Masks and vaccines: What 5 big local employers are doing as delta variant wreaks havoc

Maj. Kito Brooks, an 88th Medical Group podiatrist, receives the COVID-19 vaccine from Capt. Erica Eyer, an 88 MDG flight commander with the Aerospace Operational Medicine Clinic, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on Jan. 4. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/TY GREENLEES
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Maj. Kito Brooks, an 88th Medical Group podiatrist, receives the COVID-19 vaccine from Capt. Erica Eyer, an 88 MDG flight commander with the Aerospace Operational Medicine Clinic, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on Jan. 4. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/TY GREENLEES

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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.

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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 some of the region’s biggest employers (by number of employees) are steering through the pandemic’s latest challenges.

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.

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.

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.

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.