Walsh says governing has become about ‘life and death’

Marty Walsh is the first to admit that dealing with a global pandemic was never among the challenges he imagined facing as Boston mayor. “The last thought in my mind — it wasn’t even a thought in my mind — was that we were going to be dealing with a worldwide pandemic,” he says on this week’s Codcast.

But he’s been doing just that for more than 10 weeks, freezing construction work in Boston, standing up a rental relief program, and overseeing a set of city initiatives aimed at ensuring  care for the homeless and other vulnerable groups amidst the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s life and death, and the decisions we make have to be quick,” says Walsh. “They have to be precise and you can’t second guess it and worry about what people are going to say.”

The state is beginning a phased reopening, but Walsh is not particularly sanguine that we’re past the worst of the outbreak. “I do not think the worst is behind us. I still think it’s in front of us,” he says. “Listening to the experts, they’re all telling us that there’s going to be a resurgence in the fall.”

That’s made him wary of the state’s Phase 1 standard that allows offices to reopen with up to  25 percent of their normal workforce. (The guidelines took effect Monday everywhere in the state except Boston, where they kick in next Monday.) Walsh said he worries about the prospect of thousands of people suddenly back in downtown Boston. He declined to say whether the city would declare a firm limit that’s lower than the statewide order (Gov. Charlie Baker has said communities can opt to maintain stricter rules than the state guidelines) but said he will continue to encourage employers to allow people to work from home.

A potential surge in the fall has enormous implications for the area’s colleges and universities. Walsh said he’s had discussions with the city’s higher ed leaders, all of whom have signaled their intention to have some mix of on-campus and online classes this fall. Walsh struck a guarded note on what will actually transpire.

“They have a lot of big decisions in front of them,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go. You can announce you’re going to open in August, but from announcing to actually happening, we’ll see what happens.”

His day starts with an 8 a.m. crisis management conference call that includes 90 city employees. He said it’s happened seven days a week — except for Mother’s Day — since the pandemic broke out. At 9:30 it’s a call about hospital capacity. And at 10 each day he has a call with members of the City Council — a noteworthy sign of collaborative outreach in a city whose strong-mayor form of government has often seen its chief executive brush aside the council.

Walsh said he was recently tested for coronavirus and coronavirus antibodies — his office said it was because of his regular contact with essential City Hall employees. The virus test was negative, while the antibody test result was still pending on Friday.

Though there seems to be a bit of daylight between their views on reopening, Walsh said he talks to Baker five or six times a week, and said they’ve had a couple of more personal conversations “just checking in on each other.”

There also turns out to be some daylight between their viewing tastes when looking to unwind. Walsh says he’s been binge watching “Ozark.” “It’s pretty great, it’s insane,” the mayor said of the Netflix series. Baker, however, said he would jump off a roof if he had to watch much of that; instead, he gave two thumbs up to a documentary called The Biggest Little Farm.

For all his concerns about the immediate trajectory we’re on, Walsh — and you’d expect nothing less from the mayor of New England’s largest city — rejects the idea that urban living’s best days are behind it. “I don’t think that this is going to cause a 1980 migration to the [Route] 128 belt,” he says of a time that saw people leaving for the suburbs. “I think people still want to be in the city.”

Walsh knows people who have succumbed to the virus, and said the human toll and non-stop barrage of issues he must deal with can be draining. It’s created a certain paradox in his daily routine.

“Every single day is the same, but it’s very different,” he says.

MICHAEL JONAS 


BEACON HILL

The source for Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency powers is a bit fuzzy — more Cold War than COVID. (CommonWealth) But a half dozen constitutional law experts tell the Telegram & Gazette that Baker is likely on solid legal ground in instituting his emergency orders.

Paul Hattis of Tufts University Medical School keeps score on Baker’s COVID-19 response so far. (CommonWealth)

A state regulator is starting to say enough is enough with the over-the-top public records filings of some citizens. (CommonWealth)

Minority activists staged a protest at the State House decrying the state response to the pandemic’s impact on their communities. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Local boards of health are trying to combine education and enforcement as the state slowly reopens. (CommonWealth)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The New York Times and Washington Post both take stock of the deadly toll of COVID-19 at the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

It’s time to stop blaming nursing homes, says Chris Hannon of Pointe Care Group. (CommonWealth)

Retired juvenile court judge Jay Blitzman says the coronavirus is once again demonstrating that where you live matters. (CommonWealth)

A new British study suggests the rate of coronavirus infections in Massachusetts is much higher than reported. (MassLive) Scientists warn that the state could see a resurgence of the virus, prompting a need for a second shutdown. (Boston Globe)

A public hearing on Thursday will allow people to give their thoughts on the announced closure of Falmouth Hospital’s maternity and pediatric units. (Cape Cod Times)

The Patriot Ledger explores how death tolls published by the Department of Public Health for long-term care facilities are hard to come by.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US Sen. Ed Markey introduces a railroad safety bill named after Warren Cowles, a Longmeadow town worker killed in a train collision during a snowstorm at a railroad crossing with a history of accidents. (MassLive)

The Air Force eliminates its height requirement to attract more female pilots. (New York Times)

The pandemic has New Yorkers questioning whether big city life is worth it. (Washington Post) On the opposite coast, a lot of California’s pre-pandemic assets are now liabilities. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

A Boston Herald editorial says state GOP chairman Jim Lyons’s hard-right strategy isn’t working — but neither is Gov. Charlie Baker’s effort to win legislative seats with more moderate Republicans.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

As employees start to return to work, WBUR explores their rights and the responsibilities of employers. Retailers and restaurants are frustrated that the state’s reopening plan would not let them open in time for Memorial Day weekend. (The Salem News)

Hair salons and barbershops were busy, but other retailers were not. (Boston Globe) Shopping malls remain ghost towns. (MassLive) Many hair salons, barbershops and dog groomers are already booked for months (Patriot Ledger)

A Pioneer Institute survey says working from home is becoming the new normal and may dramatically impact Boston’s commercial real estate market. (Boston Herald)

In other states, the experience is very different. One resort in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri attracted national attention for its crowded pool party. (KSHB.com)

EDUCATION

Teachers and parents face a lot of hurdles in educating students in Gateway Cities. (CommonWealth)

The pandemic is scrambling the usual college acceptance waiting list game. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

Members of the Berkshire Theatre Critics Association lament the loss of the summer arts season and the possibility of shutdowns into the fall. (Berkshire Eagle)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Craig Altemose of the Better Future Project highlights the links between COVID-19 and climate change. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Federal prosecutors and Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson say ICE detainees released by a federal judge because of coronavirus are regularly violating the house arrest orders they were given. (Boston Herald)

Divorce and child custody cases are among those being put on hold in non-emergency situations, creating angst for litigants. (MassLive)

PASSINGS

Donna Morrissey, who handled communications for the American Red Cross and had the challenging job of previously doing so for the Boston archdiocese during the clergy sex scandal, died at age 51 of COVID-19. (Boston Globe)