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City will go slow with re-opening, Walsh says

COVID-19 Media Availability 5/19/20

Mayor Walsh said today that office buildings in Boston will re-open a week later than in the state because the sheer potential crush of people going back to work here means the city needs to spend some extra time working with office-building owners and employers to ensure things are done safely. And he urged barbers, salon owners and religious leaders to think long and hard about whether they're really ready to re-open safely.

For heaven's sake, he said at a press conference at City Hall, religious leaders who do decided to re-open their houses of worship should not allow choruses to start up.

Even with an extra week, Walsh said he is not comfortable with the state's plan to let offices re-open at up to 25% of their listed occupancy, at least at first. That's just too high, he said, adding he is concerned about the impact on the T if people cram back onto it to get to work, especially since it plans to continue to run on a modified Saturday schedule.

Walsh said a city team plans to have guidelines out for large employers next week on how to keep their workers and visitors safe. He said he was heartened to read that two large employers - Liberty Mutual and Mass. Mutual - have said they won't be re-opening until later in the summer and will instead continue to have employees work at home. Walsh said companies that do re-open should consider staggered hours to reduce the loads on the T if nothing else.

He added that, at least in the first week, there are currently enough spaces in what are now emergency child-care centers in Boston for workers who need a place to drop off their kids, but that the city is talking to state officials about what happens after that as more people return to work.

He said he'd rather go slow than fast with re-opening because the city has to get it right and protect residents' health, "we have to get it right, we can't afford to have a second shutdown." He pointed to the shutdown of Stella's in the South End and said the city would permanently lose more businesses if no re-opening is allowed. so we have to get it right, we can't afford to have a second shutdown. At same time, he said he'll do whatever it takes to protect safety of Bostonians.

And that includes keeping the current voluntary overnight curfew and public-health emergency declaration in place "for the foreseeable future." So keep washing hands, wearing masks while shopping, social distance and stay at home when possible, he said, adding that because of the way Covid-19 spreads, he expects it will take a couple of weeks before testing can show whether the initial phase of re-opening was safe, or as safe as can be with a disease that spreads as easily as the common cold.

The mayor continued that he hopes to have plans ready within a week for how to let restaurants across the city claim sidewalk space for outdoor dining, possibly by expanding sidewalks onto parts of roadways. ""I don't think we're going to be shutting down streets in the city," but maybe partially shutting down some streets, he said.

The mayor continued that BTD is working to carve out parking spaces for retail stores that want to re-open with curbside delivery, similar to what the department had done earlier in the pandemic for restaurants.

Walsh said he understands barbershops and salons want to re-open, but said not all will be able to comply with state safety regulations - and urged owners who are not comfortable with complying to not re-open. He declined to say if he would feel comfortable getting a haircut next week, but allowed, "Won't say if he'd be comfortable getting a haircut next week, says safety protocols will keep a lot of barbers and hair salons from opening. "I certainly would like to get a haircut, I haven't had one in awhile."

He added: "If you're a gym owner in Boston, do not open your doors." But he also said he thinks Boston gym owners are smarter than counterparts elsewhere who have vowed to re-open and screw state regulations.

Walsh added that Boston Public Library branches will remain shut. ""We're not anywhere near ready to open libraries yet," he said, adding they might re-open once the state gives the OK for customers to go back into stores.

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Comments

Software companies are moving towards extended and permanent work from home. Should be interesting to see the impact on the city

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(deleted)

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My prediction: people overestimate the amount of work which can be done from home. People also underestimate the how much people enjoy working in an office, away from home, and close to other people they can socialize with.

For jobs which are 100% programming, working remotely is easy. But a huge percentage of Boston's jobs require some amount of manual labor (lab work, hospitality, education, etc) so the amount of people who can go 100% remote is limited. There's a larger precent which can be hybrid with some days at home and some at the office. It will be interesting to see how productive that is in the long run.

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working from home. The biggest one I've always found is the ability to walk over to a colleague for a quick conversation without the latency that messaging systems add: it's faster, more efficient.

But collaborative apps like Slack have shrunken that advantage of proximity a bit. I'll be glad for the camaraderie and getting out of my own four walls if and when we ever open up our offices again, but in the meantime, I'm adjusting to the fact that remote work will be part of the mix for a while. I'm lucky to have a job where remote work is feasible, and an employer that is prioritizing worker safety at the moment.

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It's also one thing to work remotely with people you used to see in person, but it's another thing to start hiring people that nobody ever sees or interacts with in real life.

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I've worked in every configuration and while remote work can often work it can get in the way of those office dynamics. Although when done right it can be quite nice.

I had a job where we were all kind of fluid and little office pockets in multiple places. The handful of us would see each other several times a week (we were admin staff for a tour company) and it was great because we could work from where needed, including home, but would run into each other a lot . It was nice that way! Although we had one staff member who has only ever met my boss and while she was incredibly nice it always felt distant when I was interacting with her. It's too bad , she seemed very nice.

I've had jobs with no slack and others where you just did your thing wherever. My favorite were always the hybrid approach. Now I work in a job where it's best if done from the office for numerous reasons but the office is three blocks from my apartment and we have been able to split the staff up so there is a ton of space (it also helps that we never seemed to embrace the super open concept boom of the late 90s. )

One thing I will say, no matter how they do it most offices need to find a way to create more airflow and ventalization. That's more than just blowing in more cool air. They need to find ways to get stores, industry and office spaces to exchange more air . Dilution is a great disinfectant.

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Software companies and many who have relied upon the student talent gravy train will be less willing to put up with our anti-business climate when schools return to half attendance and a small fraction of the foreign attendance. What will be left are entitled locals, naive pawns sprinkled in with a few ambitious scholarship students who will take their pick anyway.

Boston is going to look very different in five years

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Thanks per always for the synopsis!

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If COVID-19 is as infections as they say it is, which I totally believe it is, there will be a second shutdown. Social distancing is just delaying the inevitable - everyone gets it -, until there's a vaccine. Four solid restaurants already closed their doors for good - The Automatic, Dante, Stella and Cuchi Cuchi. There are plenty more that will follow and it's a joke to think they can operate at anything less than 100% capacity. The margins are just not there.

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It'll take lots of time to develop. If the lockdown goes for too long, people are totally screwed.

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Sounds like a reasonable plan for reopening, but what's the plan for people getting to work safely without having traffic congestion 10x worse than before COVID-19?!

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The T is on a reduced schedule, and there aren't enough parking spaces in downtown Boston for even a fraction of workers, even if we could afford it. It ain't happenin'.

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Everyone I know will be returning to their office jobs slowly, irrespective of the state's timeline. Jobs that depend on tourism (big part of Boston in the summer) aren't going to be operating anywhere close to normal for a while.

The real test will be September when the college students come back.

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This is a great opportunity for people to try riding a bike to work. Not everyone can. I get that. But if you live within 10 miles of your office, it's very reasonable to assume that a person could bike to work. Also, it's coming into summer, when the weather isn't as often an issue. People will likely be working from home a lot of the time still, so riding in one or two days a week is really practical (and good exercise.)

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Thanks Gary but I’m not risking getting hit by a car getting to work and thus being hospitalized in a hospital and becoming a tax on the health care system. While traffic is down fatal accidents are up because people are taking advantage of empty streets and driving like idiots. Be safe out there if you’re biking.

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There was an article in the Globe yesterday about how all the local bike shops have sold out of entry level bikes and don't know when they'll get more. Clearly a lot of people are planning on riding now, even if you think it's too risky.

I ride daily and understand the risks which are overblow by people who write comments like the above. Cycling is safe if you ride responsibility. Driving a car is not without risk. The T is safer then both but you risk COVID-19 and lots of delays. Take your pick. I pick riding because it's good for my health, cheaper, and quicker.

Boston could make cycling safer if they wanted (driving too) and this crisis is a good time to make changes to the roadway that helps everyone.

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Common locker room facilities at workplaces probably aren't safe to use, so you can't shower at work. So you'll smell bad enough that your coworkers will be eager to stay at least 6 feet away at all times.

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If you want to live further away from Boston because its cheaper, you can drive in to the city at a fraction of the commute time, there are plenty of spaces (and renting one will be much cheaper now as well), and you don't have to go near anyone, and gas is cheap.

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Now that's some real ripe bullshit right there.

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That took me 1 minute (Milk St area)

Where are you talking about?

(also plenty of lots that once charged $50 to $100 a day not filled, some of them dropped prices, others should soon)

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I guess maybe you're talking about right now right now, but if things start to reopen and people start driving in, 200 spaces are going to fill up almost immediately, especially if everyone is driving by themselves. There just simply isn't enough room for all the cars that would be needed to get even a small fraction of workers into the downtown area if everyone is driving themselves.

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And I think colleges are the biggest issues with students and staff in general. But in general driving isn’t a bad option if you wanted to lease a car for the next year or so.

I think the larger point is that bikes aren’t being bought because people are looking for new commuter options, the bike demand is high because people are looking for new recreational opportunities. I’m all for shutting down lots of Boston streets to cars though.

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Also, it's coming into summer, when the weather isn't as often an issue.

IMHO, weather is much more often an issue in the summer. As the late, great Sheldon Brown used to say, "Boston has fine weather for cycling for 10 months of the year, but July and August are just too hot". In winter, I can stay warm by wearing appropriate clothing, but there's nothing I can do on a bike to cool down if it's in the 80's and humid.

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Totally agree. 50s and 60s are the ideal temperatures for biking to work. Summers get too hot!

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Speaking of, I don't really understand making blanket recommendations to bike to work. Is that assuming everyone has a shower at their work place? I've had dozens of jobs and I think just one had an available shower.

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I understand your caution. You saw the movie Jaws at the old Adams street theater and you are putting safety before liberty which is commendable. The problem I have is this Memorial Day weekend at the beaches in South Boston you and your best bud Charlie Baker will have as much success enforcing social distance rules as Erwin Rommel did in repelling the allies at Omaha Beach.
Do you really believe the state police will enforce the social distancing rules? Do you really believe the Transit Police are enforcing the no masks rules on trains and buses?

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Has anyone used the emergency childcare centers? It must seem strange to parent & child to use an unfamiliar childcare center. I don't have any childcare needs in my extended family right now, so I haven't heard or read much about these centers, but I've been wondering.

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Yep, we used the Bright Horizons by MGH for one day. Staff were in masks and gloves, toddlers had to wear masks, parents couldn’t enter. We figured our daughter would be traumatized for life so we begged a sitter to become an in-home nanny. Lots of former daycare workers are doing it.

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Yes I imagine it would be hard to create a kid-friendly emergency childcare center while observing all these protocols. Children aren't really like groceries, where you can just do curbside pickup.

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=

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As soon as the Mayor hears from the places which have gotten their offices to 25% -- he'll start to hear that they want to go way higher

Of course there are plenty of places where for the past two decades people could work from home or even the beach or mountains -- just give then a place to sit and a laptop with occasional access to the Internet. However, even for many software developing companies there is a true benefit of shouting across the room or wandering over to a colleague to ask or suggest something relevant to what you are doing right now. Otherwise you might as well be working with a colleague in India -- the latency of the on-line answer will probably either delay what you are doing or be too late to help.

For many companies with a significant integrated hardware and software component such as robotics, the thought that you can do very much while ensconced at home, without any contact with the hardware in the lab is ludicrous.

So once again many places will feel extreme pressure once they open up their physical facilities to bring-in bunches of people even if only on a sporadic or carefully scheduled basis

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ok boomer

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Are you saying employers will want to bring in more people because of productivity reasons or are you saying employees will want to return in bigger numbers because they don't want to work from home? I think it's far from a majority in either case.

People tend to be conflating the firm wish of all of us that we could go back to the way life was in January with the idea that people will simply go back to acting like that without a vaccine, etc... We all want to go back to restaurants, offices, bars, etc.... but only some of us are comfortable doing that without any actual solutions implemented.

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He mentions restaurants going out of business yet he won’t close down streets for patio seating so that restaurants can make money and pedestrians can safely distance from others. WTF. Marty “I’m a car guy” Walsh strikes again. He absolutely values cars over people’s lives and small businesses. His words say as much.

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the fact that this whole pandemic is far worse than it probably would've been if that clown had acknowledged it back in mid to late January, when containment of the Covid-19 virus was possible, instead of deliberately waiting it out and denying that it was a problem, until it was way too late, and it really got out of control.

We can also thank those spoiled college kids who refuse to do social existence, wear masks and thereby risk spreading the infection to others, including and especially more vulnerable people.

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Meanwhile, actual polling shows there's not much difference in behavior between generations here, but sure, let's blame the college kids just like always.

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I'm curious how many people went back to work yesterday. We went for a drive after work just to keep the car running because we haven't been going anywhere, and traffic was suddenly back! Can't say I missed it.

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