Industries facing more COVID-related challenges

With the latest surge in new COVID-19 novel coronavirus cases, DeKalb County industries find themselves facing yet more challenges.

One such industry is Heil Co., where several employees have reportedly become infected with COVID. Director of Marketing Jeffry Swetfeger did not reveal specific numbers, but he did address the ongoing impact of the pandemic. Since January, Heil has provided COVID vaccines to its employees and their families in their onsite clinic while encouraging participation.

“The safety, health and wellbeing of our employees is of paramount importance to Heil,” Swetfeger said in a written statement.

“Throughout the pandemic and continuing today, when we become aware of employees that have contracted COVID, we immediately isolate and send those employees home to quarantine, following CDC and OSHA guidance, perform detailed contact tracing to determine whether any other employees may have had contact with that person, and then require further quarantining as needed,” Swetfeger said.

“Any employee who tests positive for COVID also must follow a strict return-to-work protocol before coming back to our facility, that is also in line with current CDC and OSHA guidance. With the current outbreak throughout DeKalb County, we continue to encourage our team members to take advantage of our free onsite clinic, as we all continue to work hard to maintain a safe working environment,” he said.

Heil’s experience gives a glimpse of what other companies are likely also encountering. They have closely followed guidance and recommendations from health authorities to ensure the safety of all staff working at their facilities, including, but not limited to, enhanced sanitation practices, one-way employee foot traffic, personal protective equipment distribution and strict social distancing rules above and beyond what is recommended by the government.

Companies can only do so much on their own and are affected by what happens in the communities around them. In DeKalb County, 22.8% of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The state remains last in the nation in COVID vaccinations.

DeKalb Regional Medical Center has experienced a 33% increase in patients testing since June and has reopened their designated wing of the hospital to prepare for an uptick in cases, according to Marketing Director Kati Burns Mallows. She said they have the staffing and personal protective equipment to provide the appropriate level of care.

More than 190 people from DeKalb County are believed to have died from COVID-19 since the first positive case was diagnosed 16 months ago. The county’s overall level of community transmission is rated as “high” by ADPH with 561 new cases diagnosed in late July. State health officials estimated a local positivity rate of 28% as of Tuesday.

Nationally, a growing number of large U.S. employers are requiring some or all employees to be vaccinated, including Disney and Google.

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