The city of Providence will impose a mask mandate for municipal buildings as of Tuesday, and will also require all city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1.
If city employees are not vaccinated by then, they will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test weekly, Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration said.
“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 announcing the move. “It is important now more than ever that everyone wear their masks, watch their distance and sign up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.”
The vaccination mandate affects about 1,000 employees, but not those working in the city’s public schools.
The move follows upticks in COVID cases around Rhode Island.
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced last week that his 89 staff members must be vaccinated or face regular testing.
Meanwhile Gov. Dan McKee’s administration will require workers at state-licensed health care facilities, public and private, to be vaccinated. Those that aren’t will have to continue to wear masks and be tested twice weekly, McKee has announced. But he is still mulling a requirement to mandate vaccines for the entire state workforce.
Magaziner and Elorza are both likely to run against McKee in the Democratic gubernatorial primary next year.
The new rules ran into immediate opposition from the union representing police officers, who said they were considering legal action.
“Whether they want to get the vaccine or not is a personal choice,” said Michael Imondi, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3.
Imondi said there’s a widespread sentiment in the union that the vaccine is unproven, and many officers fear the side effects. Though they do not have to get the vaccine if they’re tested weekly, Imondi said they are concerned about potential health effects of test swabs. (The vaccine was rigorously tested, and works to keep people out of the hospital and alive, health officials say; experts have also debunked concerns about the test swabs.)
Imondi said he himself was vaccinated, but only did so to make his family comfortable.
He estimated 50 to 60 percent of the union membership had been vaccinated.
They believe the issue should have been the subject of collective bargaining -- in other words, a negotiation between the union and the city.
“If there are things we can do legally about it, we will,” Imondi said.
Brian Amaral can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.