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Williamstown Board of Health Gives Blessing to Outdoor Holiday Walk Festivities
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
12:49AM / Tuesday, October 05, 2021
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Get ready to primp your pup.
 
A beloved holiday tradition is set to return this December when the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce holds its Reindog Parade as part of the Holiday Walk.
 
Chamber CEO Sue Briggs on Monday asked the Board of Health if it had any concerns with the chamber renewing Holiday Walk's outdoor events during the first weekend of December.
 
Although the Penny Social in Lasell Gymnasium will not return for at least another year, the Chamber is planning to hold the parade down Spring Street and have caroling on the steps of the post office.
 
"I really wanted to get the board's feedback on what we can or should move forward on with Holiday Walk," Briggs said.
 
"We certainly are only looking to host outdoor activities. I can't imagine anything we'd do indoors at this time."
 
The members of the board agreed that, given the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic locally, they see no reason not to hold the event.
 
"I think as far as things stand right now, I would not have any objection to either the parade or the singing," Dr. Win Stuebner said. "Singing is allowed outside. There's no prohibition about that. And even if you have 60 dogs and families, you're outside.
 
"So far, we don't have to mask outside. We're fortunate to be in a low incidence of COVID right now. Unfortunately, things can change, but right now, I wouldn't have any objection to either."
 
Briggs said the last time the chamber hosted the Reindog Parade, in 2019, it included at least 65 pets — many dressed in holiday garb, including the reindeer costumes that give the event its name. Last year, the chamber held a virtual version of the event.
 
"If participants would feel more comfortable, they should be invited to mask," Dr. Devan Bartels said. "I know Holiday Walk can be a high density event. I'd still say if we're going to be less than 6 feet apart and have a lot of kids who might be unvaccinated, we could encourage masking.
 
"If people feel they can control their environment and feel comfortable not masking, I'd be with Dr. Stuebner."
 
Bartels said her own experience with the event is that it can create cramped quarters for spectators on Spring Street, and in an order to make the event comfortable and welcoming for all who want to attend, participants could be encouraged to wear face coverings.
 
"It's sort of a gray area — 300 people on Spring Street," Bartels said. "There's not data about that. It's a gray zone. Encouraging people to mask in a high-density outdoor environment is not unreasonable."
 
Briggs agreed.
 
"I think it's an easy sell to our community because they're well informed and understanding of others' comfort levels," she said.
 
The members of the board Monday morning also had a more imminent holiday celebration on their minds.
 
Bartels used the board's only scheduled October meeting to remind the public that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is recommending that this year's trick-or-treating be conducted in small groups and that any Halloween parties be held outside.
 
"Use common sense," Bartels said. "For unvaccinated kids, I know I'll be bringing along my kids' masks for if we get into a situation where I feel we can't control the density. I don't think that will happen, but I'll have them in my back pocket."
 
Health Inspector Jeff Kennedy told the board that as of Monday morning, the town officially had six cases of COVID-19, but that number really is five because he happens to know one of the individuals on the list, and they live in Hancock.
 
"Countywide, we're seeing a drop, and hopefully we will continue to see that drop show up in the countywide numbers," Kennedy said.
 
He also reported that 82 percent of Berkshire County residents eligible to receive the vaccine have received at least one dose, according to the figures released on Sept. 30. Sixty-five percent of the county's eligible population is fully vaccinated.
 
The board also discussed the rising availability of vaccine boosters for those eligible. Appointments are available at Berkshire Health System's clinics in Pittsfield, Great Barrington and North Adams or at area pharmacies.
 
BOH Chair Ruth Harrison suggested that anyone looking for a booster shot visit the commonwealth's website, vaxfinder.mass.gov.
 
In the meantime, the board encouraged continued vigilance to help prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.
 
"I have had a couple of people come to me and report what they thought were lax precautions at local eating establishments," Stuebner said. "There have been reports of servers not wearing masks, of tables that were pretty darn close together.
 
"I want to make sure the town is not getting complacent. [The virus] is still out there, and we still have to be careful about things. I'd urge not only individuals but eating establishments, in particular, to take the masking seriously. It's still recommended, if not mandated. Vaccinations are the most important thing, but masking is still very important."
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