N95 masks

This week, needs are shifting in Hampshire County as local organizations are battening down the hatches with COVID-19 on the doorstep.

In such a fluid situation, policies, criteria and supply needs are shifting day to day. On Wednesday, Hampshire County Health Department director Stephanie Shoemaker explained the statewide updated testing criteria, noting that “high priority” folks would be the first to receive testing.

Among the qualifications to be considered “high priority,” “people have to be symptomatic,” explained Shoemaker. “Healthcare workers, public safety workers, hospitalized patients or those with poor health or high risk outcomes, people who are 60-plus and pregnant women.”

Shoemaker explained the shift occurred Tuesday, and that the health department is working on changing the system to meet the testing requirement.

One of the emerging concerns regarding testing in this area has been the time that it takes to get the results. Because more private laboratories are opening, and fewer samples are sent to the state lab, these laboratories are becoming overwhelmed.

“Tests are taking anywhere from 7 to 10 days to get back,” acknowledged Shoemaker. “Testing is going to become obsolete because we aren’t going to have results until almost after the 14-day quarantine.”

In that strain, Shoemaker also noted that if you are symptomatic, it’s best to assume that you’ve contracted COVID-19 and follow precautions from there. As of Wednesday, Shoemaker said that in Hampshire County there have been 8 negative tests and 15 tests still pending.

Last week, the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) delivered to Hampshire County was woefully small, but Shoemaker said that this week’s delivery was closer to what the county needed to suit their needs.

“There was more than what we got last week, which is exciting,” said Shoemaker. “There are some masks, coveralls, gowns, etc. and we will be splitting it up equally.” She also said that hopefully weekly shipments will be arrive from the state, but as of right now, there isn’t enough supply of PPE to be giving it out to private businesses.

This, Shoemaker said, is where the homemade masks come in.

Shoemaker noted that some members of the community have reached out, wanting to chip in to make homemade masks.

“I am starting a waiting list for homemade masks,” said Shoemaker. “As soon as I start getting those in, we can start distributing them to private businesses.”

Michelle Abruzzino with the Hampshire Center expressed gratitude for folks who have donated homemade masks. “We truly, from the bottom of our heart, appreciate it,” said Abruzzino.

However, she also noted that while the center appreciates the mask donations, homemade masks are not the top pick for her staff.

“I think they’re wonderful, but they’re not the most effective in protecting us,” she explained. “They’re really trying to discourage us from using them, but anything anyone can donate we will appreciate.”

Shoemaker explained that if there are any businesses, such as construction companies, that are able to donate facemasks, they should call the Hampshire County Health Department for instructions on how to drop those masks off.

 Even though the most recent PPE shipment from the state included more supplies, there is still an inherent difficulty in Hampshire County gaining proper supplies.

“With no cases showing in Hampshire, honestly we can’t get any resources,” said Tad Malcolm, director of Hampshire County Homeland Security. “Nothing is coming through on the Homeland Security side. I’m pretty frustrated.”

At the regional jail, PPE continues to be in short supply as the only equipment used by officers is gloves at this time. 

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