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Editorial: COVID-19 hits home with mayor’s announcement

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz speaks in Northampton last June. The mayor announced Thursday that he has tested positive for COVID-19. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 3/27/2020 5:45:53 PM
Modified: 3/27/2020 5:45:43 PM

It was a “hit home” moment Thursday when an email popped into the Gazette’s inbox from Mayor David Narkewicz: I have COVID-19.

OK, his press release wasn’t that direct; it was much more official. But its impact was significant. News of one of the region’s most prominent figures contracting the virus that has infected nearly 600,000 people worldwide — the U.S. on Thursday surpassed China as the epicenter of the disease and now has more than 100,000 cases, as of Friday afternoon — brought the stay-at-home and other protective measures health and government officials have been advising us to do for two weeks into sharp focus. If we didn’t hear you before, we do now.

Narkewicz isn’t the first person in Hampshire County to test positive, and he certainly won’t be the last. But he is the most well-known so far, and we appreciate that he made the news public when he didn’t have to. His announcement will do more to raise awareness around the dangers of this pandemic than officials telling us to social distance and wash our hands for the hundredth time.

Five Northampton residents, including Narkewicz, have tested positive for COVID-19. City health officials said Thursday the first case was reported on March 18, but they did not make it publicly known for more than a week.

That is not acceptable in a public health crisis, nor is it OK for Health Director Merridith O’Leary not to respond to repeated requests from the Gazette for comment about any COVID-19 information.

There’s no doubt health officials are swamped, and we can appreciate how hard they are working right now, but keeping the public informed should be a top priority — and communicating with the newspaper located in the city they serve is one of the easiest ways to do that. It would take just a few minutes to share the information that needs to be shared. We implore O’Leary to be more responsive.

Amherst officials, meanwhile, announced the town’s first positive case of COVID-19 on Thursday, a day after Hadley and South Hadley reported their first confirmed cases on Wednesday.

Of the 3,240 confirmed cases of the virus in Massachusetts, 20 are from Hampshire County, according to state Department of Public Health figures released Friday afternoon. The state has seen 35 deaths attributed to COVID-19, including two people in Franklin County and one in Hampden County, all elderly, according to the state agency.

It’s a tough time everywhere right now. Please do your part to take precautions so you don’t become one of these cases. As Narkewicz said from his home, where he is isolated from his family, “It’s important for all of us to do our part to keep ourselves healthy so we can keep our entire community healthy.”

Yes, that means practicing social distancing, washing hands, staying home, avoiding unnecessary social interactions and taking other public health precautions.

To those who have tested positive, get rest and get better.

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