As COVID-19 cases rise again, KDMC, SOMC require employees to be fully vaccinated

Published 6:15 pm Thursday, August 5, 2021

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise, some local businesses and institutions are requiring masks again and two hospitals are requiring their employees to be fully vaccinated soon.

In Lawrence County, there have been 179 new cases of COVID-19 between July 22 and Aug. 4, with 29 new cases being reported on Aug. 4, the highest number of cases since mid-February.

Scioto County had 317, Boyd County had 174 new cases and Cabell County had 218 new cases in the same time period.

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On Thursday, both Ohio University Southern and Ashland Community and Technical College announced that, effective Friday, masks would be required inside its facility for everyone – students, faculty, staff and visitors – regardless of vaccination status.

Also on Thursday, King’s Daughters Medical Center announced that it was requiring all team members to be vaccinated by Sept. 30. Team members who choose not to be vaccinated, or who request an exemption for medical or religious reasons, will be required to tested for COVID-19 weekly.

“As a major health care provider in this region, we have an obligation to take every step possible to ensure the safety of our patients and the community and to protect our team members,” Kristie Whitlatch, KDMC’s president and CEO, said.

Currently, about 68 percent of KDMC team members have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Whitlatch said.

Hospitals already require vaccinations for other highly communicable illnesses, such as influenza. Requiring COVID vaccination is one of multiple infection controls hospitals use to protect patients, providers and staff.

“Vaccines available in the U.S. have proven to be both safe and effective,” Whitlatch said. “Although breakthrough infections have occurred, these are to be expected and are not a sign that the vaccine doesn’t work. Experience shows us that those who have been vaccinated and develop COVID are far less likely to have severe illness, to require hospitalization and to die.”

The vast majority of cases King’s Daughters is seeing now are occurring among those who have not been vaccinated.

Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth also announced on Thursday that it would require all its employees to be fully vaccinated.

SOMC said the decision was based on the recommendation by 56 organizations including the Ohio Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association – as well as local medical and scientific experts, and they are requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 17.
“We have seen an increase in cases of COVID-19, including among those between 30 and 50 years old,” pulmonologist Dr. Elie Saab said. “The virus does not differentiate based on politics, race or religion. It can impact all of us, and so it’s important for everyone in our community that we set the example by being vaccinated. It’s not just about your own health. It’s about the health of everyone around you.”
Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. David Byers agreed.

“As health care providers, being fully vaccinated is a matter of patient safety,” he said. “Our patients, especially those who are immunocompromised, deserve to know they’re entering a facility where we’ve all taken the steps necessary to protect them from this illness.”
Employees with medical, religious or strongly held belief objections will be eligible for exemptions, but must be tested for COVID-19 twice a week until the virus is no longer considered a cause for concern.

Several other hospitals have already taken this step, including OhioHealth, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. SOMC has made this decision after carefully weighing the pros and cons and seeking input from staff.

Several local hospitals, including Cabell-Huntington Hospital, KDMC, SOMC and St. Mary’s Hospital, have continued to require that everyone in their facilities continue to wear a mask whatever their vaccination status is. The Center for Disease Control has continued to recommend that health care facilities continue to follow all current COVID-19 infection prevention protocols, including the use of masks.