Mayor Martin J. Walsh addresses the coronavirus crisis
As prepared for delivery
Good evening. I know that many people are feeling fear and anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. That’s entirely understandable. This is an unprecedented situation, both in the nature of the public health challenge and in the steps we are taking to protect our residents.
So tonight I want to talk to you: about what our City has done to be prepared; how we’ll continue to work together to keep the people of Boston healthy and safe; and what this crisis demands of each and every one of us, individually and together, as we move forward.
Make no mistake, this is a serious situation. But we are blessed in Boston with some of the world’s brightest minds in medicine. Teams at City Hall, and across our communities, are working around the clock to plan and support every phase of life in our city. And I want you to know: we are not powerless and you are not alone.
Here are the facts. To date, 218 residents of Massachusetts have tested positive for the coronavirus. 42 of those cases are here in Boston. Public health officials expect those numbers to increase in the near future, but with knowledge and collective action, we can slow that growth. The most common symptoms of coronavirus are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Most people recover by managing their symptoms at home. If you think you are getting sick, isolate yourself from others, and call your healthcare provider, or call 3-1-1 to talk to the Mayor’s Health Line.
But, and this is important: older adults and people of any age with certain health conditions are at greater risk for severe complications, including pneumonia and bronchitis. And any one of us could put them at risk. That’s why we’re working so hard to slow the spread of this virus, and why we’re asking every single resident to help, no matter your age or your health status. The actions all of us take now will save lives.
So keep thoroughly washing and sanitizing your hands frequently throughout the day. Keep wiping down surfaces with disinfectant. Keep covering your cough and sneeze. And above all, avoid crowds, maintain a distance of at least six feet from other people, and stay home as much as possible. It’s okay to go out for a walk, get fresh air, and clear your mind. But remember, this is not a time for house parties, play dates, or visiting with friends. We need everyone to limit their contact with each other right now.
This is the social distancing that we are learning to practice together as a city. It’s a new situation for our city, but it’s a known solution to the challenge we face. And I want to be very clear about how it works: social distancing is not only for people in high-risk categories. This is everyone’s responsibility, because anyone can catch and spread this virus. It’s especially important for younger, healthy people to think beyond your own personal concerns.
Think instead of the power, and responsibility, that each of us has: to protect the people, especially the most vulnerable, we share our city with.
You may have heard about “flattening the curve.” That’s what this is all about. We will see the numbers increase in the coming days. But we can prevent the kind of spike that could cause our health care system to be overwhelmed. With social distancing, we can slow the spread and give our world-class medical providers the time and resources they need to treat everyone who needs care. We simply need everyone’s help.
That’s how we’ll get through this. That’s how we’ll get life back to normal in our city. And that’s what we’re doing.
In the City of Boston, we’ve taken early and decisive action. The Boston Public Health Commission has been on this situation since early January: monitoring all cases, informing our response, and maintaining constant contact with our partners in government and healthcare.
To give us the ability to respond quickly with resources and coordination, we have declared a Public Health Emergency in the City of Boston, joining similar declarations by Federal and state governments.
To keep you informed and supported, we created a web page, Boston.gov/coronavirus. And please share information only from trusted sources. To protect our communities, we canceled all City events involving more than 25 people and all the major sports organizations put their schedules on hold.
To protect our children and all our residents, we closed the Boston Public Schools. And we created a plan to keep all 53,000 students fed and engaged with learning activities for up to six weeks out of school. To protect our families, we closed all our City gyms and pools. We closed every branch of the Boston Public Library. We have thousands of ebooks, audio books, and movies free online for you. Visit BPL.org to learn more.
To protect workers, we’ve ordered a pause to construction, with the exception of essential safety related projects. We’re lifting regulations to allow all restaurants to offer take-out and delivery. And we’re ready to help any establishment get set up with a delivery service.
And, at City Hall, we will only have employees on-site who are critical to the operations of the City. We’re going to keep picking up the trash and recycling. We’re going to continue cleaning in our streets; but we’re not ticketing or towing cars for street cleaning. We’re going to keep cleaning our parks. We’re going to keep coordinating food access for our children and families. We’re going to keep reaching out to support our seniors. We’re going to keep serving our veterans, our immigrant communities, and our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. And our first responders are working and on duty, because safety is our top priority.
I want to thank all of our dedicated public employees for their service to the people of Boston in this very difficult time. I want to say a special word about our seniors. Last week, I called my mother. I said: Mum, I want you to be very careful. This is serious. You have to wash your hands all throughout the day, and use hand sanitizer. No hugs or kisses for the nieces and nephews. In fact, they shouldn’t come over for a while. You need to keep your distance from people. If you need anything from the store, I’ll pick it up for you. She’s going to miss the company of friends and family, for now. But they’re going to talk on the phone.
I know I’m not the only one having this conversation. It really hit home for me, what our seniors and their families are going through right now. So I want to let you know we are thinking of you.
Our Age Strong Commission is reaching out to senior buildings and service providers, and sending phone messages with clear information in multiple languages. We are working to continue the in-home services that many seniors rely on, including groceries and Meals on Wheels. And we are working to ensure that home health care workers and personal care attendants have the materials they need. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are not allowing visitors. It’s important that we adhere to that.
And it’s important that everyone who is interacting with seniors, take precautions. Wash with soap, sanitize, and disinfect. Keep your distance.
I want all our seniors and their families to know, we are here for you. If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to call 3-1-1 and talk to our Age Strong Commission.
This is why social distancing is so important right now. It will help our hospitals care for those most in need. It will help protect everyone.
I know many people have questions about what’s next, and whether we are going to have a shelter-in-place order, as we’ve seen in some other parts of the country and the world. We are not currently at that point. But we are monitoring the situation closely. It is not a decision that should be made lightly, or in isolation. For that reason I am, and will continue to be, in conversation with the Governor and state officials.
Ultimately, we will do what’s best for the health and wellbeing of the people of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But right now, every single one of us has a role to play. Every single one of us is impacting what happens moving forward. So I am asking you tonight: follow the precautions we are recommending. This is not someone else’s responsibility: it’s yours; it’s mine; it’s ours.
I also know, none of this is easy. Our routines are suddenly interrupted. Our plans are put on hold. We’re missing people and feeling lonely. Some working people are losing paychecks, worried about bills, and struggling with childcare. And through it all: many of the people we want to wrap our arms around the most, are the very people we must keep at arm’s length, for their own safety.
These experiences present unique challenges to the shared strength and solidarity that we need in times like this. How do we come together, so that social distance doesn’t become social isolation? How do we draw on our shared strength, if we can’t share space? How do we take care of each other, lift each other’s spirits, and get through this together as one Boston?
I’ve seen the answer growing in our city, faster than a virus can spread. Bostonians are coming together in a thousand ways, to take care of our most vulnerable neighbors. City agencies and nonprofits who serve the homeless are implementing plans to prevent the virus from spreading in shelters. And we have identified safe sites where we can test and treat people who have symptoms.
We worked with housing advocates, property owners, and the Boston Housing Authority, to halt all eviction proceedings until the crisis is over. We’re in talks with lenders and landlords to prevent loan defaults and evictions for small businesses. Utility providers are agreeing to suspend service shut-offs.
We have spoken to grocery store chains who assured us that the supply chain is strong, shelves are being restocked, and home delivery will continue. And I want to thank Stop & Shop for putting on special morning hours just for seniors. I encourage all stores to do the same.
Our school plan is bringing Chromebooks and internet access into the homes of thousands of children and families. Nonprofits and city agencies are mobilizing food access points across our city. Everyday residents and small businesses are reaching out to my office and to their neighbors, with offers of food and resources.
We’ve seen people postpone elective surgeries, in order to free up hospital beds. Workers are taking extra shifts to clean and sanitize workplaces and public areas.
And over a dozen companies and donors have come together, with the City, to form the Boston Resiliency Fund: a resource to feed children, seniors, low-income workers, and families in need; and to provide child care to first responders and healthcare personnel who are staying on the job to protect us, while their children are home.
In 24 hours, we raised over $10 million from nearly 500 donations. And our goal, with everyone’s help, is to reach $20 million for the people of Boston. I want to encourage everyone to take hope from this moment in our city, from this new chapter in the story of Boston. Anyone can be part of it. And everyone should be part of it. Simply by choosing to practice social distancing, you are already showing you care about your neighbor and your city.
I want to thank you. And I want to encourage everyone to go one step further.
Reach out to a neighbor, to a senior, to someone with a medical condition, to a parent with children, to anyone who could use a word of support or a connection to a resource. By phone call, text, email, video chat, or just a smile across the hallway or the yard. Let them know they are not alone. You might be surprised what it does for your own stress.
I learned in my own recovery that to keep your peace of mind, sometimes you’ve got to share it with someone else. And you can get through anything, one day at a time.
Let’s make those habits part of our new routine. We’re going to be feeling the social and economic impacts of this crisis for some time. So we’re going to have to keep relying on each other.
These are not ordinary times in our city. But there is nothing ordinary about Boston. Bostonians are resilient, forged in hard times and committed to higher purpose. We are being tested again. But just look at who we are and the strength we possess.
We are medical professionals who heal and care for the sick. We are police, fire, and EMTs rushing to help wherever there is suffering. We are teachers and childcare workers who devote their lives to young people. We are veterans who made immense sacrifices for the greater good. We are construction workers who build hospitals, schools, fire houses, homes, and workplaces. We are custodians, parks workers, grocery store clerks, small business owners: people suddenly on the front lines of a crisis, stepping forward without reservation to help.
We are immigrants who survived long, difficult journeys. We are an LGBT community who showed us how to come together to fight an epidemic. We are people in recovery from addiction. We are people of faith. And we are the seniors who paved the way for all of us. We are a city of miracles and comebacks. There’s nothing we can’t do when we stand together. We’ve faced frightening situations before, and learned what it means to be Boston Strong.
That’s the strength we need right now. And that’s what’s so meaningful about this fight. It’s never been more clear: we need each other. We depend on each other. Every one of us has equal value. Every one of us has a purpose. And every single Bostonian has a role to play, to do your part and defend our city. We have been knocked down before. But we always get back up. And with vigilance and patience, with empathy and love, we will get through this, together.
God bless you, God bless the City of Boston, God bless the United States of America.