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Recap of Mayor Marty Walsh’s COVID-19 press briefing on May 11th

Did you miss the mayor’s press briefing?  Don’t worry! Here’s a recap of from Mayor Walsh’s press briefing on Monday, May 11th.

Case numbers and trends (as of today):

  • In Massachusetts: 78,462 cases and 5,108 deaths.

  • In Boston: 11,106 cases, 533 deaths, and 3,327 recoveries.

  • Boston hospitals are at a combined 110% of normal ICU capacity. The Mayor cautioned that while this number has gone down, it’s still not where the City needs to be yet.

Neighborhood and Citywide testing update:

  • By the end of last week, the City conducted a total of 36,072 tests, or roughly 5% of Boston’s population.

  • Boston’s rate of positive tests last week was 20%, bringing the city’s cumulative positive test rate down to 29%.

  • Every neighborhood saw its positive test rate go down. The Mayor noted that is a testament to the physical distancing residents are doing, and the expanded testing access we have created citywide.

  • The neighborhoods with the biggest reductions week-over-week were: East Boston, with a 19% drop in positive results; and Mattapan, which had a 15% drop. The Mayor also noted that this drop is a testament to the work of the Healthcare Inequities Task Force, and the ways the City is targeting outreach and testing in the most impacted communities.

Universal testing for homeless population:

  • The City’s first round of universal testing in the homeless population was completed at the end of last week.

  • In this first round, the City has tested over 2,200 individuals. 735 tested positive, for a 33% infection rate. Those individuals have been provided with quarantine space, support, and medical treatment when necessary.

  • The result is that severe illness has been kept to a low level, for a medically vulnerable population. The consensus of those who work with the homeless is that the impact could have been much worse. The Mayor thanked City staff and nonprofits like Healthcare for the Homeless and Pine Street Inn for their strong partnerships, as well as institutions that stepped up with space, like Suffolk University, Boston University, Northeastern University, and Emerson College.

  • Since March, the City has added over 1,000 new beds all across the city to reduce the density in our shelters, and to treat homeless individuals who are impacted by the COVID outbreak. The City dedicated 500 medical respite beds for homeless individuals at Boston Hope Medical Center. So far, Boston Hope has treated more than 650 patients, including patients on both the respite and hospital sides.

  • The Mayor said that homeless individuals and families remain a top priority in the City’s work to slow the spread of COVID-19. He noted that there is more work to be done, including more testing and longer-term shelter space. He also said the City is working on permanent housing solutions and helping 1,000 families of Boston Public Schools students secure affordable housing using BHA rental vouchers we dedicated for that purpose.

  • When construction restarts, the City will make it a priority to create supportive housing for the homeless, continuing the progress Boston has made toward ending chronic homelessness.

Recovery and addiction services:

  • The Mayor wanted to ensure everyone is aware that Boston’s addiction and recovery services are fully operational.

  • The staff at the Office of Recovery Services has worked hard to adapt their services to crisis conditions.

  • Among the changes they have made include:

    • Moving harm reduction services outdoors, to help active users stay safe.

    • Expanding outdoor space at the Engagement Center, to allow for physical distancing.

    • Keeping the Street Outreach Team active.

    • Creating comfort stations with bathrooms, hand washing, Narcan, and more. The City is actively looking at additional locations.

    • Working with faith communities downtown to help them open up new daytime spaces

    • Moving outpatient treatment services to a telehealth model.

    • Conducting universal testing at residential programs.

    • The City also continues to help people get into detox and treatment.

  • The Mayor noted that finding beds for in-patient treatment after detox continues to be a big challenge, and that supporting those experiencing substance use disorder remains a top priority for the City.

Public space and transportation:

  • Public space and transportation have been a focus of the City’s response from the beginning of the crisis. That includes making sure hospital staff and front line workers could get to work safely and affordably; preserving access to open space while closing facilities that bring people into direct contact; and asking people to stay home as much as possible, while still providing opportunities for fresh air and safe exercise.

  • As the warmer weather brings more people outdoors, and as the City prepares for a phased re-opening, the City wants to make sure that there is enough space for safe distancing; our small businesses can get the support and space they need; and everyone has safe and healthy transportation options.

  • In addition to planned capital investment in safe and sustainable streets, the City is looking at ways to expand space for pedestrians, small business customers, cyclists, and bus commuters. Steps could include:

    • Expanding sidewalks in business districts to help with physical distancing, especially where people wait in line for businesses that are following new capacity guidelines.

    • Opening up entire lanes for pedestrian and cyclist use, which could also calm traffic speeds. This needs to happen in a way that does not cut off emergency vehicles or delivery access for residents.

    • And expanding bus stops and bus priority on roads. While subway ridership is down, essential workers continue to rely heavily on bus routes.

  • The Mayor said that if these ideas will help us meet our goals, the City will develop proposals for specific locations to share with the community for feedback before moving forward.

Update on nursing homes and long term care facilities:

  • The Mayor acknowledged the impact the virus has had on nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other residential facilities for elderly and medically vulnerable individuals. He noted that data from nursing homes and senior care facilities is devastating, and is consistent with the statewide and nationwide impact.

  • He noted that these facilities are licensed and regulated by the State, so the City’s work in this area is tied to the State’s efforts and done in collaboration with State officials.

  • The Mayor assured residents, families, and staff that the City has been in contact with elder care facilities since the beginning of the crisis. The City talks to administrators of these institutions every day, and is getting them the resources and support they need.

  • The Disease Containment Strike Team was created to help facilities facing an outbreak. As of May 5, the Team has provided over 414 staff shifts—including nurses, nursing assistants, and personal care attendants, as well as administrative support to those facilities.

  • The City also provided 206,000 items of Personal Protective Equipment to these facilities—including 62,000 medical masks, 6,000 face shields, and over 14,000 gowns.

  • The City will begin sharing the state’s data on Boston facilities on a weekly basis. As of May 9: across 39 facilities, 252 residents have passed away, or 48% of our Citywide total.

  • The Mayor pledged to continue the City’s support for nursing homes and their residents, including the families with loved ones in these facilities, and to share more information when it’s available.

  • He concluded by speaking directly to both residents and staff at long-term care facilities, assuring the residents that the City is thinking about them and working to help keep them safe, and thanking staff for the care they are providing under difficult conditions.

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Maureen Dahill

Maureen Dahill is the editor of Caught in Southie and a lifelong resident of South Boston sometimes mistaken for a yuppie. Co-host of Caught Up, storyteller, lover of red wine and binge watching TV series. Mrs. Peter G. Follow her @MaureenCaught.