Our Opinion: Emergency plan finds right balance

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The word "emergency" automatically sets off alarms, but the declaration of a state of emergency in Pittsfield Thursday by Mayor Linda Tyer is essentially a pro forma exercise that enables the mayor to act quickly in response to the coronavirus pandemic and appeal for state and federal financial assistance. At her press conference, the mayor also introduced a 30-day action plan consisting largely of common sense measures that private businesses should consider, as the mayor recommended, if they have not done so already.

The plan suspends work-related travel to municipal employees, encourages remote connections for meetings, and directs employees to stay home if they have respiratory or flu-like symptoms. Permits for special events will not be granted for the course of the 30-day plan. The mayor also introduced her preparedness planning team, consisting primarily of the City Hall hierarchy.

The mayor is not seeking a shutdown of the city, which would be impractical and an overreaction. The City Council, School Committee and other boards will continue to meet, although the mayor requested that agendas be kept short. The schools, City Hall, library and senior center will remain open but on the alert. The reality is that while it is not "business as usual" in the city and state right now, people do have business to attend to and lives to lead, which is why we hope that grocery stores, doctor's offices and pharmacies will remain open in the city, and in the county for that matter.

Information has been coming out slowly about the number of coronavirus cases in the Berkshires, which is frustrating to everyone trying to get a handle on the extent of the crisis. Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, said after the press conference that local and state leaders are seeking a Berkshire testing site, a decision that would have to come from Washington. It is difficult to be optimistic that such a site will be established soon.

On Beacon Hill, state Reps. "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, and John Barrett III, a North Adams Democrat, introduced legislation Thursday creating a quarantine assistance fund to provide grants to state residents who are unable to work and collect wages due to coronavirus infection, or quarantine. This will be of value to workers whose employers don't step up and pay sick leave to those affected by the pandemic.

This is "an unnerving time for all of us," said Mayor Tyer on Thursday. We'd like to think that when this time has passed it will leave behind a renewed appreciation for science, public health agencies, and effective government, all of which are taken for granted or even disparaged today in certain circles. There will be lessons to be learned as well, if we are all willing to learn them and act upon them.

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