With Covid rates in slow rise, city mulls enforcing limits on behavior

The second highest Covid-19 test rates recorded in the city last week came from two Dorchester zip codes, the same ones that led the city with the highest rate, at 9.7 percent, the week before. 

Data collected from October 6-12 show that the city’s positive rate has increased to 4.5 percent, up from 4.3 during the previous week. The second highest positive rate in the city—8.9 percent— was recorded in Dorchester zip codes 02121 and 02125, following Hyde Park’s 10.5 percent and trailed by Mattapan’s 7.3 percent. 

Mayor Martin Walsh said that city officials will seek to enforce gathering limits in response to the gradual increase in cases. “Overall we’re seeing that positive tests and hospital admission numbers are going up slightly,” Walsh said last Thursday. “We haven’t seen the same numbers that we saw in June, but these numbers are going up ever so slightly across the city.”

Walsh said that a team that includes officials from the Boston Public Health Commission, Health and Human Services, Inspectional Services, Boston Parks & Recreation Department, Neighborhood Services, and the Boston Police Department are working on new enforcement measures.

“We are discussing efforts to tighten enforcement on gathering limits and restrictions on unpermitted public events and unsanctioned events in our public parks,” he said.

City officials are particularly worried about large gatherings and house parties. Roughly half of new Covid cases in Boston are among people under the age of 30, Walsh said last week.

“We continue to get reports of house parties at South Boston as well as other neighborhoods,” the mayor said. “This is a trend that’s happening nationally. I don’t think I have to explain to anyone the implications of having to shut down the city of Boston again… Not going to a party is a small sacrifice. Time will pass, we will have parties and games, but right now we are at a very critical place with coronavirus.”

He added: “We’re working right now with the agencies probably on some type of fine that we’re going to be imposing. We’re looking at how we’ll do it, but this hasn’t stopped, so we’re at the next step now.”

The city is also aiming to help restaurants follow restrictions on table sizes, distancing, and providing PPE. Walsh said that agencies “will be conducting spot checks and visits with businesses to make sure regulations are being followed.”

As far as education is concerned, last Thursday was to have marked the start of the Boston Public Schools phase three return to in person learning for families that opted in for a hybrid, phased-in return in August.

On Friday, BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced that students in pre-K through grade three will now start classroom learning no sooner than Oct. 29, with no changes to the rest of the calendar.

District officials said the one-week delay would allow the city “to continue implementing safety protocols to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to continue reviewing data to make informed decisions about offering in-person learning.”

High-needs students who have already been in classrooms two days each week “can begin four days a week of instruction and support services in schools” this week, the district said.

Marty Martinez, chief of Health and Human Services for the city, said that an increase in hospitalizations “will be an indication that Covid is getting greater than we’ve been able to contain.”

Tom Sands, president of Carney Hospital, said this week that the Dorchester Avenue facility was caring for nine patients who were admitted with Covid-19 illness on Monday. That is less than 10 percent of the hospital’s capacity, he said.

“We’re nowhere near where we were in the spring, when it was all Covid, all the time,” said Sands, who added that the hospital was prepared to handle far more if there is a need.

“If it gets to the numbers it was back in the spring, and hopefully we can avoid that, he said, we have created dedicated units in the hospital where we can see Covid patients for care in the ICU.