Mayor Walsh held a press conference late Wednesday morning where he addressed the rising COVID case numbers in the City, as well as how Boston Public Schools (BPS) are faring as they get closer to including more kids in the hybrid model.
Walsh said that in the city, non-college testing has increased, while there has been a decrease in college testing as many move-in testing plans are “winding down,” he said.
The city’s positive test rate is 3.5 percent, which is an increase from recent weeks. He said while this number is still below the threshold for serious concern, he said he is “concerned” with the increase in COVID activity and is encouraging everyone to get tested.
He said that some neighborhoods are on the rise, but Back Bay, the Fenway, and the South End remain below three percent.
He also said that the city is seeing an increase in positive cases among younger people under the age of 29.
“This is an issue that we need to be very clear about,” he said. “In that age group, you can still get very sick.”
He urged residents to not hold house parties or gather in large groups. “Find a safer way to socialize,” he said. “We need everyone to remain vigilant.”
Walsh said it was “likely” that the City will enter the red zone on the state’s COVID map, which means there are more than eight new cases per day per 100,000 people.
Governor Baker announced this week that lower risk communities would be permitted to enter Step II of Phase III of the state’s reopening plan.
But Walsh said “we will not be moving forward into Step II, Phase III.” He said indoor performance venues in the city will remain closed, there will not be an increase in capacity for outdoor performance venues, activities like trampoline parks, obstacle courses, and laser tag will remain closed, fitting rooms in all retail stores will remain closed, and gyms, libraries, and similar facilities will remain at a capacity limit of 40 percent.
He asked residents to stop and think about their choices and how they may affect the rest of the community.
“We want to make sure that we stop that increase before it comes to a point where we’re having the entire city shut down again,” Walsh said.
However, there are a couple of changes to Step III, Phase proposed by the governor that Boston will be accepting, Walsh said, including that food courts are permitted to open with appropriate distancing measures in place, and movie theaters will be permitted to have an increase in capacity to 50 percent with a maximum of 250 people. These changes will go into effect on October 5.
“We have made incredible progress in the last few months,” Walsh said. He said the city will continue to listen to science and monitor public health data daily.
In-person learning began on October 1, in-person learning begins “for the highest needs students” in a hybrid model, Walsh said. He said that there are more than 3700 kids in Group B that will attend in person on Thursdays and Fridays, then starting Monday, an additional 3600 students as part of Group A will attend on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students will continue to learn remotely on their off days, and Wednesdays will be the days when school buildings are thoroughly cleaned.
Walsh said that BPS will only move forward with the hybrid learning model if the positive test rate remains below four percent, and families still have the option to have their kids learn fully remotely.
He reminded residents that all school buildings have been prepared to receive students, faculty, and staff, with proper spacing, ventilation, and cleanliness protocols in place.
Walsh said that remote learning is going well so far, with about 90 percent of students signing in and participating each day, which he said is similar to a normal in person school day in the city. Meals will continue to be provided for students, even for remote learning days.
Walsh also announced a partnership with Staples that will provide every BPS student a $50 gift card to purchase school supplies at Staples, which can be used in any Staples store any time before November 30. He said it has to be used in person and cannot be used online.
Additionally, the ban on plastic bags has been reintroduced, Walsh said, and retailers must charge at least 5 cents for each bag used. The ban had been lifted to help residents and businesses during the surge, but Walsh said it is “important to maintain this policy as part of our climate leadership,” and “public health experts are clear that reusable bags are safe,” he said.