Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Tuesday that Boston on Feb. 1 will move into Phase 3, Step 1, of the reopening process amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with his health and human services chief citing “some improvement” in new case numbers and hospitalizations.
Walsh, speaking during a City Hall press conference, said the list of businesses and industries permitted to reopen Feb. 1 includes indoor fitness centers and health clubs as well as gyms that use alternative spaces; movie theaters; aquariums; museums; indoor recreational athletic facilities; indoor recreational venues with the potential for low-contact use such as batting cages, driving ranges, bowling alleys, and rock climbing facilities; sightseeing and other organized tours such as duck boat tours, bus tours, and harbor cruises; whale watches; and indoor historical spaces and sites.
“In mid-December, I announced that Boston would temporarily pause our reopening, and move back to a modified ... Phase 2, Step 2, program,” Walsh said. “We anticipated an increase in cases around the holidays. So we took action to try and slow the spread of the virus, to protect hospital capacity, and to avoid a more severe shutdown later on.”
But now, he said, the city’s cautiously ready to move forward.
“We will only move forward with reopening if the public health experts feel that it’s safe to do so,” Walsh said.
Most businesses, he said, will remain subject to the 25 percent capacity restrictions the state extended through Feb. 8. All gatherings, he said, remain capped at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
“Everybody has a role to play in making sure we can bring back more activity safely,” Walsh said. “Again, wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands.” And, he said, employers should allow staff to work from home whenever possible. “If everyone does their part, we’ll be able to move forward with reopening faster.”
Among the institutions affected by Tuesday’s announcement is The Museum of Fine Arts, which will reopen Feb. 3, it said in a statement. Face coverings and advance timed-entry tickets will be required for visitors. Capacity at the museum will be capped at 25 percent.
The New England Aquarium will welcome visitors back on Feb. 5, it said in a separate statement.
“We pride ourselves on offering a safe, enjoyable, and virtually touch-free experience,” said the aquarium’s statement.
Walsh, who’s set to join President Biden’s cabinet as Labor secretary if confirmed by the US Senate, did not take questions during the briefing, but Marty Martinez, city health and human services chief, briefly explained the rationale for moving forward with reopening.
“We’ve seen a little bit of improvement in our cases,” Martinez said. “We’ve seen some improvement in our positivity. We’ve seen a decrease in hospitalizations. The state has seen that across the Commonwealth, and we are seeing that in the city of Boston. And so, it was a decision to sort of get to a place where we can start to reopen again.”
Walsh discussed mobile testing sites in the city, efforts on the vaccine front, and neighborhoods that continue to battle high rates of infection.
“East Boston, Dorchester, Hyde Park, and Mattapan still have the highest positivity rates in the city,” Walsh said.
The mayor reminded the public that Boston has more than 30 testing sites located throughout the city, as well as mobile testing sites that are free and open to all.
More information on the sites is available online at boston.gov or by calling the city’s 311 hot line.
In addition, the Strand Theatre in Dorchester is being used a test site in partnership with local community health centers and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Testing started at the theater on Monday, Walsh said, and it will operate on Mondays and Wednesdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
On the vaccine front, Walsh said the city is partnering with the state to set up a mass vaccination site at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury, which will open next week.
“This is in addition to the site [opening soon] at Fenway [Park],” Walsh said. “We’re making it clear to everyone that the vaccine is safe, it’s free, and it’s one of the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.”
Information on eligibility phases for the vaccine, site locations, and booking appointments is available online at mass.gov/covidvaccinemap.
“We understand that some people are hesitant to get the vaccine,” Walsh said. “This is especially true in the Black and Latino community. We’re talking to residents about their concerns and making sure that everyone has all the facts about vaccinations. COVID-19 has hit communities of color the hardest here in the city of Boston. We don’t want communities of color to miss out on the vaccine because it’s the best tool we have to put this pandemic behind us and begin to heal as a city.”