Boston is at the highest risk level for COVID-19 and will not move forward with reopening more parts of the city’s economy, even as most other Massachusetts communities will be able to do so next week, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Wednesday.
The state Department of Public Health on Wednesday officially placed Boston in the “red zone” of communities most at risk for the coronavirus. Red is the designation given to communities that have had more than 8 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days.
Boston had an average of 8.5 cases per day in the last two weeks. The city is one of 29 communities that are, or have recently been, designated red and will not proceed into the second stage of the third phase of the state’s reopening plan next Monday, public health officials said.
Governor Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that low-risk communities could proceed into the next stage, allowing for indoor performance venues, roller skating rinks, laser tag, and other attractions to reopen after being closed since March.
But Boston won’t be among those relaxing the restrictions.
Speaking during his regular briefing at City Hall Wednesday, Walsh said he expected public health data to put the city back into the highest risk category. The state later confirmed that Boston had moved into it.
Walsh said that the seven-day average for positive tests in Boston for the week ending Sept. 26 was 3.5 percent, up from 2.2 percent the week before, and that officials are working to avoid having to shut down the city again.
“That is a jump that we have not seen in the city in quite some time,” Walsh said.
Delaying Step 2 means indoor performance venues in Boston will remain closed and outdoor venues will maintain a 25 percent capacity limit.
Walsh said the city is continuing its targeted outreach to neighborhoods hit hard by the virus and urged people to avoid large gatherings, practice distancing, and wash hands frequently, among other safeguards.
“We have made incredible progress in the last few months, and we still have the ability to protect and continue that process,” Walsh said, adding that he’s “concerned about the elderly resident. I’m concerned about the nursing home resident.”
He said that if a 21-year-old gets COVID-19, the data says they may not have severe health outcomes, but “your parents won’t be okay, your grandparents won’t be okay.”
The city, Walsh said, has recently seen “an increase in house parties,” and he urged people not to host or attend them.
Addressing college students directly, Walsh said, “You want to be treated as adults? Well then act [like] it.''
"You wanted to go to school here because your college is one of the greatest in the country,'' Walsh continued. Then we’re asking you to be responsible.”
Walsh said he’s frustrated “because here we are today, laying down millions of dollars to open school. We have businesses on the verge of bankruptcy. We have restaurants that need to open up. We have art venues that need to open up.''
But, he said, the city is now contemplating further restrictions “because 25 people here, 25 people there, 25 people over here decided to get together and have a party and raise the numbers in Boston to get us to the red point. That’s irresponsible.”
Turning to the Boston Public Schools, Walsh noted that the district on Thursday will begin its hybrid in-person learning model for students with special needs, with additional students slated for hybrid learning in the coming weeks, provided the health data allows it.
Walsh said the city will only move forward with its approach to offering some in-person learning if the city’s positive test rate stays below 4 percent.
Walsh said that the city’s mobile testing team, which offers free tests, will be at 40 Geneva Ave. through Oct. 10, and that there are many other testing sites at community health centers and additional spots citywide.
“I’m encouraging anyone and everyone to go get tested,” Walsh said.
The Democratic mayor and former labor leader also chided President Trump for his call during the debate Tuesday for his supporters to observe polling locations on Election Day, which Walsh described as a call for “violence.”
“That will not happen in Boston,” Walsh said, adding that Trump “embarrassed himself” during the debate. “No one will come to a voting location and intimidate any voter in the city of Boston.”
Anyone who tries to do so, he said, will be arrested and prosecuted.