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The Checkup: No new deaths reported in Berkshire County

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

THE NUMBERS: No new deaths from COVID-19 in Berkshire County were reported Saturday, though four new cases of the disease were confirmed. The case count is now 448 for the county, according to the state Department of Public Health. It is 66,263 for the state, with the addition of 1,952 new cases as of Saturday.

The state death toll rose 130, to 3,846.

Patient numbers in Western Massachusetts hospitals continued to decline. Berkshire Medical Center reported caring for four patients, one of them in intensive care. The count for other Western Massachusetts hospitals: Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, three cases, none in ICU; Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, 22 cases, six in ICU; Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, six cases, none in ICU; Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, 103 cases, 16 in ICU.

FINE PRINT ON MASK ORDER: As of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, people in Massachusetts will face fines for violating one of the latest orders from Gov. Charlie Baker.

No mask? You'll get a warning, then a citation and fine of up to $300.

The Checkup found one aspect of Baker's Friday order confusing. Let's start with the first "thou shalt."

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It reads like this: "Any person who is in a place open to the public in the Commonwealth, when unable to maintain a distance of approximately six feet from every other person, shall cover their mouth and nose with a mask or cloth face-covering." (The rule doesn't apply to children under 2. And it's up to the parents or guardians to decide on use for children 2 to 5.)

The squishy part is "when unable." People might go into a public place believing, in good faith, that they'll be able to maintain that distance, when that's more of a hope than a certainty.

That's probably why, in a separate "guidance" document issued Friday by the governor's office, the 6-foot rule comes off the table.

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Here's what that says: "Masks are required at all times ("at all times" is bolded in the pronouncement) when inside or waiting in line outside of grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail stores providing or using the services of any taxi, car, livery, ride-sharing, or similar service on any form of public transit, including train or bus and in an enclosed or semi-enclosed transit stop or waiting area."

The mask order also does not apply to people who can't breathe safely with them on, have a behavioral health condition, are communicating with lip readers, need supplemental oxygen or are exercising outside and can, without fail, keep distant from others.

SPRING THING: From what I saw Saturday in Pittsfield, the urge to get out into the yard and garden, if you have one, was sending lots of people to garden centers. I checked back on the April 28 order that allowed such places to operate. There is an interesting catch in that.

They can open, but only if what they're selling eventually feeds people. As the order says, "a nursery, greenhouse, garden center or agriculture supply store that sells solely plants that do not produce food for human consumption shall remain closed."

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You might see a rack of seeds for sale in places that hadn't carried them before.

MONEY MATTERS: If the state Legislature can't pass a budget by July 1, the body will do what most families do everywhere, take it one day at a time — or, in the state's case, one month.

You're likely to read or hear the term "one-twelfth budget." That allocates spending for just 30 days or so, pushing the problem four weeks down the road. Groups like the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center would rather see lawmakers get a budget together that runs for the first few months of the new fiscal year. But, either of those options doesn't let managers plan for the year ahead. That's so 2019, right?

Given the dramatic shortfalls expected in state tax revenues — as much as $4.4 billion, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation — prepare to hear more about "9C cuts." Those are the unilateral spending reductions (named for a section in Massachusetts law) made to executive branch agencies by the governor in a state required to balance its budget.

NEXT TIME: In Monday's The Checkup, we'll break down who is, and isn't, on the "essential" business list.

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


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