Austen Riggs Center COVID-19 Response

Austen Riggs Center COVID dashboard.

Updates from the Medical Director/CEO

Updated 01/12/22  

Dear Members of the Austen Riggs Community:  

I am writing this update on the cusp of what will be the second anniversary of the COVID pandemic’s arrival in Massachusetts. When the state Department of Public Health announced the first presumptive case in March 2020, we focused our energy and resources on securing the Center to protect the health and well-being of our patients and staff. For nearly two years, through ups and downs, our continued efforts have been instrumental in preventing the virus from spreading throughout Riggs. 

Actions we have taken include implementing regular testing, wearing masks, and social distancing; using video technologies for remote meetings as applicable; establishing screening protocols for visitors and vendors; and perhaps most important, mandating vaccinations for staff—in compliance with presidential orders for healthcare facilities—and for patients. The mandate has resulted in 100 percent of patients and 100 percent of staff working on site complying with the mandate. We were sad to lose a small number of staff who were unwilling to be vaccinated and were not eligible for an exemption. 

As has been widely reported by federal and state health officials, the Omicron variant is highly transmissible both among unvaccinated and vaccinated populations, though the overall effect on most of the latter group appears to be less severe.  

Omicron’s impact at Riggs became evident in our first regular screening of 2022, after the holidays, on January 3. Results from that round of PCR testing identified two individual tests as positive in symptomatic individuals and three pooled testing groups had either a positive or inconclusive result among them. (We treat inconclusive as a potential positive.)  

Upon receiving the results, we immediately followed our established protocols, isolating the individuals and group members; notifying patients and staff; and carrying out 114 individual PCR tests. These tests yielded two positives (one staff member and one student in our nursery school) and one inconclusive for a staff member who later tested positive on a retest and reported mild symptoms. All individuals with positive test results will remain isolated from campus until they are medically cleared to return. No patients tested positive. 

In light of the increased threat that Omicron presents, we have bolstered several of our precautionary measures, including switching from weekly group COVID PCR testing to weekly individual PCR testing; requiring patients at the Inn to wear masks in common areas; revising our visitor policy to enable only vaccinated visitors to have access to Riggs buildings for more than five minutes; requiring visitors to wear masks in common areas; and no longer allowing visitors to have meals in our Inn residence common spaces. Additionally, we are consistently reviewing guidance from federal and state agencies and are in contact with local health officials to ensure we are following the most up-to-date guidance from them. 

During last winter’s surge in cases, I referenced Shakespeare by describing that surge as “the winter of our discontent.” Sadly, we appear to be in a second “winter of our discontent.” As I’m certain you’re experiencing, the fatigue and stress resulting from this pandemic are appreciable and there are times when I wonder if it will ever end. In these difficult circumstances, I remain thankful for the incredible efforts of our patients, staff, and members of the Riggs community such as yourself to keep us as safe as possible as we carry out our mission under unusual circumstances.   

With best wishes,  

Eric M. Plakun, MD   
Medical Director/CEO  


Contact Information: 

Family members: Your social worker is your primary contact person. If that person is not available, please call the social work administrative assistant, Jessi Meagher, at 413.931.5202. 

Referring clinicians: Please call 1.800.517.4447.  

Media inquiries: Please call our Communications Office at 413.931.5245.  


 COVID-19 Alerts From the Austen Riggs Center.

 Austen Riggs Center Admissions with Quarantine and COVID-19 Testing

There are numerous mental health resources related to COVID-19. Here are some that you may find helpful.   The organizations and outlets listed are among those providing accurate and updated information about COVID-19.


Archived Updates

2021.04.27 COVID-19 Update
2021.01.29 COVID-19 Update
2021.01.21 COVID-19 Update
2021.01.20 COVID-19 Update
2020.12.21 COVID-19 Update
2020.12.14 COVID-19 Update
2020.12.08 COVID-19 Update
2020.11.17 COVID-19 Update
2020.10.27 COVID-19 Update
2020.09.28 COVID-19 Update
2020.08.04 COVID-19 Update
COVID-19 Update from the Medical Director/CEO of Austen Riggs - June 2020
2020.05.13 COVID-19 Update
COVID-19 Update from the Medical Director/CEO of Austen Riggs - April 2020
Pandemics 101: A Presentation by Dr. Nils Daulaire
2020.04.24 COVID-19 Update
2020.04.17 COVID-19 Update
2020.04.01 COVID-19 Update
2020.03.24 COVID-19 Update
2020.03.20 COVID-19 Update
2020.03.17 COVID-19 Update
2021.03.01 COVID-19 Update

Austen Riggs Center Emails and Text Messages (SMS) Subscription Service for COVID-19 Updates

The Austen Riggs Center (Riggs) is offering this email and text subscription service solely for the purpose of sharing Riggs COVID-19 related alerts. Please enter the information below and select your communications preferences. Learn more about this service here: www.austenriggs.org/COVID19-updates.