The Checkup: Concern about 'slow creep' in positive COVID-19 test results

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

THE "SLOW CREEP" UP: The state Department of Public Health says the increase in positive COVID-19 test results this past week is due, in part, to data that arrived late from a hospital. The department's chief says she wants to see that upward trend turn around.

"It's a slow creep, so, what we're saying is, we want the slow creep to stop and start trending back down," state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Friday.

As of Saturday, the weighted seven-day average of positive test results stood at 2.1 percent. On Thursday, it hit that same figure, after three days at 2 percent, the DPH said. For much of late July, the number remained around 1.7 percent.

THE NUMBERS: Berkshire County's death toll stood at 46 as of Saturday. The confirmed COVID-19 case count was up one, to 654, the DPH said.

The DPH said 17 new deaths were reported in Massachusetts, pushing the statewide total to 8,406. The number of confirmed cases rose 290, to 110,077. Meantime, probable cases (a separate tally) rose by 138 as of Saturday, to 7,963.

The case totals (and death counts) in neighboring counties: Franklin, up one, to 404 (60); Hampshire, up six, to 1,132 (127); Hampden, up 29, to 7,433 (697). No new deaths were reported in the four western counties.

As of Saturday, 24,224 cases have been confirmed among residents and staff of long-term care facilities. In all, 376 facilities have had at least one confirmed case and have seen 5,497 deaths linked to COVID-19.

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LEADING INDICATORS: The DPH provides the following statistics daily as indicators in the fight against coronavirus infection. Each provides a number and then a percentage change since April 15. Saturday's figures:

- Seven-day weighted average of positive test rate: 2.1, down 93 percent;

- Three-day average of number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals: 361, down 90 percent;

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- Number of hospitals using surge capacity to care: 4, down 81 percent;

- Three-day average of COVID-19 deaths: 14, down 91 percent.

TWO-WEEK LOOKBACK: The Eagle also is calculating results for a 14-day lookback on some leading indicators. As of Saturday, positive tests over a seven-day period showed a 26.11 percent rise from two weeks ago (the "slow creep" that concerns officials). The three-day average of the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals represented a 31.06 percent decline. The three-day average of confirmed COVID-19 deaths fell 4.65 percent from two weeks ago.

TEACHERS UNION WANTS TO CLEAR THE AIR: The teachers union in Massachusetts is expected to finish votes this coming week at the local level on a statewide issue: a unified call to schools and school districts to guarantee adequate ventilation in buildings if and when classes resume.

Members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association say they are concerned about older school buildings that do not provide proper air circulation. That is viewed as an important way to reduce the threat of COVID-19 contagion in indoor spaces.

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According to the State House News Service, 40 MTA locals have, so far, backed a motion that calls for districts, and the state, to ensure that health and safety measures are taken before schools reopen. Others will vote by Friday. The union's president, Merrie Najimy, said lack of investment in public school buildings over the years has left her members — and students — vulnerable.

"One of the many consequences is that our school buildings don't have properly functioning ventilation systems to keep the indoor air safe," Najimy said.

AT THE HOSPITALS: As of Saturday, Berkshire Medical Center reported caring for two patients, neither of them in intensive care. Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington had no cases.

The COVID-19 patient count for other Western Massachusetts hospitals: Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, no cases; Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, three cases, none in ICU; Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, 19 cases, two in ICU; Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, six cases, one in ICU; Holyoke Hospital, six cases, none in ICU; Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, one case, not in ICU.

The numbers include confirmed and suspected cases.

Statewide, as of Saturday there were 369 people hospitalized, with the latest daily admission of 177 people. Of those hospitalized, 53 are in ICU and 26 are on ventilators.

To contribute news to The Checkup, please email lparnass@berkshireeagle.com or call 413-588-8341.


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