Coronavirus in Boston: Marty Walsh says pandemic could last ‘8 months’ as he rolls out restaurant, small business aid

Boston is paving the way for restaurants to use more outdoor seating as eateries look to welcome back customers amid a pandemic Mayor Martin Walsh said could linger for several months more.

“We could be battling this pandemic for eight months to a year,” Walsh said. “As we begin to think about reopening and be phasing open, I think it’s important for people to stay healthy.”

When it comes to dining, Walsh said the city is streamlining the process for restaurants to use outdoor space through the licensing board’s existing one-day permits, is lifting the “alcohol with food only” restriction that currently prevents establishments from serving alcohol outdoors without food and is waiving fees for the approved use of outdoor space.

“We certainly feel your pain,” Walsh said. “We’re doing everything we can to help restaurants survive not just now but even after this when they open up.”

Walsh floated the idea Thursday of “parklets” — parking spaces where tables can be set up — or closing down parking lots for extra restaurant space. He’s also talked about partial street closures. But the mayor said fully shutting down streets would be difficult — citing the fire station on Hanover Street in the North End as an example.

Walsh implored eateries to fill out the licensing board’s online questionnaire that will serve as a starting point for outdoor expansion.

The mayor also said Boston is disbursing $4 million in Small Business Relief Fund grants to 1,100 businesses throughout the city, 95% of which have 15 or fewer employees, 52% are owned by people of color, 49% are owned by women and 46% by immigrants.

Walsh called the grants “a lifeline for businesses that are hurting and have struggled to get a federally backed loan.”

He said the city would love to do more, but doesn’t have the resources. Walsh expressed support for the congressional delegation’s efforts to secure federal funding hours after U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, volunteering at Food for Free in Cambridge, stressed the need for more local, state and federal aid for small businesses hard-hit by the coronavirus crisis — particularly those owned by women and people of color.

Citing ongoing challenges in securing personal protective equipment, Walsh also rolled out an online portal to connect businesses with vendors.

“We want to make sure that the small businesses don’t get shut out of reopening because they don’t have a supply chain,” Walsh said.

And city officials announced a virtual graduation ceremony that will air at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 13, on WCVB. Walsh, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius and former U.S. Secretary of Education John King will honor the roughly 3,000 graduates in the Class of 2020.

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