The Boston City Council held its first ever virtual hearing regarding COVID-19 on Monday, March 23 using the video conferencing program Zoom.
The hearing, which was held by the City Council Committee on Public Health and chaired by new District 5 Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, invited a gamut of people from professors to nurses to speak and answer questions related to the coronavirus.
Zoom’s platform allowed panelists to use PowerPoints for their presentations if need be, as well as for people to ask questions. The purpose of this hearing was to disseminate as much information as possible to the public as well as get some answers to questions that many people have.
The hearing’s first guest, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Dr. Marc Lipsitch, provided a presentation. An epidemiologist, Lipsitch said that a large fraction of the transmission from the virus is from close contact—when droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person land on someone else. He said that there is probably some airborne transmission as well, though it is less likely if you are outdoors.
“There is not zero risk from a doorknob,” he warned, telling listeners that they should wash frequently touched surfaces and hands often.
“When will we have a better idea of how long we might be looking at?” City Councilor Michelle Wu asked.
Lipsitch said there are a lot of factors, “probably some we haven’t even realized yet.” He said that China took measures earlier as far as social distancing goes, and “hospitalization is a lagging indicator of new cases.”
City Councilor Kim Janey asked that if testing is part of the strategy for flattening the curve, if enough is being done.
Lipsitch said that the country is “not there yet,” in terms of the amount of testing that needs to be done. He said that per capita, the United States has done 30 times less testing than South Korea per capita. “We do not have the capacity to do what people are strongly advocating for,” he said.
City Councilor Julia Mejia said that it seems as though the age group for who is at risk for the virus has changed, but Lipsitch said that there is “no evidence” that the virus has changed. What has changed, he said, is the way that researchers understand the virus.
While children are much less symptomatic on average, they are still capable of catching and transmitting the virus.
Margaret Conlon of Carney Hospital in Dorchester said that a floor of the hospital will turn into a negative pressure area, which will pull infected droplets away from healthcare professionals. The hospital. The hospital is the first in the nation to offer a dedicated care center for COVID-19 patients.
Phil Landrigan, Director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College, spoke strongly about the importance of a stay at home order, though he thinks the governor’s stay at home advisory is “clearly a step in the right direction,” he said. “My concern is that it doesn’t go far enough.”
Many others also spoke at the hearing, including a representative from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office and nurses who are providing care to those infected with COVID-19.
“Things are changing daily,” said City Councilor Matt O’Malley. “We want to get as much information as we can out.”
As of press time, the full video for this hearing was not yet posted on the City Council’s YouTube channel for playback.
The City Council will continue to hold virtual meetings and hearings; the links to follow along and participate at home can be accessed via the City of Boston website’s Public Notices section.