Boston nearing 50,000 covid-19 cases, officials push vaccine awareness

Mayor Martin Walsh told reporters Friday that Boston is nearing 50,000 confirmed covid-19 cases. Katie Trojano photo.

The city is nearing the 50,000 confirmed covid-19 caseload mark, Mayor Martin Walsh told reporters during a press conference Friday.

On Thursday, there were 461 new confirmed covid cases and 6 deaths, bringing totals since the beginning of the pandemic to 49,840 and 1,113, respectively.

“This means that when today’s numbers come in, we’ll probably be over the 50,000 mark in the City of Boston,” Walsh said inside City Hall.

The latest data, for the week ending Jan. 14, showed that an average of 5,594 people were tested daily in the city, down slightly from the week before. The average number of positive tests recorded each day was 447.9, also down slightly from the previous week’s data. The city’s positivity rate is at 7.5 percent, down from 8.7 percent.

Walsh urged Bostonians to continue getting tested regularly, noting that there are 30 testing sites citywide.

“We’ve seen the positive rates in almost every single neighborhood go down as well, which is encouraging to see. We’re seeing improvements in our numbers as they stabilize, but we know this can change at any time,” said Walsh.

The rate of covid-related hospital admissions is slightly down, but the percentage of occupied adult non-surge hospital beds citywide is still at 99 percent.

“Right now our case numbers are still concerning and our hospital numbers are certainly higher than we’d like them to be,” said Walsh.

“Hospitals can add surge beds if necessary, if they go beyond 100 percent of usage. We are keeping a very close eye out to see where we are with that.”

Walsh noted that, over the weekend, the first case of the new covid variant was detected in a Boston resident who travelled internationally, saying:

“The Boston Public Health Commission’s infectious disease bureau is working closely with our partners at the state’s Department of Public Health to monitor the situation and keep a close eye on this new strand.”

“There is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death, however, it can spread more easily and quickly than the other variants. A high transmission rate could lead to increased cases that could potentially burden our healthcare system so we are monitoring that so we can keep numbers down.”

Effective Monday, the commonwealth’s stay at home order for the hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. will be lifted, as well as the early closure order, which requires certain businesses to close by 9:30 p.m. The state is also extending the current limit on gatherings and indoor capacity at 25 percent until Feb. 8.

Walsh said the state’s recent guidelines that allow businesses to be open later will apply to Boston, but Boston’s rollback to phase 2 step 2 will remain in place until Jan. 27, when the city will re-examine the situation and decide whether or not to extend it.

“The last thing we want to do is reopen too quickly and then have to close again. We must continue to protect our hospital capacity, especially with the threat of this new covid variant.”

Fenway Park will open as a second mass vaccination site on Feb. 1 and the city plans to start administering up to 500 vaccines daily to eligible residents in the phase 1 priority group. The mayor urged all Bostonians to get the covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

“We understand that some people are hesitant to take the vaccine, this is especially true in the Black and Latino communities. There is no doubt that throughout history, communities of color faced discrimination and outright cruelty in the health care system,” said Walsh.

“We’re talking to residents about their concerns and trying to build trust. Covid-19 has hit communities of color the hardest--the numbers don’t lie. The numbers show it. The economic fallout has hit communities of color hardest as well, we don’t want them to miss out on the vaccine because it’s the best tool we have to put this pandemic behind us.”

Dr. Thea James, Boston Medical Center's vice president of mission and associate chief medical officer, said she has seen “firsthand” the hurt the pandemic has caused to the entire region and, in particular, in Black and brown communities.

“I also know that many people are hesitant to take the covid-19 vaccine in those communities, and there are valid reasons you might feel this way. I’m here today because I understand how you feel 100 percent, I was hesitant. I was where you might be right now, I was really struggling,” she said.

“I’m a physician, and I know the science. I knew that there are strict protocols to developing a vaccine, and that because of the pandemic it was produced quickly. But I also knew that it went through the same, vigorous scientific review as other vaccines and that the data shows the vaccine is 95 percent effective.”

"I just came to the conclusion that the fastest way back to thriving for us is the vaccine. And I decided that although I was feeling helpless and struggling, the one thing I could do is I could take the vaccine.”

Marty Martinez, chief of Health and Human Services for the city, said that the city is taking a four-pronged approach to making the vaccine rollout equitable, which included mass vaccination as well as community-based sites; a rollout of multilingual public awareness campaigns-- especially in communities of color; partnering with community-based organizations to create messaging into the community around vaccine awareness; and keeping with the state prioritization schedule.

“It’s really important that we do the best we can to prioritize those who need it the most through the state process and we’re working with them to do exactly that,” said Martinez.