There are now nine coronavirus cases in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, but it's still unclear how they contracted the illness.
And with the state lab in Boston the only one where testing is authorized, it's not exactly convenient or efficient, a point Gov. Charlie Baker made on a visit to Pittsfield in the Berkshires Thursday.
“We need much more testing capability and we need the federal government to help us get there,” he said, not mincing words.
Baker said that, even though the state has now received the ability to process testing for an additional 5,000 people, the samples must still go through the state lab in Jamaica Plain.
And when you have a sudden unexplained crop of cases of COVID-19, as in Berkshire County, not having testing readily accessible slows the process of identifying and mitigating the spread of this disease.
“We’ve been asking the federal government to support more places – both private labs and hospital labs – to run these tests, but we need the FDA and the CDC to act on these requests,” Baker said.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer called the situation "extremely fluid" and said the city has issued an emergency declaration, which allows it to quickly access state and federal resources.
As of Thursday, Massachusetts was reporting 108 cases of COVID-19, including the nine in Berkshire Country. Many are tied to a biotech company's employee meeting at a hotel in Boston, but the Berkshire County cases have sparked fears that the illness is spreading through the community.
On Tuesday, Baker declared a state of emergency over the outbreak.
Schools across Massachusetts are canceling classes or moving to online-only education, more than 1,000 people have been put in quarantine in the state and companies are sending workers home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Baker on Thursday said he sympathized with the difficult decision the state’s public schools are trying to deal with now about whether to temporarily close down. Many have been shutting down on a case-by-case basis, leading to uncertainty for parents and concern for how all students can have access to learning when not all of them have access to the internet.
“The guidance that we think is most important to communities at this point is to give them the best clinical guidance as the [Department of Public Health] can with respect of how to handle these issues and then work with them on a case-by-case basis to help make sure their kids are safe but at the time they get educated," Baker said.
The commissioner of education has scheduled a conference call tomorrow morning with all public schools superintendents throughout the state – we’re hoping to learn more then.