BOSTON (SHNS) – Three hundred and forty-nine days since they were last in classrooms, some of Boston’s youngest students went back to school on Monday.
The state’s largest school district welcomed back students in pre-kindergarten through grade three whose families had opted in for in-person learning, joining the high-priority students who had already returned to school buildings.
Boston schools were forced into remote learning as of March 17, 2020 as COVID-19 cases mounted, and the city is now working to gradually repopulate classrooms, starting with early grades.
“It was great to see the little faces smiling and happy. They were full of energy and they just wanted to talk,” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said at a press conference where he also looked ahead to this March 17 and beyond to the next steps of economic reopening.
Walsh announced that outdoor dining for the city’s restaurants will begin on April 1, or potentially sooner if the weather allows.
Last year’s program that allowed patio seating on street and sidewalk spaces and offered a streamlined permitting process “brought much needed viability back into our streets and our small businesses,” Walsh said.
Applications for outdoor dining have been available online since December, Walsh said, and Boston officials have so far received more than 370 applications and approved more than 150 of them.
For the 2020 season, the city licensing board approved more than 550 outdoor dining requests, with more than 415 on public property, according to Walsh’s office.
Effective Monday, restaurants in most of the state no longer had their capacity capped at 40 percent and were able to host musical performances, the result of Gov. Charlie Baker nudging the state forward in his phased reopening plan.
Massachusetts is now back in step two of the plan’s third phase, with indoor performance venues and indoor recreational facilities able to reopen with capacity limits. Many other businesses are now also able to operate at 50 percent capacity.
Boston is going along with the state’s capacity increases, though it is keeping indoor performance and recreation venues closed until March 22 and not allowing live music in restaurants until that date.
Walsh said that six feet of space between tables and a 90-minute seating limit are still required at Boston restaurants.
“And we have not increased the six people at a table [limit] at this point,” he said. “And I know restaurants want that, but just be patient with us, we will get there. We want to make sure that the numbers are safe before we do that.”
Walsh said there will be no exceptions to restaurant rules for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday and the accompanying weekend that Boston’s festivities often spill into. Bars will remain closed, private gatherings will still be restricted to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, and the city’s traditional parade has again been canceled this year.
The mayor said there should be “no large gatherings of any kind for St. Patrick’s Day.”
“We are so close to a finish line here that what we don’t need now is a step backwards,” Walsh said. “We’re opening up, the governor’s opening up, we’re trying to open up more businesses, we’re trying to get fans in the stands at Fenway and at the Garden. We’re trying to do that, but events like St. Patrick’s Day and weekends like St. Patrick’s Day can throw us back. They can become superspreader events and we could be in a situation where we’re shutting everything down again.”
St. Patrick’s Day 2020 coincided with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts and initial rounds of business restrictions.
The weekend before last St. Patrick’s Day, news outlets captured photos and videos of long lines and large crowds outside the bars along Broadway in South Boston, and more than a dozen bars in that neighborhood reached an agreement with the city to voluntarily close.
That Sunday, March 15, Baker would order all Massachusetts schools to close for at least three weeks starting on March 17, 2020, the same day the state’s restaurants had to shift to takeout and delivery service only.
Walsh said the city is “incredibly grateful” for its restaurants, which have faced immense challenges over the past year.
He said the city will not allow lines outside restaurants on and around St. Patrick’s Day.
“Please be cognizant of the people around you and to make sure that we stay safe,” Walsh said. “Hopefully a year from now, St. Patrick’s Day, there’ll be no real rules or regulations in place and we’ll be able to have the fun and the celebration that we all want to have.”