Walsh Discusses Safety Measures for BPS Schools, Addresses Uptick in COVID-19 Cases

Mayor Walsh held a press conference on August 12, his first one in nearly two weeks. He talked about the rising number of cases, and focused on Boston Public Schools (BPS).

He discussed the “slight uptick in Boston” over the past few weeks, where the average positive test rate went from about 2.1 percent to about 2.8 percent. However, he announced that the most recent seven day positive test rate was down to 2.5 percent.

He said that while the increase in cases is “not alarming,” the City will continue to closely monitor the public health data. He also said that the expansion in testing across the city could be a reason for the increase in positive case numbers.

Walsh also said that he is “concerned” about college students returning to Boston from high risk states, and has asked colleges and universities to provide the City with information on testing and other reopening protocols.

“Many colleges have submitted information to us,” he said, but there are “still a few outstanding colleges” that have yet to provide the information.

He said that he understands people’s want to get together with friends and family, but he urged that people do so in a safe manner.

“We have to be clear: it’s not time right now to let up,” he said. When meeting people in parks, he suggested going in small groups where everyone has a mask on. He advised people to not sit in crowded areas at beaches, and masks must be worn “until you sit down” at a restaurant, he said.

“You can have fun, but we want you to make sure we minimize the risks,” he said.

He thanked those who have been following the guidelines and helping to stop the spread of the virus in the City, and reminded everyone that the work needs to continue.

Boston Public Schools

“The most important collective step before us right now is BPS opening,” Walsh said, as families and teachers “are concerned” about safety and need time to create plans.

“Everyone is rightly concerned about their safety and the safety of our young people,” Walsh said. “Keeping everyone safe is our first priority. That means our kids, our families, that means all of our teachers, our staff, that means our community at large, it means quite honestly everyone.”

He said that BPS will “not be starting with all in-person learning,” but rather either a hybrid model or a period of completely remote learning.

He said that the City is “doing the work now to ensure that remote and in-school learning will be as safe and effective as they can be.”

The City has purchased nearly 5,000 plexiglass and vinyl separators for use in schools, and is making sure that schools have nurses rooms with properly isolated, ventilated spaces for symptomatic children. Schools are being equipped with new HVAC filters, and window adjustments are being made to ensure that every classroom has at least one window that opens to allow for fresh air inside the classroom.

Walsh also said that the City is purchasing electrostatic sprayers—one for every single BPS school—to disinfect surfaces.

Additionally, sanitization stations will be installed at the entrances and exits for people to sanitize their hands before entering the school, and schools will be marked for foot traffic safety and distancing.

“Every school will receive a certificate of inspection before reopening,” Walsh said. “We will not send students or teachers or staff into a building that is not safe.”

He also said that BPS is working to strengthen remote learning capabilities, including internet access, to fix gaps that occurred in the spring that did not allow some students to fully participate in the learning process.

Walsh also said there will be “new outreach and support plans” for families. “My concern right now with school is that we have a growing achievement gap, in particular for our Black and Latino students,” he said. “Our schools have two crises right now:” the pandemic, and racial inequity.

He said the BPS budget was increased “with a targeted focus of closing achievement gaps.”

Other Announcements

Walsh also announced that the USDA grant waiver allowing summer meals “to be served in safe ways” will expire on August 31, and if it is not extended, BPS will have to stop making deliveries of meals to students with disabilities and students who are homeless.

He also said that the “Grab and Go” method would have to be altered, and would no longer be open to all children.

Walsh said that he’s “simply asking the federal government in the midst of the pandemic to let us feed our children safely.”

Walsh also announced that $30 million dollars is now available for affordable housing in the City, and projects will be awarded in September. The projects “must advance our goals of being a carbon neutral city,” as well as demonstrate diversity in the project team.

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