Hilltowns’ rural nature contributes to lower COVID cases

  • Goshen Board of Health Chairman Mike Kurland on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mike Kurland, chair of the Goshen Board of Health, Friday morning, March 26. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2021 7:48:32 PM

WILLIAMSBURG — The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than a half-million lives in the United States. But in the Hampshire County hilltowns, the coronavirus has been far less devastating, although its reach has still extended there.

Across Cummington, Chesterfield, Goshen, Williamsburg, Worthington, Huntington and Plainfield, there have been three reported deaths from the disease. Health authorities in Middlefield did not provide information about their COVID-19 data in time for publication.

According to the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, the county has had 279 confirmed and probable deaths from COVID-19.

Health officials in the Hilltowns have credited the low number of deaths to these communities’ small populations, people following COVID-19 protocols, and luck.

“I think towns around here have been getting the word out to be cautious and take precautions,” said Donna Gibson, Williamsburg’s Board of Health chairwoman.

Gibson said Williamsburg has had 61 known COVID-19 cases and one death. However, she said there have been more cases in recent months and that COVID-19 variants have been showing up locally, with the U.K. variant possibly having come to Williamsburg.

The known cases work out to be about 2 percent of the town’s population, she said, although she noted this doesn’t include cases that weren’t diagnosed.

Gibson also said vaccinated people have gotten sick in the area. She blamed variants of the disease, and said it’s important for people to remain cautious. She also urged people to continue to get vaccinated.

“It’s still going to protect them against the original one,” she said.

Gibson said not every person or business in Williamsburg has followed pandemic safety protocols.

“We’ve had our problems,” she said.

Still, Gibson also said there’s been “pretty good compliance in general” in town.

“I think most of the residents have really been taking it seriously and being careful,” she said.

Cummington has experienced no deaths because of COVID-19 and has had 23 cases, counting six that were referred from a clinic in Plainfield.

James Wettereau, chairman of the Cummington Board of Health, attributed the low number of cases to both a low population density and people following safety guidelines.

“I think that is the combination,” he said.

Wettereau also said the small number of places where people can congregate in town also makes a difference.

Goshen has had 29 cases, with no deaths, over the course of the pandemic.

“I’d like to take credit for that,” said Board of Health Chairman Michael Kurland, but he acknowledged Goshen’s rural nature is the primary reason Goshen’s cases are low.

The town has “done all of the prudent things that we should do,” he said. “I feel good about the numbers. We never made it into the red zone.”

Speaking Thursday, Kurland also said the Goshen Board of Health has always been able to get in touch with its COVID-19 cases and their close contacts.

“That’s the advantage of a small town,” he said.

Goshen’s mission right now, he said, is to make sure that as many people as possible get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“It’s still very very difficult for people to get vaccinations,” he said.

Plainfield, which has had 18 positive cases, and Worthington, which has had 31, both have had no deaths as well. Worthington’s first case was in September.

Chesterfield has seen 29 cases and one death over the course of the pandemic.

“I think we’ve been pretty successful,” said Board of Health Chairman John Chandler, on how Chesterfield has dealt with the pandemic.

He noted town buildings have been closed to the public and said the town’s elderly population has been very careful.

Like Kurland, Chandler said Chesterfield has experienced difficulty getting its people vaccinated.

Huntington is the only other Hampshire County Hilltown that’s reported a death. It has had 94 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one probable case.

“I think we’re doing the best we can,” said Melissa Reid, chairwoman of Huntington’s Board of Health. “Everyone pretty much helped out for anyone in need.”

She also said Huntington could have been stricken “much harder” and described the bond between people in town.

“A lot of our community members are like our family,” she said.

Huntington has the highest number of cases in the Hilltowns. However, the community with the next highest number of cases in Hampshire County is Hatfield, with 145, while the top two communities for cases in the pandemic are Amherst, with 2,471, and Northampton, with 1,100. These numbers are from the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts.

BeraDunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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