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Pittsfield COVID-19 Numbers Higher Than Ever Before
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:12AM / Friday, January 07, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The number of people being tested daily for COVID-19 by Berkshire Health Systems has almost doubled as the omicron variant surges through the state.
"We have increased our testing capacity and are continuing to adapt to meet the demand during this surge. Earlier in the fall, we were testing an average of 500 people per day and have now increased that by to nearly 900 people per day in recent weeks," said BHS spokesman Michael Leary in an email on Thursday
Leary said the health system is working to accommodate the spread of the omicron variant at its testing centers. Testing appointments at BHS and local pharmacies, however, remain scarce because of the demand.
Pittsfield's seen a sharp increase in the daily case rate at 177.9 per 100,000 people and a percent positivity rate of 15.3 percent compared to the county rate of 9.88. This case rate is by far the highest in the history of the pandemic. It is more than double the former highest peak of 81.9 that occurred in mid-January of 2021.
In comparison, the case rate was 64.8 on Dec. 25 and the positivity rate 6.3 percent.  
On Dec. 30, there were 124 new cases in the city, that number decreased to 68 new cases on Jan. 2 and has since spiked to 154 cases on Jan. 4. Pittsfield had the biggest jump in cases in the county with 713 cases in the two weeks ending Jan. 1; as of Thursday, the total number of cases was 6,816. 
Currently, there are 621 estimated actively contagious cases in Pittsfield.
On Wednesday, the Board of Health was scheduled to meet in person at City Hall to receive a routine update on the virus and review Pittsfield's masking directive implemented in November but was canceled.
That same day, Superintendent Joseph Curtis cautioned families that school closures could happen because of the recent surge in novel coronavirus cases.
That came faster than expected when it was announced that Taconic High School and Reid Middle School would be closed on Thursday and Friday because the schools do not have enough staff to open. Both schools are anticipated to reopen on Monday but families will be notified by Sunday.
There were 292 new cases in Berkshire County on Wednesday and the seven-day average is 205.
Similar to the school district and the rest of the United States, the surge has made staffing more difficult for BHS.
"As with all health-care providers in the state and nation, we continue to experience staffing pressures, which are being exacerbated by the current Omicron surge. We are the county's largest employer and are not immune to the increasing community positivity rate, which is over 20 percent and close to the state rate of 22 percent," Leary wrote.
"We are closely monitoring all conditions and making changes as necessary to staffing and services so that we can continue to serve the critical health-care needs of our community during these challenging times."
There are currently 18 people hospitalized with COVID-19, all at Berkshire Medical Center. Even though positivity metrics are higher than ever in the city, Leary said hospitalizations are much lower and infection is most common in the unvaccinated.
"While many hospitals in Massachusetts and nearby states are experiencing significant COVID-19 inpatient populations, at this time our COVID-19 inpatient count remains between 18 and 25, compared to one year ago when BMC was caring for 60 COVID inpatients," he explained.
"Despite breakthrough cases, this continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and we are continuing to encourage residents to be vaccinated and to receive a booster if eligible, as this has proven to provide good protection, and for those with breakthrough cases, has shown to reduce the severity of the illness and prevent hospitalization."
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