Boston Mayor Michelle Wu Wednesday spoke of racist pushback she has received in the aftermath of announcing a proof-of-vaccination mandate for some indoor spaces earlier this week.
“Every time I open my phone, it’s another dozen hateful messages, again from folks outside the city and all across the country who feel enraged at Boston taking a leadership role here,” said Wu during an appearance on GBH’s Boston Public Radio.
Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, last month became the first woman and first person of color elected to the mayor’s office in Boston’s history. On Monday, she announced new vaccine requirements for indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment establishments in the city and strengthened a vaccine mandate for the city’s 18,000-strong workforce as COVID-19 cases multiply.
The announcement was met with a small group of protesters who chanted and sang the national anthem in City Hall’s cavernous 3rd floor lobby. At times, the protest ruckus made it difficult to hear the speakers at Wu’s news briefing detailing the city’s new pandemic policies.
During her GBH appearance on Wednesday, Wu said such opposition meant that “there is still a part of our society, even in this state, even in this city, that really feels like something is being taken away from them . . . that is based in misinformation, it’s based in, I think at some level, hatred, and fear and confusion.”
Wu said that to frame the anti-vaccination position as patriotic and to dismiss other viewpoints was “completely backwards.” She said in recent days the city has logged 311 calls from all across the country from people “spewing incredible, hateful rhetoric.”
“There’s constant calls associating me with the same hateful, racist, xenophobic language that the former president used in describing the virus and its origins and who is to blame,” said Wu. “Unfortunately this isn’t something that I bear alone.”
Last year, then-president Donald Trump called the novel coronavirus ‘’the Chinese Virus,’' in what was widely denounced as racist, bigoted, and xenophobic language.
Beginning Jan. 15, patrons of affected businesses in Boston will be required to show proof of vaccination. Additionally, the city is requiring all its employees to be vaccinated and eliminating an option for city workers to be regularly tested instead of being vaccinated.
Under the new mandate, city workers will have until Jan. 15 to receive a first vaccine dose and until Feb.15 for the second dose, unless they are granted medical or religious exemptions.
Earlier this week, Wu made the pandemic announcement as COVID numbers were rising sharply in the city. On Monday, her office said new “positive cases have increased 89 percent compared to two weeks ago” and the city is now averaging 369 new cases per day.
On Wednesday, Wu said the city made the move because if no action was taken, businesses would be forced to shut down because people would feel afraid about going out.
“It’s something meant to keep our businesses open,” she said.
Responding to a question from a caller who identified himself as a restaurateur, Wu said the vaccination mandate would apply to indoor dining, not takeout services. Regarding a proof-of-vaccination exemption for local professional athletes, Wu said Boston’s policy was not going to set COVID-19 requirements for professional sports leagues, and that visiting athletes were going to be exempted, anyway.
The policy, she specified, does not require a photo ID to be paired with a vaccination card or evidence from a vaccination app. She said the policy was intended to be inclusive and that many residents face barriers when it comes to obtaining a government-issued ID.
As of Dec. 14, 79 percent of Boston residents have received one vaccine dose, while 68 percent were fully vaccinated. Of those who were fully vaccinated, 31 percent had received booster shots. For children between 5 and 11, only 30 percent had received their first dose.
Regarding the opposition to the policy, Wu said, “This is the right thing to do and we’re not going to be intimidated away from doing it.”
Wu’s comments came more than a week after Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who was confirmed earlier this month as US attorney for Massachusetts after an unusually contentious vote in the Senate, said that she faces death threats as a woman and a person of color. Rollins will be the first Black woman to serve as the state’s top federal law enforcement official.
Despite the threats, federal marshals have declined a request from Rollins for a full-time security detail.