Walsh urges Bostonians to refrain from holiday travel

Mayor Walsh advised Bostonians to avoid travel and indoor gatherings this holiday season amid a rise in Covid cases and an increased demand for hospital beds.

“Our cases are certainly very concerning for the last couple of weeks,” the mayor said in a press conference on Thursday. “Our hospital numbers have ticked upwards, but at a very slow rate. We’re staying closely connected with hospitals to understand what they are seeing.”

There were 334 new cases and 7 new deaths in Boston on Wednesday, bringing those overall numbers to 31,867 and 947, respectively, since the Coronavirus started. According to testing data from the week ending December 3, 5,437 Bostonians were tested for covid-19, an increase by 16 percent from the previous week.

Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park remain neighborhoods with the highest positivity rates.

“Compared to the height of the Covid surge in April— the biggest difference is that they’re not seeing the same hospitalization and they are still bringing patients in for elective procedures,” added Walsh. They want to be able to continue to do that, but we’re going to monitor the situation very closely and if we have to restrict that we will let everyone know.”

Marty Martinez, chief of Health and Human services for the city, noted that the city’s seven-day average ICU capacity is now at 90 percent.

“That is higher than it’s been in quite some time,” said Martinez. “We don’t want to see it that high. But our hospitals are doing their very best to transfer people out of the ICU if they can and they’re balancing that out.”

Asked about the possibility of building a field hospital in the city to accommodate patients if the ICUs become completely overburdened, Martinez compared the current hospitalization data with peak numbers from April.

“Across Boston hospitals right now we have about 300 positive Covid patients. In April, when we had the field hospital, we had about 1,600,” he said. “Our number of total patients is much lower but it does not mean we want to keep seeing it climb. It was very low just about 6 weeks ago. We’re talking with hospitals 3 times weekly and will continue to monitor that.”

The mayor urged anyone with reason to suspect they’ve been exposed to Covid-19, including anyone who has been part of an indoor gathering or travelled for the holidays, to get tested at one of the city’s 30 sites.

Walsh said that the city will continue its “cautious” approach to reopening, adding that Boston didn’t have to do much in the way of rollbacks when Governor Charlie Baker pulled the state back to Phase 3 Step 1 earlier this week since the city never reached step 2 of phase 3.

“We’ve taken a pretty conservative approach to reopening in some cases all along and we’re going to continue to do that. Our goal is to get these numbers down so that when we do reopen something we don’t have to pullback,” said Walsh.

“We’re looking at the best ways to reduce the size of gatherings while maintaining essential service programs, developing plans on how we can tighten restrictions in Boston if necessary. We don’t want to get caught by surprise.”

In terms of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, which projects that the first round of materials will arrive in Massachusetts around Dec. 15, the mayor said the city is committed to doing its part to “make sure that the vaccines get distributed equitably and efficiently throughout the city.”

“In the meantime, we are trying to understand the outcome of those hesitating to get the vaccine and we’re sharing the facts about why taking it is the right thing to do for yourself, family and community,” said Walsh.

“We want to make sure that as the vaccine comes out, we want to be taking care of our vulnerable population. News about the vaccine has been a beacon of hope in what people perceive has been a very dark year. We are grateful to all of the scientists and medical professionals who have worked tirelessly to make it happen.”

More than 100 of the highest-need students have been engaged in classroom learning at four Boston schools for about a month-- the Carter School, the Henderson School, the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the McKinley School.

Starting on Monday, Boston Public Schools will bring an additional 1,700 students back for in-person learning in 28 schools.

“We’re doing everything that we can to protect public health while maintaining essential services. At the top of that list is educating young people and right now that’s the students with the highest needs. Currently we have a small number of students with complex disabilities and they are learning in person at four schools,” said Walsh.

“These students have been identified for in person learning because of complex needs and language barriers We have communicated directly with the families in collaboration with their school leaders and outlined the next steps.”

Students scheduled for a return to in-person learning were selected based on the number of families with high-needs who selected hybrid learning as their preferred option back in April.

“These students are not being forced in, these are all students and families that have opted in for in-person learning,” said Walsh.

The mayor also announced that the city has approved more than 550 requests for 2021 outdoor dining permits for restaurants in every neighborhood.

Walsh again urged Bostonians to take note of the correlation between holiday traveling and indoor gatherings with a spike in transmission numbers.

“This holiday season has a very different look and feel. That means continuing to follow the public health precautions and limiting gatherings to only people in your household. Since thanksgiving we’ve seen a significant spike in coronavirus numbers and hospitalizations,” he said.

“A big source of our transmissions are coming from holiday traveling and indoor, private gatherings. This is something that we can all avoid and the responsibility is on all of our shoulders.

“We are strongly encouraging Boston residents not to travel. Travel increases the chance of getting and spreading Covid-19. I know that everyone is tired of living with this virus but this is not the time to let our guard down.”