On their first day as the new hosts of GBH’s Morning Edition, Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel spoke with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu about the pandemic, schools and more. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Siegel: Thanks for thanks for joining us. Mayor Wu, I would like to begin with the coronavirus pandemic. We've seen multiple protests, some very tense, against the city's COVID restrictions, including at public libraries and your home. How does the city deal with balancing demonstration and protecting public employees?

Wu: You know, it's really striking how much emotion and misinformation has been really tied to clear public health decisions in the midst of a pandemic. And there is a core of folks — it's a core of the same people who are outside my house, going into the State House when it is still closed, going into our libraries without masks. We are living in times with a lot of complexity. But Boston can rest assured that our public health decisions will always be made by public health officials, and we will do everything possible to ensure that people are safe.

Siegel: Several cities and towns in Massachusetts have recently lifted their indoor mask mandates. Boston's is still in effect. Could we see that change soon for Boston?

Wu: Things are changing. We had set metrics for lifting of the proof of vaccination requirements for indoor venues like restaurants and gyms and entertainment that are tied to the positivity rate in our communities and in terms of transmission of COVID 19, as well as the strain on our hospital system as measured by ICU capacity and daily COVID hospitalizations. And so, in terms of the mask mandate, we want to see those similar thresholds, but additionally, with some continued downward trends, just to be sure that we are continuing to head in the right direction

Siegel: So mask mandates will be lifted after the vaccine mandate is lifted. It's a more strict rule, the higher threshold that you're looking for?

Wu: That's right. Yes.

Alston: Mayor Wu, turning to schools, you've reached a compromise with the Boston Teachers Union, which no longer requires all teachers to be vaccinated. Now if we see another surge and teachers who are unvaccinated have to be out, and we're in a situation like last time where Superintendent Brenda Cassellius had to go into classrooms and fill in, what is the plan to cover that staff that would be out?

Wu: I'm just so, so grateful to our incredible school staff. It's been a challenge now for an exhausting two years plus for our school communities. We are seeing things much, much better now. Right after the winter vacation as students and educators were coming back, we saw more than triple the average daily absences from staff due to a combination of COVID and other factors. But now we are back down to even actually below the average staff absence rate. And so staffing seems like it's OK for now.

And our vaccination rates are quite high across the entire city workforce. We're at more than 95 percent of city workers vaccinated, and that's been a huge help as those numbers came up to getting through the surge and knowing that we'll be protected in future surges as well.

Alston: So exactly how many teachers are we talking about that could be affected? Essentially, how many of them are unvaccinated and may have to be out?

Wu: Last count — and it's a little bit difficult to answer your question precisely — the number of teachers who had not submitted proof of vaccination was a little over 100. I think somewhere in the 120 range, I believe, and that doesn't count paraprofessionals and other types of school staff. But we know that there are some folks who are vaccinated who just haven't submitted documentation because there hasn't been a driving need for them yet, because we haven't moved towards any change in employment status or anything like that yet due to the court stay.

Alston: You've talked about what the threshold would be for Boston's mask mandate to be lifted. Will students wear masks the rest of the year in classrooms?

Wu: I'm not sure of the answer to that right now. What I do know is that our mask mandate will stay on beyond the states lifting that they've prescribed at the end of the month. This is reflecting that the condition in our schools is different than across just the general public and across other school districts.

We have a pretty dated physical plant of our buildings, two thirds of them built before World War Two. We still need to invest a lot in ventilation and HVAC systems, and so are our classrooms are a little bit of a tighter space and need investments in ventilation. We are working as much as we can to set up outdoor learning space and tents or other ways that our students can be outside as soon as the weather lets up and potentially even eat outside so that they can be unmasked and have that time too.

Alston: Mayor Wu, tomorrow the Boston school committee will hold its first meeting to kick off its search for a new superintendent. How do you find a stable replacement for the Boston Public School system in the five months before Superintendent Cassellius resigns?

Wu: That's definitely a big, big priority to make sure that the kind of up and down of our district over many years, now finds hope for someone who will really take us to the next level and bring stability to the district as well. I'm so grateful to Superintendent Cassellius for her leadership and so much that she has accomplished in the three most difficult years that BPS has ever had during this pandemic. And she is staying through the end of the school year, which will help us with a stable transition in and of itself.

So we're looking for our school committee to partner with the community to help move quickly in a search, but to find someone who can hit the ground running. We don't have the luxury of being able to waste any time and getting right to work for Boston Public Schools and our school communities.

"We're hoping that Boston's search will bring people who really see the beauty, the potential, the energy and the excitement here in our city."
-Mayor Michelle Wu

Siegel: Mayor, is there a short list in your search? Are you looking for someone local, someone from the last pool?

Wu: We don't have any names as of right now. The search committee hasn't been formed and I know the school committee will be very diligent in how that reflects the representation of our communities. I share a sense of urgency with many of the leaders and other stakeholders that I've spoken to with families across the district that we really need to not only keep up progress but accelerate it in Boston Public Schools because there has just been so much stress and so many of the disparities have been deepened during the pandemic, so I do believe we need someone who is able to hit the ground running who ideally is familiar with the district, with our city and our communities. And I know the school committee and the search committee they ultimately formed will do a great job in finding that person.

There's a lot of turnover right now. I think something like 18 of the 50 largest school districts are in the midst of superintendent searches. So there there's a lot of change overall across the country, and we're hoping that Boston's search will bring people who really see the beauty, the potential, the energy and the excitement here in our city.

Siegel: When you say someone familiar with the system, does that mean you are hoping this is someone who's going to be local?

Wu: I think that could come in a number of different ways. You could have someone who is familiar with Boston, but maybe not formally within our school district. You could have someone who's familiar with the role of a superintendent and would be able to ramp up quickly. So, you know, I don't have a specific sort of set mold that I'm pushing for, but I know that there's a lot of talent out there and that this remains, this is one of the most exciting places to work, and we're going to make sure that Boston Public Schools attracts a whole team of top talent to really dig in for our young people.

Alston: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, thank you so much for joining us today, and happy Valentine's Day to you.

Wu: Happy Valentine's Day. Thanks to you both.