The new year started how the old year ended for residents of Central Falls – under the figurative foot of COVID-19.
The working-class, Latino-majority city, which became the hardest-hit by the pandemic in Rhode Island at the start, was seeing daily positivity rates hovering around 20 percent when a former Rite Aid was converted to a new COVID-19 testing location on January 3.
The site, located at 1114 Broad St., is able to test up to 800 people per day, according to the office of Mayor Maria Rivera.
“The previous site had four windows,” said Rivera who was present, when the testing site opened. “This one, they have 10 lines, so we increased it by over 50 percent, and they do have a rapid line here.”
The state’s first Latina mayor began her second year in office, the same way she started her first year: hands-on and with the community.
“The biggest challenge has been coming into office in the middle of a pandemic – trying to figure out how I can get my community back to being healthy,” Rivera said in an interview with The Boston Globe.
“We live in a community of color, an immigrant community where there’s always lots of questions of trust,” said Rivera, who has gone door-to-door at local businesses to answer questions about the vaccine.
According to the most recent Department of Health data, more than half of city’s residents have received a vaccine shot.
Mayor Rivera was born in Camden, NJ. She moved to Central Falls in 1987 with her parents who are originally from Puerto Rico.
Rivera was elected as the Mayor of Central Falls in November 2020 with 77 percent of the vote, she took office on January 4, 2021.
Prior to this role, Mayor Rivera was the top-vote getter in the 2018 election of all Central Falls City Council Candidates, and became the first female and first Latino Central Falls City Council President, a position she earned in just her second term as a council member.
She was named Rhode Island’s Woman of the Year for 2021 by GoLocalProv: “While some politicians seem more style than substance — Central Falls’ Mayor is in the midst of transforming the one square mile city block-by-block.”
Despite the accolades, Rivera is not resting on her laurels. Central Falls is facing both a public health crisis and a housing crisis.
The city is asking the state for $4.5 million so it can buy unused property to build about 200 apartments.
“To be able to give them the space where they can afford and have their own space, it’s going to make a huge difference with the health in the city,” she said.
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