Walsh says state will expand capacity at Reggie Lewis Center vaccine site

Mayor Walsh offered updates on the city’s Covid-19 response on Thursday, urging Bostonians to continue to get tested for the virus while the state-led effort to distribute vaccine shots begins to penetrate deeper into the city’s hardest-hit neighborhood.

The average number of daily positive tests in the city was at 156 last week, a statistic that has been following a steady downward trend, Walsh said. The citywide positive rate dropped to 3.4 percent, which Walsh noted is “the lowest rate we’ve seen in the city since November.”

The positive rate in every Boston neighborhood is now below 7 percent and hospital capacity as well as the percentage of available ICU surge beds have increased.

“For the first time in many weeks, the daily number of occupied ICU surge beds is under our threshold for concern,” said Walsh.

With new, smaller vaccine sites coming online in Dorchester and Mattapan this week, Walsh said that the city is "eager" to help the state assume management of the mass vaccination site at Roxbury Community College's Reggie Lewis Center. Half the appointments at the Lewis Center will be reserved as priority booking for residents of "Roxbury and surrounding communities."

So far, close to 4,000 people have been vaccinated at the Reggie Lewis Center since it opened on Feb. 1, according to Boston’s Health and Human Services chief Marty Martinez. He said 45 percent of those were people of color and 55 percent Boston residents, with Roxbury as the most-represented of the city's neighborhoods.

"It was really, really important for the city to put resources in to make sure that we're creating access locally, and that's what we tried to do there,” Martinez said.

State officials have contracted with CIC Health, which also runs the mass vaccination programs at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, to expand the Reggie Lewis operation. CIC Health said it will have the capacity to administer 800 Pfizer shots per day from the Reggie Lewis Center with plans to "ramp up to 2,500 daily appointments within about a month."

On Wednesday (Feb. 24), the city recorded 206 new confirmed covid-19 cases and 5 deaths. According to the most recent public health metrics collected by the Boston Public Health Commission for the week ending on Feb. 18, an average of 3,777 Bostonians were tested daily, down 13 percent from the previous week.

“The decrease in testing is a trend that we’re seeing statewide and even nationwide, but we want to continue to encourage people to get tested,” said Walsh. “Testing is important for us to make sure that we can continue to have accurate numbers, we need to remain vigilant.”

The mayor urged residents to continue wearing masks that “fit tightly,” wear two masks if possible, continue to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

“The city continues to enforce public health requirements. I’m going to continue to remind everyone to focus on safety especially as businesses reopen,” said Walsh.

The mayor also announced that starting on March 1, all BPS pre-k to 3rd graders will be invited to return for in-person learning. This means that another 7,900 students could return to classrooms, for a total of 15,000 students that have been invited to return to our schools since the beginning of November.

“This timeline is for parents and students who have opted-in to in person learning and families have the choice of remote learning,” said Walsh.

“We’re making sure that our classrooms and buildings are safe for students, teachers, and staff. That includes air purifiers in every occupied space frequent tests best filters and HVAC systems, medical grade PPE for and masks for all teachers and staff.”

Per the timeline that BPS released in January, all students grade 4-8 eligible for in person learning on March 15 and all remaining students will be eligible on March 29.

“We’re seeing the trend going in the right direction, and the positivity rate is in the right place. So, getting our kids in school now is the next important step,” Walsh said.

Martinez added that city officials are actively working to be ready for when essential workers are eligible for vaccines over the next several weeks and getting ready to launch a pilot mobile testing starting next week in partnership with Boston EMS.

“We’re working on some dedicated clinics that will help us create access for essential workers, and we’re also working to support the mobile exploration that’s happening so that those living in BHA housing, senior folks, and people with disabilities will get on-site access,” said Martinez.

“Mobile effort is already starting, and the goal is to pilot it next week but trying to create more of that access. It’s part of the effort to make sure we have sites across the city, and smaller one-day places. The mobile team is going to be a huge part of that. Some of our community health centers are also exploring mobile testing and we’re eager to be able to support that.”

When asked if the city is looking to explore outdoors and drive-through vaccination sites as the weather will begin to get warmer over the next few months, Martinez replied: “That’s definitely a part of it. We’re not quite there weather-wise yet where we’d want to create outdoor locations but it’s definitely a part of the larger piece,” he said. “What we want to be able to do around vaccinations is not only have these fixed locations— pharmacies, community health centers and our mass vaccination sites but also to have places where we can bring the vaccine,” he said.

“We have looked at potential parks, courtyards of buildings to really try to do that, however, we have to make sure the doses are available. Right now, doses aren’t available for that and there’s not enough eligibility for people, but it is part of our goal.”

State House News Service reporting contributed to this article.