Mayor Walsh said on May 4 that while Boston “may be on the verge of a downward slope,” it’s “not time to ease up” on social distancing and other protective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
He said that as the Commonwealth and the City plan for a phased reopening, “we all have to stay the course right now so we can save lives. If we don’t, we risk dealing with a second and even worse wave of the virus.”
He said on Wednesday afternoon that the average new cases in the city have “leveled off a bit overall,” and the City is “moving in the right direction,” but the curve is bending slowly.
“We are only beginning towards where we need to be,” he added.
He said that “there’s still too many people not wearing masks,” and urged people to provide more distance between each other when outdoors. “Be cautious and mindful,” he said.
Walsh said that the City continues to rely on the Boston Hope field hospital at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and as of Wednesday there were 166 patients being served there, 81 on the shelter side and 85 on the hospital side.
Coming out of a weekend of nice weather, Walsh thanked “everyone who did their part this weekend; keeping up with social distancing and covering their faces.”
He also thanked his neighborhood liaisons, who distributed more than 70,000 booklets to convenience stores, banks and food distribution sites across the city over the weekend. The booklets include information on how to stay safe, make face coverings, and practice social distancing.
After Governor Baker announced last week an order for everyone over the age of two to wear face coverings in public when six feet of distance between people cannot be maintained, Walsh emphasized the importance of wearing a face covering while walking on the street, while riding the MBTA, while in the grocery store or pharmacy, and “anytime you are outside your home when you cannot ensure enough distance between yourself and others.”
He also stressed once again the importance of disposing of gloves and masks properly, as leaving them on the ground is not sanitary or “fair” to those who have to pick them up.
Wednesday marked National Nurses Day, and the start to National Nurses Week. Mayor Walsh said that “no one is working harder than our nurses right now,” and “no one is more indispensable” to Boston’s communities. “We have some of the best nurses in the world,” he said. “Thank you for your great service.”
As of May 5, Boston had 10,241 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 449 people had died.
Walsh said on May 4 that 28,000 people have been teated in Boston, which is four percent of the City’s population. Last week, the City was able to increase testing by 44 percent, and Walsh said that the positive rate is at 32 percent and “trending down.” He said that numbers of positive tests were lower in Mattapan, Hyde Park, and West Roxbury, but they were higher in the Fenway after testing late last week. The percentage of positive tests was lower last week in East Boston as well, but the neighborhood still has the highest number of positive tests in all of Boston, Walsh said.
By the end of this week there will be 19 total testing sites across the City, Walsh said, including more sites in Jamaica Plain and Charlestown. He told residents that if they think they need a test, they should contact their local health center ahead of time as “you cannot show up and just get a test.”
On Wednesday, Walsh announced the expansion of mobile testing in the City, and a goal to test 150 residents a day, six days a week.
Additionally, “As part of the ongoing work to make testing available for groups at risk of faster spread and more severe illness from COVID-19, the City will work to complete universal testing for individuals experiencing homelessness and then begin universal testing for other high-impact populations and sites, including first responders,” the City said in a statement.
More than 1800 homeless individuals have also been tested so far, and two have passed away.
“The antibody testing initiative is also wrapping up,” Walsh said on Monday, which will give the City “a bit of a snapshot of where we stand with people.” He said a summary of these results of the testing of 1000 asymptomatic residents will be made publicly available. The City announced on Wednesday that they also hope to expand antibody testing to “targeted populations such as first responders” once this initial study is wrapped up.
Distribution of Grants to over 500 Small Businesses
Mayor Walsh announced on May 5 that the City’s Small Business Relief Fund will be “distributing $2 million in grants to 561 small businesses most directly impacted by closures, policies, or general loss of revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a release from the City.
The businesses are located in every neighborhood of the city, and the most affected industries include hospitality, personal care, arts and recreation, retail, and healthcare and social assistance, according to the City, and more than 75 percent of businesses who were awarded funding have fewer than five employees, many of which had trouble accessing federal assistance.
“The Small Business Relief Fund grants are critical to help struggling small businesses across the city address challenges brought on by COVID-19,” said Mayor Walsh. “These businesses are the backbone of our economy, and the lifeblood of our communities. I’m proud we are able to assist them during this time, and am grateful to our partners who have stepped up in a big way to support Boston’s neighborhood business community.”
Additionally, the Boston Resiliency Fund has raised $29.4 million dollar so far, and over $16 million has been distributed. Walsh said that more than half of the $16 million has gone to food and basic needs for residents who need it most.
Walsh announced that an updated learning plan around attendance, grading, assignments, and scheduling went into effect on May 4.
“We did this because when we shut schools down, we hoped we’d be closed through the end of April, but then we had to change the way we do learning,” he said.
Walsh also said that no student will be held back this year and all will move onto the next grade, but if parents or guardians feel that their child would benefit from repeating a grade, that can be discussed.
A plan to honor graduating seniors is also in development, Walsh said. “We’re working on some special ways to celebrate them and their achievements.”
He also thanked all teachers “for stepping up in this crisis,” as this week is National Teachers Week. He also thanked students and parents for their “continued cooperation” as remote learning continues for the rest of the school year.
Walsh also talked about a special benefit authorized by the federal CARES Act, the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer Card, or P-EBT, which is available for all BPS and charter school students, he said. If a family is currently receiving SNAP benefits, it will automatically be added to their cards in the amount of $5.70 per child per school day for as long as schools are closed, which comes out to $28.50 per child per week.
No applications are required to receive this extra benefit, and P-EBT cards can be used anywhere where SNAP cards are currently used, he added. Cards will be mailed to families who are not currently enrolled in the SNAP program, and the use of these cards does not impact immigration status.
Additionally, over 58,000 meals were delivered to seniors through Meals on Wheels last week, Walsh said.
Traffic and Public Safety
Walsh has advised Bostonians and others driving in the city that empty roads are not a reason to speed, and the City speed limit is 25 mph. Two people were killed in motor vehicle related accidents in the month of April, and he also said there has been an uptick in shootings throughout the city.
With the weather warming up, more kids are outside playing, and Walsh said that motorists need to slow down and be aware of their surroundings. He said that if speed traps are necessary, they will be set out in the City.
“Be very careful,” Walsh said. “We don’t want any of our little ones hurt.”