PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence revealed employee vaccination rates this week across most city departments, showing more than 86% of the municipal employees are either fully or partially vaccinated against COVID-19.
Mayor Jorge Elorza announced in August that city employees would need to show proof of vaccination by October 1, or else submit to weekly COVID testing.
Notably absent from the numbers are two groups of Providence employees who interact frequently with the public. One is police officers, who successfully lobbied to collectively bargain the vaccine policy and are delayed in collecting their numbers. The other is school department employees, whose district is currently under state control and did not have to comply with the city’s vaccine requirement.
Data provided by the city’s human resources office shows a total of 81% of city employees were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, while 5% were partially vaccinated and 14% remained unvaccinated.
Out of 36 city departments, 11 have fully vaccinated 100% of their staff, according to the data, including the municipal court, human services and emergency management departments.
The department with the lowest vaccination rate is the retirement office, whose small staff is only 25% vaccinated and 75% unvaccinated.
The next lowest vaccination rates, including both fully and partially vaccinated employees, are the internal audit office (67%), the Office of Economic Opportunity (67%), City Council staff (69%) and the city clerk’s office (71%).
The City Council figure only includes staffers, not the 15 city councilors, who were apparently not required to abide by the policy. It was not immediately clear why the councilors were excluded. Asked for an explanation Wednesday, Elorza spokesperson Theresa Agonia said HR would now send the vaccine attestations forms to councilors.
Every other department has at least 75% of its employees fully or partially vaccinated, according to the data. Among the staffers in Mayor Elorza’s office, 94% are fully vaccinated, 3% are partially vaccinated and 3% are unvaccinated.
Of the largest city departments, the parks department is 89% fully or partially vaccinated, the Water Supply Board is at 81% and the Department of Public Works is at 82%.
“I appreciate that so many city staff members have done their part to get vaccinated to help us get one step closer to the other side of this pandemic,” Elorza said in a statement Wednesday.
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Unvaccinated city employees are not at risk of losing their jobs as long as they get weekly COVID tests, with two exceptions: health care workers are mandated by the state to be vaccinated, and the city also quietly issued its own policy requiring employees who work with children to be vaccinated or face termination.
On the health care side, Providence firefighters are required to be emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and the city has said any firefighter who loses their EMT licenses will be terminated. The R.I. Department of Health has not yet started revoking EMT licenses, leaving the 12 Providence firefighters on the job for now. (Only 3% of the 409 Providence firefighters remain unvaccinated.)
The city’s policy requiring employees who work with children to be fully vaccinated goes into effect Oct. 8, requiring staff whose job descriptions require working with children to attest that they are either fully vaccinated or have an existing appointment within seven days or the deadline, or else be terminated.
It’s unclear exactly how many employees the policy applies to, though it’s a relatively small number compared to the thousands of school employees who work with children but are not subject to the policy. (The recreation department, which includes employees who work with children, is 68.5% fully vaccinated and 15% partially vaccinated.)
The state-run school department has previously said it was not considering a vaccine requirement for employees, but schools spokesperson Audrey Lucas said Wednesday the department is now “actively considering” such a policy.
“PPSD is continuing to monitor and evaluate best practices in school districts across the country as we work to keep our staff and students safe,” Lucas said.
Vaccine numbers for the Providence police officers should be available in the coming days, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré. The Fraternal Order of Police sent a letter on Sept. 9 asking to collectively bargain the city’s vaccine policy, citing concerns about when officers could get tested, what exemptions would be allowed and where officers’ medical records would be kept.
Paré said the city agreed to allow unvaccinated officers to be tested while on duty at the city’s testing site, but declined the union’s request for additional sick time and hazard pay. Officers are being asked to submit their vaccine attestation forms this week.
The civilians who work at the Police Department are 87.5% fully or partially vaccinated.
The Elorza administration is continuing to try and get more city staffers vaccinated, including by holding a clinic inside City Hall on Wednesday, run by Asthenis Pharmacy. Fifteen people came in to get vaccinated at the clinic, according to spokesperson Theresa Agonia.
Another clinic is planned for Oct. 27.