A sign at the front entrance to Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington last April urged arrivals to call a special Berkshire Health Systems help number staffed 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The number is still in service. The hospital prepared for a surge in COVID-19 patients, but it never happened. Photo: Terry Cowgill

COVID cases spike at Great Barrington nursing homes, as vaccination sites expand

As of January 25, Great Barrington had 68 positive cases "contained within" congregate and long-term care facilities in the town.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Over the last month, Great Barrington has seen a steady increase in positive COVID-19 cases and is currently coping with a cluster outbreak in the town’s nursing homes, according to the town’s health agent.

As of yesterday, Jan. 25, the town had 68 positive cases “contained within” the congregate and long-term care facilities in Great Barrington, Rebecca Jurczyk, who heads the town Department of Health, told the selectboard in its virtual meeting Monday night.

See video below of the Jan. 25 Great Barrington selectboard meeting. Fast forward to 6:00 for an update on the COVID-19 pandemic:

“While this is the result of a variety of reasons, a rise in cases was expected after the end-of-the-year holidays,” Jurczyk said in her report.

Jurczyk said Berkshire Health Systems, which owns both Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield and Fairview Hospital, has helped manage these clusters by administering monoclonal antibody therapy, which “drastically improves the symptoms and recovery for many that receive it.” Monoclonal antibody therapy is perhaps best known for being one of the treatments then-President Donald Trump received after contracting the coronavirus in October.

In order to address and contain transmission, state and local departments of public health are in daily communication with facilities identified as having a cluster outbreak of the sort seen recently in Great Barrington.

Health agent Rebecca Jurczyk briefed the selectboard on the emerging coronavirus in March 2020. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Jurczyk said the federal Pharmacy Partnership Program, through CVS, has distributed the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to several of the town’s long-term care facilities, which include Timberlyn Heights Nursing and Rehabilitation and Fairview Commons. The second dose is scheduled to arrive before the end of January.

The state Department of Public Health announces weekly data every Thursday at approximately 5 p.m. The report is pulled from the MAVEN Disease Surveillance System on the previous Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. Click here for the most recent report from Jan. 21. DPH’s COVID-19 Response Reporting page has daily and cumulative reports.

Selectboard member Leigh Davis asked whether it would be possible to get information up on the town’s website about Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program. Town Manager Mark Pruhenski said the information would be put up as soon as possible. A link to the state’s COVID-19 Interactive Data Dashboard is now on the homepage of the town’s website.

Yesterday, the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker announced an expansion of COVID-19 vaccination sites in all parts of the state, including new mass vaccination sites, pharmacy locations, and local sites. Individuals 75 years or older will now be the first priority group in Phase 2, and can be vaccinated beginning on Feb. 1.

A full statewide vaccination site map can be found here. In Berkshire County, there are three vaccine locations: the Pittsfield Walgreens at the Allendale Shopping Plaza on Cheshire Road (Route 8); Berkshire Allergy Care on South Street in Pittsfield; and Walgreens on Park Street in Lee. The DPH COVID-19 Vaccine Information portal contains additional information.

Great Barrington Selectboard member Ed Abrahams. Photo: David Scribner

Selectboard member Ed Abrahams said he was at a vaccination clinic last Thursday at Monument Valley Middle School as part of Phase 1. He said it was run by Fairview Director of Emergency Management Heather Barbieri and he described it as “incredibly efficient.” An announcement of another vaccination clinic for next week is expected to be made on Wednesday.

Selectboard member Leigh Davis noted that there was some confusion over whether Fairview was admitting COVID patients or whether they should go straight to Berkshire Medical Center.

Jurczyk said Fairview has had capacity since the pandemic asserted itself last March to admit and treat COVID patients. Fairview does not hold critically ill patients, but it otherwise has plenty of capacity.

Selectboard chairman Steve Bannon, who works as a pharmacist at Fairview, agreed with Jurczyk that hospitals are safe places to be. Early in the pandemic, some people who fell ill were afraid to go to a hospital emergency room for fear of catching the coronavirus and “that was making them sicker by the time they did go.”

“But any hospital is perfectly safe to go to,” Bannon explained. “I urge people who are sick enough to think they need hospitalization, or at least to be seen by a doctor, to go to their nearest hospital and not be afraid of catching COVID.”

Dr. Adrian Elliot. Photo courtesy Berkshire Health Systems

At the end of April 2020, Dr. Adrian E. Elliot, Fairview’s chief of emergency services, told the selectboard the hospital prepared mightily for a spike in admissions but the surge never materialized. Elliot added that the months of March and April saw “a real drop in our volume in the emergency department” and that healthcare workers were “seeing people come in who are sicker than they normally would have been if they were cared for earlier.”

Those who suspect they might have the virus can call the Berkshire Health Systems COVID hotline at 855-262-5465 for questions or for testing appointments. Nurses are available to take your calls from 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. seven days a week. BHS also operates three testing centers, including one in Great Barrington next to the police station, as part of the state’s Stop The Spread program.

More information is available on the BHS Coronavirus Information Kiosk.