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As COVID-19 cases rise again, Mayor Michelle Wu is urging Boston Marathon participants and spectators to take personal health precautions when they turn out for Monday’s race.
On Sunday, just over a week before Marathon Day, the city’s community positivity rate reached 5.9 percent — comfortably above the threshold of 5 percent set by the city’s public health leaders.
Wu, at a press conference outlining marathon security and safety procedures on Tuesday, said the rate hung at 5.4 percent.
“We are monitoring that very carefully,” Wu told reporters. “So it’s important that we take steps to protect ourselves and those around us who might be at high risk of severe infection.”
Boston is expecting to welcome some 30,000 people — from all 50 states and nearly 100 countries — this weekend, as the historic race returns to its traditional spring date for the first time since 2019. (The 2021 Boston Marathon was held in October due to the ongoing pandemic, and the 2020 race was canceled.)
The race also arrives weeks after the city’s two-year-long declared public health emergency lifted on April 1.
Wu suggested, for the safety or residents and others, marathon participants and spectators take precautions, such as masking up.
But the city currently has no pandemic-related mandates in place.
Boston’s indoor masking and indoor vaccination requirements were lifted in March and February, respectively, as cases dropped following the mid-winter surge fueled by the omicron variant.
City officials ended the proof-of-vaccination mandate for indoor establishments based on three metrics thresholds: that less than 95 percent of ICU beds are occupied, that there are fewer than 200 COVID-19 hospitalizations per day, and that the community positivity rate is below 5 percent on the seven-day moving average.
Although case counts have again crossed the positivity rate marker, the latest data from the Boston Public Health Commission shows the city has not crossed the two other thresholds.
As of Monday, there were 68.9 hospitalizations per day, and 88.7 percent of the city’s ICU beds were occupied.
“We’re not there yet on those metrics, and we’re just watching the numbers there,” Wu said. “There have been fluctuations up and down. So we want to just see where this is going and make sure that it’s not headed on a continued upward trend.”
New COVID cases in Massachusetts are likely due to the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, which has become the dominant variant of the virus in recent weeks.
The latest virus uptick prompted officials in Philadelphia recently to reinstate a mask mandate, making the city the first major hub in the country to return to the rule this spring.
In Boston, Wu said the “largest chunk” of new cases are among people between the ages of 20 and 40. Notably, though, upswells in virus activity can take some time to be reflected in the city’s official virus metrics.
Wu said health leaders are also monitoring COVID’s presence in area wastewater, a data set that’s become a helpful early indicator — almost a precursor — of COVID trends during the pandemic.
The latest wastewater data shows a rise in COVID in Greater Boston, but experts have disagreed about whether the trend signifies a surge or if the bump is simply a blip.
“Really our best leading indicator is the wastewater data and we’ve seen a pretty big increase, over 100 percent increase, from today compared to two weeks ago,” Wu said. “And so we know that there’s continued transmission out in the community.”
Wu advised marathon-goers to wear masks “if you are at all concerned or if you personally are at higher risk.” People who are sick should isolate at home, she said.
Additionally, Wu highlighted individuals can be tested for COVID before or after the race at the city’s several, free testing locations.
“Even outdoors when many, many people are crowded together, it is a situation where we want everyone just to be aware,” Wu said. “And so if you are able to take a test before you attend, especially if you’re going to a party or a more crowded situation or an indoor event, that always helps.”
In the wake of a shooting that left at least 10 people critically injured on a New York City subway on Tuesday morning, Boston authorities said they have boosted police presence at MBTA stations for the next several days.
“In the short term you can expect to see an increased police presence around MBTA stations the next couple of days through the weekend,” acting Boston Police Commissioner Gregory Long said. “In terms of Monday, depending on what kind of information we have and intelligence, we’ll adjust our assets accordingly around the marathon.”
Long said there were no credible safety threats in Boston as of Tuesday, but reminded the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity.
MBTA Transit Police Chief Kenneth Green said the city’s transit system is “absolutely” safe.
“The MBTA does millions of trips per day, you know, safely,” Green said.
Several officials on Tuesday expressed support, thoughts, and prayers for victims in the New York attack.
“We in Boston and New York are separated by rivalries here and there, but when it comes to something happening we are united and we send them all the strength and resilience — that being something that we have always shared and will continue to share,” said Tom Grilk, president and CEO of the Boston Athletic Association.
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