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Boston Reopens As Walsh Reflects On The Past Year

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Feb. 1, 2021. (Courtesy Jeremiah Robinson/Mayor's Office)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Feb. 1, 2021. (Courtesy Jeremiah Robinson/Mayor's Office)

As Boston looks back on one year since the first COVID-19 case was announced in the city, Mayor Marty Walsh on Monday cited a continued improvement in COVID numbers and the city officially moved forward into Phase 3, Step 1 on the state's reopening plan.

The third phase of the reopening strategy allows businesses like movie theaters, gyms, and indoor fitness centers to open up shop again. Walsh said the city has taken a "very cautious approach" when it comes to reopening the economy.

"In recent weeks, we've seen some improvements in our COVID numbers. That's why we're moving into Phase 3, Step 1 today," he said.

Boston was reclassified last Thursday in the state's COVID-19 assessment system from high to moderate risk, with a 57.2 daily incidence rate per 100,000 people over the last 14 days. The city had previously reported a 71.7 daily incidence rate.

"So that's certainly also encouraging news as we move forward here. But we need to continue to stay vigilant," the mayor said.

Boston reported 230 new confirmed cases and eight deaths on Friday which brought the city's total cumulative case count to just over 52,000. For the week ending on Jan. 24, Walsh said there was an average of 4,969 people tested each day, down 8% from the previous week.

The average number of positive tests each day was 375, down 10% compared to the week before. The city's community positivity rate rested at 6.8%, down from 7.2% the previous week.

"We've had several weeks now in a row here of declining numbers as far as positivity rates for COVID-19. Over the last two weeks, it's down 1.6% in total. So that's also good to see improvements in those neighborhood numbers," Walsh said at a Monday press conference at Faneuil Hall.

Citing improving COVID-related numbers, Walsh announced in late January the city's plan to move into phase three, step one. While the go-ahead gives clearance to a range of businesses to open up again, it keeps in place a 25% capacity limit.

And as Massachusetts residents look ahead to watching Tom Brady play his first Super Bowl without the Patriots, Walsh discouraged people from gathering with individuals outside of their own household.

"I know that there is some excitement in Boston about that Super Bowl so we want you to be very careful about that," he said. "We also want to make sure testing is part of your routine."

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic can be measured in a number of ways but in Boston, residents are looking back at Feb. 1, 2020, when the Department of Public Health announced that a 20-year-old man attending UMass Boston had tested positive for the virus after returning from Wuhan, China.

The case in Boston was only the eighth infection reported in the United States at the time.

At the time, DPH said they were establishing an Incident Command Structure to help facilitate the dissemination of information from federal and state officials to stakeholders in Massachusetts. The department also launched a COVID-specific website and scheduled calls with other health care officials and local boards of health.

Not long after the first case was identified, Biogen held a business conference at the Long Wharf Marriott that was later tied to over 200,000 COVID-19 cases. And, in mid-March, Gov. Charlie Baker, after cutting his family vacation to Utah short, declared a state of emergency — which is still in effect today — that gave the governor broad executive authority to facilitate the state's response to the pandemic.

"None of us had any idea what to expect a year ago. The pandemic has turned our city and our world upside down. Living with this virus has not been easy for anyone," Walsh said Monday. "Especially it's hard for the communities who have already faced the deepest historic disparities and health and economic outcomes and everyone has had to make sacrifices."

Looking toward the future, Walsh said the new Biden Administration is a partner in Washington "who is committed to helping cities and states beat this virus." The U.S. Senate plans to hold a hearing later this week to consider President Joe Biden's nomination of Walsh as labor secretary.

"We have begun the process of healing and we're gonna get through this together," Walsh said.

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