime, a battle over the hospital's handing of the crisis continues to brew between the nurses union and hospital leadership.

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And what of emerging medical treatments? BHS leaders say they've begun experimenting with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin on COVID-19 patients, which has had some success, but the demand for these medicines is high and the hospital has struggled to acquire more.

The economic fallout from this wave could be just as damaging as the pandemic itself, the mayor says, promising to roll out an economic relief plan for city residents and businesses. The plan remains under design, but she points to a pending cash infusion from the Community Development Block Grant program, as well as the city's existing Small Business Fund and Economic Development Fund.

Tyer says her goal is to complement federal economic development initiatives, deploying these funds in a way that provides the city some economic relief.

The old St. Joseph's Central High School is slated to open Monday as a temporary homeless shelter amid the coronavirus crisis. ServiceNet, the agency that owns Barton's Crossing, will run the initiative with a fresh grant from Berkshire United Way.

The issue of overcrowding at the local shelters loomed large last month given new priorities surrounding social distancing. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will lead hotel-based efforts to house homeless people diagnosed with the virus, while those who are healthy can stay in separate quarters of the old high school on Maplewood Avenue.

Talk to me at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, or at 413-464-2859.


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