Emergency Zoom: City, EBNHC, BPHC Hold ‘All Hands on Deck’ Meeting to Discuss COVID in Eastie

Based on the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in East Boston and across the city, state and nation, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) once again convened community leaders, elected officials and key stakeholders last Thursday during an emergency ZOOM meeting to discuss the neighborhood’s rising cases.

“We are at a critical juncture in the pandemic and need all hands on deck to stop the spread in East Boston while ensuring the medical and non-medical needs of our residents can be met,” said EBNHC President and CEO Manny Lopes.

EBNHC President and CEO Manny Lopes.

The meeting included Lopes, Mayor Martin Walsh, Rep. Adrian Madaro and the BPHC’s Rita Nieves and Dan Dooley.

“I am so grateful to be part of this group,” said Lopes at the meeting. “We’re really providing great support to East Boston, during this very difficult time. We wanted to come together again to discuss where we stand in East Boston with the rising rates of COVID-19. As we know, this community relies heavily on the leadership of the people in this ZOOM  meeting. Back in August, we had success in reducing the positivity rate in East Boston. And I believe that was in part due to the efforts from this group and spreading key messages pushing residents to get tested and distributing resources. For the next few weeks and months, we need to continue our work and renew our commitment to East Boston.”

Walsh started off by thanking the city’s partners in Eastie for their continued partnership, especially in these difficult times.

“I know they’re working long hours and making personal sacrifices, and I can’t thank them enough for all of their dedicated service and what they’ve done,” said Walsh. “In Massachusetts as of yesterday Wednesday), there were 189,518 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning and 2,744 cases were recorded yesterday. That’s a pretty significant number for one day. We haven’t really seen numbers like that since back in April and May.  So as you know, this is a very serious, serious virus in Boston. We’re seeing increases here in COVID and we are entering another critical point in this pandemic. We’re seeing significant and concerning increases of COVID-19. In our city, the daily cases are starting to look like the numbers that are around the peak in April and May. Hospital admissions are not at that level, however, they’ve increased over time. And we need to stay focused on turning this trend around.”

Walsh said one strategy to combat the rising numbers in Eastie is testing.

“We’re encouraging everyone to get tested, and to make testing part of your regular routine,” he said. “Our free mobile testing sites will remain this week in East Boston at Central Square and we have 30 other testing sites across the city. We’re not maximizing our testing capacity. So we really need to make sure that we do everything we can to get people tested. We need to make sure we get an accurate number with the virus on what the tests really are in the city.”

Walsh added that both metrics the city uses to track the rate of infection in the neighborhood are troublesome.

“Both metrics are high (in Eastie), and they’re moving in the wrong direction,” said Walsh. “East Boston also has a high percentage of the Latinx community that continues to have the highest rate of any race or ethnicity in the city of Boston. So we are working on that and we’re committed to addressing the racial and ethnic inequalities that impact COVID-19. And so it’s not just about the virus, it’s also about all the other inequities that we’re dealing with. We’re doing targeted outreach in East Boston, to work on continuing to try and help stop the spread. We continue to have conversations with community organizations, sharing information, responding to the community, we brought back mobile testing to East Boston and we’re now looking very closely at what steps we can further do to limit the transmission.”

Walsh said that if these numbers continue to go up the city will unfortunately have to pose more restriction.

“And I think that’s the last thing we want to do for our businesses and our communities,” said Walsh. “But unfortunately, if we have to, we will always put public health first in our communities, and we also understand the impacts on our business and our economy. So we need to do whatever we can to bring down the spread.”

Rep. Madaro said the rapid spike in COVID cases in Eastie has not surprised him.

“Our community is more systematically vulnerable to the spread of COVID,” said Madaro. “And I think it’s important that we acknowledge this because there are still a lot of rumors and blame going around in terms of why East Boston numbers are higher. But you know, our numbers were higher at the beginning and they continue to be elevated now, in relation to the rest of the city and the rest of the state. The reality is we are a working class community and many of our folks do not have the privilege of working from home and working remotely like many of us on this call are doing this morning. Our constituents, our neighbors are working in maintenance and service industries, construction and hospitality…many industries that really never shut down and require them to continue to go to work, continue to interact with coworkers and with the public. Good evidence of that is the fact that the Blue Line saw the lowest decrease in ridership throughout the pandemic. Beyond that, we have hosting issues here in East Boston, there’s tremendous overcrowding, people share bedrooms, there’s multi-generational apartments, folks are sharing rentals with multiple roommates and that makes isolating really difficult. So if one member of a household gets COVID, the family spread is very real. It’s very difficult to socially distance and to do many of the things that we constantly preach and promote and try to educate our communities. When folks don’t have anywhere to quarantine, we know what the result is.”

In the end, Madaro said it’s going to take a community effort to try to get these numbers down. “We really need to get the information out to our neighbors,” said Madaro. “So we have to continue to push that messaging of getting tested and convey how easy it is. It’s as simple as calling the Health Center line and making an appointment. That’s all it takes. We got to continue to push the message on wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. It’s going to take us all to do this. And I’m just so grateful, again, for the opportunity to bring us together to remind us that this thing is still here and it’s not going away anytime soon.”

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