By Christina Hager

WORCESTER (CBS) – “We will have our signage back up, that we’ve had once before … you know, masks required,” said Domenic Mercurio, executive director of the big indoor Worcester Public Market. He found out about Worcester’s new mask mandate early Friday afternoon. “I sunk in my chair for a minute, and then I got right up and I said ‘OK, we’ve done it before.’”

Now they’re doing it again, say city officials, who explained why in a news conference that took on an urgent tone. “We are in kind of an early crisis mode,” said the city’s medical director Dr. Michael Hirsh.

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“We’re all paying for the decisions of the unvaccinated,” said Mayor Joseph Petty.

Worcester’s vaccination rate is at 80%, but less than half of eligible school-age kids have had shots. That, coupled with a record-long nurse’s strike at St. Vincent Hospital, puts a strain on UMass Memorial Hospital’s capacity.

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“It is delaying care for patients with heart attacks,” said UMass Memorial Health CEO Dr. Eric Dickson. “I’ve had to cancel a surgery for somebody with cancer, and that’s a tough call to make.”

That’s why Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus also announced a new vaccination requirement for city employees: get a shot or get tested weekly. “You don’t go into a battle with just some of your weapons; you need all your weapons, and getting vaccinated and wearing a mask remain our best defense,” he said.

“I think a lot of folks are probably going to be really on board with it, and a couple people will be irritated,” said Mercurio. “I challenge myself to make friends with them all.”

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The new mandate goes into effect Monday, September 20. People will have a chance to sound off on it September 27. That’s when the new mandate goes before the Board of Health for ratification.

Christina Hager