As the COVID-19 crisis continues and begins to approach the predicted surge in cases, Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh continue to provide updates to residents and have implemented new measures to prevent further spread of the virus.
As of Wednesday, April 8, the City of Boston had 2,502 confirmed cases of COVID-19. In Massachusetts, there were 16,790 cases and 433 deaths.
An N95 mask decontamination facility is set up in the former K-Mart at Assembly Row in Somerville. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said this is the fourth location in the United States where this technology will be used, and each N95 mask can be decontaminated between five and 10 times before it has to be disposed of, which will extend the life of these masks that are so vital for healthcare workers who are on the frontlines.
Baker announced on April 7 that a new rapid testing site will open in conjunction with CVS in Lowell in and will use the new Abbott ID NOW™ COVID-19 test. CVS has created rapid testing sites in only two other states, Georgia and Rhode Island, so Massachusetts will be the third state to use these rapid testing sites.
Additionally, the New England Patriots plane also brought in over 1 million masks last week from China “in a humanitarian mission,” Sudders said.
Baker has implemented stricter measures for grocery stores as well. Grocery stores must limit people, including employees, to no more than 40 percent of the store’s total capacity. Stores are exempt if they have a maximum occupancy of 25. “The Commonwealth’s grocery store workers are doing a terrific job,” Baker said.
Mayor Walsh Updates
On April 5, Mayor Walsh implemented stricter measures to help protect the residents of Boston. Starting on Monday, April 6, the Boston Public Health Commission issued a Public Health Advisory that establishes a curfew in the City of Boston. Everyone except essential workers should stay inside between 9pm and 6am, the Mayor said. As of right now, this will be in effect until May 4. He said this was a necessary choice to make because there have been reports of people not social distancing especially in the evenings, as people are visiting friends’ houses and gathering while waiting for food takeout, which the Mayor said is unacceptable.
The Boston Pride Parade scheduled for June 13 has been postponed until next year, the Mayor said. New parking rules are in effect for healthcare workers as well. If a healthcare worker gets a parking ticket, the city will waive the ticket if they email a photo of the ticket and their hospital ID to [email protected] Walsh said this policy also applies retroactively if healthcare workers have received any tickets in the past few weeks.
The property tax deadline has also been extended from May 1 to June 1, and interest on late property tax and motor vehicle excise tax payments is extended until June 30 if the bill was due after March 10.
Additionally, the Mayor asked “anyone and everyone to wear a mask outside your home,” following the new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendation to US citizens to do so. “Up to 25 percent of people are out and about because they don’t feel sick,” Mayor Walsh said. He said things like scarves and bandannas will work to cover the nose and face. “We can all help slow the spread by covering our faces,” he said.
He said that covering faces is not a replacement for physical distancing of at least six feet from others, which is still “100 percent necessary.”
City parks with recreational sports areas are also closed as of April 6. “People are continuing to gather and we simply have to take that option away,” he said. “No group activities should be taking place anywhere.” Mayor Walsh said that police are empowered to break up groups, and although he doesn’t want to have to fine people for disobeying the rules, but he is not taking it off the table.
There are also new steps taken at City Hall. Beginning Tuesday, April 7, City Hall is only open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9am to 5pm, and everyone entering the building, including employees, will be required to have their temperature taken, the Mayor said. He stressed that people should only come to City Hall for services that are not available by phone or online.
The Mayor also announced new measures for those at higher risk—people over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions. Walsh is advising these residents to “only go out when you absolutely need to.” Additionally, he recommended that they exercise inside their homes if they are able.
“You need to realize how many people are vulnerable and they’re all around you,” Walsh said. He said there are many residents of the City of Boston who have asthma, diabetes, cancer, and other lung conditions—all of which put these people at risk for having complications should they contract COVID-19.
Additionally, he said that nearly 45 percent of positive tests are in people under the age of 40. “You have to follow these guidelines,” he said. “We’re doing everything it takes to be ready for the surge.”
Over the weekend, Walsh also announced that the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center would be converted into a 1000 bed hospital, with 500 beds for homeless COVID patients and 500 for hospital capacity, including six acute care suites. Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez said on Tuesday afternoon that there are close to 200 cases in the homeless community.
“This was done in four days,” the Mayor said. “I want to thank everyone who has made this happen. We are preparing for whatever comes our way.” He said these beds are not in use as there is no current need, but they are ready as the City approaches the surge, which is predicted for mid-April.
“Don’t just focus on the numbers going up,” Walsh said. “Think about the cases you individually have stopped and the lives you have saved by doing the right thing.”
Governor Baker’s COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative
Governor Baker announced on April 3 the creation of the COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) which will help mitigate the spread of the virus in the Commonwealth.
“This initiative is a collaboration between the administration and Partners In Health, and is the first of its kind in the nation, according to a release from the state. “The initiative will focus on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine, and builds on the efforts already underway from the Command Center to leverage public health college students to augment the contact tracing being done by local boards of health.”
“Enhanced contact tracing capability is another powerful tool for public health officials and health care providers in the battle against COVID-19,” Baker said. “Massachusetts is the only state in the nation implementing this type of programming, and this collaborative tracing initiative will break new ground as we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Partners In Health will be working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the contact tracing will be combined with increased testing efforts in the state.
Nearly 1,000 contact tracers will be reaching out to COVID-19 patients and those who they have been in contact with in an effort to contain the virus.
Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund
Governor Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker on April 6 announced the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund, which will support frontline workers and other communities who face issues like housing insecurity.
He said that the fund, which is administered by Eastern Bank, was launched with a $1.8 million anchor fund, and is now up to $13 million as a starting point.
First Lady Lauren Baker said that the fund will also “partner with a network of excellent community foundations and local nonprofits who have deep roots in their communities.”
She thanked the “generous donors” to the fund, and as the need will continue to raise throughout the Commonwealth, “the sky is the limit for how much money we can raise,” she said.
Governor Baker said that as of Monday, about 76,500 people have been tested in the Commonwealth. He also said Massachusetts received 100 additional ventilators from the federal government, and he has a commitment to increase that number over the next few days and weeks.
“This public health crisis continues to be one of the most challenging events the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has ever faced,” Baker said.
“The goal here is simple,” he said, referring to the fund, “to help those who are going to have the hardest time working through and dealing with” this crisis.
To read more about the fund and to make a donation, visit masscovid19relieffund.org.