'Encouraged' Walsh eases business limits

Gov. Charlie Baker held a press conference Monday at the State House to update the state’s vaccination plan after a weekend in which his administration faced criticism from public health and political leaders worried that the state’s vaccine program was lacking.

The city’s Covid-19 numbers are heading “in the right direction,” Mayor Walsh said on Tuesday as he announced that more Boston businesses – including fitness centers and movie theaters that have been closed since a post-holiday surge –can re-open with limited capacities next month.

“The numbers are still too high for where we want them to be right now, but we’ve seen positive test rates go down in every neighborhood,” Walsh said. “That’s a good sign, and we are encouraged.”

Phase 3, step 1 of the reopening plan, which kicks in next Monday, Feb. 1, will still set strict limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings at 10 and 25 people, respectively. 

“We will only move forward with reopening if the public health experts feel it is safe to do so,” said the mayor.

On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker detailed plans to move residents 65 or older higher up in the state's prioritization plan for vaccinations – just after those 75 years and older – and ramp up distribution infrastructure in the coming weeks. 

Baker also said that by Feb. 15, dozens of new vaccination sites will have been added to those already in place by Feb. 15, including First Parish Church on Meetinghouse Hill and the Reggie Lewis Center at Roxbury Community College, which will open next week for eligible Bostonians.

City residents who are eligible will also be able to get shots at Fenway Park beginning on Monday.

On that date, residents 75 and older will become eligible for vaccine shots as the state opens the second phase of its distribution plan. Residents 65 and older have been bumped up in priority in Phase 2 to right behind the age 75 contingent, joining people with two or more high-risk conditions.

After them, teachers, transit and utility workers and people with just one comorbidity will head the second-phase line.

“We’re setting up the capacity to administer far more doses than we are currently receiving or are projecting to receive from the feds,” said Baker. “What this means is if we continue to get the same number of doses that we’re getting now, we may end up with some empty seats and empty appointments at some of our sites.”

By the end of the week, Baker said, there will also be 103 public vaccination sites open at pharmacies, retail chains, and other providers. That infrastructure base will be capable of administering up to 242,000 doses per week.

Marty Martinez, chief of Health and Human Services for the city, said Boston is following the state’s lead on vaccine prioritization and “will continue to ensure that Boston gets its needs met, especially in our hardest hit communities.”

He added that the city is working closely with a few hospital partners on “priority clinics” to vaccinate first responders, health care workers, and, starting this week, school nurses. 

“Local access is key, and we continue to prioritize that,” said Martinez. “Over the next few weeks, we will be finalizing additional sites in partnership with health centers, hospital partners and other clinical partners to assure that there are sites across the city as more people become eligible to be vaccinated and more doses are available.”

He noted that vaccine distribution in Boston is dependent on the number of doses that come from the state. The city is “committed to making sure there will be access, especially in communities of color, when there are large numbers of folks eligible,” he added. 

In Boston, there were 316 new confirmed cases and 5 deaths recorded on Monday, increasing those overall caseloads since the beginning of the pandemic to 51,506 and 1,133, respectively. 

Metrics collected by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) for the week ending Jan. 17 show a decline in the average number of daily positive tests, and the community positive rates. East Boston, Dorchester, Hyde Park, and Mattapan still have the highest Covid rates in the city. 

“We’re asking people to just focus on one a day at a time,” said the mayor. “We’re about 11 months in now and we just need to continue to stay vigilant on all of this. We’re encouraging people to continue getting tested as often as possible.” 

In that regard, the city has been operating a mobile testing site in Dorchester at Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Grove Hall and has opened a new test site at the Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner, which will operate on Monday and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

“The Strand is certainly a beloved cultural institution that the city and community have worked hard to revive in recent years. I’m proud of the way we are using this space to meet the needs of the community during difficult times,” said Walsh.