The COVID-19 positive test rate in East Boston has topped 11 percent, more than three times the next highest neighborhood rate in the city, according to authorities.
East Boston’s 11.4 percent rate for the dates of Aug. 11-17 was an increase of 3.2 percentage points from the previous week, a trend that ran counter to the city overall, which saw a slight decrease in its positive rate during the same time, officials said. The next highest neighborhood rate in Boston was Roslindale at 3.5 percent, according to the Boston Public Health Commission.
“It’s a concern and something that we’re addressing,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh at a Wednesday news conference outside City Hall.
Walsh said city authorities are examining data and will look to contact tracing to see “where these new cases are coming from, who is impacted, and how to best intervene.” The city, he said, plans to move a mobile testing team to the neighborhood starting Sept. 1. That team will supplement the free testing offered at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, which offers tests to anyone who wants one, regardless of a person’s symptoms, according to the city.
Boston, he said, is in talks with the state about offering temporary isolation housing to East Boston residents who test positive, so that they “can quarantine away from their families.”
Geographically isolated from the rest of the city by water, East Boston is located across a creek from Chelsea and is bordered to the north by Revere, while Winthrop lies to the east. All three of those nearby communities also have seen high rates of the coronavirus, and are labeled as red, the highest possible designation for daily COVID-19 incidence rates, on a map of made available by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Councilor Lydia Edwards, who represents East Boston, thought the neighborhood’s geography may have been a contributing factor to its coronavirus caseload.
“We’re caught between Chelsea and an airport,” said Edwards on Thursday, referencing Logan International Airport.
In East Boston, more than 56 percent of the neighborhood’s 46,000-plus residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to a February report from the Boston Planning & Development Agency, and more than 36 percent of its residents say they are not a US citizen. Those figures exclude part of a census tract that is located in Eastie but counted by the Census Bureau as being part of Revere.
During his Wednesday briefing, Walsh emphasized that no questions about immigration status will be asked for those who seek COVID-19 testing. He also mentioned that a prevalence of multigenerational living, where grandparents, parents, and children live together in a home, can contribute to increases in COVID-19 numbers, something Edwards also cited as a possible factor in the number of cases in the tightly packed neighborhood.
“There’s not a lot of breathing room or spreadable room in East Boston,” she said. “We’re highly dense.”
If case numbers continue to increase in East Boston, city authorities have said officials will consider tightening regulations regarding gatherings in public places, although Marty Martinez, the city’s health and human services chief, said Wednesday that the city is “not there yet.”
“What we have to do is make sure people understand social distancing works, wearing a face mask works,” said Martinez.
Edwards said she would like to see more signage in the neighborhood’s public spaces, including playgrounds, soccer fields, waterfront, and areas near the airport that emphasize the need to wear a mask, saying that she has noticed too many people not wearing masks along the East Boston Greenway.
“Signage that says: ’No mask, no park. No mask, no access’,” she said.
Edwards said she has heard from constituents who are concerned the city will enforce a hard curfew at night in an attempt to curb the COVID-19 cases in the neighborhood and indicated she would oppose any such measure.
“We don’t want a curfew, it doesn’t do anything but punish a neighborhood,” she said.
The city’s public health commission has mobilized crews to provide educational materials to East Boston residents and materials in multiple languages, including Spanish and Arabic, at MBTA stations and busy intersections, a spokeswoman for the commission said in a Thursday e-mail. That effort will soon expand to neighborhood parks when people are gathering to play sports, she said.
Two ZIP codes in Dorchester have a neighborhood COVID-19 rate of 3.5 percent, while Mattapan reported a rate of 3 percent. Those, along with East Boston and Roslindale, were the city neighborhoods where the rate topped the city average of 2.6 percent, according to the public health commission. The week that East Boston saw its rate jump to 11 percent, it had the fourth highest neighborhood testing rate in the city, according to the commission.
As of Aug. 17, 10.1 percent of those 153,00-plus Boston residents who were tested since the start of the pandemic received a positive result, according to data provided by the commission. The city’s coronavirus caseload has included more than 750 deaths.