As COVID-19 surges, Arlington, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Salem, Somerville and others in their own communities municipalities announce efforts to advance vaccination requirement

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Michelle Wu
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BOSTON – Citing the rising surge of COVID-19 cases and the urgent need to increase vaccination to safeguard the community this winter, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Monday announced B Together, an initiative to require vaccination in certain indoor spaces in Boston, including indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment establishments.

The city also announced that it will require vaccination of all city employees on the same timeline (January 15 for first dose and February 15 for the second dose), unless granted a reasonable accommodation for medical or religious reasons. This is an update of the previous policy, which allowed for an option for city workers to be regularly tested instead of being vaccinated.

Mayor Wu was joined at the announcement at Boston City Hall by fellow mayors and municipal leaders from across Greater Boston who announced their own plans to pursue vaccination requirements as part of a regional effort to combat the winter surge, increase vaccination, and protect indoor gatherings.

Established through a public health order issued by the Boston Public Health Commission, the new guidance seeks to increase vaccination rates among residents and slow the spread of COVID-19 and the new Omicron variant. Implementation will begin January 15 and will phase in second vaccine doses and youth vaccination requirements. Both patrons and employees will be required to show proof of vaccination. The indoor mask mandate remains in effect.

“Vaccines are the most powerful tool we have to fight this pandemic. Vaccination saves lives, and closing vaccination gaps is the best way to support and protect our communities, businesses, and cultural institutions during this pandemic,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “The vast majority of COVID-related hospitalizations are of unvaccinated individuals, which is impacting our entire healthcare system and compromising the health of our communities. Today’s steps to protect community members in certain indoor establishments and throughout our city workforce will help ensure that everyone in Boston will be safe. City government must take down barriers and direct our resources for easy access to testing and vaccination to protect our city and all of our communities.”

“COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in Boston. The B Together initiative is just one component of a multilayered, comprehensive strategy that the city has implemented to address COVID-19 and promote the health and safety of Boston residents,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “We must also ensure that every Bostonian has easier access to vaccines and boosters, and we will be rolling out new sites across the city.”

Starting January 15, 2022, patrons of covered businesses will be required to show proof of vaccination upon entering the premises. The order states that individuals can demonstrate vaccination by showing their CDC vaccination card or a photo of their card, any official immunization record or digital image from a pharmacy or health care provider, or on any COVID-19 vaccine verification app. The city also announced plans to create its own app, modeled on the successful Key to NYC app that has supported the vaccine requirement effort in New York City.

Businesses included will also be required to post a notice at all entrances. The city will begin a weeks-long campaign to educate residents and businesses about the new policy, utilizing city outreach workers and inspectional services. Businesses found not in compliance will receive verbal and written warnings. Repeat offenders may be subject to fines.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Boston has implemented COVID-19 guidance based on the most recent case and vaccination trends. As of December 14, 2021, 79% of the total Boston resident population has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 68% are fully vaccinated. Only 31 percent of fully vaccinated Bostonians have been boosted. Among 5-11 year olds, only 30% have received their first dose of vaccine.

Boston is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. New positive cases have increased 89% compared to two weeks ago, and we are now averaging 369 new cases per day. COVID-related emergency department visits increased over the past week, and the city is now averaging 229 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations per day, which is more than 60% higher than two weeks ago. Among those who are hospitalized in Boston with COVID-19, an estimated two thirds are unvaccinated. With the current surge, and emergence of the Omicron variant, we expect case numbers to rise in January. The City continues to closely monitor this data and make decisions that best protect residents.

The City of Boston and the Boston Public Health Commission continue to support easily accessible walk-in vaccination clinics across the city, including at many community centers, schools, and community health centers. The Commission is working with community partners and health centers to extend family clinics into the new year and is opening additional high-capacity clinics over the next several weeks. The Commission also partnered with Boston Public Schools to expand clinics on-site at schools across the city for students 5-years and older.

This week, walk-in clinics are operating at Gallivan Community Center, Morning Star Baptist Church, Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Tufts Medical Center, the Egleston YMCA, the Muse in Roxbury, Charlestown Boys and Girls Club, and other locations. At these walk-in clinics, vaccines are free, and individuals do not need to make an appointment or show proof of insurance. Boosters are available to people who received a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine 6 months ago or a Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than 2 months ago. Because of the ability to mix-and-match, it does not matter which vaccine a person has before their booster. A list of vaccination sites in Boston can be found here.

Greater Boston Mayors and Municipal Leaders Praise Regional Approach:
In conjunction with Mayor Wu’s announcement, municipal leaders from Greater Boston cities and towns announced efforts to advance vaccination requirements, praising the regional approach to increase vaccination and mitigate risk in indoor activities.

“I am very grateful for Mayor Wu’s leadership on this issue and her inclusive approach to the communities surrounding Boston,” said Adam Chapdelaine, Arlington Town Manager. “The virus doesn’t recognize municipal boundaries and that is why a regional approach is best. Arlington will be considering adoption of a policy like the one being announced today and we’ll be working with our Board of Health to finalize a decision in the weeks ahead.”

“Throughout the pandemic, municipal leaders across the region have come together to hear from experts, understand the science, and coordinate our responses to COVID. We are thankful to Mayor Wu for her regional leadership in driving this effort to develop thoughtful vaccine policies to help slow the spread of the virus, and are excited about working together to engage in these conversations in our own communities,” said Joseph Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville.

“I support putting in place a vaccine requirement for public places like restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues and will be recommending to our Board of Health that we move in this direction. We need to use all the tools in our tool box to address the current COVID challenges and that means ensuring people are vaccinated as a means to curb virus transmission and reduce the likelihood of hospitalization for those who contract COVID. With only 50% of our young adults between 16 and 29 vaccinated and our hospitals at or near capacity, it’s important that we take action now – there is very little wiggle room within our health care industry to address rising COVID case counts this Winter. I hope that taking these measures will help our city stay safe, open and strong. We want our businesses staffed and open and our kids attending in-person school uninterrupted. Vaccine requirements, testing and masking up indoors are all part of the mix when it comes to beating back COVID,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem.

“Mayor Wu’s initiative to require proof of vaccine in certain indoor venues is a bold step for Boston in the fight against COVID. I appreciate the Mayor’s support for a coordinated regional approach, and we will be meeting this week with Brookline businesses to discuss our own policy,” said Mel Kleckner, Brookline Town Administrator.

“I support Mayor Wu’s efforts to protect the people of greater Boston and expand vaccine access throughout the City. It’s important that we take a thoughtful approach to our public health strategy and ensure that everyone in our region has equitable access to both testing and vaccines. It’s clear that our most effective tool in keeping our communities safe is getting as many people vaccinated and boosted as possible. In Medford, we will be discussing ways we can increase vaccine confidence and educate the community on the benefits of protecting yourself and your loved ones by getting the shot,” said Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn of Medford.

“I applaud the City of Boston’s COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement for Select Indoor Spaces,” said Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui of Cambridge. “As Omicron becomes the dominant variant, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to keep our community safe. There is no doubt this requirement will have greater impact if implemented regionally. I look forward to working with the City Manager on next steps in Cambridge.”

Statements from COVID-19 Task Force and Community Leaders
“The last 22 months have been the most challenging months for our independent restaurant officers. Our restaurants have followed the guidance of government each step of our re-opening and today we stand with Mayor Wu moving into this next chapter. If public health experts and our Mayor believe that proof of vaccination is in the best interest of public health, we too stand behind that decision. As operators, we continue to jump hurdles to establish healthy and safe dining rooms for our employees and guests. Our neighbors have re-established new trust in us and we ask that the next step is to taken to support our industry,” said Nancy Caswell, Owner of Oak and Rowan Boston and Executive Director of Massachusetts Restaurants United.

“Today, Mayor Wu is taking a major step forward at a critical juncture in the COVID pandemic, especially in light of the more highly transmissible Omicron variant,” said Marc Draisen, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). “Public officials need to take action now to reduce transmission and encourage vaccination. By requiring proof of vaccination at restaurants, gyms, and other public venues, Mayor Wu’s action will do both. MAPC appreciates Mayor Wu’s leadership and we will be working with cities and towns throughout the region who are prepared to implement this worthy policy.”

“As the Omicron variant spreads and our healthcare system faces continued strain, we need strong public health measures in place to increase vaccination rates and suppress transmission,” said Sandro Galea, MD, MPH, DrPH, Robert A. Knox Professor at Boston University School of Public Health and member of the Mayor’s COVID-19 Advisory Task Force. “I’m grateful to Mayor Wu for her decisive leadership and her commitment to keeping our communities safe.”

“The Huntington Theatre Company is grateful for Mayor Wu’s leadership in requiring masks and proof of vaccination as it means that arts organizations don’t have to shoulder the responsibility for these decisions alone. We all want to keep our doors open, and we appreciate the Mayor taking these steps for the economic recovery of our city,” said Temple Gill of the Huntington Theatre Company, member of the Mayor’s COVID-19 Advisory Task Force.

“As an entrepreneur working in the hospitality industry, I know firsthand how necessary it is to have clear public health guidance coming from our city leadership. The B Together policy will help protect the health and safety of Bostonians, which in turn will help our industries rebound from the devastating effects of the pandemic. I am committed to working with this administration and my colleagues in the hospitality industry to increase vaccination rates and bring our communities back together,” said Nia Grace, co-founder, Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, owner of The Underground Cafe + Lounge and Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen.

“This is an important step for Boston to safeguard our restaurants and our workers,” said Bessie King, a restaurant owner from East Boston and a leader in Massachusetts Restaurants United. “Hundreds of restaurants across the city and state are still struggling to have full staffs, many workers are concerned with safe work environments. Thanks to Boston’s policy, we can keep our businesses and our communities going. This is a small step to create a big impact, ensuring healthy and safe work environments for people to come back to work. We need patrons to support our efforts to reopen and still care for our people.”

“It’s not true that children don’t get sick from COVID: they do, and they can also get long COVID. Vaccinating adults protects the young children who can’t get vaccinated and the immunocompromised children that I care for, who need an extra layer of safety,” said Dr. Julia Koehler, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and member of the Mayor’s COVID-19 Advisory Task Force.

“Two years ago we did not know enough about the virus, we only knew that for some people it was deadly. Many had the opportunity to work safely from home, but some of the most vulnerable members of our community did not have that choice. These essential workers worked tirelessly to ensure that the rest of us kept some normalcy, while they packaged meat, served food, and cleaned our airport. Despite their fear of getting sick they continued to work. Today with this new requirement we take a step forward in protecting our essential workers and ensuring a safer workplace for them, their colleagues, and clients,” said Dina Paolina, CEO of La Colaborativa and Member of the Mayor’s COVID-19 Advisory Task Force.

“Being fully vaccinated and getting a booster dose are the best protection for preventing the worst outcomes from COVID-19. These important measures introduced by Mayor Wu are the best way to close the vaccination gap, reduce the spread of the Omicron variant, and keep residents safe,” said Jake Sullivan, Vice President, Government and Community Affairs, Boston University and member of the Mayor’s COVID-19 Advisory Task Force.

The city will conduct intensive outreach and support efforts to both individuals and small businesses, including:
Distributing informational flyers to schools, libraries, housing, community centers, and other community spaces across Boston.
Sharing information and engaging in outreach through civic associations, community meetings, senior centers and faith-based organizations.
Conducting direct outreach to businesses in Main Streets and other commercial districts from the Office of Neighborhood Services and the Office of Small Business Development.
Conducting a series of webinars to educate business owners on the COVID-19 vaccine requirement and answer their questions.
Distributing the mandatory signage for businesses and ensuring its availability at any of the 20 Main Street locations, BCYF centers, and Boston Public Libraries.

A complete list of covered businesses includes:
Indoor Dining: Includes indoor portions of food service establishments offering food and drink, including restaurants, bars, and all indoor dining areas of food service establishments. The requirements of this Order shall not apply to any food service establishment offering food and/or drink exclusively for off-premises or outdoor consumption, or to a food service establishment providing charitable food services such as soup kitchens.

Indoor Entertainment, Recreational, and Event Venues: Includes movie theaters, music or concert venues, commercial event and party venues, museums and galleries, professional sports arenas and indoor stadiums, convention centers and exhibition halls, performing arts theaters, bowling alleys, and other recreational centers;

Indoor Gyms and Fitness Settings: Includes commercial gyms, fitness, yoga/pilates/barre/dance studios, boxing/kickboxing gyms, fitness boot camps, indoor pools, and other facilities used for conducting group fitness classes.

Earlier this month, Mayor Wu announced a COVID-19 Advisory Committee, a group of doctors, public health professionals and multidisciplinary leaders, charged with assisting in decision-making around tackling new variants and working to end the pandemic in Boston. The Committee is chaired by Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission, who was elevated to a cabinet-level role under Mayor Wu. These leaders have backgrounds ranging from Medical Director at a large public hospital to restaurateur.

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