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Williamstown Commons COVID-19 Casualties Rise
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
11:42AM / Wednesday, April 08, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit Williamstown Commons hard, with a total of 12 deaths reported as of Tuesday.
The total number of deaths in the state jumped to 356 with 96 new deaths reported from over the weekend and Monday. The total for Berkshire County is now 18, two-thirds of those from Williamstown Commons.
The numbers have risen sharply since the first death reported at the long-term care and rehabilitation center on March 29. Thirty-three residents have now tested positive. A second facility in the Berkshire Healthcare family, Fairview Commons in Great Barrington, also has turned up five COVID-19 positive cases. 
The nursing home began instituting guidelines from the Department of Public Health along with other long-term care facilities on March 13, including prohibiting visitors. Staff are being temperature checked on arrival and assessed for symptoms. Anyone with a temperature of 100.3 or higher, or even a sore throat, is being sent home, asked to isolate and contact their doctor, said Lisa Gaudet, Berkshire Healthcare's vice president, business development and marketing.
Gaudet said the facility had received a shipment of test swabs on Sunday night after state Rep. John Barrett III had strongly advocated with the Department of Public Health to begin testing there after the first deaths were reported. 
The cases at Fairview Commons were uncovered after DPH had selected the 180-facility as a possible "step down" care center in preparation of a surge in the novel coronavirus cases over the next few  weeks. 
"On Friday, the Department of Public Health was looking to set up COVID recovery centers. And so they had asked us to stand up Fairview Commons as such a center because it had, at the time, no active cases, was considered a full clean building with sufficient capacity," Gaudet said. 
Every resident was tested on Friday but results that came back on Monday indicated five positive cases although the residents showed no symptoms of the virus. 
Long-term care facilities have been particularly susceptible for COVID-19 outbreaks because residents -- older, frailer and with existing health issues -- are far more vulnerable to the highly contagious disease. 
On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the state is working on mobile, accessible testing to augment any on-site testing capacity. 
"Over the past several days, Massachusetts has launched a robust testing program for our seniors to do on-site tests at our nursing homes," Baker said at his daily update that also announced an infusion of $800 million for community hospitals and other care centers. "It's not only a faster way to test, also presented seniors who may be fragile or ill for other reasons, from being disrupted or having to be brought to a hospital or an outside health-care facility."
So far about 100 facilities out of nearly 1,000 long-term care, assisted living and rehabilitation and rest homes have been visited. There are about 400 long-term care facilities with nearly a third reporting at least one case.  
Sudders said state health officials will also be investigating hot spots as part of the move toward testing and tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19.
"So one of the things we are doing a deeper dive on is sort of the regional percentages of COVID-19, and looking at nursing homes, and other places, having to look in the Berkshires, of course, where we had the first community spread," she said.
Rural Berkshire, Franklin and Hampden counties have the highest COVID-19 cases per capita in the state. At one point, Berkshire County (as Pittsfield metro) was listed as one of highest in the nation per capita. 
The Department of Public Health has been supportive of the nursing home, Gaudet said, especially as the knowledge about how the disease operates is continually changing. 
"I think we feel that they have been responsive. They have been helpful. They have stayed in good communication with us particularly when we have had these situations with positive cases," she said. "They have tried to do what they can to support us."
The deaths are taking an emotional toll not only on families but people who are daily caring for these residents, Gaudet said.
"These are people who we know their families. We know their life stories. We see them day in and day out. The caregivers are extremely attached to these residents. And so the emotional toll that this is taking on them ... ," she said. "We've been fortunate particularly here in the Berkshires with very supportive communities and that's a real blessing."
People have been dropping off donations, bringing cards and letters to residents and putting out signs on the lawns supporting caregivers, Gaudet said. 
"I think that's probably indicative of the people who live here, just a testament to how people are understanding that this is so hard for families and for their loved ones and also for the caregivers."
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