Baker, Walsh Discuss Schools, COVID Updates

Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Walsh each held a press conference on August 18, where they talked about schools and COVID-19 updates. Baker addressed food insecurity in the state, and Walsh also talked about the importance of the postal service.

Baker said that the state has asked school districts across the state to come up with plans for hybrid, in-person, and remote learning. “Over the past few weeks, school districts have submitted plans,” and of the 371 school districts, more than 70 percent of them indicated that they will offer hybrid or fully in person classes this fall. The other 30 percent will be fully remote, he said.

“Students have been away from classrooms and their students and peers since March,” Baker said.

On Monday, there were 213 new cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, and the seven day average positive test rate is about 1.4 percent. Baker said that this rate has been “hovering” between 1.4 and two percent for the past several weeks. To date, nearly 2 million tests have been administered across the state, and Baker said that there has been an increase in repeat tests in individuals.

Baker also said that continued success has been seen in the state’s Stop the Spread Initia-tive, which began on July 10 and will run through September 12. Baker announced on Tuesday afternoon that the program will be expanded to three more communities: Salem, Holyoke, and Saugus, bringing the total number of communities to 20.

The state is launching a new interactive map with case data, which is available at mass.gov/covidmap.

“The Commonwealth is stepping up its partnerships with communities considered to be mod-erate or high risk,” Baker said, adding that the state will continue to “ensure public awareness about the steps we need to stay safe.

Baker also talked about the Food Security Task Force, which was established this spring. There is $56 million in investments available to “combat food insecurity,” Baker said, by providing funds to food banks and similar programs, and he said that a “great response” has been seen from food producers and distributers.

“Increasing access to fresh, local food is critical to ensure the health and wellbeing of all Com-monwealth families,” Baker said in a statement. “Through this grant program, we are helping residents and businesses who’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic while making investments in building a strong and equitable local food system for Massachusetts that is prepared for the future.”

As part of a second round of funding from the $36 million Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program, $3.3 million in grants will be distributed to Massachusetts farmers, urban farms, schools, seafood farmers, food banks, and more, he said. The funds will be used to invest in new technology such as refrigerated trucks, greenhouses, ovens, and more, so programs across the state can continue providing food to local residents.

“The great thing about this program,” Baker said, is that it is “not a stop-gap system,” but it will help to “invest in building a strong and local resilient food system.”

Baker said that the administration is “grateful for our continued collaboration with the legisla-ture” on this issue.

Walsh Updates

Mayor Walsh also held a press conference on August 18, where he talked about testing in the City as well as preparations being made for back to school.

Walsh said that there were 24 new cases in Boston as of Tuesday, and testing is up in all neighborhoods except Allston-Brighton, but he added that there was a pop-up testing center there last week.

“We’re going to bring testing wherever it’s needed,” Walsh said. “We need to stay focused and vigilant on the battle of COVID-19. Boston has done well over the last three months be-cause our residents are resilient and responsible.”

Walsh said that September 21 will be the opening date for most Boston Public Schools (BPS) students.

He said the decision will be made “very soon” on whether or not to open BPS fully remotely or with a hybrid model, but reminded residents that families have a choice to have their children attend remotely regardless of the decision made.

He said that HVAC systems have been inspected in schools, and 3000 fans have been pur-chased. He added that the City’s protocol for preparation meets state requirements.

He also said that equity remains at the forefront of decision making. “Community input has shaped every step of the input,” he added.

Walsh also talked about the issues with the postal service, saying that the postmaster general announced that operational changes “that were causing this great concern” are being sus-pended.

“We need a strong postal service,” he said, adding that “many of our seniors and others” vote by mail each year. With the pandemic, many others will also request mail-in ballots so Walsh talked about the importance of making sure the postal service is fully up and running.

He said that the City will “continue to monitor the situation closely on a daily basis.”

Walsh said that he would like to “thank all the postal workers who are working for us. We take voting rights and voting access seriously in Boston.”

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