Walsh Details How Boston Will Enforce Face Coverings

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Mayor Marty Walsh said the average number of new coronavirus cases per day have leveled off and may be going down in the city of Boston.

As of Tuesday, Boston has had a total of 10,241 cases and 449 deaths. At a press conference outside City Hall on Wednesday, Mayor Walsh said the number of COVID-19 patients in Boston hospitals is gradually reducing.

"Overall our city's average of new cases has leveled off a bit," said Walsh. "We're seeing some indications that they're going down. We're seeing that we're moving in the right direction and a lot of that is because of the precautions that we are taking."

Walsh said the curve is "slowly bending" in the city, but that there is still "a long way to go before we can safely launch a recovery plan."

Earlier on Wednesday, Gov. Baker announced a statewide goal, starting on May 18th, to reopen "certain industries" in a "limited fashion," although he did not state which businesses might be included. The Governor's announcement comes after several days of a steady five percent COVID-19 hospitalization rate, and a gradually declining rate of positive coronavirus tests across Massachusetts.

Mayor Walsh said his administration is working every day to build a recovery and reopening plan with the state. He said Boston's goal is for a "healthy reopening and an equitable recovery," which relies on physical social distancing and safe practices to slow the spread of the virus.

Walsh also reminded residents the state order for face coverings goes into effect Wednesday May 6th, and that "every store" in Boston should be requiring people to cover their faces inside.

"Whenever you leave your home, you should have a face covering," said Walsh. "We're asking people to cover your nose and your mouth... and when you're anywhere near other people we're asking you to make sure you have the face covering on."

Mayor Walsh also commented on whether the city will be issuing up to $300 fines for people not wearing face coverings while near others in public spaces.

"The state policy allows fines for non-compliance. I've heard many questions about this, and what Boston is going to do," said Walsh. "Certainly we're looking at the situation, but we've heard and witnessed and read situations in other parts of the country where enforcement has been uneven, or even inequitable in communities of color. I want to assure the residents of the city of Boston the purpose of our guidelines is to empower and keep your families and your communities safe. Our approach is to support you, not to punish you. Especially if you're already financially struggling."

Walsh said the city will focus on enforcing compliance with the order "where the public visits, mostly," for example inside grocery stores, which will be displaying signs distributed by the city on safety guidelines during the pandemic.

Mayor Walsh said his administration is also aware of concerns from people with disabilities, and reiterated that the state order allows for face covering exemptions for people with "breathing challenges, those who rely on lip reading to communicate, and those with certain mental health diagnoses."

There's also a new plan to further expand COVID-19 testing in the city of Boston, which Walsh said could lead to a "phased reopening" for the city.

The administration's new goal in the coming weeks is to reach 1,500 coronavirus tests per day in the city, which would more than double its test rate from last week.

Walsh said there is a "multi-pronged approach" to get to that benchmark, which includes the expansion of COVID tests at community health centers, and more mobile testing capacity. This week, Walsh said expanded testing will be moving forward at two centers in Jamaica Plain, and one center in Charlestown.

The city's expanded testing plan also involves "surveillance testing" for groups at risk of faster spread and more severe impact from COVID-19. Walsh said that means "testing everyone in a select population to monitor the infections and provide response over time," which started last month with universal testing for Boston's first responders and homeless community.

According to Walsh, Boston's ultimate goal is to "repeat testing for key populations and locations on a rotating basis," as the city gradually reopens.

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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