Boston and several neighboring communities have announced that they will be rolling back to a modified version of Phase 2, Step 2 of Massachusetts' reopening plan.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh made the announcement Monday, saying it will go into effect on Wednesday of this week. He said Arlington, Brockton, Lynn, Newton, Somerville, Winthrop, and additional cities and towns that have yet to be announced will join the city in rolling back the state's reopening plan as cases continue to skyrocket across the region.
The rest of the state had already moved back to Phase 3, Step 1 on Sunday, per an order issued by Gov. Charlie Baker.
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What it means
The rollback to Phase 2, Step 2 will close gyms, indoor event spaces, indoor recreational and athletic facilities, sightseeing, historical locations and a few other industries.
The city's closure of indoor recreational and athletic facilities does not apply to activities for kids 18 or younger, college athletic programs or professional sports teams. Indoor pools can remain open if they use pre-registration and limit swimming lanes to one person.
Sightseeing and other organized tours like the ubiquitous duck boat tours and harbor cruises must cease operation, indoor historical sites must close, and indoor event spaces like ballrooms and private party rooms cannot be used. Private social clubs will be allowed to operate as long as they serve food.
Outdoor activities at gyms can continue as long as there are fewer than 25 people participating and some one-on-one personal training will be allowed indoors, the mayor said. Indoor dining will be allowed to continue in Boston, Walsh said, but restaurants will not be allowed to seat anyone in bar areas without prior approval from the city.
"I know that many people have concerns about indoor dining. These are concerns about the possibility of viral transmission. There are concerns about the ability of restaurants to survive closure during these restrictions. I hear both of the concerns and we're responding to both the concerns," the mayor said.
Walsh added that there will be stepped-up restaurant enforcement to ensure compliance with coronavirus guidelines via emergency oversight meetings set to take place every week, one of many changes needed now to avoid a more severe shutdown later on.
Why roll back reopening?
Walsh said these latest steps were needed following a steady climb in COVID-19 cases in the weeks following Thanksgiving.
“Unfortunately, we are at the point where we need to take stronger action to control COVID-19 in Boston,” he said. "We're going to take action now to reduce in-person activity in our city … and prevent our hospitals from getting overwhelmed."
For the week that ended Dec. 6, Boston averaged 5,552 COVID-19 tests and 438 new positive results each day. The city's positive test rate for the week that ended Dec. 6 was 7.2%, up from 5.2% the week before, the mayor said. Dorchester, East Boston and Hyde Park all have neighborhood positivity rates between 10% and 12%. While testing was up nearly 38% from the prior week, Walsh said the average number of daily new cases is also up.
The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths statewide rose by 37 on Monday while the number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose by more than 3,500.
The new deaths pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 11,135 and its confirmed caseload since the start of the pandemic to more than 283,000.
There were more than 1,700 people reported hospitalized Monday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 350 in intensive care units. The average age of those hospitalized was 69.
The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 7,021.
So what if things get worse?
Walsh described Boston as being "pretty much into our third week now of high numbers" after Thanksgiving, when many people are thought to have gathered indoors with others from outside their homes for extended periods of time, which public health experts say is the most likely way to spread the virus.
The city was averaging fewer than 125 new cases per day in the weeks before Thanksgiving. Starting five days after the holiday, Boston has been seeing more than 500 new cases per day, according to Walsh.
Looking ahead to the holidays, Walsh said he doesn't want people's behavior to contribute to a new spike.
"I'm really concerned about the holiday travel, I'm really concerned about holiday parties, I'm concerned about house parties," he said. "I'm concerned about seeing these numbers go up every day."
He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts have said January and February could be the worst months of the entire pandemic, and everything they've said so far has come to fruition.
"We've seen increases in November and December. Our numbers for December are pretty high and January, February's not here yet," the mayor said. "Coming off the heels of Christmas and the holiday season we could see really bad numbers here."
That would mean more deaths, more hospitalizations, and possibly additional restrictions. Walsh noted that New York City and Philadelphia have already decided to ban indoor dining, a step that Boston has yet to take.
"I'm sounding the alarm, letting people know the seriousness of this," he said. "This is serious. This is real concerning."
The Associated Press and State House News Service contributed to this report.