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Proof of vaccination required in Boston

Wu says businesses will be able to check patrons’ status before they enter

Anna Lamb

At City Hall Monday Mayor Michelle Wu announced new proof of vaccination requirements for many indoor spaces including dining, fitness centers and entertainment venues in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and the latest omicron variant. In an effort dubbed the “B Together” initiative, Wu is also requiring city employees to be vaccinated as part of what she calls an aggressive approach to combat the pandemic.

The new requirement will cover bars and nightclubs, museums and sporting and music venues which will now be responsible for checking proof of vaccination and posting a notice about the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Businesses found not in compliance will receive verbal and written warnings and according to the city repeat offenders “may be subject to fines.”

Starting January 15 patrons age 12 and up at the covered businesses will be required to show a CDC vaccination card, a digital image of their CDC card or other official immunization record proving they’ve received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. In February that will change to require patrons 12 and up to have both doses of the vaccine. City employees vaccination requirement will follow the same timeline.

And when rolled out, a City of Boston or other COVID vaccine verification app will also be accepted as adequate proof.

“The City of Boston is committed to keeping everyone in our city safe and healthy in order to continue our pandemic recovery,” Wu said in a statement. “Vaccinations are the most powerful tool we have to fight this pandemic, save lives, and support our communities, workers, businesses, and cultural institutions.”

Beyond February, the city is giving parents until March 1 to get at least one shot for their kids between ages 5 to 11 in order to enter the covered indoor businesses. They will have until May 1 before younger children will be required to have the second dose.

Prompting the action, December data from the city shows that while 79% of the total Boston resident population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 68% are fully vaccinated, the rate at which new vaccinations have been sought is not rising to meet the latest covid surge. In addition, only 31% of fully vaccinated Bostonians have been boosted — a measure that has proven effective in fighting variants such as omicron.

For children, who have returned to in-person learning as of this year, the vaccination rate is even lower. According to city data, among 5- to 11-year-olds, only 30% have received their first dose of the vaccine.

At the same time new positive cases have increased 89% compared to two weeks ago, and Boston is now averaging 369 new cases per day. According to city officials, COVID-related emergency department visits increased over the past week, and Boston is now averaging 229 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations per day — 60% higher than two weeks ago. Among those who are hospitalized in Boston with COVID-19, an estimated two thirds are unvaccinated.

“COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in Boston. The B Together initiative is just one component of a multilayered, comprehensive strategy that the city has implemented to address COVID-19 and promote the health and safety of Boston residents,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “We must also ensure that every Bostonian has easier access to vaccines and boosters, and we will be rolling out new sites across the city.”

Boston is just the latest American city to make the move to require proof of vaccination — places like New York and San Francisco have had their own proof of vaccination requirements for months. But as cases across the country and especially throughout the northeast continue to spike, officials from the Wu administration have said that now is Boston’s turn in order to protect workers and save lives.

“For too many months and years our businesses have been forced to act on their own. Many of them have already implemented proof of vaccination independently, taking that burden on their own shoulders along with so much else from the pandemic,” Wu told a crowd gathered at City Hall Monday morning. She went on to say the proof of vaccination policy is, “the best way to keep our community safe and thriving.”

Several policymakers, including fellow regional mayors and elected officials, joined Wu for her announcement Monday morning. One of them, Brookline Select Board Vice Chair Raul Fernandez, echoed the mayor’s feelings on the importance of keeping the workforce and business community safe.

“In the pandemic, what we’ve realized is that essential workers include T drivers, they also include grocery store works and front and back of the house staff at our restaurants,” he said. “This is about keeping us all safe, especially those of us that can’t ride out a pandemic behind a Zoom screen.”

In an attempt to help usher in the new policy, the city says it will begin a weeks-long campaign to educate residents and businesses about the changes utilizing city outreach workers and inspectional services. Interested business owners can sign up on the city’s website for the next virtual information seminars happening Tuesday, January 4 at 3 p.m. and/or Thursday, January 13 at 10 a.m.

Others in attendance took to voicing support for their own proof of vaccine programs including Joseph Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville whose administration implemented a vaccine requirement for city employees this past summer.

“Our most important responsibility to everyone is to keep you healthy, well, safe and alive. We cannot get to the other side of this or have a healthy recovery to our economy without a healthy society,” he told the crowd. He went on to add that, “we will be seeking Board of Health consideration for a similar measure in Somerville.”

Elected officials from Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge and Salem also stated Monday that they had intentions of pursuing similar policies.

However, not everyone in attendance of Mayor Wu’s announcement were as excited by the new policy. For the majority of the hour-long press conference, more than a dozen anti-vaxx protestors attempted to shout over those speaking deploying chants like “Shame on Wu” and loud renditions of songs like the national anthem.

Wu adressed those protesting by saying, “there is nothing more American than coming together to ensure that we are taking care of each other.”

For those still in need of a vaccine sites available throughout the city for walk-ins include the Tobin Community Center, the Vine Street Community Center, the Melnea Cass Recreational Complex and City Hall. Wu said that in January, the state also plans to open Fenway Park for vaccines. More information and additional clinics can be found online at boston.gov.

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