My Life in the Age of COVID: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh
"I think we’ll all have a new appreciation for the things we hold dear when this is all over."
As the COVID-19 pandemic upends every aspect of Boston life, we’re checking in with some local residents to learn how they’re processing our new normal. They’ll share serious thoughts on their concerns for the city—and yes, some silly recommendations on what to binge-watch, too. For the rest of the series, click here.
Being the mayor of Boston is not, under normal circumstances, socially distant business. Pressing the flesh, huddling close for meetings in City Hall, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder at parades and press conferences are all part of the job. But these are not normal circumstances, so like all of us, Marty Walsh has had to adjust. These days, he’s conducting his staff briefings and attending his AA meetings online, he’s mourning the loss of springtime activities and professional sports, and he’s teaching his mom how to video chat so they can stay in touch.
At the same time, he has not been afforded the luxury of staying home. About as “essential” an employee as they come, Walsh is tasked with seeing the city through a period of unprecedented mass quarantine and has remained a constant presence on TV and radio, where he’s been reminding his city about the need to stay apart, and fuming about those who have not. In between all that, he found time to update us on leading City Hall in a pandemic.
What is your level of concern right now?
The coronavirus outbreak is a very serious public health issue, and the City is treating it as such. My top concern and sole focus right now is the health and safety of all Boston residents, especially those who are the most vulnerable. Fighting this virus is a big undertaking, and we still have a long road ahead of us. We expect to see a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases as more tests become available. These are not ordinary times in our city. But there’s nothing ordinary about Boston. Bostonians are resilient. We’ve faced frightening situations before, and we’ve gotten through them together. We know what it means to be Boston Strong.
How have you been coping so far? Who do you turn to for comfort?
I’m comforted and inspired by the outpouring of support and compassion I have seen from Bostonians. Whether it’s donating to the Boston Resiliency Fund, supporting local restaurants and businesses, or helping neighbors and friends who are facing the toughest challenges, the generosity of our residents has amazed me. We’ve spent years strengthening our public health and safety systems, and we’re home to some of the best medical centers in the world, which has allowed us to respond quickly and decisively. Lots of people and institutions are stepping up to support our efforts. It makes me very proud.
What should we know about the city’s response to this crisis?
Since the outbreak began, we’ve been working around the clock to prevent and respond to the spread of the coronavirus. We canceled or postponed events. We temporarily closed the Boston Public Schools, our community centers, and all locations of the Boston Public Library. And we paused all non-essential construction in the City of Boston.
We’re making sure people have the support and the resources they need. We’re distributing free meals at meal sites across the City, and we’re distributing Chromebooks for online at-home learning for students. All of our homeless shelters remain open, and we’re adding hundreds of new beds for homeless individuals at re-purposed locations in the City to help with social distancing in shelters, and to give homeless individuals space to quarantine if they need it.
We’re continuing to coordinate food access for our children and families; to reach out to support our seniors; to serve our veterans and immigrant communities; and to build supports for our small businesses and industries that are being hit hard by this crisis. Information about these resources, and many more, can be found at Boston.gov/coronavirus.
I also want to make sure everyone understands that they have a role to play in helping our city overcome the coronavirus crisis. The best thing you can do for your community right now is stay home whenever possible, avoid physical contact with other people, wash your hands often, and clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces. These steps can save lives.
Walk me through your daily routine, starting with the first thing you do when you wake up.
Every morning, I speak with the heads of our public health and public safety agencies to get briefed on the latest developments. Throughout the day, I discuss our strategy with cabinet chiefs and department heads in my administration, as well as our partners in the City Council, state government, our hospitals, and our business community. Another big priority for me is keeping the people of Boston informed, so we are sharing updates online, through social media, through robocalls, and with our text alert system on a daily basis. This is a fast-moving situation, and I have to be ready to adapt no matter what happens, but certain aspects of my daily routine are very helpful in maintaining a steady flow of information and keeping lines of communication open.
I imagine you typically have to work in very close quarters with people most days. How are you handling that now?
I’m practicing what I’m preaching. I’m staying at least six feet away from other people, I’m not gathering in groups, and I’m being diligent with hand-washing. A large number of my meetings and check-ins with public health leaders and my fellow public officials are done over the phone or video calls.
We have extremely limited staff in the office at City Hall, and we have deep cleaning and sanitizing happening on a regular basis. This is helping to limit the risk to both employees and residents who need to come into City Hall for essential business. I am conducting press interviews remotely whenever possible, calling in over the phone or through video conferencing. We have strict physical distancing rules in place when I hold press conferences outside Boston City Hall.
Are you worried you’ll get sick?
I am taking every precaution I can to avoid getting sick, and passing the virus along to others. I’m practicing social distancing and washing my hands frequently.
What do you miss most about your former, pre-social distancing routine?
Being able to interact with people from across Boston is one of the best parts about being mayor. I miss being able to meet and speak with residents in person to hear about the issues that are most important to them. Like all Bostonians, I miss going to my favorite restaurants, and attending special events in our parks. Normally, this time of year we’re cheering on the Bruins, the Red Sox, the Celtics, and all of our local and youth sports teams, too. Normally, we’re getting ready to cheer on athletes at the Boston Marathon. We’re all missing these things, but we all need to recognize that people’s health and safety come first.
Most of all, I miss visits with my mother. Cancelling visits has been hard for her, and it breaks my heart. I know lots of families are going through this. Many of the people we want to wrap our arms around the most are the very people we must keep at arm’s length, for their own safety. I think we’ll all have a new appreciation for the things we hold dear when this is all over.
A lot of people have been using video chat to reconnect with friends. Have you done that?
I’ve been conducting a lot of my meetings and interviews over video chat. I’m going to teach my mother how to use video chat, too, so she can stay in touch with her loved ones both here in Boston and back home in Ireland.
Easter is coming up soon. What are you planning to do, and what should we do?
Since churches and other places of worship are closed due to coronavirus, I’m planning to celebrate Easter by attending a virtual Mass. I know that for Boston’s Christian community, Easter is a time to celebrate new life in the company of family and friends. However, I urge those planning celebrations this year to follow both state and city guidance surrounding large gatherings and social distancing. Easter is a time of hope, but it’s also a time of sacrifice. This season, let’s remember the role each one of us has in stopping the spread of this virus.
We all want to support our favorite restaurants by ordering takeout or delivery, but how can we be sure that it’s safe?
The statewide emergency order on shutting down non-essential businesses, including restaurants and bars, has been really tough on our small businesses. It’s important that we can continue to support them through takeout and delivery—and not to mention, it’s a great option when you need a break from cooking all week! When you’re ordering takeout, make sure you are keeping your time to a minimum inside the restaurant. Don’t gather in big lines where social distancing isn’t possible. We also encourage people to take advantage of our 5-minute pick up zones for cars in front of restaurants. Restaurants can request a pick up zone at Boston.gov.
When you’re ordering delivery, coordinate with your restaurant delivery person to do a contactless drop off. Have them call you when they’ve arrived at your home, and ask them to leave the food by the door or in another agreed upon location. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly, as you would anytime you leave your house.
We’re happy to see so many Bostonians supporting our small businesses, and we’re looking forward to the days when we can dine at our favorite restaurants again!
Are you finding ways to unwind with TV shows/movies/books?
Right now, all of my time and energy is dedicated to slowing the spread of the coronavirus, keeping people safe, and keeping all of our essential city services running. I have not had much down time, but I am taking care of my physical and mental health. I talk with my family and loved ones often, I’m attending virtual AA meetings, and I’m staying in close contact with people who I know could use words of encouragement. For now, that’s how I stay grounded. When we get through this public health crisis, I look forward to watching sports again.
Have you seen any behavior from Bostonians that’s been disappointing?
The vast majority of people are doing a great job practicing physical distancing, and doing everything they can to protect themselves and their fellow Bostonians. But some people are still not taking this seriously enough. We are still seeing groups at parks and beaches. We are seeing shoppers in stores not being careful and maintaining distance. We are still seeing people going in to work who don’t need to be going into work. We are still seeing young people socialize in groups.
I need people to remember that your choices affect other people. It’s about protecting your fellow Bostonians, especially the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions. The message is: stay home. It will save lives.
Besides, you know, staying home, what is the most important thing each of us can be doing right now?
I cannot stress enough that staying home and continuing to practice social distancing are the most important things everyone in Boston can do right now. Our number one goal is to slow the spread of the virus and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
In addition to social distancing, residents can donate to the Boston Resiliency Fund. We met our goal of raising $20 million within the first week, and have begun to distribute grants to help with food access, education, and support for our healthcare workers and first responders. But the needs will continue to grow, and we continue to accept donations here.
Additionally, our first responders are in need of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical, cleaning, and sanitation supplies. If you have unopened personal protective equipment that you would like to donate, you can fill out this form.
Boston is a strong city, and I know that we will get through this together.