Like many Bostonians, I wish this were the summer when we put COVID-19 behind us once and for all — unfortunately, that’s not our reality. And as fall and the start of school rapidly approach, it’s critical that the city takes decisive action to make sure unvaccinated residents — including children — are protected.
It’s easy to look at Boston’s topline vaccination numbers and pat ourselves on the back. Yes, compared with other parts of the country, Bostonians as a whole are vaccinated at a higher rate. However, look a layer deeper and the inequities in vaccinations across Boston’s neighborhoods paint a very different picture. Many of these residents live in my community in Mattapan. I know them personally, and I’m afraid for their well-being.
Thousands of residents are at serious risk of illness and death. City leaders need to embrace every effective solution to save lives in a moment of crisis.
That means not waiting for infection rates to go up before implementing steps that will slow the spread of the virus and could rapidly increase Boston’s vaccination rate. I’m pushing the city to implement several steps, modeled after best practices from other major American cities, like a vaccine passport program and requiring masks in indoor public places, not to score political points but because these measures will save lives. In New York City — which implemented several of these measures weeks ago — the vaccination rate increased by 40 percent after city leaders announced their plan.
We can surely reopen schools safely next month and keep businesses open if we take these decisive, proactive steps now:
First, it’s time to require proof of vaccination for high-risk indoor spaces like bars, restaurants, gyms, and concert venues. This policy is about protecting residents — especially workers — when they are in places where COVID-19 is most likely to spread. This mandate is about creating an additional incentive to receive a life-saving vaccine for those who are still on the fence, and keeping residents safe from an unpredictable, dangerous virus. To be clear: This policy would be phased in over several weeks, giving people plenty of time to get vaccinated before it would take effect. And it would not apply to grocery stores, drug stores, and other places where people buy essential goods, none of which shut anyone out even during the worst of the pandemic. For those concerned about access because of mandates, we should prioritize additional funding and support of vaccine incentives, education, and outreach to low vaccinated neighborhoods like Mattapan.
Second, it’s time to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and restore mask requirements for indoor public spaces. According to the CDC, Boston is now an area with substantial community spread of the Delta variant. Governor Charlie Baker has thus far refused to implement this on a statewide level leaving it to local officials to decide. Acting Mayor Kim Janey should take the lead on this issue in Boston.
Third, we must do more to ensure the safety of our Boston Public Schools students and staff. For months, I have called for the city to provide basic air quality measures and temperature control in every classroom to ensure proper ventilation and protect students and teachers from viral spread in classrooms. Additionally, Janey’s announcement of a phased-in requirement that all city workers must be vaccinated or comply with weekly testing by Oct. 18 is a positive step, but the deadline should be adjusted for teachers who return to classrooms on Sept. 9, not Sept. 20. Finally, the city should continue to provide regular COVID-19 testing of students and staff to ensure BPS catches outbreaks early. These measures, taken together, would help parents feel more comfortable with sending their children back to school this fall and better protect the larger community.
Our national battle against COVID-19 is far from over. Throughout the pandemic, Bostonians have stepped up and sacrificed in ways that have set an example for the nation. We must continue to lead the way, by doing whatever it takes to protect residents during this new wave of the pandemic — regardless of the politics.
Andrea Campbell is a a Boston city councilor and candidate for mayor of Boston.