Walsh Addresses COVID-19, Equity, Violence in the City

Mayor Marty Walsh held a press conference on July 16 to give an update on COVID-19 and talk about the City’s continued work on equity, as well as address the increase in violence in the City in recent weeks.

Walsh said that COVID-19 testing “remains one of our most essential weapons in this fight,” and urged everyone to get a test, which he said is covered by insurance if you have symptoms or have been exposed. There are also several sites around the city that offer free testing for everyone.

He said that getting tested benefits not only an individual, but their family and the city and state as well.

Walsh said testing has been expanded in black and immigrant communities, as has language and communication access. He also talked about the COVID-19 Immigrant Collaborative that has been created. “Any outbreak that occurs ultimately impacts everyone,” Walsh said. “Equity has been a significant reason for our success in containing the virus to the extent that we have.”

There has been an increase in positive test rates among Latinx communities, Walsh said. He said that more than $400,000 from the Boston Resiliency Fund will be invested in an equity plan for more testing in the Latinx community. This money will help get “testing to where it’s needed” and help “families facing barriers,” Walsh said. He said the “best way to do this” is through grassroots organizations like IBA in the South End and Hyde Square Task Force in Jamaica Plain, who are already working on the ground with the communities.

Samuel Acevedo, Executive Director of the Boston Higher Education Resource CEnter, said that “many families reported having symptoms but were afraid of getting tested because of their status.”

He said that prior to COVID-19, Massachusetts was already the number one state for Latinx inequalities, and the pandemic has exacerbated that. “Some don’t have health insurance or a dedicated health care provider,” Acevedo said.

He said that working with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, the goal is to strengthen the work the health center is doing among the Latinx community. He said that they are going to “embark on a bilingual campaign to promote mask wearing among the Latino community,” and thanked Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez for his “leadership early on.”

Walsh also called out City Councilor Michelle Wu for speaking on the radio about the Boston Resiliency Fund.

“Normally I would not confront something I hear on the radio, but an hour ago, there was a city councilor talking about the Resiliency Fund and I think the ineffectiveness of it,” Walsh said last Thursday. “And if the city councilor took time out of her schedule just to give me a call or maybe go on a call to talk to us about the Resiliency Fund, she would understand what the resiliency fund has done. And I want it to be very clear: the Resiliency Fund has raised $33 million, all privately raised by 1700 different donors.”

Walsh added that to date, $24 million has been distributed from the fund, and 53 percent of grants have gone to organizations led by people of color. The Fund has provided grants for things like expanding testing, making sure people have food, expanding Telehealth medicine, buying Chromebooks for Boston Public Schools students for online learning purposes, and donations to places like the Greater Boston Food Bank and Project Bread, among others.

“I am proud and I want to thank the thousand plus people who have donated to the Boston Resiliency Fund,” Walsh said.

On July 21, Walsh held another press conference where he addressed the previous weekend’s heat wave. Several Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) were open at 40 percent capacity as cooling centers. He said that while they did not see heavy use, they “encourage people to not be out in the middle of the day during the heat wave,” especially those who are elderly. He called on residents to check on their elderly neighbors or others who are housebound, and to call 911 immediately if they see someone experiencing difficulty in the heat.

He also said that outdoor spaces are essential to getting fresh air and staying healthy, so the City is working on expanding outdoor opportunities. He reminded everyone to continue wearing face coverings and “do not become part of a crowd,” as was seen over the weekend at beaches in South Boston.

He also talked about the City’s Healthy Street Initiative, which has allowed for the creation of temporary bike lanes connecting several locations in downtown and the Back Bay, extended bus stops, created more outdoor dining locations, food truck locations, and pickup spots. It has also allowed for the distribution of mobility ramps for outdoor dining to ensure it is accessible for all.  

“This is the work of many different partners,” Walsh said, including the Boston Transportation Department, the Public Works Department, the Office of Economic Development, and other local community and small businesses.

Walsh and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross also addressed the ongoing increase in violence in the City last Thursday. 

Last Tuesday night, a 21-year-old store clerk was shot in Roxbury during a robbery. Walsh said the victim was an immigrant from Bangladesh, and was in the hospital “fighting for his life” as of Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve seen too many homicides this summer,” Walsh said. “We’ve seen too many shootings this summer. The violence in our city needs to stop. There’s no excuses for violence in Boston.”

Commissioner Gross said that the man working at the convenience store is an “innocent young man.” He continued: “the mayor’s right: we’re tired of this. The mentality in the streets is you can do what you want because the courts are closed. Repeat violent offenders should be held accountable.”

He said that the Boston Police Department (BPD) will continue working with the community. He also said he has met with the store owner and will talk with others about how all convenience stores should be equipped with security cameras.

On July 21, Walsh said that the previous weekend had been a “tough weekend” in the City, with the death of a 16 year old and a 17 year old due to gun violence. He said the Boston Police Department is continuing to ask for the public’s help, and tips can be given anonymously.

“Violence of any kind is certainly unacceptable in our communities,” Walsh said, adding that resources are being focused on “our most highly impacted communities in the city. This is a coordinated strategy.”

“Our communities are not desensitized to violence; they do care,” Gross said on July 16. “Let’s continue to stick together and work together.”

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