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Boston’s COVID hospitalization rate jumps 50 percent; officials working to protect schools, city says

Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Boston’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate has spiked dramatically in the past week, and the test positivity rate is hovering at 32 percent as city officials work to minimize transmission in schools amid the ongoing Omicron-fueled surge of the virus, officials said Monday.

Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, director of the Boston Public Health Commission, provided the data during a briefing Monday at City Hall, where Mayor Michelle Wu discussed the city’s efforts to address the crisis of homelessness at Mass. and Cass.

“Our hospitalizations have gone up about 50 percent in the last week,” Ojikutu said. “Our emergency department visits have also gone up about 30 percent in the last week. We’re seeing more than 2,200 cases per day.”

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Ojikutu didn’t say precisely how many people were hospitalized, but the latest data available on the city’s website said that as of Thursday, the city was reporting a 7-day moving average of 522.6 hospitalizations per day, with 92.8 percent of “Adult Non-Surge ICU” beds occupied.

“Our goal is to have 85 percent or less of non-surge adult ICU beds occupied,” the city website says.

The state’s official COVID-19 dashboard, updated weekdays by 5 p.m., said Monday afternoon that as of Jan. 6, 94.5 percent of all medical and surgical beds in Metro Boston were occupied, along with 91.1 percent of ICU beds.

Statewide, the dashboard said, 92.8 percent of all medical and surgical beds were occupied, along with 86.4 percent of ICU beds.

Ojikutu said during Monday’s briefing that officials are concerned about all city residents and remain “very concerned” about the city’s public school teachers, staff and students. All BPS schools will close Tuesday due to frigid weather.

“What we’ve done to ensure or to decrease the risk of ... transmission, we’ve put in recommendations for strategies that I think are quite important,” she said.

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Ojikutu said those strategies include increasing the frequency of surveillance testing in schools; enforcing isolation practices for those who test positive; requiring people to have a negative rapid antigen test to return to school, following an isolation period after a positive test; and providing surgical masks as well as “higher grade” K95 masks to teachers and staff.

“And then as Mayor Wu emphasized, we need to get people vaccinated and boosted,” Ojikutu said. “Our rate of vaccination amongst ages 5 to 11 is about 37 percent across the city.”

City officials are also in contact with the state on school-related efforts.

“We’re discussing doing increased surveillance testing in the schools right now,” Ojikutu said. “We’ll certainly work very closely with them. ... We’re trying to put the right mitigation strategies in place to keep schools as safe as possible.”

Wu, speaking of Tuesday’s district-wide school closure, repeatedly cited weather concerns.

“Tomorrow, temperatures are expected to be quite cold with the wind chill, and so just to prioritize the safety of our students, and especially given the staffing issues that we are seeing in schools and with our school bus drivers as well, we want to make sure there’s no risk of students being either out in the cold on the way to school, or having issues in school because [of] the ventilation that’s needed with the pandemic and more windows being open throughout each of our school buildings.”

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.