Amid rising covid rate, Boston won’t move into next reopening phase

Mayor Walsh spoke at a press conference earlier this year. John Wilcox/Mayor's Office photo

Boston’s positive covid-19 test rate has climbed to 3.5 percent this week— an increase from 2.7 percent last week, Mayor Walsh said today, adding that Dorchester’s 02125 and 02121 zip codes are among the worst hit, at 7 percent.

The mayor warned that the increase will likely put the city back in “the red zone” for covid danger— and will prevent Boston from phasing into the next part of the state’s re-opening sequence.

“That is a jump that we have not seen in the city in quite some time,” Walsh said during a press conference at Boston City Hall.

“Overall we’re seeing an increase in covid activity, both in the number of cases and although the positive test rates are still under our thresholds, I am concerned with this increase. We’re continuing to target our responses to our neighborhoods and the city overall, and monitor each neighborhood closely.”

Walsh identified East Boston and parts of Dorchester as areas of greater concern.

“East Boston and the 02121 and the 02125 sections in Dorchester came in over 7 percent, and that remains an area of concern,” Walsh said. “The Dorchester numbers are starting to creep up again and we have to continue to do targeted outreach and testing in both of these neighborhoods.”

Dorchester zip codes 02122 and 02124 also recorded covid rates higher than the citywide average. Neighborhoods that remain under a 3 percent positive test rate include: Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, the South End, West Roxbury, Charlestown, the Back Bay and Fenway.

Yesterday, Massachusetts reported 450 new confirmed cases and 8 deaths, bringing the totals to 129,248 and 9,423, respectively. In Boston yesterday, Walsh said that 46 cases were reported, bringing the city’s total to 17,186. There were no covid-related deaths in Boston yesterday and the total remains at 762.

Walsh said that roughly 1,800 Bostonians were tested per day in the city, according to data trends for the week ending on Sat., September 26, which was down from a daily average of 2,450 people in the previous week.

Walsh said that the testing data reflect a significant decrease in college testing and a slight increase in non-college testing. “Colleges are still doing lots of testing but their move-in testing plans are winding down now,” he said.

Walsh added that daily emergency room visits made by patients with covid-like symptoms has decreased from 16.6 visits per day to 16 visits per day.

“There is a positive dataset there, that we want to see continue to decrease. It does remain somewhat higher than what we were seeing a few weeks ago but it’s below our threshold of major concern,” he said.

The city’s mobile testing team will remain located on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester’s Grove Hall until October 10. The mayor said he is “encouraging anyone and everyone to go get tested at our testing center at Geneva Ave. or in the testing sites in our Community Health Centers across Boston.”

Walsh said that in terms of the state metrics: “We expect to be in the red zone very soon. And it’s likely going to happen this evening. That means we’ve been seeing 8 cases per day per 100,000 population. In Boston we look at a wider range of metrics, including the positive rates and hospital data. I can confirm today that we will not be moving forward into step 2 of phase 3.”

That means that the city will now allow indoor performance venues to open and will not increase capacity at outdoor venues, which will remain at 25 percent with a maximum of 50 people. Certain activities will remain closed, including trampoline parks, roller rinks, laser tag businesses, fitting rooms at retail stores. Gyms, museums, and libraries will remain at 40 percent capacity.

“The reason why we’re taking this cautious approach to reopening is our attention to data and the commitment to keeping the people of Boston safe,” said Walsh.

“Anyone who’s upset with me and us for not doing this, think about some of the decisions you might be making going to a party. The reason why we’re doing this is because we're seeing our numbers go up here in the city. We want to make sure that we stop that increase before it comes to a point where we have to shut the entire city down again.”

State changes in phase 2, step 1 that the city is accepting will go into effect on October 5, which means food courts may open with appropriate distancing and capacity limits, movie theatres can increase from a maximum capacity of 25 to 50 percent with a limit of 250 people. Indoor gatherings limits in Boston will stay at 25 people, and outdoor at 50.

Walsh said that roughly half of the cases the city has recorded in the last two weeks are in Boston’s Latinx communities, and among people that are under the age of 29.

“In that age group you can still get very sick. We are asking you to be careful because you are going to expose vulnerable people. We’re asking young people to take all the precautions that everyone else is taking. You are not immune to the virus,” said Walsh.

“In particular we’re asking you not to hold house parties indoors or outdoors. We’ve seen an increase in house parties across the cities of Boston. The noise level is inconsiderate, but the larger concern is potential viral spread.”

The mayor urged residents to call the city’s party line or 911 for any concerns about parties and large gatherings in their communities.

“This is a serious pandemic, even if you’re 21 or 19. Yes, the numbers say you’ll probably be ok if you get sick but what the numbers don’t say is that your parent will be okay, that your grandparents will be okay, that the elderly neighbor next door won’t be okay, or that the woman in the grocery store that you cough on will be okay,” Walsh said, with a touch of anger in his voice. “So, we’re asking people to act responsibly.”