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Walsh Halts All Construction Over Coronavirus Outbreak; Boston Now Has 33 Cases

Massachusetts has reported 197 coronavirus cases so far

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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has ordered the suspension of all construction work in the city effective Tuesday due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.

"We want to make sure those workers are safe," Walsh said.

He said there are tens of thousands of construction projects going on in the city, adding, "We're in the middle of a boom right now."

Business owners in Massachusetts are dealing with the sudden change of coronavirus closures.

"Construction is at the core of our economy here in Boston," Walsh said.

But the construction boom is no match for the pandemic, and the city wants to make sure thousands of workers are protected by not being in close quarters.

"The Coronavirus is one of the greatest public health challenges that our city has ever faced," said Walsh.

The construction suspension is expected to last at least 14 days, Walsh said.

He also said all Boston Public Library locations will be closed as of 6 p.m. Monday. All late fees are being waived until May 1, and library card expiration dates are being pushed back.

All schools across Massachusetts will be closed because of the pandemic.

"This is a difficult decision... and we're not taking this closure lightly," Walsh said.

The mayor said all Boston Center for Youth & Families pools, gyms and fitness centers are also closed, and all BCYF programs will be suspended as of Wednesday.

With many people working from home or staying inside, the MBTA is scaling back its service to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

Walsh said there are now 33 coronavirus cases in Boston, and he expects those numbers to continue to climb.

"The city has taken bold steps," he said, from declaring a state of emergency, closing the schools effective Tuesday, postponing the Boston Marathon, canceling the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade and announcing sweeping changes for bars and restaurants in the city in an effort to protect residents.

Walsh also announced the establishment of the Boston Resiliency Fund, which is aimed at helping those impacted by the coronavirus. The initial goal is to raise $20 million.

"Boston is a strong and resilient city full of strong and resilient people," he said. "We look out for one another, and when a challenge arises, we rise to that occasion together."

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker ordered schools to close for three weeks starting Tuesday, banned meetings of more than 25 people and stopped restaurants from serving food in-house in an effort to stymie the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker also announced a new fund for small businesses impacted by the virus. Businesses with up to 50 employees can apply for up to $75,000 in loans.

"Loans are available immediately with no payments for six months," he said.

President Donald Trump on Sunday urged Americans to not "buy so much," referring to long lines and empty shelves at stores around the U.S. "Just relax," he said. "It all will pass."

The appearances come ahead of statewide public school closures that begin Tuesday. Health officials have reported 164 coronavirus cases in the state.

Baker on Sunday ordered all Massachusetts public and private elementary and secondary schools to close for three weeks. The school closures go into effect Tuesday and will remain in place through April 7, the governor said. Walsh has ordered Boston schools closed until April 27.

Other actions announced Sunday include limiting the size of gatherings, restricting where people can eat at restaurants and who can visit hospitals and nursing homes, and expanding when people can file for unemployment -- the outbreak is expected to have a deep impact on the economy and jobs market.

At a news conference Sunday, Walsh issued an urgent plea for residents to engage in social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Walsh continues to urge the city's residents to maintain social distancing, the practice of interacting as little as possible with others to be less likely to spread the new coronavirus, which has already killed more than 60 people in the United States and thousands abroad.

Officials understand that many districts rely on school buildings for essential services outside of educational programs, like meal programs and special education, Baker said. Closing down schools for classes will not impact these types of services, he said, and officials will work with school districts to keep school buildings open whenever possible to continue to offer these services.

The new center will help coordinate the commonwealth's lab testing, quarantining and more, and it will have the authority to tap into whatever state funds are needed, the governor said, including $15 million appropriated by the Legislature for coronavirus.

Four of the 26 new coronavirus cases announced Sunday are related to the employee meeting held at a Boston hotel by the Cambridge biotech firm Biogen last month. Health officials say 108 of the 164 cases are now tied to the Feb. 24-27 meeting held at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel, which has since closed "in the interest of public health."

Of the state's 164 cases, 74 are women and 90 are men. Middlesex County residents still account for nearly half, 75, of the cases statewide. Norfolk and Suffolk counties both have 31 cases, while there are nine cases in Berkshire County. There are now six cases each in Essex and Worcester counties.

Plymouth, Hampden, Barnstable and Bristol counties have one case each. Two cases are of unknown counties at this time.

The Marriott Long Wharf hotel in Boston was closed indefinitely, days after it was determined that a company's meeting there was the center of a coronavirus cluster.

Two more patients have been hospitalized, bringing the total to 13 so far, though 36 other cases are listed as being under investigation, according to Sunday's figures.

Boston EMS urge people to not call 911 to request COVID-19 testing. People are asked to call their primary care providers, the mayor's health line at 617-534-5050, or the state DPH information line at 211.

Virus-related symptoms include fever (100.4°F or higher), cough, trouble breathing or shortness of breath.

Do you have symptoms of coronavirus and wish to get tested? We want to hear about your experience. Please share your contact information with the NBC10 Boston Investigators here or email tips@nbcboston.com.

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