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Williamstown Commons virus cases up to 14

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WILLIAMSTOWN — A nursing home here is ramping up efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus after 14 residents tested positive.

The spike in cases at Williamstown Commons — which had just one positive COVID-19 case among residents as of earlier this week — comes as the state announced Friday that two more Berkshire County residents had died after contracting the virus. The state Department of Public Health described them as a woman in her 90s, and a man in his 60s who had preexisting health conditions.

An additional staff member at Williamstown Commons has also tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to four caregivers at the facility to contract the virus, said Lisa Gaudet, communications vice president for Berkshire Healthcare Systems, which owns Williamstown Commons.

Two weeks ago, the facility closed its doors to visitors and nonessential staff, and it implemented rigorous screening measures at the door.

Now, Gaudet said the facility is working to contain the spread and directing more personal protective equipment to its staff. Staff members are moving residents with the virus into one unit, and the facility is conducting an investigation in attempts to identify a potential source.

One of the 14 who tested positive has since been transported to Berkshire Medical Center, Gaudet said.

Residents who have fevers or any other symptom that could be coronavirus-related, as well as any identified for testing through the facility's trace investigation, will likely be tested, she said.

The contagion has been difficult for everyone in the building, and for residents' families.

"People are feeling very, very — it's very hard for everybody," Gaudet said. "It's just right now a very challenging situation."

Wayne Righi, of Readsboro, Vt., said his 96-year-old mother lives in the facility and tested positive for the virus on Thursday.

"They're talking hospice now and everything," he said. "It's just horrifying."

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He said he's been visiting her through the window of her room. Not being able to be there for her has been "heartbreaking."

He worries that staff will struggle to care for his mother amid the moment of crisis, and he's frustrated that he can't deliver her potato chips and other favorite snacks. The facility won't risk contamination, he said.

"Open the window, I'll set it in her room," he said, as if to staff. "I'm not going to hurt her with what I got."

Gaudet said the facility unfortunately can't accept gift packages that can't be disinfected, meaning anything other than hard surfaces that can be wiped down.

"We're trying to really be careful with what comes into the building," she said. "I think all of us wish we could be able to take a different approach with this."

The Eagle requested an interview with the Williamstown health inspector, Jeff Kennedy, about steps the town was taking to prevent further spread. He did not avail himself, but he offered this emailed statement. "The Board of Health is in discussions with the appropriate personnel and is aware of the ongoing conditions."

Gaudet said the staff is working hard. "I'm just amazed at the resiliency that these folks have."

And for anyone looking for ways to be productive during this pandemic, Gaudet offered an invitation for volunteers.

"I don't know what that help would look like," she said, but "if there are people that have an interest in helping us, we'd be interested in talking to them."

She directed people who are interested to call 413-445-9145.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-464-2859.


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