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Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration released what COVID-19 public health metrics officials want to see before Wu will lift the city’s “B Together” policy that requires patrons and staff of certain indoor spaces to present proof of vaccination against the contagious virus.
“The data makes clear that Boston’s policies to boost vaccination and public health have been working, and we are coming down from the recent Omicron-driven surge,” Wu said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m encouraged by the current trends and grateful to the Boston Public Health Commission and all our partners for strong leadership to keep us heading in the right direction.”
COVID-19 cases have been dropping sharply across Massachusetts in recent weeks — as much as a 44 percent week-over-week decline in data released last Thursday.
The Boston-area wastewater data that’s become a window into forthcoming virus trends has reflected that decline as well, with levels of coronavirus RNA copies per milliliter collected from the city’s northern and southern suburbs falling to levels similar to those seen in late November.
Wu, on Tuesday, said she would lift the controversial proof-of-vaccination policy that applies to places such as indoor restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms, and entertainment venues if the city’s COVID data fell below certain thresholds.
Specifically, Boston would need to achieve:
Boston has already fallen below the ICU bed threshold.
As of Tuesday, 91.3 percent of the city’s ICU beds were occupied.
According to Wu, the city’s positivity rate was a bit above 7 percent, while daily hospitalizations stood at 387 patients.
The vaccine mandate took hold last month, when individuals over the age of 12 had to show proof of at least one dose of vaccine. Under the rule, that same demographic will have to show proof of full vaccination, or two doses, beginning on Feb. 15.
Later phases of the policy, if necessary, will require children ages 5 through 11 to show proof of one dose of vaccine starting on March 1, and then proof of having received two doses beginning on May 1.
Even if the mandate is lifted, the BPHC will have the authority to reinstate the vaccination requirement during future surges, according to Wu’s office.
“The City of Boston’s COVID-19 response has always been driven by science and data, and we will remain ready to adjust our strategy, guidance, and requirements as needed to keep everyone safe,” Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, commissioner of public health and executive director of the BPHC, said in a statement.
Several cities and towns around Massachusetts are beginning to lift their respective indoor mask mandates.
On Monday, Worcester health officials narrowly voted to rescind their city’s version of the rule, effective Feb. 18, as COVID cases decline.
Workplaces and colleges in the commonwealth’s second-largest city that have a vaccination rate of over 90 percent will be exempt from the mask regulation starting on Tuesday, GBH reports.
“It’s safe now to not require our residents in the city to wear masks,” board member Gary Rosen said. “There comes a time when our government can say to us, ‘You’re safe.’”
The mask mandate, however, does not apply to Worcester’s K-12 public and private schools.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced last month it would continue requiring masks in schools through Feb. 28, although schools that have over 80 percent of their students and staff vaccinated may be exempt.
Masks are also required on public transportation, per state and federal regulations.
Still, a growing number of communities are dropping indoor masking rules. Worcester joins Lowell, Beverly, and Mansfield in making the shift away from face coverings, while officials in both Sudbury and Salem are slated to consider following suit on Tuesday, according to GBH.
On Monday, governors in Delaware and New Jersey announced they plan to end mask mandates in their school systems next month.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker did not say when exactly Bay State schools could see similar action, but said the timelines in both Delaware and New Jersey were “pretty consistent” with the commonwealth’s policy, the State House News Service reports.
“It’s anticipated, obviously, that at some point in the not-too-distant future the commissioner [of elementary and secondary education, Jeff Riley] will have more to say about that,” Baker said.
As for Boston, Wu said Tuesday the city is “not yet there” when it comes to lifting its own mask mandate.
On Wednesday, Boston city councilors Frank Baker and Erin Murphy plan to file a hearing order to discuss what data city officials should use to determine whether it’s necessary to continue the city’s nearly two-year-long state of emergency.
The emergency order took hold in March 2020 and, as the councilors note, brought in temporary powers for City Hall, such as the suspension of collective bargaining rights, contract obligations, and private business and individual rights.
“I would argue that … the situation with COVID has drastically changed,” Frank Baker said at a council meeting last week.
The BPHC can declare a state of emergency “based on objective public health data,” reads a press release from Frank Baker’s office.
“When the state of emergency was declared in March 2020, the former Mayor (Marty Walsh) held a daily meeting with the council, public health and safety representatives to update and review data, metrics, and crisis interventions,” Frank Baker said in a statement Monday. “While we have remained in a state of emergency, there has been no communication with the council on the mandates put into effect, under the current mayor.
“The Boston Public Health Commission Board has not held any public discussions, nor have they taken a vote on these mandates unlike select and health boards in cities and towns across the commonwealth, who have contemplated similar measures,” the councilor added.
Murphy said councilors “need to restore the public’s understanding, trust, and confidence.”
The hearing order states councilors want to discuss the status of the state emergency and the rationale for continuing it.
Last week, Murphy filed an order to discuss changes to the memorandum of agreement with unionized city workers as the Wu administration pursues an oft-criticized mandate for public employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
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