Mayor Marty Walsh is asking all Boston residents to get tested for the new coronavirus, which has been more and more active in the city the last month.
The city's positive coronavirus test rate continues to rise, Walsh said at a news conference Thursday from City Hall, characterizing the "steady, continuing increase in COVID activity" as a five-week-long trend. He also said that people haven't been getting tested as much lately, despite more testing facilities being made available than ever.
"Despite [testing] increased access, we have seen the daily testing numbers fall off in recent weeks. As we head into a critical time, we need to turn that around," Walsh said.
He announced a new pledge called “Get The Test Boston,” complete with an "I got the test" sticker for people who get tested. Several employers have signed on, including the Boston Red Sox and Wayfair -- they'll make sure their workers know how to get tested for the virus.
As part of the initiative, all City of Boston employees who are eligible for benefits will have one paid hour every two weeks to get tested for the virus.
Walsh's call for all city residents to be tested includes people who have no symptoms or don't think they've been exposed -- though he encouraged those people to get a test as well.
"We know that the virus is spreading among people who don't have symptoms and people who don't know that they have been exposed," Walsh said. "I'm encouraging you to get tested and make it a regular part of your routine."
People in Boston can find out where to get tested at boston.gov/coronavirus.
Rising COVID Numbers, Lower Testing Numbers
Boston had 1,990 active coronavirus cases as of Thursday, with 782 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The positive test rate rose last week to 7.8% in Boston, up from 6.2% the week before, according to Walsh.
"We're definitely seeing a trend now,. It's been five consistent weeks where we're seeing the numbers go up," he said Thursday, adding that there's no sign the trend will turn around.
Across Massachusetts, the numbers are trending poorly as well. On Wednesday, health officials reported the state's fifth straight day reporting more than 1,000 cases after not reporting any since May. The number of cities and towns in Massachusetts' "red zone" in the weekly coronavirus transmission risk map has steadily risen as well, reaching 77 last week, with a new report due out later Thursday.
The Walsh administration's effort to get more people in Boston tested comes after the city has seen a drop-off. Citing health commission data, The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that the number of people getting tests has declined from about 20,000 per week in mid-September to just over 11,000 in mid-October.
Walsh pointed out Thursday that Boston now has more than 30 testing sites, including two free mobile sites that are currently stationed in East Boston's Central Square and Roxbury's Nubian Square.
No New Change for Boston Public Schools
Walsh's news conference came after Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said she is working to get students with the highest needs back in the classroom, a move that would come after the district went fully remote last week due to coronavirus safety concerns.
Cassellius said at a city council hearing Wednesday the district is implementing additional safety measures -- including large capacity rooms and additional staff testing -- in the hopes of bringing students back as early as this week.
"It's extremely heartbreaking for us not to provide these to our students and it’s been very challenging and difficult to speak with the parents who are just really desperate for this care for their children,” Cassellius said.
But a schools spokesperson clarified Wednesday that schools would not be reopening Thursday, though Cassellius had earlier in the week suggested it was a possibility.
"We are working with our teachers and educators to construct an approach to provide in-person services to our students with the highest needs," BPS representative Xavier Andrews said. "We will provide families with an update as soon as the plan is fully developed."
Walsh didn't weigh in on the issue Thursday, saying only that the school system is "working to make sure the students with the highest needs have the support they need." He mentioned the possibility of in-home services, something Boston Public Schools wasn't able to do after schools closed down last year.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said she was shocked by the suggestion that some students would return to the classroom with coronavirus transmission so high. The teacher's union is urging the district to continue the conversation before making any moves.
“As much as I do think everyone is well intended… We must do better," Tang said.
The district pivoted to full remote learning on Oct. 22 as part of an effort to curb the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the city. The decision came amid an alarming rise in positive cases in Boston.
Once the citywide seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate is below 5% for two consecutive weeks, students with the highest needs will have the option to return to in-person learning, officials have said.
When the citywide seven-day positivity rate is below 4% for two consecutive weeks, Boston Public Schools will restart the phased return of students for in-person learning, beginning with its youngest students. The district will also provide fully remote learning for all who choose it.