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Boston ‘considering’ halting indoor dining, shrinking gatherings if coronavirus surge continues

Boston Herald logo Boston Herald 10/30/2020 Sean Philip Cotter
a man wearing a suit and tie: BOSTON MA. - SEPTEMBER 23:  Marty Martinez, the Chief of the Mayor's Office Health and Human Services for the City of Boston speaks as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh briefs the media on the Covid-19 situation in Boston on September 23, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald) © Provided by Boston Herald BOSTON MA. - SEPTEMBER 23: Marty Martinez, the Chief of the Mayor's Office Health and Human Services for the City of Boston speaks as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh briefs the media on the Covid-19 situation in Boston on September 23, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Halting indoor dining is on the table, Boston officials say.

Health Chief Marty Martinez told reporters on Friday that the city is “considering” stopping indoor dining or rolling back other restrictions as coronavirus cases continue to mount.

“We are considering eventually pausing indoor dining,” Martinez said in a virtual press conference in which he and other officials outlined the state of the pandemic. He also said that the city is considering lowering the indoor and outdoor gathering limits — and fining people who break the rules.

Asked to elaborate and what specifically would cause the city to make the move, Martinez said, “We’re going to look at the restrictions that are out there and how we’ve reopened and monitor them … but we have to do it in a balanced way. We’ve made no firm decisions and the mayor hasn’t yet made any of those firm decisions.”

He said the city is collecting more data on where cases stem from, and that Boston will begin to publish a report every two weeks about where coronavirus clusters have popped up.

For something like indoor dining, he said, if the city sees cases increasing from that kind of practice, they’ll “pull back on those areas.”

Asked how close the city is from going to that menu of shutdown options, Martinez said it’s “hard to say.”

“We’re not going to wait months and months and months until we see ongoing increases,” Martinez said.

The city shut down indoor dining — and outdoor dining, plus a range of other industries — at the start of the pandemic before gradually allowing businesses to reopen over the summer.

Doug Bacon, whose Red Paint Hospitality Group owns nine bars and restaurants around Allston, said the news is “frustrating” in large part because he doesn’t see many cases coming from restaurants.

“I’m not an epidemiologist but I can tell you that my staff are observing the proper protocols and there hasn’t been a single case from any of my restaurants,” Bacon said, noting that The Avenue and Hopewell Bar & Kitchen both have been open since July.

He said that over the summer his restaurants were “only” down 30% in revenue from a year prior, but some weeks now are more like 50-60%.

“People are losing their life savings,”  Bacon said. “People who have spent their careers building up neighborhood restaurants are closing down.”

Like in many cities and states around the country, coronavirus cases are on a concerning upswing again here after a summer lull in Massachusetts. Boston’s positive test rate has doubled in a month and a half to 7.8%, and shows no sign of dropping. This week, 121 of the state’s cities and towns are in the “red zone” of high risk — more than a third of the 351 total Bay State municipalities.

Martinez also said that hospital capacity is in far better shape than it was in the peak of the pandemic here in the spring, but there is “increased activity in the city’s medical facilities and intensive care units. The city plans to begin to “convene” hospitals on Monday for regular meetings about what the institutions need and how they’re faring.

He added that the city is “starting initial conversations” about what it would take to start back up a field hospital like the Boston Hope facility that held 1,000 beds in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

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