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The Check-Up: Cases in Berkshire up by two; Pittsfield might extend school closures

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With this daily feature, The Eagle runs down breaking local developments in the coronavirus crisis.

THE NUMBERS: As of 4 p.m. Sunday, 23 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Berkshire County, an increase of two, according to the state Department of Public Health.

PITTSFIELD EDUCATOR OFFERS CAUTION: In a message to Pittsfield residents Sunday, Superintendent Jason P. McCandless signaled that public schools could remain closed not only into April, but past that. McCandless said educators are getting ready to help parents engage in "more formal instruction" of their children — the district's enrollment is 5,200 —while schools are closed.

"We will be sending detailed plans and policies that will guide us through offering `school' even as our school buildings remain closed," he wrote.

McCandless acknowledged the challenge. "This is a complete shift in the way public schools do business."

THROUGH A GLASS, VERY DARKLY: Scientists at Columbia University are projecting how the new coronavirus will affect every county in the U.S., including our own. In a story published Friday, The New York Times presents the findings in words and graphics.

In three sets of maps, the newspaper shows how rates of infection could increase in all counties, over time, based on whether governments impose "no," "some" or "severe" measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The findings use the numbers of confirmed cases as of March 13, then build from there based on modeling that taps U.S. Census data, including travel and commuting patterns.

For Berkshire County, the model predicts that even with "some" control measures, the rate of infection among residents could reach 71 percent by July 1, affecting 93,000 people.

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By contrast, with "severe" controls, the infection rate in the county would be 3 percent by that date, with 4,500 people sickened by the virus.

At the other extreme, if "no" measures are taken — and it may be too late for that, given orders imposed by Gov. Charlie Baker and a raft of local governments — 90 percent of county residents, some 120,000 people, would be affected.

The scientists underscore that their findings are less reliable the farther the time horizon reaches.

But Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia, told The Times the situation is the worst global outbreak since Spanish flu: "We're looking at something that's catastrophic on a level that we have not seen for an infectious disease since 1918," he told the paper. "And it's requiring sacrifices we haven't seen since World War II. There are going to be enormous disruptions. There's no easy way out."

The story says that even if the rate of transmission is cut by half, 650,000 people in the U.S. could be infected over the next 60 days.

DEPT. OF SOLUTIONS: The men and women in blue in Adams don't mind a little black humor. In a social media post, the Adams Police Department says it stands ready to help with quarantines. "If you have a warrant for your arrest and feel like turning yourself in we can promise we can separate you from the general public and provide much sought-after supplies like toilet paper and hand sanitizer," reads a Facebook post.

It carries a photo of a neat but small cell, plus this hashtag: #SorryItsOnePly.

Judging from the replies, not everyone appreciated the humor, but most of around 200 comments as of this weekend did. One woman took a look at the empty space and posted: "Can we come just for a little mom down time?"

To contribute news to The Check-Up, or to help us make this as useful as possible, please email lparnass@berkshireeagle.com or call 413-588-8341.


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