Providence to mandate vaccines for city employees, masks in city buildings

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Mayor Jorge Elorza will soon require city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The new mandate will require employees to provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 1. Those who don’t do so will need to submit weekly COVID tests, Elorza said.

Masks are also going to be mandated in City Hall and other municipal buildings starting Tuesday. All staff and visitors will be required to wear the face coverings, according to a news release.

“In light of the delta variant and increased spread of COVID-19 in Providence, today we are announcing a measured approach that prioritizes the health and safety of our residents and employees,” Elorza said in a statement. “It is important now more than ever that everyone wear their masks, watch their distance and sign up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.”

Communications director Theresa Agonia said the city’s employee unions were notified of the requirement, but it was not collectively bargained.

The president of the Providence Police Union said he was not in favor of any vaccine requirement.

“It’s everybody’s individual right whether they get the vaccination,” said Michael Imondi, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3. “Whether you get vaccinated or not doesn’t make a difference because you can still get COVID.”

In contrast, the union representing firefighters in the city declined to take a position. The union representing many municipal workers, Local 1033, did not respond to a request for comment.

Agonia said employees who refuse to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing could face disciplinary action.

Providence joins a growing list of cities mandating vaccines for employees, including New York and Boston. Locally, New Bedford announced a vaccine requirement earlier this month.

Elorza said he hopes Providence can be a model for other employers in the city.

“I certainly urge businesses and offices throughout the downtown and throughout the city to consider something similar,” he said.

No similar vaccine requirement has been implemented for state workers, though state Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced last week the treasury department would require vaccines for employees or weekly negative COVID tests.

Vaccine appointments are available at VaccinatePVD.com and VaccinateRI.org.

The new policy does not affect the Providence Public School Department, which is controlled by the state. But state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said last week masks will be required in Providence schools.

A vaccine mandate is not currently being considered for school staff, spokesperson Audrey Lucas said.

“PPSD strongly encourages all staff members and eligible students to get vaccinated before the start of the school year,” Lucas said. “We have not had discussions about mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for staff.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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