News

Recap of Mayor Walsh’s Press Briefing

Please see below for updates from Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday, September 30, 2020.

Case numbers:

  • As of today in Massachusetts: 510 new confirmed cases, for a total of 129,753 confirmed cases. There were 32 new deaths, for a total of 9,242.

  • As of today in Boston: 61 new cases, for a total of 17,247. There were no new deaths, and the total remains at 762.

Update on COVID-19 data and trends in Boston:

  • For the week ending on Saturday, September 26, roughly 1,800 people were tested per day. That number came down from around 2,450 the week before. It reflects a significant decrease in college testing and a slight increase in non-college testing.

  • Boston’s positive test rate in that week was 3.5%, up from 2.2% the week before.

  • Daily visits to Emergency Rooms for COVID-like symptoms decreased from 16.6 visits per day to 16.0 visits per day. That remains somewhat higher than what we were seeing a few weeks ago, but is below our threshold for major concern.

  • Overall, we are seeing an increase in COVID activity, both in the number of cases and the positive test rate. While we are still under our thresholds, we are concerned with this increased activity and we are continuing our targeted responses.

Neighborhood-level data:

  • For that same week, ending September 26, the number of positive cases and the positive test rate increased across most Boston neighborhoods.

  • East Boston and the 02121 and 02125 zip codes in Dorchester both came in at over 7% and remain areas of concern. We have done and we continue to do targeted outreach and testing in both neighborhoods. Our Mobile Testing team is at 40 Geneva Avenue in Grove Hall to provide testing and access to care, and will remain there through October 10.

  • A number of neighborhoods were over the citywide average and fell between 4 and 5%: Allston-Brighton, Roslindale, Mattapan, South Boston, and Hyde Park, and the 02122 and 02124 zip codes of Dorchester. We are looking at those neighborhoods closely and focusing on outreach.

  • The remaining neighborhoods are under 3%, including: Roxbury, the South End, Jamaica Plain; West Roxbury, Charlestown, Back Bay, and Fenway.

Demographic data:

  • Recent demographic trends are important for targeting our outreach.

  • Roughly half of the cases reported in the last two weeks of data are in our Latino communities. We have for some time been increasing our bilingual outreach and geographic outreach based on that trend.

  • Half of the cases we’ve seen in the last two weeks are in people under the age of 29. The Mayor urged young people to remember that they can still get sick from the virus. He also called on young people to remain cautious and respect the COVID-19 safety guidelines in order to protect more vulnerable populations who tend to experience more severe symptoms and a higher risk of death. Remaining vigilant will also help prevent an increase in COVID-19 numbers, and will prevent the city from needing to pull back on reopening.

Gatherings and parties:

  • The Mayor urged residents not to hold or attend house parties, indoors or outdoors. The City is getting reports from several neighborhoods about loud parties, particularly South Boston, Allston-Brighton, and Mission Hill. He said that the noise level is inconsiderate, but that the larger concern is viral transmission. He called on all residents to find a safer way to socialize. Residents can call the Boston Police Department’s Party Line at 617-343-5500 or 911 if they are hearing a disturbance.

Update on State metrics and reopening phases:

  • The Mayor said that he expects Boston to move into the State’s “red” designation as early as this evening. That means we have been seeing eight or more new cases per day, per 100,000 population. This is a raw case total. The City of Boston is also looking at a wider range of metrics, including the positive rate and hospital data.

  • The Mayor confirmed that Boston will not yet be moving into Step 2 of Phase 3 of the State’s reopening plan. That means Boston will not yet open indoor performance venues; and that capacity at outdoor performance venues will stay at 25% with a maximum of 50 people. Certain activities will remain closed, like trampoline parks, obstacle courses, roller rinks, and laser tag. Fitting rooms in retail stores will remain closed. Gyms, museums, libraries, and driving schools will remain at 40% capacity limits.

  • At the same time, the State has made some changes to Phase 3, Step 1 that we are accepting in Boston: Food courts may open, with appropriate distancing and capacity limits. Movie theaters can go from a maximum of 25 people to a maximum of 50% capacity, with a 250 person limit. Golf carts may hold more than one person, and flag sticks may now be used. Those changes go into effect on October 5. In Boston, limits on gatherings remain in place at 25 for indoor gatherings and 50 for outdoor gatherings.

  • The Mayor thanked local businesses for their patience and cooperation, and said they can reach out to his office or call 3-1-1 with any questions.

  • He also said that the numbers we’re seeing are not surprising for a city like Boston. Boston is home to a large number of colleges and universities, which puts us in a unique position. Public health experts expected that more infections would come with more activity in the fall, especially with the start of the academic year. The City has worked closely with our colleges on their testing, tracing, and safety protocols. They have done a good job and their positive rates are generally very low. The Mayor said that we’re seeing increases in both our college and non-college numbers, so the increase in numbers is not isolated to college campuses.

  • The Mayor said: “We’ve made immense progress in the last few months and we have the ability to protect and continue that progress. What it means is we are going to keep listening to the science and monitoring the key data on a daily basis. We’re going to keep up targeted responses. We’re going to keep working with our colleges and universities, and our businesses and communities. We’re going to maintain the caution that has been our approach to reopening all along. And we’re going to keep asking and urging every single Bostonian to be part of the solution.”

Update on the Boston Resiliency Fund:

  • So far the Boston Resiliency Fund has raised over $33 million from nearly 6,700 donors, and distributed over $27 million to more than 350 nonprofits and community groups doing life-saving work in our neighborhoods.

  • This week, we are getting a total of nearly half a million dollars to more organizations, including:

Breaktime, which is providing free grocery bundles in East Boston, Roxbury, and Dorchester;

The Greater Boston YMCA which continues to host meal sites;

The Food Project, which is growing fresh produce and getting it to thousands of families and seniors across the city, including farmers markets in Roxbury and Dorchester; and

The Cape Verdean Association of Boston, which is providing boxes of groceries to hundreds of families.

Introducing in-person learning in the Boston Public Schools:

  • Tomorrow (Oct. 1), the Boston Public Schools begin hybrid, in-person learning for the highest-needs students.

  • The Mayor reiterated that keeping our students, teachers, and school staff safe is our number one priority. We only move forward with our phased-in plan if our positive test rate remains below 4%. We’ll continue to monitor the data closely, and make adjustments if needed.

  • Just as important: every family has the option to continue fully-remote learning. The families opting in to hybrid learning this week have students who benefit the most from in-person support. They are most at risk, both academically and in other ways, when they are not in school buildings. That includes students with certain disabilities; certain students who are English learners; and students experiencing homelessness and other challenges. The City and BPS are prioritizing these students and families in order to do everything we can to meet their needs.

  • The latest data from BPS indicates that over 3,700 students will begin in-person as part of Group B tomorrow; and Group A will begin on Monday with close to 3,600 students in school. Group A will continue in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays; and Group B will be in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be dedicated to thoroughly cleaning our school buildings.

  • Every single school has been prepared for proper spacing and capacity; proper ventilation; and proper cleaning and safety protocols; and school buses are ready to go with distancing and cleaning protocols.

  • That’s true this week, and it will be true for every grade and every date this fall for optional hybrid learning: for Kindergarten no sooner than October 15; for grades 1-3, October 22, for grades 4-8, November 5, and for grades 9-12 as early as November 16.

  • The Boston Public Schools will not move forward with any phase of in-person learning unless the numbers are right and the public health experts approve.

Updates on remote learning:

  • Remote learning is moving forward and we continue to see positive results. BPS is reporting remote attendance that is roughly equivalent to normal attendance rates (90%). That’s an improvement over the spring, and the Mayor thanked teachers, families, and students for their dedication to make this historic situation work. Free laptops and internet hotspots continue to go out to families. We received another shipment of 10,000 Chromebooks this Monday with more on the way.

Meal access continues for students:

New financial resource for BPS families:

  • The City has worked out a partnership with Staples, to give every BPS student a $50 in-store shopping card for their back to school supplies. All 54,000 cards were distributed last week to schools, who are currently arranging distribution with families. The cards can be used in any Staples store at any time until November 30. They are not for use online. The Mayor thanked Staples for their partnership.

Updates on supports for small businesses:

  • Our Small Business Relief Fund has distributed nearly $7 million in grants to over 1,850 businesses.

  • In May, we also created the $6 million Reopen Boston Fund, to support the safe and healthy reopening of small businesses in Boston. To date, we’ve issued more than $2.7 million in debt-free grants to 1,325 small businesses to implement public health measures and buy PPE. 57% of those businesses are owned by people of color; 55% by women; and 66% by immigrants.

  • The Reopen Boston Fund continues to offer grants to small businesses of up to $2,000 to help with reopening costs.

  • And now, for our restaurants, we are expanding the Reopen Boston Fund, to also cover cold weather preparations for outdoor dining. This opportunity will include grants to cover heaters, storage equipment, and propane.

  • The City has approved over 550 restaurants for outdoor dining, and recently announced that we are extending our Outdoor Dining Program. Restaurants using private outdoor space can continue to do so for as long as the public health emergency lasts. This also applies to restaurants that are leasing space from another business. Restaurants using public space on streets and sidewalks can continue until at least December 1. At that point, the City will reevaluate the situation.The City has also removed fees for outdoor propane heater permits from the Fire Department.

  • The Mayor said that the City wants to help restaurants invest and make this work. We know that with big revenue shortfalls this year, capital investments are a challenge.  And we want to help. You can find out more at Boston.gov/SmallBusiness.

Reinstating the plastic bag ban:

  • The Mayor issued a reminder that as of tomorrow (Thursday), our city’s ban on plastic bags is back in place. This is an ordinance we put in place in 2018 to protect our environment: Stores can only provide bags that are reusable, recyclable, or compostable. And they must charge at least five cents for those bags.

  • We lifted it temporarily in March, to provide shoppers and stores more flexibility during COVID. But it’s important to maintain this policy, as part of our climate leadership. Public health experts are clear that reusable bags are safe. The Mayor thanked business owners and patrons for their patience and flexibility.

Census reminder:

  • The Mayor issued a reminder about the importance of responding to this year’s U.S. Census. The Trump Administration had tried to end the count today, a month earlier than normal. But a federal judge ruled that the 2020 Census must be extended through October 31, as was originally planned. Boston joined the fight to restore the timeline. The Census Bureau has said they will abide by the decision, but the Trump Administration is appealing. If they win that appeal, the count could end. So we urge every household to fill out the Census as soon as possible. Responding to the Census is completely safe to do. Go to my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020. Either option is available in 13 languages. The Mayor asked everyone to encourage their friends, family, and others to fill it out as well.

Immigration update:

  • As of last night, a federal court is temporarily blocking the big fee increase on citizenship that was supposed to start on Friday. Boston had led the fight on this. Project Citizenship led the lawsuit. And Mayor Walsh’s administration led the amicus brief that many cities signed onto.

  • The Mayor said that he applauded the court’s decision, saying: “Citizenship should not be a wealth test. Boston will always stand with those who choose to call this City home. And it goes to show that when we stand together, we win.”

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About the Author

Maureen Dahill

Maureen Dahill is the editor of Caught in Southie and Caught in Dot and a lifelong resident of South Boston sometimes mistaken for a yuppie. Hockey mom, yoga enthusiast, lover of red wine and binge watching TV series. Mrs. Peter G. Follow her @MaureenCaught.