Metro, Politics

UPDATE: Fuller To Lift COVID-19 State of Emergency After Three Years

The City of Newton’s COVID-19 state of emergency will end on May 11, according to an announcement from Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller in her newsletter on Monday.

“This decision comes at a time of hope, recovery and progress in public health,” Fuller’s newsletter reads. “While COVID-19 continues to circulate, we now have many ways to manage the virus. This includes vaccines and boosters, treatments and therapies, testing and masking, and support for staying home when ill.”

Along with lifting the state of emergency, Fuller announced that the vaccine requirement for city employees is also expiring, effective immediately.

Fuller initially announced the state of emergency on March 17, 2020, during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first Newton resident tested positive for COVID-19 on March 9, 2020, just a week prior to the announcement of the state of emergency.

The city experienced three spikes of the virus during the state of emergency—one in the initial months of the pandemic and two during the turn of the new year in 2021 and 2022, according to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard

Over time, the city lessened its COVID-19 restrictions, including lifting the indoor mask mandate for public spaces on Feb. 18, 2022. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorized Newton as a low-risk area for COVID-19 in March 2022.

A gradual reduction of COVID-19 restrictions in the city and around the country track with the trends of the pandemic, according to Matthew Leibowitz, chief of infectious diseases at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

“We are in a different phase of the pandemic now,” Leibowitz said. “Much of daily life has returned to normal interactions, including work, school, shopping, travel, dining, entertainment and personal interactions.”

He said that the lifting of the public health emergency is more impactful on practices within hospitals, but reflective of the public sentiment regarding COVID-19.

Major changes as a result of the decision to lift the public health emergency will be gaps in financial coverage for COVID-19 tests and vaccines by insurance payers, he said.

Uncertainty regarding future outbreaks of the virus remains a major issue in hospitals despite the emergence of vaccines, according to Leibowitz.

We are likely to continue to see ongoing transmission that may establish more of a seasonal pattern, but there is much uncertainty about this,” he said. “New variants that escape individual and population immunity may yet have further serious impacts, especially on more medically vulnerable people.”

Leibowitz said that there is still hope among medical professionals that vaccines will render the virus less dangerous, as long as people adhere to the most recent medical advice.

“Hopefully, at some time in the future, it will be a much more mild illness, similar to other ‘cold’ viruses,” Leibowitz said. “The development of new and more effective vaccines may have a major impact on the future of COVID, as long as people are willing to be immunized.”

Fuller’s newsletter expanded on Leibowitz’s hope, noting that lifting the state of emergency is a gesture that signals brighter days for the city.

As blossoms and daffodils emerge in the spring of 2023, I remember the dark shadow of the pandemic,” the newsletter reads. “I thank the employees of the City and Newton Public Schools for helping so many endure so much. I am grateful that we can now lift the Emergency Declaration.”

Update (4/16/2023, 3:03PM): This article was updated to include quotes from Leibowitz.

April 10, 2023