Our Opinion: In coronavirus numbers, a call to keep guard up

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Monday marked six months since the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Berkshire County. It has been a difficult half-year of grappling with the pandemic and its fallout, but the Berkshires have largely proven resilient in the face of the virus.

Earlier in the year, Massachusetts was considered one of the initial "hot spots" in the country, and while its struggles were not on par with New York's, the area's death toll was tragically augmented by outbreaks at assisted living facilities like Williamstown Commons and Holyoke Soldiers Home. Nevertheless, thanks to local and state leaders taking the pandemic seriously and the public's buy-in to safety guidelines, the region has so far managed to blunt the viral impact. Berkshire County's coronavirus caseload rose slightly to 672 over the long weekend, and the death toll held at 46.

It has been a battle of attrition, fought with discipline and sacrifice. Forgoing the bulk of the Berkshires' normally bustling summer season was a public health necessity whose sting pierced the economic and social fabric of our fair shire. Yet diligence remains important to preserve these gains as we continue on the long and narrow road to normalcy. Massachusetts' case count on Tuesday moved past 121,000 after adding more than 1,000 new cases over Labor Day Weekend. And while Bay Staters worked hard to get our transmission rate under control — Massachusetts had the U.S.'s lowest coronavirus transmission rate in June — the Rt has crept up back around 1. Keeping that number below 1 is crucial to curbing infections.

To be sure, an uptick in cases from Labor Day is not a surprise, as many were likely to get out and quash this strange summer's cabin fever over the long weekend. Still, it underscores that while we can see the light we're not yet at the end of the tunnel. This is especially important to remember as we approach the school year, which will significantly shift the overall risk picture for many communities in the Berkshires and beyond. By the numbers, Berkshire County is still doing well, and all this does not mean we should discard our cautious optimism; it's simply a reminder not to forget the "cautious" part.

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