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Walsh declares public health emergency in Boston, announces restrictions on bars and restaurants

A customer waited for their order inside a nearly empty restaurant in Boston.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Bars and restaurants in Boston must operate at half their usual capacity and implement restricted hours during the coronavirus outbreak, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced on Sunday afternoon, as he also declared a public health emergency in the city.

Bars, restaurants, and coffee shops will have to temporarily remove chairs and tables to cut their capacity to 50 percent, make sure that no lines are formed outside, and will have to close by 11 p.m., Walsh said. Any establishments found in violation of the new restrictions will immediately be shut down for 30 days.

Walsh declares public health emergency in Boston
Boston Mayor Walsh on Sunday afternoon announced a public health emergency in the city, and is imposing restrictions on restaurants, bars, and clubs.

The restrictions will not apply to delivery, takeout, or drive-through services, Walsh said. All food establishments in the city will be able to offer takeout, even if they do not have a license for it, Walsh said.


“We’re working also to support our small businesses, so if people want to get a meal and go out or get a meal and take out, they’ll be able to do that to keep our service workers employed,” he said.

Beer gardens, which haven’t yet opened for the summer season, will not open until the public health crisis is over, Walsh said.

People still milled around downtown Boston Sunday afternoon, some of them wearing bright Kelly green to mark St. Patrick’s Day on the day the city’s annual parade would have taken place. Walsh, too, invoked the holiday in asking Bostonians to keep each other safe.

“The tradition of St. Patrick’s Day celebrates a community that survived a hardship because of social solidarity,” Walsh said. "That’s what we need right now, is social solidarity. This is the time of shared sacrifice. And I know firsthand that we’re capable of that here in the city of Boston.”

He also said social distancing is not some “vague, wishful strategy”: “It’s backed by science and data. What we do in our city over the next week or two will make big impacts on the local trajectory of this outbreak and our hospitals’ ability to handle it.”


“I also have to send a strong message to anyone who is thinking about going out and being in big crowds,” Walsh said. “This isn’t about you. This is about your fellow Bostonians. It’s about your grandmothers, and grandparents. It’s about your neighbors who are sick. It’s about children in your building with asthma."

Walsh said declaring the public health emergency lets the city “deploy all our resources and personnel necessary to meet the needs at any moment.”

He said the declaration helps the city authorize additional directives as different situations develop; will help facilitate coordination across city agencies, including the Boston Public Health Commission; will increase coordination with Boston’s hospitals and healthcare providers; and help the city in seeking additional resources and support from the state and federal government.

“We make this decision to bolster our response to the many impacts underway, and to also give us greater ability to respond to emerging developments, such as the likelihood of community transmission in the city of Boston,” Walsh said. “We need to activate every resource at our disposal.”

Walsh said the number of coronavirus cases in Boston went up to 29 as of Sunday.

“We expect that number to grow, and are preparing accordingly for that,” he said.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.