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Berkshire County COVID-19 Cases at 7; Governor Declares State of Emergency
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:14PM / Tuesday, March 10, 2020
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Gov. Charlie Baker explains why he declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency on Tuesday afternoon as the state continued to grapple with rising numbers of presumptive positives for the novel coronavirus.
 
The governor, at a press conference broadcast from Boston, said the Executive Branch would begin instituting measures to address the spread of the disease, including prohibiting international travel on behalf of the state for its 42,000 employees, encouraging the use of telecommunicating and video conferencing where viable, canceling large events and asking workers who are sick or who exposed to the virus to remain home. 
 
The total number of presumptive positives for COVID-19 in the state rose to 92 — double the number on Monday — with seven of those in Berkshire County. 
 
One of the two new cases reported in Berkshire County is an employee of General Dynamics. 
 
The defense company in Pittsfield learned on Monday afternoon that one of its employee had been quarantined and was being treated at a medical facility. Staff who had been in contact with the employee have been asked to "self-quarantine" for two weeks. 
 
Also, North Adams City Councilor Jason LaForest, who is also a nurse, has entered quarantine after being tested for exposure to the novel coronavirus. According to a statement from Mayor Thomas Bernard, LaForest developed "mild symptoms" on Tuesday morning and that the mayor has also elected to work from home after attending "weekend social functions with Councilor LaForest."
 
The first patient in Berkshire County was identified on Saturday after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control lifted some of the restrictions on testing. The first presumptive positive case in the state was a woman in Norfolk County on March 2. 
 
"MEMA has been activated and is bringing together health, human service, public safety and several other government agencies," said the governor. "This working group is following the Department of Public Health infectious disease task force that was stood up in January. ... this declaration will give our administration more flexibility to respond to this outbreak."
 
He said the risks for transmission have increased, noting the Berkshire cases "that just popped."
 
Sudders said the presumptive positive is based on testing from the state Public Health Lab. "Those specimens will now be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for confirmation," she said. 
 
Of the 92 reported cases, 70 are related to a Biogen conference held in Boston at the end of February and four are travel related. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said 18 are under investigation. Six people are hospitalized, 62 are not and 24 are under investigation; 40 are women and 52 are men.
 
Another man from nearby Readsboro, Vt., was hospitalized on Thursday at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. 
 
COVID-19 first spread in the vicinity of Wuhan, China, where it has so far killed more than 3,000 deaths out of more than 80,000 cases. There are now more than 800 cases identified in the United States and 28 deaths — most of those in the state of Washington.
 
The symptoms include fever, severe cough and respiratory distress. At least 80 percent of those contracting the disease will recover with the severity of the illness ranging from hospitalization to minor or no symptoms. Those most at risk are individuals age 60 and older or who have underlying medical conditions. 
 
Officials said the coronavirus is apparently spreading through person-to-person contact now, beyond any direct correlations to travel or the conference. 
 
Because the outbreak is "rapidly expanding" through community transmission, said Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Monica Bharel, "we are at a critical point in this outbreak ... we will need everybody's cooperation."
 
The governor applauded the decision by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Tuesday to cancel the St. Patrick's Day Parade but said it's too early yet to consider the Boston Marathon that is a month away. He said private enterprises should consider how they will address situations such as sporting events, conferences and large gatherings. 
 
Local organizations are making decisions on how to prevent the spread of the disease. The town of Clarksburg shut down its public buildings on Sunday to allow them to be cleaned and sanitized after it was learned the first Berkshire County came from that town. 
 
General Dynamics has instituted measures including cleaning and disinfecting work areas and common spaces used by the affected employees, "who was in the facility for several days out of the last two weeks," according to a statement from the company. 
 
"The Pittsfield facility remains open for business. We are working closely with officials from Berkshire County to keep them apprised of our proactive measures. The health and safety of our employees, our Navy partners, and our community is our top priority," said Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of Maritime and Strategic Systems for General Dynamics Mission Systems.
 
The Berkshire Food Project, which feeds dozens of people lunch every week day in North Adams, posted on Facebook that it would be "sanitizing tables a lot" and rearranging them to reduce the number of people sitting together in close proximity.
 
"We are trying to be overly cautious because we care about everyone who dines with us," the post states, adding that "we will be happy to provide your meal to go if you are concerned about congregating in our dining room for a meal."
 
The North Adams Public Schools and McCann Technical School were disinfected by fogging devices over the weekend. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art "is actively following CDC recommendations," according to its website, which includes "cleaning of touch surfaces, deployment of more hand-disinfectant stations, and encouragement of frequent hand washing, and hygienic 'sneeze and cough' etiquette."
 
The vast museum may be large enough to allow browsing while still keeping the recommended social distancing of 6 feet to prevent transmission. 
 
Bharel said the highly contagious virus can be spread through surfaces, personal contact and through droplets from coughing and sneezing. 
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