City officials looking at ways to enforce covid restrictions

In his most recent covid-19 update, Mayor Martin Walsh on Thursday said that city officials are figuring out how to enforce gathering limits, as the city’s positive rate has slowly increased over the past few weeks.

Data collected from October 4-10 shows that the city’s positive rate has increased to 4.4 percent, up from 4.1 during the previous week. The highest positive rate in the city --9.7 percent-- was recorded in Dorchester zip codes 02121 and 02125, followed by Hyde Park and Mattapan.

“Overall we’re seeing that positive tests and hospital admission numbers are going up slightly. We haven’t seen the same numbers that we saw in June, but these numbers are going up ever so slightly across the city,” said Walsh.

We’re looking to strengthen the enforcement of covid restrictions in the. We have a team of officials from across city departments meeting and working together on this very issue.”

Walsh said that team 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.

“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.

The mayor said city officials will be paying special attention to large gatherings and house parties, and that roughly half of new covid cases come from people under the age of 30.

“We continue to get reports of house parties at South Boston as well as other neighborhoods. We’re in conversations with elected officials and neighbors who have called them,” he 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, or what that would mean to our businesses, seniors, consistents, students, and the residents of our commonwealth. 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.”

The mayor confirmed that enforcement could come in the form of fines, although officials haven’t yet worked out the specifics.

“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,” he said.

“I’ve been standing at this podium for the last 2 months and everyones asked me if I’m going to start enforcing these rules. It’s really complicated to enforce and the last resort is really to enforce.

We’re going to be looking at a system for finding maybe the landlord and the tenant, the landlords have to take responsibility for their tenants.”

When it comes to people playing sports and not wearing their masks, Walsh said the Parks Department is assessing how to enforce those requirements.

“We’re working on that now with people in the Parks Department. A lot of these games that are happening are unpermitted so we do have the ability to shut the park down,” said Walsh, “We’re asking people to be smart about it but if we do have to shut the parks down we will.”

The city is also working to help restaurants follow restrictions on table sizes, distancing and providing PPE.

Walsh said city agencies “will be conducting spot checks and visits with businesses to make sure regulations are being followed.”

Thursday would have marked the start of BPS’s phase three return to in person learning for families that opted in for a hybrid, phased-in return last August.

“Because of the uptick in activity….now half of the families that opted in for phased-in learning are due to begin next Thurs., October 22,” said Walsh, “We will make further decisions to see where we are over this weekend with the test average in the city.”

The district will continue serving students with higher needs through in-person learning, but Walsh said the school system “will not increase the number of students in schools unless our health guidelines allow.”

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 it.”

“When we were at our peak we had over 570 Bostonians in the ICU and today we’re in like the 30. However, just a month ago we were in the single digits. Right now it is contained but it doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned by the upticks that we’re starting to see,” he said.