Despite pleas from local leaders, house parties in Boston have continued on during the coronavirus pandemic.
Complaints of loud gatherings, with residents worried about everything from noise to the potential of a virus “superspreader” event in their own backyards, have rolled into the city’s 311 system from all corners of the Hub in recent weeks.
City Councilor Ed Flynn recently told The Boston Globe Boston police responded to over 200 calls concerning loud parties in September in his district alone.
Now, city officials say they’ll crack down.
“If we don’t do what we need to do and we don’t start to take responsibility as individuals, we’re going to be in a potential case where I have to stand at this podium and talk about shutting down the city again,” Mayor Marty Walsh said Thursday during a press conference on the city’s pandemic response. “I don’t think I have to explain to anyone the implications of having to shut down the City of Boston again.”
After weeks of calling on residents to hold off on the boisterous gatherings, Walsh said a team of city departments — from health experts to inspection and parks officials and police — are mapping out “probably … some type of fine” for those who violate COVID-19 protocols.
“If this doesn’t stop, we have to –” Walsh said, before cutting himself off. “It didn’t stop, so we’re at the next step now.”
While the forthcoming penalties will be aimed at partiers, Walsh noted the city is also looking into other violations, such as unauthorized activities in parks and public events. The eventual rollout will also include “spot checks” to make sure businesses are following safety regulations, he said.
Many sports games at public parks are currently being held without permits, Walsh said. The city will shut down parks if needed, he added.
“Our team is also giving special attention to gatherings at house parties that are putting other people at risk. We continue to get reports of house parties in South Boston as well as other neighborhoods in the City of Boston,” Walsh said. “We’re in conversations with elected officials who have expressed their concern and the neighbors who have called them, quite honestly, about their fear of these large gatherings. We are tracing locations where house parties continue to happen and will be working through Inspectional Services to curtail these events that are happening and house parties.”
Walsh’s announcement comes after Flynn, the District 2 councilor who represents portions of South Boston, the South End, Chinatown, and Beacon Hill, indicated he plans to file a hearing order at a council meeting next week that seeks to discuss how Boston can more strictly enforce coronavirus policies.
Under an order by Gov. Charlie Baker, all indoor gatherings are limited to 25 people in an enclosed space, while outdoor gatherings at private residences are capped at 50 people. The policy allows for towns and cities to issue fines of up to $300 for each violation.
“As we continue to hear these reports of house parties, we need to talk about stricter enforcement of the Governor’s order and further mechanisms to disincentive people from having large parties, including increasing the fines on repeat offenders,” Flynn’s hearing order reads.
Boston has seen a flare-up of coronavirus cases and its citywide positive test rate in recent weeks, placing it within the “red zone” — the high-risk category as designated by the state Department of Health.
Walsh on Thursday highlighted how approximately half of the city’s confirmed cases have lately been recorded among people under the age of 30.
The mayor pointed to a report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that in 767 hotspot counties across the country in June and July, increases in the percent positivity rate among people ages 24 or younger were later followed by an uptick in the rate for older people.
“Addressing transmission among young adults is an urgent public health priority,” the report says.
Boston’s citywide positivity rate was 4.4 percent between Oct. 4 and 10. For 12 to 16 weeks earlier this year, that rate hovered between 1.8 and 2.8 percent.
“So if you’re thinking about going to a party, just don’t think about the people at the party,” Walsh said. “Think about all the people that everyone at the party has been in contact with and that you will be in contact with. Think about the person a month later who gets sick and potentially loses their life and their family won’t be able to visit them again.”
Last week, Flynn met via Zoom with South Boston residents, who detailed the raucous parties they’ve seen in the neighborhood lately.
Good discussion last night w #southie neighbors re concerns of house parties, potential #COVID19 superspreader events, quality of life. Please call @bostonpolice 911, email Aisha Miller @ISDBoston re problem property investigation. Filed hearing order @BOSCityCouncil. #bospoli pic.twitter.com/YY3rB3jUf2
— Ed Flynn 愛德華費連 (@EdforBoston) October 8, 2020
“Huge party in the backyard…,” one complaint about a party on East Second Street in South Boston filed last weekend in 311 reads. “so much for COVID.”
Reports of other incidents mention a lack of mask-wearing or people crammed into areas, thereby failing to adhere to physical distancing protocols.
In East Boston, one person wrote this of a reported gathering on Leyden Street: “Another Saturday night another after hours party. THIS IS A NIGHT CLUB!!! There is a door man. No social distancing no masks. Car loads of people dropped off. Multiple 911 calls placed and nothing has been done. Where is inspectional services?”
Walsh said Thursday residents can call 911 to report parties. Flynn has urged constituents to report repeated offenders to the Inspectional Services Department, so officials can investigate it and potentially put it on the city’s “problem properties” list.
“If we don’t get there immediately, we will be following up with the tenants in the apartment, with the homeowner of the apartment, and with the overall neighborhood,” Walsh said.
With details of what exactly the city’s new fines and enforcement system could look like still being hammered out, Walsh didn’t offer specifics on the approach. But the mayor said fines could potentially be issued to both tenants and the landlord of a given property, and could be issued in addition to existing fines.
“Not going to a party is a small sacrifice. It’s a small sacrifice to pay for later on down the road for larger gain,” Walsh said. “Time will pass. We will have parties again….But right now we’re at a very critical point in where we are with coronavirus.”
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