The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) held a virtual meeting on March 1, where it discussed COVID-19 updates and trends, as well as made a unanimous decision to lift the city’s indoor mask mandate beginning on Saturday, March 5.
BPHC Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu talked about a number of the health and safety measures that have been implemented in Boston over the past two years, including testing, vaccines, and the mask mandate, as well as the moratorium on eviction and declaring substance use and homelessness a public health crisis. The city also implemented the B-Together order, which required people to show proof of vaccination upon entry to certain indoor spaces. That order was lifted on February 18.
Ojikutu also spoke about “key city metrics,” saying that they are “all trending downward.” The city’s positive test rate in early January was over 32 percent, she said, but is now at 2.5 percent.
“Vaccines continue to be the most important tool we have to prevent severe illness related to COVID-19,” she said, adding that about 72 percent of Bostonians are fully vaccinated, and 85 percent have received at least one dose.
Ojikutu said that about 39 percent of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated, which is “significantly higher than the national rate.” She said that there is “still more work to do,” especially to address “racial and ethnic disparities.”
About 50 percent of fully vaccinated individuals have received a booster shot, she said, adding that those who have not yet received one should do so.
BPHC Chair Manny Lopes asked about “best practices we’ve learned” about approaching vaccines for the 5-11 population.
Ojikutu said that the city has been “working with our community-based partners,” as well as having “one-on-one discussions” with caregivers and parents and “correcting misinformation that’s out there.”
Ojikutu said that while “all of our key metrics are moving in the right direction,” there are other factors that have to be examined as well, including disparities in the infection and vaccination rates, as well as ensuring that those who have preexisting medical conditions or who are immunocompromised have protection.
“As our understanding of this disease evolves, our response must evolve to always follow the best available data and science,” Ojiukutu said. Though there has been “continued improvement in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Boston,” she said that “community transmission is still happening in Boston.”
After announcing that she is “prepared” to lift indoor mask mandate as of March 5, Ojikutu said that masking continues to be recommended for those at high risk for severe illness or if someone will be around those who are.
“I also want to be clear about what ending the City of Boston’s mask mandate would change or not change,” Ojikutu said. While masks would not be required in places such as retail stores, gyms, restaurants, fitness centers, bars, performance venues, and the like, they are still required on all forms of public transportation per federal mandate. Masks are also still required in healthcare settings.
Ojikutu also stressed that individual businesses are still free to require masks should they choose to do so.
The lifting of this order does not apply to Boston Public Schools, however.
According to a press release from the city, “The Boston Public Schools will continue to require masking while BPHC and BPS leaders monitor metrics including school positivity and vaccination rates following last week’s school vacation. The Board of Health will hear additional updates on COVID-19 and school masking at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, March 9.”
The BPHC also announced that the city’s eviction moratorium will end on March 31.
Additionally, the city said in the release that the mask mandate “may be reinstated if data show an increased risk of community transmission. Be sure to consider your specific situation and risk factors, such as those in your life who may be vulnerable, before going out without a mask.”
Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement: “I’m grateful that our city is ready to take this step in our recovery thanks to the hard work and commitment of residents keeping our communities safe over many, many months. As we continue to make progress even while living with COVID, Boston will continue leading on public health to keep our communities safe, healthy, and prepared.”