More than 1,000 city employees have gotten vaccinated over the last week, Mayor Michelle Wu announced Tuesday, two days after her vaccine mandate took effect.
Wu said 17,861 city workers are now in full compliance with Boston’s vaccination policies.
“Proof of vaccination for the safety of our workforce and our residents makes a big difference in boosting our rates across the city, which still remains the most powerful tool that we have to keep everyone safe in this pandemic,” Wu said.
City employees had until Saturday to get at least a first dose. Now, Wu said city officials are reviewing all submissions and will reach out to employees who have not yet complied, ensuring they have an opportunity to get vaccinated. Vaccine clinics open to both employees and the public are held at City Hall twice a week.
A spokeswoman for Wu told the Globe Friday that starting on Jan. 24, staff members still without proof of vaccination would be placed on unpaid administrative leave, pending further action. Staff members have until Feb. 15 to get their second shots.
With Boston now also requiring proof of vaccination in many public spaces, including restaurants, 81 percent of Bostonians have now received at least one dose, which is a 36 percent increase from the week before, said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Ojikutu said, adding that Boston’s positivity rate is now at 26.5 percent, down from 32 percent last week. Hospitalizations, however, are climbing: Adult hospitalizations were up 35 percent and pediatric hospitalizations were up 56 percent compared with last week, she said.
Wu and Ojikutu spoke at a press conference to open the first of three new high-capacity testing sites in Boston on Tuesday in an effort to improve access, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
The Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury will offer free, walk-in testing from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the public health commission said in a statement Monday evening, with results usually available within 24 hours. Cambridge-based CIC Health will offer the testing services, which will involve self-administered PCR tests.
Two additional sites will open soon as well, Ojikutu said: Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester will open for testing at the end of this week to run from Fridays through Sundays, and the Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan will open next week and run Tuesdays through Thursdays, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. The city is also exploring ways to open high-capacity testing and vaccination sites in East Boston, another hot spot of the pandemic, Ojikutu said.
“I’m so excited at the potential for this to be one more way to cut down the lines that we’ve been seeing across the city,” Wu said.
The Bolling Building site will have room for 25 people to be tested at once, officials said, and room for 50 to wait in line indoors. Surgical masks will be available to people seeking testing so they can double-mask while waiting 6 feet apart in line, Rachel Wilson, CIC Health president, said.
Anyone who arrives to line up after those 50 people will be given a ticket on which they can write in a time to return that works best for them, said Rodrigo Martinez, chief marketing and experience officer at CIC health, at the press conference.
Ojikutu said the site will be able to test 1,000 people per day.
“We know that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color and exacerbated existing barriers to care. So we’re really proud to open this site in the heart of Boston’s Black and African American community,” she said.
Free walk-in testing is also currently available at the Anna M. Cole Community Center in Jamaica Plain and the West End House in Allston.
When asked why these testing sites weren’t available earlier, Wu said she and Ojikutu have been on calls “almost every day” to scout potential locations and ensure proper infrastructure was in place to accommodate lines.
“We have been going as quickly as possible on this and continue to assess, adjust, and work to meet the [testing] demand,” Wu said.
Advocates and public health specialists say long wait times, a lack of reliable transportation, jobs with little flexibility, and language barriers make it tougher for people to get tested in low-income, immigrant, and BIPOC communities.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, people in those communities got sick at higher rates because of their exposure at work, in public transportation, and in accessing food than people in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. State data show that pattern appears to be continuing with the surge of the Omicron variant. Many of Boston’s neighborhoods with large numbers of people of color have reported higher positivity rates than other neighborhoods.
Wu also announced that her administration will ask City Council to replenish Boston’s small business relief fund with $5 million of America Rescue Plan funding to support 300 additional small businesses. The city will also be providing technical support for those applying and participating in the program.
Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her @tianarochon. Sahar Fatima can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her @sahar_fatima.