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Safety guidelines issued for residents as coldest weather of the season arrives

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Public Health Commission

Update: BCYF Mildred Avenue in Mattapan lost its heat, but we still have 12 BCYF community centers open as warming centers on Saturday, January 30, from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. You can find those sites listed below.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh today shared a set of tips and guidelines for residents to manage this weekend's bitterly cold weather. Boston is experiencing sub-zero wind chill temperatures through Sunday, January 31. This weekend's temperatures meet the thresholds for activating the use of warming centers in the city in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines. 

"We want to ensure that every Boston resident stays warm and safe with the bitter cold weather this weekend," said Mayor Walsh. "It is essential that we support and look out for each other, while also making sure we are observing COVID-19 public health guidelines. Please continue to wear a face covering, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, and avoid crowds as we brave these cold temperatures. I urge Bostonians to call 911 if they see someone in distress, as we are here to help and make sure people are safe."

Wind chill values today are predicted to be as low as -8 degrees Fahrenheit, expected to be as low as -7 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, before rising to above freezing temperatures. The City is also tracking and monitoring a possible winter storm that's expected to arrive late Monday into early Tuesday, and preparations are being made to support the needs of Boston residents.

Warming centers are open today from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Due to COVID-19 public health regulations, all warming center visitors will be screened for symptoms before entry, must wear a face covering (covering both the nose and mouth), maintain 6 feet of distance from others, and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Visitors must bring their own water bottles, and must limit belongings to one small bag. Occupancy will be monitored to ensure it doesn't exceed 25 percent of the building's maximum permitted occupancy to maintain proper distancing. The spaces will be cleaned and disinfected hourly. The locations of the warming centers include:

  • Allston/Brighton: BCYF Jackson-Mann Community Center, 500 Cambridge St., Allston
  • Charlestown: BCYF Charlestown Community Center, 255 Medford St., Charlestown 
  • Dorchester: BCYF Holland Community Center, 85 Olney St., Dorchester
  • East Boston: BCYF Paris Street Community Center, 112 Paris St., East Boston
  • Hyde Park: BCYF Hyde Park Community Center, 1179 River St., Hyde Park
  • Jamaica Plain: BCYF Curtis Hall Community Center, 20 South St., Jamaica Plain 
  • North End: BCYF Nazzaro Community Center, 30 N. Bennet St., Boston
  • Roslindale: BCYF Menino Community Center, 125 Brookway Rd., Roslindale 
  • Roxbury: BCYF Tobin Community Center,1481 Tremont St., Boston
  • South Boston: BCYF Condon Community Center, 200 D St., S. Boston
  • South End: BCYF Blackstone Community Center, 50 West Brookline Street, Boston
  • West Roxbury: BCYF Roche Community Center,1716 Centre St., West Roxbury

Warming centers map

Mayor Walsh advised residents to take precautions as the weather persists throughout the weekend, reminding them especially to check in on older adults, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness. If you see homeless and vulnerable individuals out in the cold who appear immobile, disoriented or underdressed for the cold, please call 911. If residents are aware of anyone staying in a vehicle or a place not intended for living during these extreme cold temperatures, they are encouraged to call 911 as well.

The Mayor encouraged all persons in shelters, auxiliary sites and families with young children to stay indoors and avoid the extremely cold weather. Additionally, the Mayor announced other precautions the city is putting in place to protect residents from the cold weather:

  • Three mobile outreach vehicles on the street in the daytime at the Pine Street Inn. Further outreach will be provided by other agencies downtown and in the Back Bay.
  • A van provided by The City of Boston Office of Recovery Services to help persons in need access the  Engagement Center, the PAATHS Program and Emergency Shelters from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
  • The 24/7 opening of all adult emergency shelters and winter overflow sites began Thursday night and will extend through the weekend. The Boston Police Department (BPD) is making announcements on every shift for officers and all personnel to be on the lookout for vulnerable people on the streets. BPD will conduct wellness checks or assist with transportation to available shelters and coordinate with emergency medical personnel for unsheltered homeless persons in distress. 
  • The BPD Street Outreach Unit will be available as a resource to assist the districts, outreach providers and 911 dispatch as needed.  
  • The MBTA will similarly make announcements on every shift for MBTA Police officers and transportation personnel to be on the lookout for vulnerable people. The agency will have extra officers on duty who will make vehicles available to provide transportation to shelter or to contact emergency medical personnel for unsheltered homeless persons in distress.

Key safety tips include:

Dress for the weather:

  • Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, residents are required to wear face masks or cloth face coverings in all public places, whether indoors or outdoors, even when they are able to maintain 6 feet of distance from others. 
  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing.
  • Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  • Wear mittens over gloves; layering works for your hands as well.
  • Always wear a hat and cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.  
  • Dress children warmly and set reasonable time limits on outdoor play.
  • Restrict infants' outdoor exposure when it is colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Watch for signs of frostbite:

  • Signs of frostbite include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.

Watch for signs of hypothermia:

  • These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If you or someone you know shows any of these symptoms, contact a healthcare provider immediately. If symptoms are severe, call 911.

Heating guidelines for property owners and tenants:

  • In accordance with the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code, the heating season officially begins on September 15 and runs through June 15. Property owners must heat habitable spaces at a minimum temperature of 68 degrees between 7 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. and 64 degrees between 11:01 p.m. and 6:59 a.m.
  • In case of emergency, property owners are encouraged to keep a list of licensed contractors (electrician, plumber and general contractor) on file. Tenants experiencing problems with their heating system should check the thermostat, ensure the dial is turned on, and report insufficient or no heat problems to the property owner or manager immediately.
  • If your landlord or property manager is unresponsive, call 311 to file a complaint.

Heating safety:

  • Never try to heat your home using a charcoal or gas grill, a kitchen stove, or other product not specifically designed as a heater. These can cause a fire or produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide very quickly. 
  • Have your heating system cleaned and checked annually.
  • Install and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas produced whenever any fuel is burned. Common sources include oil or gas furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, stoves, and some space heaters. It has no smell, taste, or color. It is poisonous and can be deadly.

Tips to keep water flowing and pipes unfrozen during extreme cold:

  • The Boston Water and Sewer Commission recommends homeowners locate a home's main water shut off valve, and learn how to use it. Should a frozen pipe burst, shutting the main valve quickly will minimize flooding and property damage.
  • Homeowners should insulate pipes in unheated areas like basements, garages and crawl spaces. Use inexpensive hardware store materials to prevent pipes from freezing and to keep warm water flowing.
  • Circulate warm air around pipes by keeping cabinet doors open. Circulate a trickle of tap water through pipes during extreme cold to help prevent them freezing up.
  • Locate your water meter, protect it from drafts, and make sure basement doors and windows are shut tight.
  • If pipes do freeze, slowly thaw them with a hair dryer, if possible. If water is lost in all taps, call BWSC 24-hour Emergency Assistance Line at 617-989-7000.  

Emergency home repair resources: 

  • Income-eligible homeowners and Boston's residents over age 60 can receive assistance with winter emergencies and repairs, such as fixing storm damage, leaking roofs, furnaces and leaking/frozen pipes. For assistance, residents should call the Mayor's hotline at 311 or the Boston Home Center at 617-635-HOME (4663).   
  • In addition, the Mayor's Seniors Save program helps income eligible Bostonians over the age of 60 replace old, inefficient heating systems with a new brand new heating system, even before a failure occurs during the cold winter months. Older adults can also call 311 or the Boston Home Center at 617-635-HOME (4663) to be connected with a City staffer to provide additional details.   

For emergency alerts, including cold-weather alerts, residents are encouraged to sign up for Alert Boston. For more information, please visit the Winter in Boston guide and follow @CityofBoston on Twitter.