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Boston Closes Museums, Gyms As Coronavirus Cases Rise Again

Mayor Marty Walsh gives updated information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference outside City Hall in Boston on Dec. 3. (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Mayor Marty Walsh gives updated information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference outside City Hall in Boston on Dec. 3. (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The city of Boston will take a step back in its reopening plans starting Wednesday, as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced Monday that Boston will move to a "modified" phase two, step two of its economic reopening plan — and that mayors in cities surrounding Boston soon will order similar restrictions in response to increasing strain on the health care system.

"Rather than wait until the situation gets worse, we’re going to be proactive here in Boston," Walsh said Monday afternoon during a press conference. "We’re going to take action now ... and prevent our hospitals from getting overwhelmed."

Boston will start the rollback from its current phase three, step one on Wednesday, Walsh said, and remain in phase two for at least three weeks — or, at least through the holidays. The last time the city was in that phase was in July.

Museums, movie theaters and aquariums will close. Gyms and fitness centers will be shuttered for "general use," though one-on-one training may continue with space restrictions. Indoor recreational activities like rock climbing, driving ranges and bowling alleys will shut down.

Retail, personal services, outdoor theaters will remain open at 25% capacity. Indoor dining — which reopened in an earlier step of phase two — may continue seating patrons as long as restaurants and bars serving food follow safety protocols recently updated by the state.

Walsh also declared that eateries may not seat people at bars without special approval from the city's licensing board. That board will begin meeting weekly to discuss any reported violations related to indoor dining pandemic restrictions.

"This is not about targeting specific sectors," Walsh said. "This is an effort to reduce overall activity outside the home. We want to minimize the negative impact on working people in small businesses."

On Monday afternoon, Somerville and Brockton also announced similar rollbacks to a modified version of phase 2, step 2 of their reopening plans.

Walsh's announcement came about a week after Gov. Charlie Baker moved all of Massachusetts back into phase three, step one of the state's reopening timeline. That change lowered indoor capacity at various venues, shut down some recreational activities and imposed new and stricter rules on restaurants around the commonwealth.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council applauded Walsh's decision to institute these restrictions.

“The rise in COVID cases, deaths, and hospitalizations demands swift action to reduce community spread, and Mayor Walsh is taking such action today," Marc D. Draisen, MAPC's executive director, said in a statement. "The decision to close business establishments, even temporarily, is by no means easy. These are difficult decisions that affect the lives of owners, employees, and customers. It is rendered more difficult due to the lack of federal support to ease the burden on employers and employees alike."

During Monday's press conference, Walsh implored the federal government to provide more funding for a range of needs among residents and business owners.

"It shouldn't take mayors and governors begging the federal government for help. Congress and the sitting administration needs to do their job. The American people need help right now."

Walsh noted that the city hopes to bring high needs students back to the classroom in January.

"We’re reducing nonessential activities to prioritize education," he said.

With additional reporting from WBUR's Lisa Creamer

This article was originally published on December 14, 2020.

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