Mayor Walsh held a press conference on June 4, where he gave an update on COVID-19 and how the city is responding and moving forward.
“We are continuing our recoveries at two or three times the rate of new cases which is a very positive trend,” Walsh said. “The data tells us that we continue to move in the right direction and we have met the initial benchmarks that we set for moving forward in a gradual reopening.”
Walsh said that during the surge in April, ICU patients were being treated at over 120 percent of the combined normal capacity of Boston hospitals. “We set a benchmark of getting below 85 percent; as of today we were down to 81 percent,” Walsh said last Thursday.
Last Tuesday, the last Boston Hope patients were discharged from the medical center at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. “It’s not a suspended operation pending future need, and that’s a positive milestone,” Walsh said.
He also said that for the week ending on May 30, the City’s positive test rate was 7.5 percent, which was a “new low,” he said.
Walsh said that Bostonians should continue to practice social distancing both indoors and outdoors, and continue to take precautions like wearing a face covering, cleaning surfaces, and washing hands often. “The virus has not gone away,” Walsh said. “All of these precautions remain important as ever while the state’s reopening plan continues to move forward.”
He said that the risks are still there and everyone needs to understand them,. “A gradual reopening means a gradual economic recovery,” Walsh said. “We know that many people are still struggling and will continue to struggle for some time.”
He said that the needs of families, workers, seniors, and small businesses will continue to be met.
“We will continue the approach to this work with equity for communities with the deepest needs, informed by our Health Inequities Task Force,” Walsh said.
For small businesses, $7.5 million has been allocated for economic relief, and $3.6 million has been distributed to more than 1500 small businesses in the City. An additional $6 million has been put into a program for grants to help businesses get PPE and other materials to reopen safely.
The City has also worked and will continue to work helping people with the housing crisis, Walsh said. In April a rental relief fund was created to help renters who lost their income and are not eligible for unemployment or other relief.
“Since the fund was launched, we got over $720,000 into 215 households across 17 neighborhoods to cover rents for April and May,” Walsh said. He added that the City’s partner agencies are working on processing more than 550 additional applications to continue distributing funds.
An additional $5 million was added to the fund last week, and a new round of application opened on June 5 and will run for two weeks.
“We want to make sure that people can pay their rents,” Walsh said. “We do not ask immigration questions in this application; we do not share information with anyone else.”
Work is also being done with regards to rental vouchers. Walsh said that the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) is currently working with 400 families who have children in the Boston Public Schools. He said that 167 families currently have vouchers, and 86 families have been placed in permanent housing.
“From now on, they will not pay more than 30 percent of their income towards rent,” Walsh said. “Financial relief and vouchers are about meeting the urgent needs of our families being hurt by both poverty and the COVID crisis.”
Walsh also discussed the continuation of the more long term goal of expanding affordable housing, saying that construction has resumed on 21 City-sponsored affordable housing developments. This adds up to 1,067 affordable units and $425 million total investment, Walsh said.
“Over 900 more income restricted units created under our Inclusionary Development Policy are back under construction,” Walsh said. Additionally, the Boston Housing Authority has resumed construction on 880 new apartments in Roxbury, the South End, Jamaica Plain, South Boston, and East Boston, he said.
“These will allow public housing residents to relocate in brand new, energy efficient homes,” Walsh said. “As they move, new families will be able to come out of shelter and move into existing units. In total, that’s 3,000 affordable homes under construction right now. All of this work is about having a more equitable city; a city where everyone can be healthy and safe, but we know that here in Boston…we have much more work to do.”