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BOSTON -- September 1, 2023 -- As Boston families get ready to send their children back to school, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) is reminding everyone to be aware of the increase in COVID-19 cases and to prepare for cold and flu season.

BPHC strongly recommends that families have COVID-19 rapid testing kits available at home and ready to use if anyone is feeling sick or if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Testing prior to returning to school is a good idea to protect others from infection. People may also consider getting tested before events when they will be around older adults or others at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

In collaboration with nonprofits and community-based organizations, BPHC has created an expansive network of distribution hubs where residents can get free at-home rapid testing kits. There are distribution hubs for test kits in every Boston neighborhood. A full list of distribution hubs and hours of operation is available on BPHC's website.

BPHC also operates two standing clinics at the Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury and City Hall that offer free COVID-19 vaccines, boosters, and rapid at-home testing kits which can be taken on site.

BPHC is extending the hours of operation at its clinical site at the Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury next week to support as many families and BPS employees as possible before the start of the new school year. For next week only, the clinic will operate from Tuesday through Saturday, from 12-6pm. Normal hours of operation (Thursdays-Saturdays from 12-6pm) will resume the following week.

"Being prepared is one of the best strategies to protect ourselves and others as we begin to settle back into school and testing for COVID-19 if you are feeling sick or have been exposed is one of the best ways we can protect our classmates, colleagues, and family members," said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

BPHC also strongly recommends that all families stay up to date with their vaccines for COVID-19, flu, and other diseases, such as pertussis, measles, and varicella. We recommend that everyone ages 6-months and older get their annual flu shot in September or October. Families should plan ahead and schedule flu shot appointments with their trusted health care providers or at a local pharmacy.

The FDA and CDC are expected to issue approvals for updated COVID-19 vaccines and schedules in the coming weeks, and BPHC will provide recommendations after reviewing the latest guidance.

In the meantime, everybody should take the following steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from getting sick with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses by:

  • Having COVID-19 rapid testing kits available at home to test if you have symptoms of COVID-19. 
  • Staying home when sick and wearing a mask if you are around others while ill or have to leave the house.  
  • Talking to your trusted healthcare provider about treatment if you test positive for COVID-19 or flu and are at high risk for severe disease.  
  • Wearing a well-fitting face mask, especially in crowded indoor settings and/or if you are at high risk of severe illness. 
  • Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  
  • Regularly disinfecting and cleaning high-touch surfaces. 

Like many other parts of the country, Boston has seen increases COVID-19 rates over the past month. While the number of COVID-19 particles in the wastewater (948 RNA copies/mL on August 23) has held stable over the past two weeks, it remains higher than the beginning of the summer (247 RNA copies/mL on June 7). COVID-19-related hospitalizations have also increased since the beginning of August. As of August 26, there were a total of 69 new weekly hospitalizations in Boston. These increases are not cause for immediate concern but are important to be aware of with back-to-school season and cold and flu season approaching.