State House News – Gyms, movie theaters, museums and other indoor event spaces in Boston will be ordered to close for general in-person use starting Wednesday as the city reintroduces COVID-19 restrictions as part of a larger, regional strategy that Mayor Martin Walsh said is meant to combat the post-Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus activity.
The Boston Public Health Commission on Monday issued a supplemental order moving the city back to a modified version of Step 2, Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening strategy for at least three weeks beginning Wednesday. Walsh said the curtailment of allowable activity “is not about targeting specific sectors that cause the virus. This is an effort to reduce overall activity outside the home using mechanisms afforded by the state’s reopening plan.”
Boston’s hospitals “are not in danger at the moment of being overwhelmed” but with case counts rising and more people needing hospital care, Walsh said it was time to make changes that could prevent a dire situation in which hospitals and their workers are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
“Unfortunately, we are at the point where we need to take stronger action to control COVID-19 in Boston, and urgently, to ensure our health care workers have the capacity to care for everyone in need,” he said.
For the week that ended Dec. 6, Boston averaged 5,552 COVID-19 tests and 438 new positive results each day. The city’s positive test rate for the week that ended Dec. 6 was 7.2 percent, up from 5.2 percent the week before, the mayor said. Dorchester, East Boston and Hyde Park all have neighborhood positivity rates between 10 percent and 12 percent. While testing was up nearly 38 percent from the prior week, Walsh said the average number of daily new cases is also up.
“That number spiked obviously after Thanksgiving and we’ve stayed at that elevated level for most of December so far,” he said. “So, we’re pretty much into our third week now of high numbers.”
The city’s closure of indoor recreational and athletic facilities does not apply to activities for kids 18 or younger, college athletic programs or professional sports teams. Indoor pools can remain open if they use pre-registration and limit swimming lanes to one person.
Sightseeing and other organized tours like the ubiquitous duck boat tours and harbor cruises must cease operation, indoor historical sites must close, and indoor event spaces like ballrooms and private party rooms cannot be used. Private social clubs will be allowed to operate as long as they serve food.
Outdoor activities at gyms can continue as long as there are fewer than 25 people participating and some one-on-one personal training will be allowed indoors, the mayor said. Indoor dining will be allowed to continue in Boston, Walsh said, but restaurants will not be allowed to seat anyone in bar areas without prior approval from the city.
“I know that many people have concerns about indoor dining. These are concerns about the possibility of viral transmission. There are concerns about the ability of restaurants to survive closure during these restrictions. I hear both of the concerns and we’re responding to both the concerns,” Walsh said.
The rollback will be accompanied by increased enforcement from city agencies, he said.
“We are increasing enforcement of all guidelines for all licensed businesses. We will have emergency licensing board meetings every Monday to address any violations from the previous week. But I also want to appeal to restaurant patrons and small business customers to be part of the solution,” Walsh said.
“We hear from owners that it can be difficult to police customers who keep their masks off or ignore distancing guidelines. So, I ask you if you dine in a restaurant or you visit a store and you want to help small businesses stay open, do your part and follow the guidelines.”
The mayor said Monday that Boston’s decision to impose restrictions that are stricter than the statewide rules Gov. Charlie Baker has put in place is part of a regional approach coordinated by mayors and local officials.
“We’ve been in close contact with the communities all across Greater Boston. We’re going to take a regional approach for maximizing effectiveness, several cities and towns are taking steps this week with modifications fit to their particular needs,” Walsh said. “They include the city of Newton, Somerville, Brockton, the town of Winthrop, town of Arlington, City of Lynn, and other cities and towns that will be announcing, over the course of the next couple days, actions of each of them are taking.”
As of Sunday, Gov. Charlie Baker has moved the entire state from step two of Phase 3 back to step one, a move that reduced capacity from 50 percent to 40 percent in retail shops, offices, libraries, museums and elsewhere, and that requires indoor recreational venues to close once again. Boston was mostly unaffected by the governor’s change since the city had never advanced beyond Phase 3, Step 1 of the state reopening plan.
After Baker announced his actions last week, Walsh said the governor’s plan “works for some places and doesn’t necessarily work for other places” and announced that his own public health advisors would be briefing him on Boston’s own rollback options.