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As Mass. slowly starts to reopen, Mayor Walsh urges vigilance, says pandemic battle could last a year

Work will soon resume at the the site of a new tower at  Winthrop Square in downtown Boston as construction projects in the city reopen.
Work will soon resume at the the site of a new tower at Winthrop Square in downtown Boston as construction projects in the city reopen.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Memorial Day weekend has long been something to look forward to: a weekend away, or an afternoon by the grill. But in the early days of the state’s slow reemergence from a monthslong lockdown, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is approaching the holiday with something closer to dread.

Cautioning residents that the pandemic is only in its early stages, Walsh issued warnings about the coming weekend: No beach parties. No playdates. No pickup games. Instead, Walsh urged vigilance in a fight that is only just beginning.

“We could be battling this pandemic for eight months to a year,” said Walsh during a news conference outside City Hall, just hours before the state again announced more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19.

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The 1,114 new confirmed cases pushed the total to 90,084; the death toll rose by 82, to a total of 6,148 lives lost to the pandemic.

The Department of Public Health also reported 11,533 new tests had been conducted, for a total of 501,486 in the state.

The key metrics on which the state’s continued efforts to reopen hinge remained mostly amid more than a month of encouraging results.

The seven-day weighted average of positive test rates, a key metric the state is scrutinizing during the reopening process, showed a very slight increase to 9.4 percent on Wednesday, up from 9.3 percent a day earlier. The metric, which measures the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, has dropped 67 percent since April 15.

Meanwhile, the three-day average of the number of coronavirus patients in the hospital dipped to 2,462 on Wednesday, down from 2,508 a day earlier. It has dropped 31 percent since April 15.

The number of hospitals using surge capacity also rose from 13 on Tuesday to 15 on Wednesday, but is down 29 percent since April 15. The three-day average of COVID-19 deaths also dropped from 89 on Sunday to 81 on Monday, down 47 percent since April 15.

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As the cases mount, the city and state continued to seek ways to preserve some semblance of everyday life.

Walsh said the city’s licensing board has taken steps to streamline existing processes and remove outdated restrictions to help restaurants — an industry that has been battered by the public health emergency — as part of the COVID-19 reopening process.

The board voted to pass an emergency amendment that would make it easier for restaurants to use outdoor space and lifted the citywide requirement of “alcohol with food only” on outdoor spaces. City officials are also waiving fees for approved use of outdoor space on a temporary basis.

“We certainly feel your pain and we’re doing everything we can to help restaurants survive,” said Walsh.


Walsh outlines aid for small businesses
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh explained how the city is working to help small businesses safely reopen for operation. (Photo: Stuart Cahill/Pool, Video: Handout)

According to Walsh’s office, the city’s licensing board earlier this week released a questionnaire for businesses “that will be used as the starting point for both identifying opportunities for temporary extensions onto outdoor space both on public and private property.” Authorities said that extensions into the public way, like a sidewalk or street, require evaluation by multiple departments to make sure that such a move does not come at the expense of public safety.

Walsh’s office said that 147 businesses, ranging from neighborhood coffee shops to downtown restaurants, have so far filled out the questionnaire.

And Boston authorities on Thursday announced that a virtual graduation ceremony for the school district’s 3,000 or so graduating high school seniors will take place on June 13. The ceremony will be hosted by Walsh and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, and will feature former US secretary of education John King as the keynote speaker, officials said. The ceremony will be shown on WCVB and streamed online, and will include remarks from valedictorians from the district’s 36 high schools, as well as surprise guests.

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“We are tremendously proud of our graduating seniors, who together mark a class of smart, hard-working, and creative individuals who I know will go on to do great things,” said Walsh in a statement.

Governor Charlie Baker, meanwhile, on Thursday spoke to his decision-making process amid the ever-changing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts.

“In some ways, the hardest part is the fact that what we know about the virus, and what we know about how it operates, what we know about how contagious it is, what we know about how many people can get it and carry it around and pass it to others without ever knowing they had it in the first place — I mean all this stuff just keeps changing,” Baker said during a WGBH radio interview.

Days after unveiling his reopening plan, Baker said that, as governor, “You try to make the best decisions you can based on what you know.”

“We’ve been in front of the media pretty much every day for the past couple of months," he said. "And then, based on what you learned that day, you try to make adjustments if you need to the next one. The one thing I will say is that we’ve tried to be pretty focused on what I would call the data that’s available when we make decisions, but I get the enormity of the impact that these decisions have. I do.”

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The state’s economic reopening road map was made public on Monday.

Baker said during the interview that he has been tested for the novel coronavirus once, after he had conversations — at a distance — with Thomas A. Turco, the state’s public safety secretary, who was told in early April he tested positive for COVID-19. Baker said he and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito both tested negative.

Jaclyn Reiss and Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.