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It’s here: Caution, worry take root as COVID-19 cases increase

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  • Pedestrians on North Pleasant Street in downtown Amherst pass a utiliity box painted by Northampton artist Jeff Wrench, featuring a quote by Amherst poet Emily Dickinson, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 3/27/2020 7:22:26 PM

NORTHAMPTON — On Thursday, Mayor David Narkewicz announced that he tested positive for COVID-19. He’s one of five total confirmed cases in the city, the health department said Thursday. 

The existence of confirmed cases in the city does not surprise Ward 3 City Councilor James Nash. “I know personally that there are people that haven’t been tested that are being treated for COVID-19.” 

Nash knows because he is one of those people.

His doctor determined two weeks ago that he likely had COVID-19. He was not able to get a test and has been treated by his doctor remotely. 

“I’m doing OK,” said Nash, who is currently on antibiotics. “I was not doing OK starting on March 7, a Saturday; I started to get ill.” He said he has not left the house since. For two weeks, he was in bed with a fever. “It was pretty miserable,” he said. 

Nash added, “I am hopeful that I am well into recovery. I am still under the weather.”

COVID-19 can present differently depending on the person. “People have very different experiences with this virus,” Nash said. For some, the illness is “not much at all, and for others it can be quite harrowing — I was more toward that end of things,” he said. “In the end, we all need to stick to the social distancing to keep each other safe.”

Nash said he thinks there are a number of people in his situation. “I suspect there are others who, through their physicians, are doing treatment while quarantined at home.”

By now, it’s clear that the novel coronavirus is here in the Valley. So far, five Northampton residents, including Narkewicz, have tested positive for COVID-19, and the city’s first case was reported on March 18, the city’s health department said on Thursday.

As of Friday afternoon, 20 people in Hampshire County have officially tested positive, according to the Department of Public Health. Massachusetts had 3,240 confirmed cases of the virus, 823 more than the previous day, according to figures released by the DPH. The state has seen 35 deaths attributed to COVID-19, including an elderly man and an elderly woman from Franklin County and an elderly man from Hampden County, according to the state agency.  

“It kind of hit home when I saw the mayor contracted it,” said Andrew Brow, the owner of downtown Northampton restaurant HighBrow Wood Fired Kitchen + Bar. “I consider him a really good friend.”

“It’s really scary. Everybody has relatives that are older, or have compromised immune systems,” he continued, circling back to the mayor. “It didn’t really hit me until Dave got it.”

Speaking of the confirmed cases, city resident Phil O’Donoghue said, “I guess I am alarmed like anyone else.”

Especially after hearing about cases in the Berkshires, he said, “I never thought that our town was immune to the whole thing … it would eventually move here. I’m not at all surprised, but obviously, it’s disheartening.”

He’s concerned, particularly when he thinks about New York City, where the disease is widespread, he said: “I worry that, eventually, that’s going to happen to Northampton. Are we equipped for this?”

Easthampton

COVID-19 cases are also increasingly being identified in Easthampton with the city reporting four confirmed cases on Thursday.  

“I think there are a lot of people who have it but don’t know it yet,” said city resident Paul St. Pierre. “We can expect to see that we’re going to see more positive cases in Easthampton.”

St. Pierre lives in Easthampton and runs a manufacturing company in Agawam. He said that, when it comes to the current public health crisis, he operates under two assumptions: that he has the virus and no one else does, and that he doesn’t have the virus and everyone else does.

As such, when St. Pierre leaves his home, he wears rubber gloves, and when he’s home he washes his hands and sanitizes surfaces regularly.

“I’m very nervous about this,” he said about contracting the virus. “I got the flu in December.”

Still, St. Pierre said, he’s more worried about seniors and those with serious medical conditions.

St. Pierre said panic is in the air right now, and he urged people to make sure that the crisis brings out the best and not the worst in them.

Vincent Corsello owns Corsello Butcheria in Easthampton, and he said that the news of increasing cases “doesn’t change anything really.”

“We assume it’s already here,” he said.

Corsello said he offers gloves to customers, has hand sanitizer available and wipes down surfaces after each purchase. He also said that the business has increased its online presence, reduced hours and introduced butcher boxes, which he he has wanted to offer for awhile.

“This was the impetus to make it happen,” he said.

Sara Amoroso has been social distancing with her three boys under the age of 10 and her husband, James Schleicher, who is in IT and can work remotely.

“We’re doing our best really to stay home,” said Amoroso.

She wants to see more people to listen to public health experts, noting an uncle who believes the pandemic to be a hoax. She also blasted the federal response to the crisis.

“The lack of leadership that we’re getting on the federal level is an embarrassment,” Amoroso said. “It’s a disgrace.”

Holyoke

Christopher Gauthier lives in Holyoke and said that he’s “extremely nervous” about the COVID-19 situation, partly because of the financial uncertainty it has created.

Gauthier owns a local answering service for doctors and electricians that has 20 employees. He is concerned because he doesn’t know how long the crisis will last. 

His 15-year-old daughter has been home more frequently because her school, Hampshire Regional High School in Westhampton, has closed until at least May. Gauthier said he is trying to maintain a daily routine of schoolwork and chores for her to do while stuck at home. And since the only time he leaves the house is to go to work, there has been more of an opportunity to spend time with his family.

“It’s brought us all back to our roots of being a family and eating dinner together, which we haven’t done in a long time,” Gauthier said. 

Frances Welson said she has completely stopped going out to restaurants and meeting up with friends — though she is keeping in touch through regular phone calls and emails.

“We’re not so much socially isolating; we’re physically isolating,” Welson said.

In the meantime, Welson said she has been doing a deep clean in preparation for Passover next month, listening to Irish rebel songs really loud and sewing face masks with fabric she had lying around to donate to Cooley Dickinson Hospital. 

“I wanted to feel like I’m doing something,” Welson said.

“I’m getting out and walking every day and trying to really appreciate how beautiful nature is,” she said. 

Amherst

On Thursday, the town of Amherst announced that one resident had tested positive for COVID-19 — its first confirmed case.

Like many others around the country, Jane Wald, the executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum, said she is staying at home. She takes walks outside with her husband when the weather is nice. 

Wald said that there’s a silver lining to the situation because she gets to be at her own home during the daytime. 

She said she initially felt a lot of stress around two weeks ago when colleges began to close and ways of life changed dramatically. But once her community started to follow suit and close businesses, she felt “a little relief.” She’s not so scared about her own personal safety, but she’s concerned about those who could be more vulnerable to the disease. 

“I feel like our community has taken precautions, and it lessens the likelihood of transmission around here,” Wald said. “I’m just hoping for the best for the health and safety of everyone in our community.”

Joe Willie, also of Amherst, said that he hasn’t been able to visit his elderly mother, who lives in South Hadley, because he wants to keep her safe from the virus.

Willie said he’s proud of his 14-year-old daughter because she has been trying to keep herself active by going on walks and taking runs while she’s not in school.

He said he lives right near a conservation area and tries to get outside every day as well. He’s not opposed to interacting with people he knows when he sees them, but he makes sure to keep a safe distance when he does. 

In Willie’s opinion, the entire country should have gone on a 14-day lockdown “when we saw this thing coming.” 

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said.

But Willie believes that leaders in the northeast have been making wise decisions in shutting down businesses in previous weeks.

“We’ve never been through something like this before, and I think we need to err on the side of caution,” he said. ​​​​​




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