Berkshire County a COVID-19 hotspot
On one measure, highest death rate in state
DEATHS FROM COVID-19 are occurring in Berkshire County at a much higher rate than other counties in Massachusetts and most communities around the country.
Berkshire County in the western part of the state has had five deaths from COVID-19, putting it in a tie for sixth in fatalities among the 13 Massachusetts counties. But Berkshire’s population is smaller than most of the other counties, so relatively speaking the number of deaths is much greater.
Berkshire County had .039 deaths per 1,000 people. The next closest was Franklin, which had two deaths, or .028 deaths per 1,000 people, and Norfolk, which had 11 deaths, or .016 fatalities per 1,000 people.
Those numbers may not sound very large, but they are attracting considerable attention in Berkshire County because they rival some of the COVID-19 hotspots around the nation, including New York and Seattle.
The rankings were based on data as of Thursday, when Berkshire County had just two deaths. At that time, Berkshire had .02 deaths per 1,000 people. The New York and Seattle metropolitan areas had .03 deaths per 1,000 people. Wuhan, China, where the COVID-19 outbreak originated, had .23 deaths per 1,000 people, according to the Times article.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer said many residents of her city were rattled by the New York Times article.
“There’s a lot of fear associated with what’s happening to all of us,” she said. “It’s understandable they’re having this reaction to a New York Times article. It’s a reliable source, right? I just say to them, ‘Look more closely. They’re actually using the county data, and putting it under Pittsfield’s name.’ Then they say ok and relax a little bit.”
Tyer said only one of the five people who died in Berkshire County was a Pittsfield resident.Still, the high rate of deaths and positive COVID-19 test results in Berkshire County raise the question of why the disease is hitting the area so hard. Berkshire County was the first place in Massachusetts to have community spread of the disease, which means the source was unknown. The state assigned an epidemiologist to the county to try to trace the disease but no results have been announced yet.
One likely factor for the higher death rate in the county is its older population. According to US Census data, 23 percent of Berkshire County’s population is 65 or older, compared to 16.5 percent for the state as a whole.