Tuesday, May 12, 2020

COVID 19 Recap Highlights Reopening, Public Space, Census, Construction & More

In case you missed it, here are the highlights on COVID 19 preparations and updates from Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker over the past week.

  • The City of Boston’s expanded medical capacity is allowing hospitals to maintain expanded ICU capacity. Currently hospitals are at 110% of normal ICU capacity. This is better than the last few weeks but we still need to continue practicing physical distancing and good hygiene.
  • As of Sunday night, there were 164 patients at Boston Hope, including 82 on the homeless respite side, and 82 on the hospital side. Altogether, over 650 patients have been treated at the facility. 
  • Every neighborhood saw its positive test rates go down this past week. Mayor Walsh acknowledged 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 COVID-19 Healthcare Inequities Task Force and the ways the City is targeting outreach and testing in the most impacted communities.
  • Residents can find up-to-date information on the City’s map of testing sites at boston.gov/coronavirus.
On May 11th, Governor Baker announced a four-phase approach to reopening the Massachusetts economy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and published Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards that will apply across all sectors and industries once reopening begins. More information here.
  • The Reopening Advisory Board met with 44 stakeholders representing different industries and sectors, and received written comments from more than 2,200 employers and organizations. Additional information here.
  • The board’s full report will be released by May 18, which will include protocols and guidelines for how different industries should operate once they reopen.
The census response rate for Fort Point and the Seaport is under 25%, in comparison to MA which is at 60%. Please take a short break today and fill out the 2020 Census. The Census informs how billions of dollars in federal funds will be allocated by state, local and federal lawmakers annually for the next 10 years. It’s more critical than ever to ensure that all Bostonians are counted. 

On May 11th, Mayor Walsh announced that as the City of Boston looks to a phased reopening, we will prioritize creating additional public space for physical distancing, support our small businesses with curb space they may need and ensure that 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 including:
  • 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.
  • Expanding bus stops and bus priority on roads. While subway ridership is down, essential workers continue to rely heavily on bus routes.

On May 8th, Mayor Walsh, in accordance with public health guidance around the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic announced that parades and festivals will not take place in the City of Boston this summer, up to and including Labor Day on September 7, 2020.
  • We will continue to suspend events that bring crowds together in close contact, like a road race, concert, or flag raising. No permit will be issued by the City of Boston for a public event that could draw a large crowd. 
  • The City of Boston encourages organizers to host events through virtual means.The Boston Symphony Orchestra will not be holding a live performance of the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on July 4. Instead it will present, on television and online, A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes, in honor of front-line workers and all those who have lost their lives to the health crisis. City of Boston events that will move to a virtual option include the Donna Summer Disco and Gospelfest.
  • Smaller events will be considered on a case by case basis.
Mayor Walsh announced that the City of Boston is working to get in a position to begin reopening while also working to support residents through the various disruptions and hardships this virus is causing.
  • The City of Boston’s Small Business Relief Fund has distributed $2 million to 561 small businesses most impacted by the pandemic (as of May 8, 2020)
  • The top five industries funded represent businesses in the most-affected industries, including hospitality, personal care, arts and recreation, retail, and healthcare and social assistance.
  • Over 75% of businesses awarded funding have fewer than five employees, a majority of which struggled with or were not able to access the federal assistance programs included in the CARES Act.
  • The City of Boston is adding another $5.5 million to fully fund all eligible grant requests that were submitted during the application process. That combines newly available federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as commitments from Citizens Bank and Eastern Bank. More info here
The City of Boston’s Rental Relief Fund has $3 million available for residents who lose income and do not have access to unemployment benefits.
  • The City and its nonprofit partners have been processing eligible applications, and contacted every applicant.
  • This week, the City will distribute over $820,000 to more than 300 families to cover the rent for April, May, and June.
  • Applications will continue to be processed, and additional funds distributed, in the weeks to come.
Mayor Walsh’s order to pause non-essential construction remains in effect for City of Boston permitted sites. On April 27, The City of Boston’s Inspectional Services Dept (ISD)  implemented new safety protocols for essential construction work. 
As we look towards reopening, The City of Boston will be taking an incremental approach to broadening the allowable categories. Key dates are described below:

  • May 5, 2020 -Essential construction projects with approved safety plans and signed affidavits filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies will be authorized to prepare the site with project-specific COVID-19 safety measures. Find the full May 5th Construction Guidance here.
  • May 18, 2020 -The City of Boston will allow essential construction project on sites that meet the following criteria: (1) Projects are permitted, in compliance and have filed a Covid-19 Safety plan and a signed affidavit; (2) Project sites are sufficiently prepared to adhere to all criteria of their safety plan; and (3) the work is for hospitals, public schools, residential buildings [1-3 units], road and utility work, or other outdoor/open air-work such as steel erection, roofing and constructing foundations. 
  • May 26, 2020 -The City of Boston will allow all essential construction projects to re-commence construction activities in adherence to their safety plans. This incremental approach will provide the time necessary to allow complex, large-scale development an opportunity to educate their workforce, safely remobilize and implement their site-specific Safety Plan.

As of April 27, ISD had shut down 131 construction projects that were not allowed to work under the City’s construction moratorium.ISD is actively responding to complaints (from 311, ISD's Call Center, and ISD’s Constituent Services Division) about construction sites working without authorization during the temporary construction moratorium. Inspectors are dispatched as needed and are shutting down violators with written Stop Work Orders.

  • Everyone over the age of 2 should wear a face covering whenever in public especially in situations where it’s not possible to physically distance.
  • Mayor Walsh remains concerned about situations in other parts of the country where enforcement has been uneven or inequitable in communities of color. While the State policy allows fines for non-compliance, the purpose of this guideline is to empower people to keep their family and community safe. 
  • The City of Boston’s approach will be to support people, not punish them, especially if they are financially struggling. Our focus for compliance will be on buildings where the public visits, such as grocery stores. Any store that is open should require face coverings.
  • The state order on face coverings includes exceptions for those who have breathing challenges; those who rely on lip-reading to communicate; and those with certain mental health diagnoses. If anyone needs help finding or making face coverings, please reach out and call 311.
During the public health emergency, there have been fewer cars on the road, and there have been fewer crashes. Mayor Walsh stated that over the past five years, traffic fatalities have gone down by more than half in Boston, and that this is not the time to go backwards.
  • BPD has reported more speeding and hospitals are reporting more severe injuries from crashes. Injuries are more severe and death more likely when speeds are higher at impact, even just by a few miles per hour.
  • All drivers should respect speed limits, and to pay attention to how fast they are going on the roads, and be aware of their surroundings.
  • In Boston, all roads have a default speed limit of 25 miles per hour unless otherwise posted. 
  • Mayor Walsh stated that over the past five years, traffic fatalities have gone down by more than half in Boston, and that this is not the time to go backwards.

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