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Boston to join rest of Mass. in Phase 3 of pandemic reopening on Monday

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh
Boston Mayor Martin J. WalshNicolaus Czarnecki

Boston will move into the third phase of its reopening Monday with “both caution and confidence,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Friday, as gyms, museums, and other venues shuttered during the pandemic prepared to welcome patrons again.

Walsh pointed to the faster pace for reopening in a number of Southern and Western states, and their subsequent surging number of COVID-19 cases, as a cautionary example Bostonians do not want to follow.

“We’re seeing what’s happening in other states when they rush” to reopen, Walsh said at a news conference. “These cases — it seems like every day in California or Texas or Florida, there’s a new high in the country. Those highs are because the residents and the people there didn’t take the precautions that we have in Boston and Massachusetts.”

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Phase 3 of the reopening began in the rest of the state last Monday, with gyms, movie theaters, casinos and other activities allowed to resume, with restrictions.

Some of the closely watched coronavirus numbers in Boston this past week initially sparked concern, when the city reported 46 new positive cases on Wednesday, among the highest it has had in a month.

But the city reported 26 or fewer cases every other day since July 4, including 23 more on Friday, said Walsh’s top health aide, who chalked up the see-saw-like rise and fall in cases to fluctuations in the number of people tested.

“As of right now, we don’t see any increased activity of concern,” Marty Martinez, the city’s health and human services chief, said at Friday’s news conference, adding that the city tracks a range of data, including positivity rates to hospitalizations. “With things opening, we want to make sure we monitor that and we stay on top of that.”

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Measuring the impact of each phase of reopening can be tricky, because symptoms of COVID-19 often take about five days, on average, to surface, and as long as two weeks, said Samuel Scarpino, a Northeastern University disease tracker.

That’s why, he said, state and city leaders should be closely watching the rate of positive cases next week to measure the impact from reopening indoor dining and other services on June 22 under Phase 2 of the reopening effort. The statewide rate of positive cases has hovered around 2 percent since mid-June.

“If we see cases higher [this coming week], that will be from Phase 2 and that will be an indicator we may need to roll back from Phase 3,” Scarpino said.

“That’s one of the challenging prospects around COVID-19 from a policy perspective,” he said. “They don’t turn on a dime. It’s like [turning around] a submarine. If we see cases start climbing next week, that was Phase 2.”

The city prepared to take its latest step toward a sense of normalcy as the latest statewide data released indicate that key measures the state is using to monitor the reopening remained generally steady.

Walsh: Boston moving into Phase 3
Mayor Walsh said Friday that Boston will move into the third phase of its reopening Monday amid the coronavirus pandemic with “both caution and confidence." (Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Pool, Video: Handout)

The death toll among confirmed cases climbed by 28 to 8,081, the state reported Friday. The number of confirmed cases climbed by 152, bringing the total to 105,290.

The state also reported an additional 61 probable cases for a total of 5,820.

In all, 932,796 people have been tested in Massachusetts during the pandemic, according to the state’s latest data, with more than 1.1 million COVID-19 tests administered. State officials are hoping to significantly increase the number of tests, with additional free, no-symptoms-required testing now offered in eight communities hardest hit by the virus: Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lynn, Lowell, Marlborough, and New Bedford.

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Beginning Monday, Boston will allow for permits to be issued for up to 50 participants for outdoor events on city property and other activities such as road races or block parties that require special review and approval, the Walsh administration said.

The Boston Parks Department will also issue permits for low- and moderate-contact amateur sporting events, such as baseball and softball, with a maximum of 50 participants including players, coaches, and observers. Permits for high-contact sports such as basketball, lacrosse, and football will be authorized at a later date, under the state’s four-phased reopening plan

Asked about the dangers of Phase 3 reopening, Walsh acknowledged it does carry risks but said that as long as businesses follow safety protocols and residents continue taking measures such as wearing face coverings, hand-washing, and social distancing, “We should be OK.”

Turning to education, Walsh said he expects to announce details of the city’s planned reopening of schools in September in the next week to 10 days. Officials are weighing options including in-person instruction, a continuance of online learning, or a hybrid of the two.

“When Sept. 12 comes around, our kids in our district in Boston will have been out of school, out of a physical building, for six months,” Walsh said, warning such a long time away will have “potential long-term effects” on students’ education.

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He conceded that opening school in the fall “is going to cost more” in light of all the necessary safety precautions, and he said he hoped Congress would approve additional financial relief to states and municipalities.

Walsh said he has no intention of laying off teachers, but that “support from the federal government would be helpful.”

Matt Stout and John Hilliard of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.