BOSTON — Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he is afraid that the city will see a second surge in COVID-19 cases during a live appearance on WCVB’s “On the Record.”
Walsh said his concern is due to the large protests in Boston over the death of George Floyd. Some of those demonstrations have drawn thousands of people, who were offered face coverings by city workers while the protests were happening, according to the mayor.
He is also worried about the loosening of certain coronavirus-related restrictions during Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening plan, which is set to begin Monday.
“My concern is that we’re going to have a second spike,” Walsh said Sunday. “Everyone is talking about this second surge that could be bigger, and that will have long-lasting impacts, as well, in our society. I’m just going to ask people to, please, wear your masks, do social distancing (and) do physical distancing.”
On Saturday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that Phase 2 would launch on Monday, June 8, which is the earliest date that it could have started. When Phase 2 begins, restaurants will be able to serve diners outdoors and retailers can allow customers back inside for browsing, with capacity limits and other precautions in place.
Walsh acknowledged that people want to get back to a “new normal” given the outrage expressed over Floyd’s death, but urged people not to let their guard down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to be very careful,” Walsh said.
Restaurants across the Commonwealth have been working for days and weeks to prepare makeshift eating areas that will conform to the guidelines issued by the state. Dining service can only be offered outdoors and tables must be at least six feet apart, unless there are protective barriers between them, such as plexiglass dividers. It also requires no more than six people be seated at any one table and that everyone must wear face masks until seated.
Walsh said city officials have been working hard with Boston restaurant owners to make policy changes that would allow those establishments to offer more outdoor dining space.
“I think what we’re going to see in Boston is a lot different look and feel for restaurants, eventually having a lot more outdoor dining,” Walsh said.
The mayor did acknowledge that Boston residents and businesses may have to operate under different reopening rules going forward than those who live outside the city.
“We have in certain cases (recently) and there’s probably other cases we’re going to look at,” Walsh said. “I’ve been in touch with my team, because we have continued to stay focused on COVID-19. We’re looking at how we move forward on some of the spas, day cares and camps, and how we make sure that if we open, we open safely.”
In addition, Walsh discussed the violence that broke out in the city on May 31 after a day of peaceful protests over the death of Floyd, a black man who died on Memorial Day after being pinned to the ground by the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Tens of thousands of people peacefully demonstrated in Boston that day, but destruction and looting filled the city’s downtown streets for several hours that night.
“This is something that shouldn’t happen. It’s an embarrassment,” Walsh said. “It’s terrible what’s happened, not just here in Boston, but in New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and other places.”
The Boston Police Department was forced to call in reinforcements from the National Guard, the Massachusetts State Police and officers from surrounding communities. Police said 53 people were arrested and at least nine officers were transported to area hospitals to receive treatment for injuries.
Walsh said he did not want to discuss the violence and looting at length because he believes the peaceful protesters’ message will get lost.
“What I’ve watched all week long on TV … the focus has all been on violence,” he said. “Really, the focus needs to be on the issue: the racism and the feeling that people have.
“Elected officials have been responding to (the issue), but not fully having a deep, comprehensive look. There’s an opportunity here and people are asking us to do more than just sign an executive order. They’re asking us to make real, substantive change. That’s what we need to do and we need to collectively work together.”
Walsh said he will be discussing possible reform with the Boston Police Department, but said arbitrarily cutting the department’s budget, like some have called for, is not the answer.