St. Bernards mandates vaccines for employees; ASU students must wear masks

by George Jared ([email protected]) 339 views 

ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse.

Employees at St. Bernards Healthcare, the largest medical employer in Northeast Arkansas will be required to get immunized against COVID-19 and Arkansas State University will require students to wear masks when classes begin this fall, the two groups announced Thursday (Aug. 12).

St. Bernards employees must be fully-vaccinated by Nov. 1 with all members of its leadership team fully vaccinated one month prior by Oct. 1.

The Jonesboro-based not-for-profit healthcare system made the announcement after offering the vaccine since December and providing individual incentives and education to every employee who received the vaccine. To date, St. Bernards has invested more than $1 million in vaccination incentives. It also recently began offering the COVID vaccine seven days a week using a combination of six physician clinics.

St. Bernards President and CEO Chris Barber said the organization must take every effort to protect the health of patients, visitors and employees alike. He said more than 70% of St. Bernards employees have received the vaccine.

“The vaccines work, they’re safe and they’re highly effective at preventing serious disease and COVID-19 hospitalizations,” Barber said. “With hospitals across the state challenged to provide more patient beds, the vaccine remains our best tool to meet our community’s evolving and growing needs.”

Barber said healthcare providers have a duty to lead public health initiatives—including vaccination efforts—by example.

“Vaccinating against COVID-19 is the single-greatest, most-pressing health initiative in recent years, and we all must do our part,” Barber said. “Quite simply, our patients should not wonder whether they receive care from an unvaccinated person.”

Barber added that St. Bernards will make exceptions among employees who cannot receive the vaccine for documented health reasons or specific religious objections.

Talk Business & Politics content partner KAIT reported Thursday the second largest medical employer in the region, NEA Baptist, will also require its employees to get vaccinated.

Classes at ASU are slated to begin next week and the university has decided to establish a mask policy to protect students.

Following the passage of an authorizing resolution by the ASU System Board of Trustees, ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse established an on-campus mask policy effective immediately.

ASU will require the use of face coverings for indoor events where social distancing is not practical. This includes any classroom space, hallway or entrance where six-foot distancing is not practical, any indoor event where six-foot separation is not possible, any meetings where spacing is not practical, and in confined spaces such as elevators.

“The essential details of this mask mandate are that we will require masks indoors for classroom settings and any other confined spaces. The protocol will remain in place until conditions improve in our county, and as we have done throughout the pandemic, we are prioritizing the safety of our students and employees, followed by our strong desire to not transition to mostly-online instruction,” Damphousse said in an email sent to campus announcing the new policy.

“These indoor mask requirements are subject to change, and with significant improvement in our county and regional vaccination rate, active cases and hospitalization rates, and in consultation with city and county health officers, we will lift the requirement,” Damphousse continued. “Among the data points we will consider is the CDC’s Data Tracker. When the level of community transmission for Craighead County is in the ‘High’ category, the mask mandate will be in effect.”

According to the mask policy, which is linked off the A-State Coronavirus Resources website, masking is recommended but not required at outdoor events.

In classrooms and confined spaces, individuals are required to wear a face covering regardless of vaccination status. An exception can be made for instructors who are not required to wear face masks or coverings while lecturing if they are maintaining a safe distance of 12 feet from students. Otherwise, instructors are asked to wear face shields while in close proximity to students.

At this time, face coverings are not required inside individual residence areas. Face coverings are required for staff in situations similar to those of classrooms or meeting rooms, and in-person meetings should be converted to virtual meetings until the masking mandate is lifted, when possible. Employees are not required to wear masks in their individual offices.

In compliance with the ASU System’s resolution, updates or changes to A-State’s policy will be made in consultation with the system president and will adhere to any future applicable changes from the state of Arkansas.