Boston Mayor Martin Walsh on Thursday said he's considering the possibility of using fines and police officers to help enforce social distancing, though he hopes he doesn't have to.
In a press conference held outside City Hall and streamed online, Walsh also announced the creation of new funds to support small businesses squeezed by the public health crisis and help tenants who have fallen behind in rent. He also provided more details about still-forming plans to set up a field hospital at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Walsh said the plan is for a total of 1,000 beds at the South Boston convention center, including 500 beds for the homeless population and 500 for COVID-19 patients coming from hospitals.
"Whether it's a homeless facility there or it's a spillover for additional beds, we're hoping that we don't need it," he said. "We're hoping we're building it, and I'm hoping that it stays empty."
The National Guard on Wednesday began setting up the state's first COVID-19 field hospital at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Walsh said the city is also looking at other potential locations that could be used in efforts around the coronavirus crisis, and said the next two to three weeks will be a "critical" period. Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday he's expecting the virus to surge in Massachusetts somewhere between April 10 and April 20.
There are 1,233 COVID-19 cases in Boston as of Thursday, up 176 from yesterday, with 10 deaths and 106 "full recoveries," Walsh said. Statewide, there are now 8,966 cases and 154 deaths, according to Department of Public Health data, which does not include information on people who have recovered.
"This is a very scary virus," Walsh said. "We all know it's a worldwide pandemic, it's affecting everyone of all ages. There is no cure for it, there is no vaccine for it, but there is one thing that we can all do to prevent from getting it. That is physical, social distancing."
Walsh said "most people" are doing the right thing when it comes to keeping a safe distance from others and not socializing or gathering in groups. But he said he is concerned "that not everyone is listening," and the city is considering stricter guidelines for places like parks and grocery stores.
"I don't want to issue fines, and I don't want to send police officers out, but we are prepared for these steps because if we don't flatten the curve now through voluntary measures, those steps will be inevitable," he said.
Walsh is one of a number of mayors around the state who are providing regular updates to their residents through online videos.
In Framingham, where 93 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and five fatalities have been attributed to the disease, Mayor Yvonne Spicer said this week that she's been spending "every bit of my time, my waking hours ... trying to figure out how to move forward" in the fight against the virus and what the city can do differently.
Spicer said the city has taken down recreational equipment like tennis nets, basketball nets and swings to discourage people from using them, and worked to set up funding to help provide food for residents. She said she's in regular contact with other mayors and town managers.
"There is no playbook on how to deal with coronavirus 19, and we're all learning together of the impacts of this virus, but also ways in which we can put things in place to mitigate some of the impacts in our community," she said.
In Holyoke, where the city is reeling from a series of deaths and COVID-19 cases at the Holyoke Soldiers Home, Mayor Alex Morse said every decision made at that facility "needs to be based in how do we save as many lives as possible." He said city officials stand ready to help.
Morse, in a Wednesday night Facebook Live address, also said his city has distributed about 1,500 laptops to help students without computers learn remotely and reached an agreement with Comcast to provide free internet access to students without internet at home for the next six months. He said Holyoke officials were originally told families who had debt with Comcast would not be allowed to participate but have since been told that requirement will be waived.
Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella also addressed some of the challenges around remote education in his daily Facebook Live briefing Thursday, encouraging parents to put together schedules to help give their children structure.
"We're in this for at least another month -- it could be more -- and we should plan accordingly," he said.