Boston Mayor Marty Walsh repeated his call on Tuesday for city residents to stay vigilant over Christmas and New Year's, with coronavirus a constant threat when people look to be close to their loved ones the most.
The city will comply with new restrictions set to go into effect across Massachusetts on Saturday, which is Boxing Day, Walsh said at a briefing on the city's fight against the pandemic in Faneuil Hall. The mayor and Gov. Charlie Baker have long warned about gatherings over the holidays as a way COVID spreads.
"This virus does not go away during the holiday season, it does not go away if you let your guard down," Walsh said in what he said will likely be his last news briefing before Christmas.
Boston's coronavirus metrics are "going in the wrong direction," Walsh said. A total of 975 people have died in the city as of Tuesday, up three from the day before. And 253 new cases brought the city's total to 36,223.
With coronavirus testing down, Boston's average weekly COVID-19 positivity rate rose to 8.8% from 7.2% the week before. And the city had 7,451 active coronavirus cases as of Monday, the latest date available on the city's COVID-19 dashboard. That's nearly twice as many active cases as a month before.
Walsh and Baker have urged people not to spend the upcoming holidays with people who they don't live with. Both have noted that Thanksgiving was followed by a surge in coronavirus cases.
In light of expected travel for the holidays, Walsh on Sunday announced expanded free, mobile COVID testing for Boston residents. Still, he warned Tuesday that testing doesn't make the kinds of Christmas or New Year's gatherings of old safe.
"You cannot test your way in or out of a safe traditional gathering here this year. it will be still a higher risk activity and we're asking you to refrain from engaging in this activity if at all possible," he said. "I know it's hard to be away from people you love, especially during this holiday season … it's hard to say no to our loved ones."
This Christmas season will be different, more low-key -- it's already been strange, Walsh said. He noted that he was able to do Christmas shopping at shops in Newbury Street on Saturday but didn't see anywhere near the usual holiday bustle.
"Normally, there's no way I can go to Newbury Street the Saturday before Christmas and get five feet, so it does feel different this year," Walsh said.
His last-minute Christmas present recommendation: buying a gift certificate from a local restaurant, which will help keep the institution alive.
The mayor told NBC10 Boston Monday in an interview that he's hoping city residents do their part to stop the spread of the virus to avoid what medical experts predicted is the worst of the pandemic that's still yet to come.
"All the experts are telling us we are going to see a spike," Walsh said. "January and February could be the worst months of the pandemic, so it is incumbent on all of us to do our job."
Last week, amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the city that Walsh said was bringing coronavirus levels to the city's "threshold for concern," the mayor moved Boston back to a modified version of Phase 2, Step 2 of Massachusetts' reopening plan.
"We're going to take action now to reduce in-person activity in our city … and prevent our hospitals from getting overwhelmed," Walsh said at a coronavirus briefing.