By Mayor Martin Walsh
This is a difficult time for the people of our city, our state, our nation—and the whole world. The coronavirus outbreak puts us, our loved ones, and especially our elderly and medically vulnerable residents, at risk. It’s forcing us to mobilize our response systems and change our behaviors in a very short time period.
This is a crisis that calls on our community spirit and social solidarity–in other words, it challenges us to be Boston Strong once again. That’s why I firmly believe that in Boston we are rising to the challenge and we will get through this together.
I wanted to reach out to let you know what I and my fellow City of Boston leaders are doing to respond to this crisis and support the people of Boston—and to let you know how you can help. Everyone has a role to play in preventing and slowing down the spread of the coronavirus, and that’s how we’ll protect vulnerable populations. You may have heard about “flattening the curve,” i.e. the spike of infections. That’s what our approach aims for: a slower spread allows our health care systems to treat everyone who needs help.
Here are links to our most up-to-date information and videos of my most recent announcements:
You can find the most up-to-date information at boston.gov/coronavirus
Remember: Boston residents can call 3-1-1 any time to get connected to our Health Line
Here’s an overview of what we’ve done so far and what we’re doing moving forward.
This step enables us to deploy all resources and personnel necessary to meet the needs of the moment. It supports increased cooperation and coordination with Boston’s hospitals and healthcare providers, and with state and federal governments. We can bolster our response to the many impacts that are underway and also gain greater ability to respond to new developments.
We are cancelling or postponing large events like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Boston Marathon (rescheduled to September 14th). City Hall remains open but as of last week we cancelled all city-hosted or city-involved events and meetings with more than 25 people. The state has now banned all public or private gatherings of more than 25 people.
This decision keeps children and school staff safe and it also helps protect our entire city from a more rapid spread of the virus. Schools will be open on Monday, March 16, to allow students to gather belongings, families to collect medications, and teachers to share learning materials. Buses have been cleaned and disinfected and will run on normal schedules. Two school communities will be closed on Monday—the Eliot school campuses in the North End, where a community member tested positive; and the McKinley school buildings in the South End, where a community member is undergoing testing.
The first priority is making food available to children who rely on the free meals we serve in our schools. 72% of BPS students qualify as economically disadvantaged. And in fact, we offer free lunch and breakfast to every student who walks through school doors. We are committed to feeding our students throughout this period. Starting Tuesday, families can pick up a variety of packaged meal options at dozens of locations across Boston, every weekday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Those locations are listed and mapped at boston.gov/coronavirus and bostonpublicschools.org/
The second main focus of the BPS plan is to continue student learning outside of school facilities. Schools will be sharing printed learning materials, for student use at home. Those materials will also be at the food access sites. In addition, materials will be made available online through Google Classroom. Every student already has a BPS Google account and these online tools are in use at many schools. We understand that some students do not have access to devices or the internet at home. We’re working with Internet service providers on free and low cost service. And we’re going to provide a Chromebook to take home for every student who needs one. Details on distribution will be available in coming days.
We are encouraging students and families to use the materials, create daily routines, and do as much as possible to avoid lost learning time and keep our students positively engaged.
We know that families of English learners and students in special education programs have particular needs. BPS teams will be meeting, in online settings whenever possible, with families of students with special needs, to ensure a continuity of learning that supports their I.E.P. That is our obligation and we take it very seriously.
For students nearing graduation, we will work to ensure they have access to AP and SAT materials, as well as other college and career exams. And for students at risk of dropping out, BPS will work with its Re-Engagement Center on measures to ensure students remain engaged during the coming weeks.
We are also very aware of the childcare needs that these steps present to families and the fact that many providers themselves are having to close temporarily. We are in conversation with childcare providers and employers to assess the level of need and will be working together on plans moving forward.
Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs: the Commonwealth is prohibiting on-premises consumption of food or drink at bars and restaurants from March 17 to April 6.
Importantly, establishments can continue to offer take-out, drive-through, and delivery options to customers.
We want to support our small businesses during this very difficult time for them. So in the City of Boston, we are temporarily lifting local regulations to allow all establishments that serve food to offer takeout and delivery.
We are also encouraging the use of delivery services. For businesses that do not currently use them, our Office of Small Business is ready to help. Just call 311 to get connected.
Our residents have a role to play in this as well, by choosing to avoid any crowded situations.
I am especially asking everyone to stay home this year on St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday March 17. St. Patrick’s Day celebrates a community that survived hardship because of social solidarity. That’s what we need right now.
So here’s what you can—and must—do to help.
There are simple things everyone can do that will make a big difference:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid shaking hands.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Crews of City employees are out cleaning and disinfecting our parks, public buildings, and spaces–we all should be doing the same at home and at work.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you think you are sick, call your doctor or 311 to be connected to the Mayor’s Health Line. We’re asking people to call first, before going to the ER so our hospitals don’t get overwhelmed.
IMPORTANT: We are urging everyone to practice social distancing—a proven method for slowing the spread of an outbreak. This means avoiding crowds of any kind; and keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from other people at all times.
Remember, even though you and your children may have more time away from work and school, this is not a time for visiting with friends.
I know this is difficult to keep up, but we need people to know: you are making a difference. Because of these steps, we will slow the spread of this virus. We will have greater capacity in our hospitals to treat those who need help. And we will protect the lives of our elderly and medically vulnerable residents.
What we hear loud and clear from public health experts is that these habits, over the next few weeks, are critical for slowing the outbreak and preserving medical response capacity.
The more seriously we take this situation now, the sooner life in our city will be back to normal.
Most importantly, you’re helping to keep the most vulnerable people in our community safe: especially the elderly, and people with underlying medical issues.
This City, and the people of this city, are rising to meet this challenge–and we will get through this together.
I want to thank everyone who is practicing good hygiene and social distancing, and I urge everyone to keep it up: keep washing and sanitizing your hands, cleaning surfaces, covering your cough, and avoiding crowds and contact.
The vast majority of our city is showing that we care about each other and I urge everyone to be a part of it.
And to those feeling isolated or afraid—especially our seniors and families with medically fragile children:I want to let you know that you are not alone. You are at the front of our mind all the time and we are doing everything we can to protect you.
I want to encourage everyone to reach out to seniors, to residents with disabilities, and families with medically fragile children, by phone, by text, by Facetime or skype if you can. Continue to protect them through social distancing. But let them know you care and they are not alone.
Keeping our distance is an act of human solidarity right now. It’s about serving others and looking out for each other and especially those who are vulnerable. Let’s remind each other of that. The knowledge that we are in this together will sustain us through this difficult time.
Thank you as always.