Trucks played multi-lingual warnings about COVID-19 Sunday afternoon as they drove through Boston neighborhoods that have been hit especially hard by the spread of the virus.
Seven public works trucks fitted with sound equipment drove through the neighborhoods with the highest rates of the virus — Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, East Boston, Roxbury, and Roslindale — delivering the message to wash hands and stay inside in seven languages between noon and 5p.m., according to the office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
“This weekend we are launching new tactics to get the message out in the places that we know are hardest hit,” Walsh said in a statement. “We need everyone to know that we are in a public health emergency and we need everyone to do their part. We also continue to work on expanding access to testing for our residents, because every community deserves full access to the level of testing and communication that meets the needs they have.”
Tomorrow, we’ll be deploying sound trucks in Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, East Boston, Roxbury and Roslindale with a simple message: help us stop the spread of #COVID19. 📢— Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) April 18, 2020
Let us know if you hear one in your neighborhood! pic.twitter.com/Y7j84LEqrc
Depending on the neighborhood, recordings were played in English, Spanish, Haitian and Cabo Verdean Creole, Vietnamese, Arabic, and Somali.
“Mayor Walsh has declared a public health emergency in the city of Boston. Stay home as much as you can," the announcement said, according to a recording provided to media outlets. "Wash your hands often, cover your face when out, and keep your distance from others. Visit boston.gov/coronavirus or call 311 for more information.”
“A lot of people [are] just looking like ‘what is going on?’” joked Jessica Thomas, a City Hall liaison for the neighborhood of Roxbury, who was driving one of the trucks through Lower Roxbury and Grove Hall.
“I love how the mayor is being creative,” she said in a brief phone interview.
On Bowdoin Street in Dorchester, near St. Peter’s Church, one of the city trucks made two passes just before 1 p.m., never lingering long enough for the message to be discernible.
Pedestrians did not appear to even glance at the truck as its message blended into the din of traffic and the blare of music from other cars.
But Thomas said she has been responding to suggestions to slow the trucks slows down, and she dropped to a 5- to 10-mile-an-hour crawl.
“Just figuring it out as I go,” she said, while taking a break from combing side streets and broadcasting in English, Spanish, and Haitian and Cabo Verdean Creole.
And other drivers have been surprisingly receptive, she said. “People are waving and smiling."
Although the state has not released information about the race or ethnicity of those sickened or killed by COVID-19, Boston appears to have the highest rates of infection in neighborhoods home to Black, Latino, and immigrant communities, including Hyde Park, Mattapan, and East Boston.
According to Walsh’s office, citing the latest data from the Boston Public Health Commission, there were 413 reported cases of COVID-19 in Hyde Park, 298 in Mattapan, 410 in East Boston, 335 in Roxbury, 302 in Roslindale, and 1,274 in Dorchester, Boston’s largest neighborhood.
Preliminary data in the city showed wide disparities between white and Black residents of Boston, officials said earlier in the month.
In March, a team of about 1,000 city employees and volunteers delivered printed information about the virus to all houses in Boston in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cabo Verdean Creole and, Russian, according to the mayor’s office. The city also has other multilingual resources on its website.
Efforts to use loudspeakers to spread information about the coronavirus in other cities have been reported, including in Revere, where the mayor trawled Revere Beach from a van using a bullhorn in March. A van has since been equipped to play recordings rotating through English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic, according to a spokesman.
Officials neighboring Chelsea, among the hardest hit cities in the state, is considering using a vehicle for audio broadcasts, said City Council President Roy Avellaneda in a brief phone interview Sunday afternoon.
“It’s being explored,” he said, noting that the city has used multiple other methods of reaching residents, including robocalls, texts, electronic signboards, and social media.
In Baltimore, the local NAACP plans to use a truck rigged with speakers six to eight hours a day for at least several weeks to get out the message in some neighborhoods, according to the Baltimore Sun. The effort began there Thursday.
Internationally, a handful of cities have reportedly used loudspeakers attached to drones urging residents to respect lockdowns, and the New York Post reported that a vigilante flew a drone broadcasting calls for social distancing in New York City.
Lucas Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.