Beginning next month a range of businesses in Boston like gyms and movie theaters that have been closed since mid-December will be allowed to reopen as public health officials said they've observed improving health conditions in the city, Mayor Marty Walsh said Tuesday.
At a City Hall news conference, Walsh said he would extend business restrictions put in place on Dec. 15 in response to a post-Thanksgiving surge of COVID-19 through the end of the month, but allow shuttered business to reopen on Monday, Feb. 1.
"We will only move forward with reopening if the public health expects feel it is safe to do so, so we all have a role to play," Walsh said.
The decision to begin reopening parts of the city economy comes the same week Gov. Charlie Baker lifted his stay-at-home advisory and curfew for businesses like restaurants. To deal with the holiday surge last month, Walsh imposed even more severe restrictions than the state on businesses, moving the city back to Phase 2, Step 2 of the statewide reopening plan.
By allowing the city to move forward again to Phase 3, Step 1 at the start of February, Walsh is giving the go-ahead to a wide range of businesses to reopen, including indoor fitness centers and health centers, movie theaters, the aquarium, museums, indoor recreation and athletic facilities, batting cages, rock climbing, bus tours, duck tours, harbor cruises, whale watches, indoor event spaces, and indoor and outdoor arcades.
All the businesses will still be subject to the 25 percent capacity limits imposed by the state, as well as the 10-person indoor and 25-person outdoor limit for public and private event spaces.
Walsh, who is preparing to join the Biden administration as labor secretary, said the 7.2 percent positive test rate in the city is down over the past week from 7.5 percent, and the incidence rate of new cases is decreasing in every neighborhood. While it's still "too high for where we want to be right now," he said the health metrics have been moving in the right direction.
"While there's been some improvement in recent weeks, it's still vital that everyone remains vigilant," Walsh said.
The city reported 360 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and five new deaths from the virus, bringing its totals for the pandemic to 51,506 cases and 1,133 deaths.
"We've seen a little bit of improvement in our cases," said Boston's Health and Human Service Chief Marty Martinez. "We’ve seen some improvement in our positivity. We've seen a decrease in hospitalizations. The state has seen that across the Commonwealth, and we are seeing that in the city of Boston."
Walsh and Martinez highlighted the city's efforts to increase available testing sites and clinics for eligible residents to get vaccinated, including mass vaccination sites at Fenway Park and the Reggie Lewis Center that will open in the coming weeks.
"The city is supporting the state's vaccine rollout," Walsh said.
Baker announced the Reggie Lewis Center on Monday as one of three new mass vaccination sites, and when it opens the first week of February it will be the second in Boston. Baker also announced state plans to substantially build on the number of smaller vaccination sites, and Walsh said it will be important, especially in communities of color where there remains deep pockets of skepticism about the vaccine, to get the shot.
"We're making clear to people the vaccine is safe, it's free and it's one of the best ways to protect yourselves and loved ones," Walsh said, noting that minority neighborhoods in Boston have had among the highest rates of infection in the city.
"It's the best tool we have to put this pandemic behind us and begin to heal as a city," Walsh said about the vaccine.
Walsh also noted that the Strand Theater in Dorchester has opened as of Monday as a testing site, and will be open for testing Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"I'm proud of the way we're using this space to meet the needs of the community in difficult times," Walsh said.