coronavirus

Boston to Enter Phase 3, Step 1 of COVID Reopening Plan on Feb. 1: Walsh

Businesses such as movie theaters, gyms, museums, indoor recreational facilities and sightseeing tours will be able to resume operations with restrictions in place.

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The city of Boston will enter Phase 3, Step 1 of Massachusetts' COVID-19 reopening process on Feb. 1, meaning gyms, movie theaters and other businesses will be able to open their doors, Mayor Marty Walsh said Tuesday.

In a press conference, Walsh said positive trends in the city's coronavirus data is allowing his administration to move forward in the process, which he paused in December following a spike in post-Thanksgiving cases.

Businesses able to open in Phase 3, Step 1 -- with restrictions in place -- also include museums, indoor recreational facilities, arcades, aquariums, indoor historical sites and sightseeing tours such as duck boat tours.

Movie theaters, gyms and other businesses in Boston will be allowed to reopen starting Monday.

Most businesses will be subject to the state's 25% capacity limit, which remains in effect through Feb. 8; and all gatherings and events must comply with capacity limits of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, Walsh said.

Walsh urged residents to remain vigilant as the city eases restrictions, saying people should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing and hygiene.

"Throughout the pandemic, Boston and our public health department have taken a cautious approach," Walsh said. "We will only move forward with the reopening if the public health experts feel it is safe to do so."

The move came after Walsh rolled the city back to Phase 2 of Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening process in mid-December, fearing cases could spike again after the holiday season.

The rollback to Phase 2 was set to expire this week, and Walsh said it will be extended to Feb. 1, at which point it will be lifted.

Most of the rest of the state is already in Phase 3, Step 1. Restrictions were further eased Monday when a statewide business curfew was lifted, meaning many businesses -- including restaurants -- are allowed to open past 9:30 p.m.

As of Monday, Boston had reported 51,506 cases of the coronavirus, including 1,133 deaths.

Walsh said Friday the Boston's latest coronavirus data has been trending in the right direction with the city's positivity rate and hospital admissions falling this week compared to the previous week.

As of January 17, the city was averaging 415.6 positive cases per day, down from a high of 590.4 in mid-January, health officials said. Its positivity rate stood at 7.2 percent, down from 8.9 percent earlier in the month.

"We knew we'd see increased cases into the holidays... and we've started to see that level off," Boston health chief Marty Martinez said, adding that COVID-19 hospitalizations were dropping in the city as well.

Walsh has been urging residents to get COVID-19 vaccination when they are eligible, saying it is "one of the best things you can do to protect your family and your community and yourself."

The timeline for in-person learning in Boston has been updated.

Last week, he urged people in communities of color to consider getting vaccinated.

"There is no doubt that throughout history communities of color have faced discrimination and outright cruelty in the health care system. This is a tragic outcome from systemic racism in our country," he said.

"We don't want communities of color to miss out on the vaccine, because it's the best tool we have to put this pandemic behind us."

Walsh said his administration had made efforts to provide information about COVID-19 vaccines to communities of color.

On Monday, Baker detailed plans to Monday to have 103 public vaccination sites open by the end of the week with an online map and registration portal ready for eligible residents to make appointments.

The state plans to open a total of seven mass vaccination sites, including at Fenway Park and the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury.

Baker also said that residents age 75 or older would become eligible to receive the vaccine beginning Feb. 1 at the start of the state's second phase of vaccination.

Residents age 65 and older have been bumped up in priority, and will join people with two or more comorbidities in the second group to become eligible in Phase 2 sometime in February.

Boston officials provided an update on vaccination rollout priority in the city.

Walsh remarks come as his stint as mayor is potentially coming to a close in the coming weeks after he was tapped as President Joe Biden's nominee for labor secretary.

Walsh, 53, has been Boston's mayor since 2014. He's a former state lawmaker with a long history with organized labor. Walsh is a former head of the Boston Building Trades, a union umbrella organization.

His move to the U.S. Labor Department sets the stage for what could be a wide-open mayoral race. He said the transition to Boston City Council President Kim Janey, who would take over as acting mayor if Walsh is confirmed by the Senate, has already begun.

City councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell have already thrown their names into the race. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has expressed her support for Wu.

On Monday, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said he was considering running for mayor of the city as well, but hadn't decided yet. According to The Boston Globe, Gross' decision to run would factor into whether others, including City Councilor Michael Flaherty, may also choose to run.

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