Our Opinion: Don't drop guard in COVID-19 battle

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It could change at any moment, but the news Thursday that there were no COVID-19 patients in Berkshire hospitals is a cause for cheer. ("The Checkup: Berkshires sees first day of no COVID hospitalizations since outbreak," June 12.) The challenge now is to keep it that way as Berkshire County and the rest of the state slowly reopen their economies.

Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield has no coronavirus patients for the first time since the pandemic struck in March, while Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington has not had any coronavirus patients in weeks. Doctors and nurses responded to the challenge in the early weeks of the pandemic when cases came quickly in the Berkshires and the hospitals were never overwhelmed as was feared.

The county had 575 documented cases as of Thursday, a modest total compared to hard-hit eastern sections of the state. Our small population spread out over the county has worked to our advantage, and we'd like to think that residents contributed by diligently following safety guidelines.

With the state in Phase 2 of the reopening designed by the Baker administration, the Berkshires can look to several states currently experiencing spikes in COVID-19 cases. For the most part these are states like Texas that reopened early and hastily. The capital city of Austin has been forced to suspend its reopening process and retreat to shelter-in-place at least temporarily in a bid to flatten the curve once more.

Massachusetts and Connecticut were the last two states to reopen, and while there was understandable impatience the caution seems wise. The governor said during his daily briefing Wednesday that regular testing and increased contact tracing of confirmed cases, along with diligent safety practices on the part of businesses and residents, will ideally enable the state to avoid a spike going forward like other states are experiencing. But he did caution that the state could halt or roll back its four-phase reopening should cases increase significantly.

In another bit of encouraging news, the state Department of Public Health reported that COVID-19 recoveries are outpacing new cases. Of the roughly 100,000 people whose coronavirus diagnosis was confirmed by a molecular test, 84 percent have recovered.

The reality, however, is that COVID-19 will be with us for awhile. There have been advances toward a vaccine but the process is laborious and necessarily cautious. We will be wearing masks in public for some time. Social distancing must continue to be observed along with the diligent hand-washing that by now should be second nature. In this way the Berkshires can avoid a spike in instances of the potentially deadly, enable people to avoid hospitalization for the virus, and keep its careful economic reopening on track.



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