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Walsh slows reopening amid COVID spike

Morgan C. Mullings
Walsh slows reopening amid COVID spike
Mayor Martin Walsh addresses reporters during a press conference at City Hall. PHOTO: ISABEL LEON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

As of Sept. 30, Boston is in the red zone on Massachusetts’ COVID-19 case rate map, a designation that signifies an infection rate of more than eight cases per 100,000 residents.

In Boston last Friday, Mayor Martin Walsh said in a media briefing at City Hall that there were 82 new cases the day before.

“As expected, we entered the red category on the state map on Wednesday,” Walsh said. “We continue to do outreach in East Boston and Dorchester, where the positive test rates were highest last week.”

Boston will not move into step two of Phase 3 under the state’s reopening plan, which would allow for increased capacity at most events and venues.

The red zone designation came as Boston Public Schools started phased in-person learning, beginning with learners with the highest needs on Oct. 1. BPS officials previously pledged schools would not remain open if the rate of COVID cases is above 4%.

While Boston approached this number, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was drafting a letter giving 16 districts with rates consistently in the below-4% range 10 days to respond with reopening plans, since the state has recommended remote learning only for districts that remained in the red for three weeks in a row.

“In light of the stark discrepancy between local public health data and your reopening plan, I am requesting a timeline by which you anticipate providing in-person instruction for the majority of your students including in-person instruction for vulnerable populations, such as students with disabilities,” Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley wrote in a letter dated Sept. 18 to Massachusetts school district leaders.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy responded with criticism of the letter.

“The infection rate of any one community is irrelevant, as a school typically employs educators and staff from multiple cities and towns, and in some instances from out of state,” Najimy said in a statement.

The Boston Teachers Union has consistently asked that students and teachers be allowed to stay home until schools have the resources and facilities to keep students safe. BTU members say many of the BPS buildings in which they work lack proper PPE and ventilation. As high-needs students returned to buildings last week, BTU members said there’s no guarantee that capacity will be low enough to keep all students safe.

Walsh spent several minutes of the Oct. 2 press briefing focused on the effect the COVID designation will have on the housing crisis. The state’s eviction moratorium ends Oct. 17, directly affecting residents not protected by Boston Public Housing.

“If people get evicted, or if they leave housing because they think they’re going to get evicted, they often end up in a shelter system, or doubling up with family and friends. This has very harmful impacts, especially for young people, young children. It creates conditions where the virus can much easily spread,” Walsh said.

He added that the situation may create an equity crisis and public health crisis for communities of color, and urged residents to be informed on their rights and contact the Office of Housing Stability for help.

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