As COVID-19 rises again, businesses want more info about federal vaccine requirements

Robyn Kelly gives a vaccine to Mark Finfrock at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic set up at the Butler County General Health District building Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 at 301 South Third Street in Hamilton. The normal days for vaccine clinics are Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. until noon. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Robyn Kelly gives a vaccine to Mark Finfrock at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic set up at the Butler County General Health District building Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 at 301 South Third Street in Hamilton. The normal days for vaccine clinics are Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. until noon. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Area schools remain a focal point for shots and masks

Days after President Biden announced companies with more than 100 employees will have to require workers be vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing, area businesses were concerned about to-be-determined requirements and penalties they may face.

“Like everything else, there’s people on both sides of the fence” about required vaccinations, said Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. “But I think the bigger frustration is just not knowing.

“People just want to do business, and from what I’ve heard from manufacturers, if they need to comply, they will comply with whatever the mandates are, but they need to know what they are. They need a timeline, and this not knowing and expecting people to jump and to react, that’s what is really difficult for businesses.”

Schools are another focal point in controversies about vaccinations and whether students should have to wear masks.

Tanya Stargel of Hamilton is among those who have protested their children having to wear masks, three times in front of the Hamilton Board of Education on Dayton Street or in front of the Butler County Courthouse.

“They are operating outside of their authority,” she said, “and I am not alone in fighting against that.”

ExploreBUTLER COUNTY: COVID-19 cases, deaths, and vaccinations

Steve Stivers, president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said while some larger companies across the nation and state may favor vaccination requirements, many medium and small companies worry they could face “a giant, onerous fine of $14,000 per incident.”

Stivers estimates of the Ohio chamber’s 8,000 members, “99.5 percent of them are never going to mandate that their employees vaccinate on their own, probably, unless they are forced to.”

And yet, “we were equally concerned when some state legislators wanted to go the other way and say businesses could not mandate” shots, as House Bill 248 sponsored by state Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, would do.

“Both of those approaches are big government,” Stivers said. “One’s big government telling businesses what they have to do, another is big government telling businesses what they can’t do.”

All area hospitals in Greater Cincinnati and Greater Dayton, including in Butler County, last month required vaccinations by their staffs in coming months. Some that were asked about it deferred comments about how staffs are taking the decision, and whether employees are quitting.

“Science and the collective experience of about 180 million U.S. residents who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 have shown again and again that vaccination is our best tool to prevent the spread of disease, as well as to ensure the health and well-being of our hospital workforce and the communities that we serve,” Premier Health, which owns Atrium Medical Center in Middletown, said in a statement.

ExploreCincinnati hospital groups requiring all staff, volunteers be vaccinated

“Within Premier Health, we continue to have respectful conversations with each other about why vaccination against COVID-19 is vital to our delivery of quality care going forward, and are seeing our vaccination rates rise among employees and medical staff.”

Steps taken by area schools

Middletown Schools were among Ohio’s first to provide space for giving vaccines to staffers, and since then, all area public schools have coordinated with local health officials – at various times and in a different ways – to help get more of the vaccine into Butler County residents.

“The district’s goal is always safety-based and understanding that a vaccinated student or staff member is less likely to become seriously ill if they contract the virus and less likely to be quarantined if a positive case is identified and they are in close contact,” said Mike Holbrook, superintendent of the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools.

“Hamilton City Schools has been proactive regarding the safety and protection of our students and staff throughout the pandemic. Last February, in collaboration with the City of Hamilton’s health department, the district organized a vaccination clinic for all Hamilton City School district staff members.”

Then in late spring and early summer, the district joined with the city health officials in helping to advertise numerous vaccination clinics throughout Hamilton.

In late August, Holbrook and Kay Farrar teamed up to create a public service message video shared online “that emphasized the importance of layers of protection pertaining to students’ health and quarantines” along with the importance of vaccination, he said.

And last week, the district hosted a vaccination clinic at Garfield Middle School, targeting students age 12 and above and district staff members.

Explore‘Please, please go get vaccinated’: Hospital leaders in Butler County and region urge shots during pandemic

Middletown Schools has continued to be at the forefront of area efforts to use local schools to maximize the spread of vaccine inoculations.

“Middletown was one of the first districts in Ohio to offer staff the COVID-19 vaccine and we were pleased with how many decided to take us up on the opportunity. I’d say between 65-70 percent of our staff got the Moderna shot at our initial clinics and even more got vaccinated at a later date and location,” said Elizabeth Beadle, Middletown Schools spokeswoman.

And given the rising numbers of infections caused by the coronavirus variant, Middletown Schools plans o offer staffers the booster shots on its school grounds as well as another opportunity to receive their first vaccine shot on Oct. 1, she said.

Talawanda Schools is among those who have converted their school facilities to help more receive the vaccinations.

“Talawanda participated with other schools in the area with the BCESC and Primary Health Solutions to make the vaccine available to our staff and had a very high participation rate,” said Holli Morrish, spokeswoman for the district. “Some people wanted to get the vaccine but were not eligible during the initial clinics due to being in the recovery phase or in quarantine from COVID-19, so we worked with Primary Health Solutions to offer opportunities to get the vaccine later in the year.

“In addition, we used our high school and middle school as a site in our community so that Primary Health Solutions had a place where they could offer additional vaccination clinics for other members of our community.”

Last week, officials at Cincinnati Public Schools ordered all its school staffers to be vaccinated or face weekly covid tests.

Employees must have their first shot done by Oct. 1 and a second shot “within the appropriate time thereafter,” according to reporting from the Journal-News’ media partner WCPO-TV.

Following that, employees will be required to provide proof of vaccination, or an approved reason for exemption.

Political beliefs are not a sufficient enough reason to request an accommodation,” the policy states, though exemptions will be offered for those with religious or medical constrictions, according to WCPO-TV.

And on Wednesday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said during a press conference urging all schools to mandate masks that getting everyone — including school staffers — inoculated was important to stopping the spread of the now-dominate variant strain infected many statewide.

“We have to protect kids and keep them in school,” said DeWine.