NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell announced Friday afternoon that the city government will require all of its employees to either get vaccinated for COVID-19 or get tested regularly for the illness.

The requirement will not extend to employees of New Bedford Public Schools or the New Bedford Port Authority, according to a statement from the mayor's office.

A more detailed policy outlining timing and deadlines, testing procedures, and "reasonable accommodations" for medical or religious reasons is expected in the near future.

Since June 23, case counts have jumped from an average of just over one new case per day to an average of 38 new cases each day over the past week, with a high of 61 new cases reported on Aug. 4, the office stated.

In the statement, the mayor's office cited the rapid spread of the more contagious Delta variant of coronavirus and rising regional cases among unvaccinated people as reasons for the move, along with the low rate of vaccination in the Greater New Bedford area.

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The statement noted that the low vaccination rate is contributing to the spread of COVID.

"Those who are becoming seriously ill, including requiring hospitalizations, from COVID-19 are overwhelmingly unvaccinated individuals," the mayor's office stated, noting that health experts agree mandatory vaccination is "the most effective remaining strategy" to protect the vulnerable and bring back economic stability.

The federal government has already announced similar mandatory vaccination or regular testing requirements for its employees.

In the statement, the mayor's office expressed the hope that other local institutions and employers will adopt similar policies.

New Bedford became the first city in the country to provide a free mask to city residents, as well as taking steps to protect workers at seafood processing and offering incentives for vaccines, among many other proactive measures.

“With its lower vaccination rates, Greater New Bedford is especially vulnerable to the Delta variant,” said Mitchell. “We’ve made the vaccines readily available, but to ensure that the vulnerable in our region are fully protected, we need to do more. By requiring the City’s employees to be vaccinated, we can protect our workforce and their families, and encourage other employers to follow suit.”

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