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Walsh says US coronavirus situation is ‘devastating,’ warns of risk of ‘moving backwards’ in Boston

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, at a recent news conference.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, at a recent news conference.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Tuesday that the United States is in “the worst place it’s ever been” in terms of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s imperative that Boston residents continue to take precautions to prevent the virus from flaring up again.

He said the rise of the potentially deadly virus in states such as California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona is “quite honestly . . . devastating.”

“Here in Boston and in Massachusetts, we need to do everything we can to avoid going down that path,” he said.

The state reported Tuesday that a total of 8,125 people have died in the state from confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Another 215 probable-case deaths have also been reported.

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The Massachusetts outbreak reached its peak in the spring and is subsiding, but other states, particularly in the South and West, are grappling with a surge of cases and deaths.

"Every day is critical," says Walsh
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh cited skyrocketing coronavirus case numbers around the country as a reason for Bostonians to keep up with public health measures. (Photo: Stuart Cahill/Pool, Video: Handout)

Walsh said city officials are monitoring data such as the number of positive tests, percentages of tests that are positive, and hospital activity “every single day as we get it.”

“We are ready to make whatever adjustments that are needed,” he said.

“We’ve worked our way into a strong position to control our own destiny here in Boston” by taking precautions against the virus, he said, but warned that if people stop, “We are at risk of moving backwards.”

“Every day is certainly critical,” he added.

He asked people to continue wearing masks, stay 6 feet away from others, avoid large crowds, wash hands frequently with soap and warm water, and clean surfaces.

He asked business owners to operate “with absolute caution and care, following all of the requirements that have been laid out by the city and state.”

“These are things that every single person in our city should be doing every single day,” he said.

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Walsh also launched a broadside at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic as he criticized the administration’s plan, which was later rescinded, to prevent international students from coming to the United States if their classes are held totally online.

“This country has needed all along a White House and administration that takes the virus as seriously as the vast majority of American people do,” he said.

“At the very least, we need leaders who don’t put up barriers to states and cities that are trying to protect their residents and restore their economies, and we need to avoid at all costs politicizing a pandemic that divides people at a time when acting together is a matter of life and death,” he said.

Walsh noted tht Boston and other cities had joined in an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit brought by Harvard and MIT against the Trump administration’s new policy. A settlement was reached in court Tuesday that rescinded the plan.

Walsh said the plan had “no basis in public health or national interest. It’s an attempt to put pressure on colleges and universities to open up. It puts politics in the place of public health.”

He said it wasn’t fair to students “who look to Boston as a place of educational opportunity” and would be “a blow to our economy at a time we can least afford it.”

Hours later, the Department of Homeland Security, in an about-face, announced in court that it had withdrawn the visa plan.

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In other developments at the City Hall news conference:

* Walsh announced the police reform task force he appointed will begin holding online community listening sessions on key issues. He said a July 22 session would focus on police body cameras, a July 23 session on implicit-bias training, and later sessions on civilian oversight and use-of-force policies.

“I want to reaffirm my pledge to act on the recommendations of this board as informed by the community,” he said.

* The mayor said food trucks were heading out to 23 sites at parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces in the city’s neighborhoods, where they would serve food seven days a week from noon to 7 p.m. The trucks have typically frequented the downtown area and major events, but this year hasn’t been a good one for that, he said, due to the pandemic. In the neighborhoods, they will offer a “natural outdoor dining experience that aligns with our public safety precautions,” he said.

* Walsh said an order exempting stores from the city’s plastic bag ban will be extended through Sept. 30. He said that would give retailers the ability to use bags they have currently in stock. However, he noted that officials have said reusable bags are safe, and people can now feel free to bring them into stores.

* Walsh noted the city had boosted funding for a youth summer employment program to $12 million from $8 million in an effort to offer opportunities “to every young person in the city who wants it,” especially because fewer employers are offering on-site, in-person jobs. Walsh also said a new program, the “Learn and Earn” career development internship, began Monday. It pays participants to take college-level courses. More than 500 high school and college students were enrolled in 26 different classes, he said.

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Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com. Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss