Juggling two emergencies that continue to challenge the nation and the city of Boston, Mayor Walsh warned on Thursday that the COVID-19 threat remains a hazard to the public health, despite a decreasing case load locally and amid of mass-gathering protests set off by the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota.
“The virus has not gone away,” Walsh said in a press conference at noon outside of City Hall. “The precautions we’ve been taking remain more important than ever while the state’s reopening plan moves forward.”
As of June 3, Boston has recorded 12,872 positive covid-19 cases, with 655 dead and 7,257 people making full recoveries.
The mayor noted that day-to-day numbers in reported infections and hospitalization is on the decline.
“This is a very good thing… but precautions to limit the coronavirus are still very important,” Walsh said.
The city is monitoring covid-19 cases for any changes in trends, working with the state on creative ways to help small businesses and restaurants recover and reopen in safe ways, funding rental relief, and resuming construction of 3,000 affordable housing units.
The city is also reviewing more than 200 outdoor dining applications, Walsh said, as the state could allow restaurants to reopen as soon as Monday.
“The restaurants, I believe, can open on Monday with outdoor capacity,” said Walsh. “From my understanding a lot of restaurants in Boston won’t open [that soon].”
Walsh spent much of his Thursday media availability discussing the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis that “has brought out real pain that has existed in this city for a long time.”
“Change is necessary, but is never easy and this is a difficult time,” added Walsh. “As elected officials it’s time to listen and learn and keep those voices at the center of this conversation for our entire careers. It’s time for us to work together to get work done. I’m committed to making real change and making Boston a leader in healing these wounds and creating a more just future.”
Walsh said that the city is continuing to work with small business owners impacted by some of the vandalism that followed Sunday night’s protests. He noted that ongoing protests in the city have been peaceful since then.
The mayor urged white Bostonians to listen to their black neighbors without judgement.
“As a white person, you can and should be opposed to racism. When you make the space for people to truly open up and hear about daily experiences of racism and what it means to be black, it deepens perspective and strengthens the resolve to be an ally and push for change,” said Walsh.
“I encourage everyone who’s white to listen to your neighbors, black Bostonians protesting, and be part of the solution. If you don’t understand right now— just listen. Let’s not criticise and judge. We’ll be a stronger city for it.”
When asked about specific efforts made to enact social justice reform in the city, Walsh said he’s looking for ways to collaborate with the City Council.
“We’re having meetings on this that are about how we really create systemic change. We’re working on things in the City Hall, and how we do it together with the City Council,” he said ,”the council has already called on this, and we will be putting out some information soon.”
With a number of councillors urging the mayor to enact new police accountability reform, Walsh said that although the city has taken steps in prior years to work with BPD leadership on changes, he thinks that now is a good time to “take another look at the changes made...and continue to look at changes we need to make.”
“When I became the mayor in 2014, we started to see a change in [BPD] leadership with the work they were doing as far as Implicit Bias training, de-escalation changes, the body camera program,” said Walsh. “It’s been an evolution and I think now is a good time to look at those changes, to look at the Co-Op Board (Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel) and review it to see if we could expand the function of the board to look at policing.”
As protests are expected to continue through the weekend ahead of possible re-openings outlined in the state plan, Walsh’s key concern is that more people could contract COVID-19.
“I’m not as concerned about reopening. I’m more concerned about more people getting the virus. I'm asking people to be careful, mainly young people out there protesting.” said Walsh.
“You can bring the virus into your house and it could affect others. I want people to understand that the virus is still out there. I have no concerns this weekend over protesting. I’m just asking people to be respectful to the city and to the memory of Mr. Floyd.”