Masks and vaccines: Employers adapt yet again as delta variant wreaks havoc

Public Health urges all employers to require vaccine in ‘call to action.’



If there’s one observation that holds from the past 18 months, it’s that area employers adapt and adapt again — and again, if needed.

The region’s biggest employers are striving not to be caught flat-footed by the COVID-19 delta variant’s escalating case and hospitalization numbers.

In general, the biggest companies have been patient in any plans to return to offices, keeping workers at home when possible — or at least ensuring they can quickly return to hybrid work.

Masking is often required. And in some cases, employees are expected to get vaccinated.

While deadlines vary, Dayton Children’s Hospital, Premier Health and Kettering Health all have announced mandatory vaccine orders, requirements that cover more than 30,000 employees.

Here’s a look at how 10 of the region’s biggest employers (by number of employees) are steering through the pandemic’s latest challenges.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

The state’s largest single-site concentration of employees has been nimble in reaction to COVID’s unpredictability.

Since May, the base has changed its “health protection condition” in response to COVID at least four times, recently declaring a public health emergency to boot.

Masking is required indoors on base, and so are vaccinations, although no precise deadline has come from the U.S. Department of Defense. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III has instructed the chiefs of all military branches to craft vaccination requirements for their members. Wright-Patterson representatives say they await orders.

The base restored Heath Protection Condition (or “HPCON”) bravo in the first week of August, eight weeks after a lull in cases allowed the base to establish HPCON alpha. The move to bravo was an acknowledgement of Delta’s deepening impact.

Then, on Aug. 18, the base moved to HPCON bravo-plus, pushing occupancy at the base down to 40% of its typical working population, from 50%. Pre-pandemic, about 30,000 people went to work at Wright-Patterson daily, most driving on base from surrounding communities.

Then last week, base commander Col. Patrick Miller declared HPCON Charlie, capping the permitted on-base working population at a quarter of its pre-pandemic presence — no more than 7,500 workers physically on base.

“The goal is to push folks out, not bring folks in,” Miller said in a Facebook town hall Wednesday.

Premier Health

At Premier Health, the area’s largest hospital system with more than 12,400 employees, return-to-work plans have been delayed.

“Given the emergence of the Delta variant and the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across our region, we have delayed our reentry plan for some staff to return in September to work in our corporate support services building (Premier Health Center) in downtown Dayton,” a spokesperson said. “We will reevaluate our plans again later this year.”

While requirements for face coverings have remained at patient care sites, this summer Premier resumed the requirement for all employees, including those at nonclinical sites.

“As part of our mission to improve the health of the communities that we serve, we also recently announced a requirement that all employees and medical staff be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by Dec. 1,” the spokesperson added.

Kettering Health Network

Staying “fluid” has been the watchword at Kettering Health Network with its more than 9,300 employees, said Tim Dutton, the network’s executive vice president for mission, brand and people.

“We’ve had both remote and hybrid work, really throughout the pandemic,” Dutton said in an interview. “We put in a framework to let our leadership team make adjustments within that framework. So we’ve been pretty fluid.”

Most KHN employees work with patients face-to-face, and that work goes on. Those who can work from home or else where do so when supervisors deem it necessary, he said.

“There really is no guiding or overarching policy in place,” Dutton said. “Leaders will make adjustments.”

The network tightened its visitation policy Aug. 24. Masking and other safety precautions haven’t changed, he said.

Crown Equipment

Lift equipment manufacturer Crown Equipment, with some 4,500 employees at facilities across West Central Ohio, said it follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Ohio guidance on masking for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. “The company has adjusted its protocols throughout the pandemic as guidance from these organizations has evolved,” the company said in an email.

Crown has not communicated specific vaccination requirements to employees.

Montgomery County government

At Montgomery County government, it’s “business as usual,” spokeswoman Deb Decker said.

“For the most part, everyone is back in the office, as we have been since last summer,” Decker said. “The precautions we took at the start of the pandemic are still in effect — masks are mandatory, social distancing is required, and sanitation procedures are still in full force.”

The county has no vaccine mandate, but it offers a cash incentive for its 4,200-plus employees (and their spouses) to get vaccinated. If an employee shows proof of vaccination, they receive $100. If a spouse has proof of vaccine, the employee gets an additional $25, Decker said.

Most county employees are not working remotely, she added. The county has a mask directive in place for employees at all county facilities.

The Stillwater Center — a Dayton home for children and adults with intellectual disabilities — has quarantine and testing policies, but no vaccination requirement. The center follows Ohio Department of Health and Department of Developmental Disabilities policies, Decker said.

Stillwater Center employees must follow Ohio and CDC mandates and never stopped wearing face coverings, she said.

Kroger Co.

With more than 4,000 employees, Kroger’s mask guidance today requires unvaccinated employees to wear one and asks unvaccinated customers to do the same in stores and facilities, spokeswoman Jennifer Moore said.

In February, Kroger announced a payment of $100 to employees who received a vaccine.

“In light of the Delta variant and updated CDC recommendations, we strongly encourage all individuals, including those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask when in our stores and facilities,” Moore said.


CareSource, which employs nearly 4,000 in Ohio, including about 2,200 in Downtown Dayton ― said the uptick in cases from Delta forced a delay in setting a return-to-offices date. CareSource offices remain open for those who choose to work there and stricter mask requirements have been re-instituted, the Medicaid managed care plan company said.

CareSource requires mask-wearing in common areas and when social distancing is not possible, regardless of vaccination status.

The business has created “support opportunities” for employees, including a vaccine presentation led by a CareSource medical director and an array of mental health resources for all employees, said Julie Walch, CareSource vice president of human resources business partnership and support.

Miami University

Last week, Miami University mandated that every Miami University student, faculty and staff member get vaccinated against COVID-19, unless exempted. The mandate covers some 3,800 workers.

By Oct. 25, all full- and part-time faculty and staff and all undergraduate and graduate students who have any presence on any Miami campus or university-owned or -controlled property must have begun the vaccination process with at least one dose.

Dayton Children’s Hospital

Dayton Children’s Hospital never stopped requiring face coverings, and like Premier and Kettering Health, expects its more than 3,300 employees to receive vaccines.

Given most of our patients are unable to be vaccinated, this vaccine requirement will help protect our patients, families and each other from this life-threatening virus,” a hospital spokeswoman said in a statement. “The requirement will call for employees to receive both courses of the vaccine by Dec. 1 (or have presented an exemption by Oct. 15).”

It’s a condition of employment at Dayton Children’s Hospital, the spokeswoman said.

Honda of America

Honda said it encourages its more than 3,000 area employees to get vaccinated.

Earlier this year, Honda held vaccine clinics at operations in Ohio, Alabama, California, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

“With vaccines readily available, we are actively directing our associates to where they can find them in their communities and providing incentives through our company wellness program,” a spokesman said.

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