Walsh Announces Antibody Testing, Allows Restaurants to Sell Groceries

Mayor Walsh made several announcements over the weekend, including a partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital on randomized antibody testing for 1,000 residents, as well as allowing restaurants to sell grocery items. The public health emergency declaration for the City of Boston that was issued on March 15 has also been extended “until rescinded by the Interim Executive Director,” according to the Boston Public Health Commission.

In response to Governor Baker’s extension of the stay-at-home advisory and closure of non-essential businesses to May 18 as well as the announcement of a 17-member advisory board for a phased reopening of the state, Walsh said on Wednesday that he is “pleased to pledge our full participation in the governor’s process.”

Walsh continued to remind people to wear a face covering when outside the home, and to keep practicing social distancing. He had a special message for runners on Wednesday, telling them it was especially important for them to cover their faces when near others outside as heavy breathing can spread the virus.

Antibody Testing

Walsh announced on Sunday that 1,000 randomly chosen residents in the neighborhoods of East Boston, Roslindale, and Dorchester in zip codes 02121 and 02145.

“It is our hope that by conducting this testing, we as a collective City will get a better understanding of the true prevalence of COVID-19 in our community,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement. “The more we can expand our testing, the more we can learn how to use our medical resources more efficiently, and how we need to focus our current efforts to contain the virus. I want to thank MGH for being an excellent partner on this effort that we hope will be a step forward towards the path to recovery.”

The testing will “give us important information about how different populations are being affected,” he added at a press conference on Monday, as well as learn more about the virus.

He said that antibodies are important, as they are proteins that are present in the blood to fight an infection, and remain in the blood after a person has recovered from an illness. Walsh said that doing this kind of testing will provide a better idea of how widespread the outbreak is in the City of Boston. “This antibody testing initiative is certainly a big step forward,” he said.

Restaurants Given Permission to Sell Groceries

On Friday, April 24, Mayor Walsh announced that permitted restaurants would be allowed to sell grocery items like paper goods, produce, and more via delivery, curbside pickup, and takeout.

“This is an unprecedented time for all of us in the City of Boston, and our administration is prioritizing how best to keep our residents safe and healthy, while also supporting our businesses and some of our City’s most vulnerable residents,” Walsh said in a statement. “By allowing restaurants to also sell grocery and other essential items, we can help address social distancing concerns in grocery stores while supporting restaurants and food businesses during these unprecedented times.”

Participating restaurants are required to follow specific procedures such as including product information available in relation to safe handling instructions and information about what the item is. Additionally, “an ingredient statement, the name and place of business of the food manufacturer, packer, or distributer, net quantity of contents, and allergen information required by the Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act” must be made available as well, according to the City.

“In addition, businesses must submit an operational plan to the Boston Licensing Board detailing plans of implementing safe handling procedures and how they will comply with guidance from ISD. The Licensing Board will review each plan and issue correspondence allowing the sale of grocery items by the Licensee on a temporary basis given the COVID-19 health emergency. Restaurants are not permitted to sell grocery items before receiving approval from the Boston Licensing Board,” the City said.

Walsh thanked the City of Somerville and Mayor Joseph Curtatone for his guidance on this, as Somerville implemented the program earlier. “We should all be grateful for the people supporting our efforts here in Boston,” he said.

Other Updates

On April 27, Mayor Walsh announced the death of Booby Joe Leaster, a BCYF streetworker, who died from injuries from a house fire.

“We are devastated by his loss,” Walsh said. “We will never forget the impact he made.”

Walsh also said that a South End resident in his 70s passed away due to COVID-19, a few days after marrying his long time partner, whom he had proposed to while in the hospital.

As of April 28, the City of Boston had 8,613 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 333 people had died.

Walsh also said that at-home instruction will be ramping up again this week after last week’s April vacation. He said that more than 2100 WiFi hotspots had been set up for homes that did not already have access, so students would be able to continue their learning at home.

Last week, Governor Baker announced that Massachusetts schools would be closed for the remainder of the year, and Walsh said that the City of Boston is “staying in close contact with school leaders about how distance learning has gone so far.” He also said that superintendent Brenda Cassellius is also working on plans for the rest of the academic year to make sure that no student falls behind.

“It’s important to remember that our schools are more than classrooms; they’re communities,” Walsh said. He added that free breakfast and lunch continue to be served to students across the City each day at 65 youth oriented sites.  He said that half a million meals have been served so far, and they will continue to be served as long as schools remain closed.

Food is also being delivered to the homes of students with severe special needs, and going forward, every school will have a student support team to monitor things like student engagement, well-being, and progress.

More than $27 million has been raised so far for the Boston Resiliency Fund, and Walsh announced on Wednesday an additional $1.4 million will be awarded to an additional 19 organizations.

Walsh also said that $3 million in relief for housing payments was made available to those who are unable to get unemployment benefits and have no other income coming in. The City is processing about 800 applications for this money, he added, and $2 million was allotted for a small business relief fund, of which 83 percent has been distributed to over 500 businesses in the City.

He added that more than $10 million in federal funding will be used to replenish these programs.

Walsh also said that testing has increased across the city, including universal testing for the homeless population after securing an additional 1000 tests last week.

Walsh, like Baker, advised people to “call 911 immediately” if they are experiencing any kind of medical emergency. “We absolutely have the capacity to treat everyone who needs care,” he said.

He also thanked the people who are answering 311 calls, as well as his neighborhood liaisons for making sure residents in every neighborhood are kept informed about the most up-to-date information regarding the virus.

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