Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Monday the formation of a new advisory panel meant to help the city fortify residents against omicron, the latest "variant of concern" making headlines, and all future coronavirus variants.
Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of Boston Public Health Commission, will lead the 18-member panel, which includes public health experts, and community and business leaders.
Wu said the group will provide recommendations related to current challenges of the pandemic, but will also look at its longer-term impacts. As an example, she noted the panel may suggest public infrastructure investments that could help the city prepare for future surges in cases.
“Omicron, unfortunately, will not be the last variant that we see," Wu said, "and our responsibility in city government now is to look at the data, bring together the wisdom across all sectors in our community, and ensure that we are following the best available recommendations from our community members and taking swift action.”
A city spokesperson told reporters that COVID hospitalizations in Boston have increased by 28% in the past two weeks. As cases rise, city and health leaders continue to focus on increasing access to vaccines and boosters, and encouraging residents to get the shots.
The city will support seven walk-in clinics that will offer boosters, as well as first or second shots for anyone age 5 or older. The public school system plans to add more vaccination clinics inside schools, too, to increase inoculations in eligible children.
Starting Saturday, the city said it will open higher capacity vaccination sites that will operate on Dec. 11, Dec. 18, and two additional Saturdays in January. Boston is also sending 20,000 free rapid at-home tests to communities hardest hit by the pandemic and facing bigger challenges around testing access.
Boston's indoor mask mandate will remain in effect, said Ojikutu.