BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — As Boston officials work to expand coronavirus testing for its most vulnerable populations including immigrant and homeless communities, Mayor Marty Walsh is asking for a "strong federal commitment to testing."
At a press conference on Friday, Mayor Walsh said many of Boston's 15 coronavirus testing sites were set up within the last two weeks, thanks to grants from the Boston Resiliency Fund. Since then, Walsh said, the city has seen major increases in the numbers of COVID-19 tests administered in neighborhoods suffering the most from the pandemic.
"Last week alone, we had over a 30 percent increase in the amount of testing happening across the city," said Walsh. "We focused our efforts on the hardest hit areas. For example in the last week, Hyde Park has had a 57 percent increase in testing, Mattapan has had a 35 percent increase in testing, and the hardest-hit parts of Dorchester have had a 37 percent increase in testing."
More than $760,000 has now been dedicated from the Boston Resiliency Fund to expand coronavirus testing at nine community health centers throughout Boston. An additional $270,000 was also granted for tele-health and equipment at those centers.
According to Mayor Walsh, the city saw its largest single-day increase in COVID-19 case numbers on Thursday. With an additional 398 cases confirmed and 11 more deaths, Boston now has 6,958 confirmed cases and 232 deaths attributed to the virus.
"These are certainly big increases," said Walsh, "And we're approaching the peak of the coronavirus, but we're not there yet."
The city has created an online map for residents to find their local testing site. Walsh reminded people who want to get tested to get pre-screened online and make an appointment before going to get tested for COVID-19.
Mayor Walsh said the city is also doing targeted outreach to Boston's immigrant communities to reassure them they can get tested for coronavirus without the fear of being asked about their immigration status.
"The fear is made worse by the President's rhetoric on immigration this week," said Walsh. "We are working hard to get the message out there. It's important for us that we test all of our residents in the city of Boston, our immigrants and our long-term residents here."
Walsh also reminded landlords and tenants that immigration status does not affect tenants' rights. Given the financial challenges so many are currently facing, Walsh said any tenant that feels threatened living in rented accommodation should stay home and call 311 for assistance.
In an effort to get a more detailed map of the city's coronavirus outbreak, Boston has also been conducting widespread coronavirus testing of the homeless population. Walsh said as of Thursday, 1,340 homeless people had been tested, with about one-third of them testing positive for COVID-19. Over 900 new beds have been added across the city to ease crowding in shelters.
"It's our goal to test everyone who uses emergency shelters in Boston," Walsh said. "Today we are one step closer to reaching that goal. The city of Boston has secured 1,000 additional tests which will allow us to test all guests in our shelter system and some staff as well. That means we will have universal testing for our homeless population."
The tests, which are expected to be completed over the next two weeks, were donated to the city by a company called Origin.
Walsh said individuals who test positive will be able to get the care they need to recover, while those who test negative will be placed in "designated areas" to allow for social distancing.
Mayor Walsh said while the city has done a lot to expand testing, it needs help from the Trump Administration.
"I'd like to be clear, there is no economic recovery without public health," said Walsh. "We are developing public health criteria for all stages of recovery. But to meet any meaningful criteria, we need more testing... Ultimately, we're going to need strong federal commitment to testing."
Mayor Walsh thanked the residents of Boston for continuing to follow city guidelines. He said the social distancing measures enacted over the past seven weeks are working, and he urged residents to continue to stay home.
"We need you to keep it up and I'm asking you to keep it up. We cannot get complacent," said Walsh. "We need to treat every single day like the most important day in the outbreak so far, because it is."
(Photo: Getty Images)