WaterFire honors RI’s COVID-19 heroes in first lighting since pandemic hit


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A special WaterFire was held Saturday night, honoring Rhode Island’s COVID-19 heroes.

A torch procession consisting of 100 first responders and other essential workers from around the state kicked off the event just after sunset and was led by Gov. Dan McKee.

“Rhode Island owes a debt of gratitude to our COVID heroes,” McKee said in a statement. “It has been a challenging year and a half, and these remarkable Rhode Islanders have never backed down. From health care workers, police officers, firefighters, and EMTs, to postal workers, grocery store employees and so many more, all essential workers continue to step up to the plate for their fellow Rhode Islanders.”

WaterFire has been canceled for more than a year due to the pandemic. Several people at Saturday night’s lighting said it felt good just to be out and celebrating the city again.

“It’s the most important part of the whole thing, getting people out and having a good time.”

“It feels great after a year and a half, it’s a wonderful thing for the city, a great thing for the kids.”

While thousands were out to celebrate, hundreds marched into WaterFire to protest Gov. Dan McKee’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. They held signs and chanted, saying it should be their decision of whether or not they need to be vaccinated.

Anti-vaccine mandate protesters wound their way in and around Saturday night’s WaterFire lighting. (Photo Courtesy: Katie McIerney)

Gov. Dan McKee called for attendees of Saturday night’s event to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. A 12 News crew observed about half of those in attendance adhering to that recommendation.

The Department of Health also hosted a pop-up vaccination and testing site at WaterFire from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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