PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Memorial Day and the Fourth of July will be observed a great deal differently this year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, especially the absence of parades.
In her weekly address Friday on Pittsfield Community Television, Mayor Linda Tyer said these "longstanding cherished traditions" have meant gatherings — sometimes of the thousands — to celebrate the nation's birthday and the sacrifice of the nation's servicemen and women.
The Pittsfield Parade Committee on Wednesday evening announced it would cancel the Fourth of July Parade, a decision that Tyer said is in the best interest of the community.
"The very thing that make this event so enjoyable also create the greatest risk to our community," she said. "I know this wasn't an easy decision to make and I commend the Parade Committee for taking this public health threat very seriously."
And as the region enters the Memorial Day weekend, the annual observances across the county have been canceled, postponed, limited or turned remote where possible. Pittsfield's parade normally begins at City Hall and marches through the city's downtown.
"Sadly, we won't have a parade this year, it just wouldn't be safe," said Tyer. "I am proud that through the diligent efforts of City Council President Peter Marchetti and a large group of dedicated volunteers, American flags have been planted in Pittsfield and St. Joseph's cemeteries."
The mayor said it was her first time in volunteering to place the flags and found it a "moving, spiritual, somber experience."
Instead of a parade, a Memorial Day program will be broadcast by PCTV on Monday featuring Marine Corps veteran John Harding at Pittsfield Cemetery.
"I know that this year's celebration may look and feel different, but our respect and admiration for our veterans is as strong as ever," the mayor said.
Taking this Memorial Day weekend to maintain social distancing and cover faces when within 6 feet of each other is still necessary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, she said, in discussing the state's four-phase "Reopening Massachusetts" plan.
She said the expanded contact testing in the city so far has reported that eight of the nine newest cases in Pittsfield were asymptomatic. The city now has confirmed 162 cases of COVID-19, the last eight or nine in the past week.
"This is concerning as it underscores the fact that this virus continues to spread easily from person to person," she said.
Tyer encouraged all residents to read the report released Monday by the state and noted it will guide Pittsfield's own reopening. She said the state will continue to rely on data and if numbers take a negative turn the state will not progress to a later stage or may even move backward.
She referred to the new "safer at home" restriction and noted that although new services and business will be allowed to reopen with limitations, people must still cover their faces, wash their hands, stay home if able, and be vigilant. Residents should answer the phone if the state's COVID-19 tracking and tracing team calls, and if they feel they have symptoms, to call the BMC Link Line at 855-262-5465 to speak to a nurse.
Pittsfield and the Berkshires have been successful in containing the virus but the state has still been hit hard by the virus and the more dire situation in the eastern part of the state could easily happen in the Berkshires.
"We are a small state and what is happening on the eastern part with are neighbors could just as easily happen here in the Berkshires," she said. "We must remain on guard."
She said different phases will allow new business and organization to reopen with specific limitations. She said the city will work with this plan and just recently the Board of Health reached out to restaurants and food trucks to help them prepare for a possible phase 2 reopening.
"You all have done what was asked of you," Tyer said. "Your constant vigilance has served all of us well we are now entering new terrain that has the potential to roll back all of our gains. Our resolve will be put to the test as more business begin to reopen and we start to engage in more community life.
"Now more than ever we have to count on each other to do the right thing."
The mayor said she understood that quarantine fatigue is real and the guidelines are frustrating, but getting back to normal is dependent on people following the guidelines. If the public health data doesn't show reductions in cases and hospitalizations, it may mean pausing the reopening plan or even regressing to impose prior restrictions.
She encourages residents to look ahead to next Memorial Day.
"I look forward to next year's celebration because our coming together will symbolize victory over COVID-19," she said.