Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Sunday said he is asking everyone in Boston to observe a curfew and to wear masks when they are outside their homes, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the city and the state rises toward a peak that could test the region’s public health infrastructure in coming days.
Walsh said the recommended curfew will be in place between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. starting Monday and running at least through May 4. He said people should rely on cloth face coverings and leave sorely needed medical grade masks for health care workers. The city is also closing sporting facilities at Boston parks, including basketball courts.
The measures come as the number of known cases of novel coronavirus in the state grows. The state Department of Public Health reported 764 new cases, meaning there are now 12,500 in Massachusetts. There were 15 new deaths related to the virus, bringing the total to 231. The rate of increase in cases and deaths was smaller than on Saturday. The number of new tests was also smaller, at 3,137.
In Boston, there have been 1,877 confirmed cases and 15 deaths.
Walsh has regularly expressed frustration with people who are continuing to gather in public spaces despite a statewide stay-at-home advisory. He said police would not be enforcing the curfew, which is advisory, but he told NBC10 Boston earlier in the day that he has also considered stricter measures.
"It’s not normal for me to get up here and scare the people of Boston as the mayor,” Walsh said during an afternoon news conference. “But this is not a normal situation. This is a moment that we need people’s attention.”
Even with Easter coming, Walsh said, people must follow precautions. “Absolutely under no circumstance should any house of worship be open next Sunday, at all,” he said. "That is not what we need right now. We need prayers right now.”
Public officials and health workers across the state are bracing for the full impact of the coronavirus crisis to hit within just a few days.
Governor Charlie Baker said Sunday that cases could begin to crest April 10 and that the peak could last for 10 days, though he acknowledged there are many unknown factors that could shift the dates. During that time, the state’s medical resources will be stretched like never before.
In Boston, city officials said Sunday that peak demand for hospital resources was projected to happen in 11 days.
Baker said a crucial order of ventilators from the federal government was coming in more slowly than anticipated. The state received a shipment of about 100 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile Saturday night.
Last week, Baker said he expected about 1,000 pieces by the start of this week. Then, he offered praise for the US government after having been harshly critical of the federal process of getting protective gear into the state.
Baker said Sunday he was hopeful that the life-saving equipment would continue to arrive.
“We don’t expect that this will be the last shipment,” the governor said. “We fully expect that we’ll get additional ventilators over the next two weeks.”
Throughout the day Sunday, facilities across the state were being set up to handle a swell of patients.
The massive Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is being converted into a field hospital, with an expected 500 beds for the city’s homeless and 500 for overflow patients coming from the city’s hospitals. And similar facilities were in progress at Joint Base Cape Cod and at Worcester’s DCU Center, Baker said.
And the state has been making efforts to increase its testing capacity. Baker spoke on Sunday after the opening of a drive-through coronavirus testing site set up at Patriot Place in Foxborough.
The site, opened as a partnership among the New England Patriots, state agencies, and contractors, is expected to perform up to 200 tests per day for police officers, firefighters, and other public safety workers who have symptoms.
Workers will make appointments through their agencies, which will schedule them with the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. The site will operate seven days a week, and officials said it will provide results within a day or two.
The event follows the news last week that the Kraft family, which owns the Patriots, had deployed a team plane to China to deliver about one million desperately needed N95 respirator masks to health care workers.
Baker said that delivery, combined with expanded capacity to clean used masks, would address what had previously been an alarming shortage of those important supplies.
In Somerville, Partners HealthCare, local officials, and the nonprofit Battelle began setting up a machine that can sterilize up to 80,000 respirator masks a day. The addition could provide a breakthrough in the ongoing shortage.
The site, next to Partners headquarters near Assembly Row, could make enough clean masks available to serve all hospitals in Massachusetts and possibly New England.
According to Partners and Somerville officials, the machine was dropped off in a set of shipping containers at around 8 a.m. on Sunday. It will take several days to set up, with it expected to be operating by the end of the week.
Starting Tuesday, Walsh said, City Hall will only be open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays, and everyone who enters must self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms, including elevated temperature.
Walsh said Sunday that the issue of whether the health care system can handle the surge of cases will be settled in part by the decisions everyday people make now.
If people observe social distancing and take precautionary measures to minimize the spread of the virus, he said, he believes the city’s hospitals will be able to weather the surge.
Data released by the state on Sunday showed the danger of the coronavirus for people young and old, healthy and sick. There are now 102 long-term care facilities in Massachusetts with at least one case of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, one of the newly reported deaths was a Middlesex County man in his 50s who had no preexisting conditions.
Mayor Walsh said he hopes young people start paying attention to the risk. He said about 45 percent of cases in the city so far are people under 40. Some of those people have gotten very sick, he said, and people in that age group who do not take precautions are putting their loved ones at risk.
“Whether you get sick or not, you have a responsibility,” Walsh said. “Otherwise, if you live with a grandparent, you put them at risk. If your parent is over 60 and has a health condition, you put them at risk. If you have a brother or sister with asthma, you put them at risk."
Walsh said there is nothing wrong with going for a walk, as long as people stay far apart from one another — and now wear masks. He said he understands that people are eager to get outside of their homes as the weather improves. But he said the threat will not lift if people are not patient in waiting out the worst of it.
“If people pay attention to those rules and guidelines, then we might be able to have cookouts this summer," he said. "If you don’t pay attention to these guidelines, then what’s going to happen is, we won’t have a summer.”
City officials said people should follow US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice on face masks. They can include a cloth, scarf, or bandanna that covers a person’s mouth and nose, they should be washed regularly, and they shouldn’t be used on children under 2 or those who have trouble breathing.
At the end of his afternoon news conference, Walsh put on his own face mask and walked back inside of City Hall.
Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.