PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee’s administration has announced that all employees and visitors entering state facilities will be required to resume wearing a mask indoors as of Friday, even if they are vaccinated, 12 News has learned.
“Rhode Island, like states around the country, is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases as a result of the delta variant,” James Thorsen, director of the R.I. Department of Administration, wrote in a memo distributed Thursday afternoon. “The number one thing you can do to protect yourself and your family from the delta variant is to get vaccinated.”
Thorsen said the decision to reinstate a mask mandate came in response to evidence that the delta variant is significantly more transmissible than previous versions of the virus, as well as a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation for indoor masking regardless of vaccination status.
“The masking requirement will remain in effect until the state experiences a marked and sustained decline in the transmission of COVID-19,” Thorsen wrote. “We will notify you in advance of any decision to lift this requirement.”
Individuals who have a health condition that won’t let them wear a mask can contact the state’s HR office, he said.
McKee said earlier this week he is considering whether to mandate vaccinations for state employees and is in talks with unions about the idea. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced Thursday he will require all Treasury employees to either provide proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test each week.
The news that masks will return to state facilities emerged the same day the governor signed a new executive order that extends current quarantine and isolation requirements into September, as part of the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency in Rhode Island. The state of emergency is currently scheduled to end Sept. 4.
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Coronavirus infections plunged in Rhode Island during the spring amid a successful vaccination drive, with more than half of all residents fully vaccinated by the end of May. But cases and hospitalizations are now on the rise once again as the delta variant spreads, and demand for testing has jumped.
With the pandemic well into its second year, however, there is increasing disagreement about what steps are appropriate to deal with the virus. State Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, called the new mask mandate for state buildings “ridiculous.”
“This is never going to end,” Newberry tweeted. “Covid is never going away. It is endemic. It will be with us forever like any number of other viruses, mutating over time. Vaccines for most people neutralize the effects but there is no ‘cure.’ It is time to go back to normal life.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram