Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Customers use hand sanitizer before shopping in Harvard Square’s Topdrawer in late November. (Photo: Marc Levy)

City Manager Louis A. DePasquale won’t immediately follow the lead of neighboring cities that announced new business shutdowns Monday to reduce the spread of Covid-19, though he previously said any changes require a regional approach and has been working with the same communities to persuade the state to act. The news came as Cambridge reported 41 new coronavirus cases, bringing the seven-day average of cases per 100,000 population to 24.

Pressed by city councillors to explain his reluctance, DePasquale said he wasn’t prepared to make such a consequential announcement. “To make that announcement today, you would need to have a tremendous amount of information ready to get out to the public, to get out to the gyms, universities, restaurants. As we have this discussion, I simply wasn’t prepared to say Cambridge is ready to do this without having all the backup information not only decided, but then available to the public,” DePasquale said.

“We weren’t ready today to have our name in that without having all the information, because we already got an incredible amount of calls today about ‘Are you in? What’s that mean? How come?’” DePasquale added.

Mayors of Somerville, Boston, Newton, Brockton and Lynn said they would close gyms, other indoor fitness sites, movie theaters and other indoor business activities, but not indoor restaurant dining. Details might differ among the communities. The move would essentially return cities to Phase 2 of the state reopening plan, while Gov. Charlie Baker retreated only to Step 2 of Phase 3 effective Sunday. Cambridge was already at that level. DePasquale last week joined the other mayors and leaders of additional cities and towns in urging a state rollback and aid for the businesses that would be hurt.

“Moving in a direction”

DePasquale promised an “update” at the next council meeting Dec. 21, but didn’t say clearly what he was considering. “We are still moving and looking in that direction,” he said, referring to the changes in the other cities. He added later: “We have been in the discussions and we are moving in a direction that I think is important to take a look at.”

The city’s Expert Advisory Panel has voted in favor of ending indoor dining and indoor fitness activities and on Monday, councillor Quinton Zondervan pointed out that if Cambridge offers more relaxed rules than its neighbors, “it will attract people to our neighborhoods.”

It is the logic some city staff and other officials applied last spring when arguing against closing Memorial Drive to cars for use as a socially distanced, outdoor exercise space: That the amenity would crowd it dangerously by drawing people from neighboring cities.

Hospitals and wastewater

Zondervan also cited the notes from the Dec. 10 meeting of the panel, which said all intensive care beds at Cambridge Health Alliance’s hospitals in Cambridge and Everett were full. “We’re seeing health care capacity getting tight, older populations getting infected and requiring more medical support, and wastewater [sampling] suggesting even more transmission in the community coming soon,” he said.

Chief Public Health Officer Claude Jacob for the first time presented a graph showing results of Cambridge sewage sampling for the virus; he did not say what it meant. Department of Public Works commissioner Owen O’Riordan confirmed that one of the sampling sites includes wastewater from Belmont, as discussed at the Dec. 3 meeting of the expert panel, and also sewage from “a tiny sliver” each of Watertown and Somerville. After hearing O’Riordan, councillor Patty Nolan concluded that the wastewater collected at the city’s four sampling points is “almost all Cambridge,” though O’Riordan didn’t say that. Members of the expert panel have said the inclusion of Belmont sewage makes it challenging to interpret the sampling results.

As for hospital capacity, Cambridge Health Alliance spokesman David Cecere said earlier Monday evening that there are 31 Covid-19 patients in the hospitals, including five in intensive care beds. “This is heightened volume but less than what we were experiencing in the first surge,” he said. He didn’t immediately respond when asked how many ICU beds are available.

The CHA expects to start vaccinating its employees “later in the week,” Cecere said.