North Adams plans to reopen 'slowly and cautiously'

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NORTH ADAMS — There may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but it's not that bright, and it's going to be a long slog to daylight.

Reopening the city will happen "slowly and cautiously by following the data and with a tremendous amount of personal responsibility," Mayor Thomas Bernard told The Eagle on Thursday.

He cautioned that things will not suddenly snap back to the way things were before the pandemic.

"It's not going to be the same," Bernard said. "This is something we're going to have to deal with until we have a treatment or a vaccine. The challenge is not to accelerate too quickly."

He explained that the phase one openings, beginning Monday, will have to be cautious about moving into the new ways of doing business — solving the challenges to operating the business while still maintaining social distancing with the continued use of face coverings and personal hygiene such as frequent hand-washing.

And with the first phase going for three weeks, if the data shows no new spikes in infections, then phase two would come next. But if the data show a spike of more new cases, phase two would be delayed.

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To do otherwise, Bernard warned, would risk the need for new lockdowns and slow the speed of the economic recovery, even locally.

"The best advice is coming from the public health experts who are looking at the data," he said. "But this is a time when temptations are strong — the sun is shining and it's warm out again. So it is going to come down to personal responsibility, and business owners being responsible in their reopenings."

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He said houses of worship will have to figure out how to maintain physical distances and face coverings. Parks will be open, but only for passive recreation such as jogging or walking. But facilities such as the basketball courts, baseball fields and the skate park will remain off limits.

And reopening City Hall remains under discussion.

"Not before June," Bernard said. "We are weighing our options, but we're in no hurry. It could push back to July."

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He urged businesses that are working through the guidelines and have questions about how to implement those best in site-specific ways should contact the North Adams Board of Health for help with that process.

Inspections are not required before the businesses in phase one can open, but if complaints are filed by customers or employees, and violations are determined to be true, that would be followed by a verbal warning. Without improvements, a written warning, followed by a fine and then — with no response — an order to cease and desist, Bernard said.

"They have no obligation to open right away, so they can take their time to get it right," he added.

Offices should make arrangements for allowing 25 percent of maximum occupancy at the most. Retail will be allowed with curbside service. Hair salons and barbershops will be permitted to open by appointment only. Phase one will go for at least three weeks before phase two kicks in — and only if the data shows no spike in new cases, Bernard said.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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