Portland’s new requirement that city staff receive a COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing will apply to about 1,000 city employees, 20 to 30 percent of whom are not yet vaccinated, the city said.

Portland is the first municipality in Maine and one of the first in the country to announce the requirements. Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, also joined the growing list of cities to issue similar mandates in recent days.

The move to require vaccines or tests in Portland followed an earlier announcement by Gov. Janet Mills that all health care workers in Maine must be vaccinated for COVID-19. That order already covered an additional 400 Portland city employees, such as workers at the city’s nursing home and emergency medical responders.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland’s vaccination and testing requirements go into effect on Sept. 10 for all non-union employees. The city is negotiating implementation of the policy with eight unions that represent city employees and vaccination deadlines for those employees will be announced as negotiations wrap up.

City Manager Jon Jennings made the decision to require the vaccine or weekly testing after discussions during the last few weeks with public health staff, said Jessica Grondin, spokesperson for the city. She said Jennings made the decision because of the more contagious delta variant and increased circulation in cases.

“He is committed to the health and wellbeing of our staff, residents, visitors and the people we serve,” Grondin said. “He wanted to help keep Portland a safe place.”


Both Jennings and Mayor Kate Snyder are on vacation this week and were unavailable for interviews Monday.

The vaccine policy had not been discussed with the City Council beforehand, but didn’t come as a surprise, according to the chair of the council committee overseeing health policies.

Portland City Councilor Tae Chong Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


City Councilor Tae Chong, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, said the new policy is in line with the steps city leadership has taken during the pandemic to follow the science to protect employees and residents. He has not heard any opposition to the vaccine requirement.

“With the delta variant on the rise, I think it just makes sense,” Chong said.

Chong said the new policy was “not a total surprise” given the city’s response to the pandemic and he is in full support of the requirement.


“If (Jennings) didn’t do something like this, I think we’d be concerned about it,” he said.

The current vaccination rate among all city staff is 69.5 percent, Grondin said. The rate among police and fire department employees is higher, at around 80 percent, she said.

Jennings notified city staff about the COVID-19 vaccination mandate in an email sent Friday. The email was signed by Jennings, interim human resources director Tom Caiazzo and Kristen Dow, health and human services director for the city.

“The effectiveness and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, combined with the ease of access and zero-cost to employees, makes a vaccine requirement realistic and attainable for city of Portland staff. Vaccinated employees will sustain our commitment to keeping Portland a safe place to work, live and play,” they wrote in the email.

The new policy applies to about 1,000 city employees, but another 400 employees are already required to get vaccinated under a mandate from Mills, Grondin said. Those employees work in the fire department and at the Baron Center, a long-term rehabilitation center on Brighton Avenue that is owned by the city.



The city has so far heard back from five of the eight unions, which have indicated they want to bargain with the city about the implementation of the process, Grondin said. Those negotiations will be done as soon as possible.

Grondin said has not been informed of any opposition to the new policy from city employees.

The city has scheduled three educational sessions to allow employees who have questions or concerns to speak with the city’s medical directors about vaccine safety and effectiveness. The city also has scheduled three vaccine clinics for city employees, who will be allowed to take paid time off to receive their shots.

Under the new policy, staff who choose not to be vaccinated, including those who decline for medical or religious reasons, will be required to provide proof of weekly testing each Friday. That testing must be done on the employees’ own time and at their own expense, although free testing is still widely available, Grondin said.

Employees who fail to submit proof of testing will not be allowed to work until they submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test. That time will be unpaid, unscheduled time off and employees cannot use vacation or sick leave during that time, the city said.

All new hires will be required to have at least one vaccination dose when they start their first shift unless they request an accommodation for religious or medical reasons. They also must have their second vaccination dose scheduled and complete that process.


Across the country, more cities and towns are starting to impose vaccination mandates on public employees, but it is not yet widespread in Maine.


Cathy Conlow, executive director of the Maine Municipal Association, said Sunday that Portland appears to be the first town or city to require vaccinations for employees.

“In the absence of a state or federal vaccination mandate for municipal employees, it would be within the purview of the individual municipalities to decide their own policies regarding mandated vaccinations and testing,” Conlow said in an email.

In South Portland, more than 90 percent of municipal employees have reported to the city that they are vaccinated. City Manager Scott Morelli said the city does not currently have plans to require vaccines and testing, but has continued to take enhanced safety measures to keep members of the public and staff safe.

Biddeford city employees are not required to get the vaccine. City Manager James Bennett said city staff have been discussing “the ever changing COVID threat and our options” since last March and are “considering all options at this point.”


Portland joins a growing number of U.S. cities mandating vaccines for public employees.

In June, San Francisco decided to require that city workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus once the vaccine receives full federal approval, a decision that could still be several weeks away. New York City followed with a similar mandate last month.

Boston joined those cities last week, announcing that city workers must get vaccinated or submit to regular testing by mid-October.

And Providence announced Monday that it, too, will require vaccination of city employees or regular testing by Oct. 1.

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