Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Thursday that construction is underway to convert the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center into a temporary field hospital with capacity to house more than 500 people infected with coronavirus who don’t require full hospitalization.
Plans are still being hammered out, Walsh said, but the main purpose of the facility will be to house people experiencing homelessness now, who are unable to isolate themselves at home.
The plan represents a substantial ramping-up of efforts to prevent an outbreak within homeless shelters and protect Boston’s homeless population, as well as to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients who would otherwise depend on city shelters.
The convention center might also house other patients to maintain hospital capacity for the most serious cases, Walsh said.
Walsh said the move is critical to keeping hospitals functional as coronavirus infections peak across the state.
“The hospitals, from what I understand the capacity is ok today but as you can see just the Boston increase in the corona virus cases today, we can anticipate in the next couple days the number is going to go up in the state, which is really going to strain our hospital system,” Walsh said.
Walsh also used his press availability to voice support for a measure, sponsored by State Representative Kevin Honan and now making its way through the state legislature, that would include more protections from eviction and foreclosure for residents during the coronavirus crisis.
That legislation passed the Massachsuetts House Thursday, with House Speaker Robert Deleo praising the bill on Twitter, writing “During these unprecedented times, we need to do whatever we can to keep people healthy, safe and in their homes.”
Said Walsh, “These protections are critical for economic reasons, also for continuing out fight against this virus. Housing is a foundation of public health.”
Walsh said the city is putting $3 million city dollars into funding emergency rental assistance for residents impacted by the outbreak and in danger of losing their housing.
That announcement comes a day after City Council members debated, sometimes hotly, similar proposals, including one by City Councilor Lydia Edwards, to use funds from the city’s Community Preservation Act to fund an emergency rent assistance program; as well a non-binding resolution, sponsored by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, supporting a moratorium on evictions statewide.
In Walsh’s plan, the money would come from the city’s general fund.
The mayor also repeated warnings to residents who haven’t been abiding by the statewide stay at home advisory, saying he will enforce the order with fines or other penalties if necessary.
“We will go there if people don’t pay attention,” Walsh warned. “As we continue to watch this over the next couple days if we’re not seeing one hundred percent adherence to these regulations or advisories, then we’ll take the next step.”