The news of COVID-19 these days is all too familiar. The number of cases is skyrocketing. Hospitals are approaching their capacity. More and more intensive care beds are occupied by people who have difficulty breathing. Lively conversations about masks take place in the workplace and at school.
Here we go again.
But the 2021 outbreak looks different from 2020 in one big way: It has become what doctors and scientists across the country are calling an unvaccinated pandemic. This time, our communities have a weapon, vaccines, but too few people use this saving tool in the fight.
It’s time for the Dallas business community to do what it does best: get ahead and get ahead. Find ways to persuade employees and their families to get vaccinated, to protect their health and our local economy.
In the eight months since the Federal Drug Administration first granted emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine, the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas reports that 3 , 6 million people in Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties have chosen to get at least one dose.
But the vaccination rate reached a plateau in the summer. The wave of relief we were all starting to feel has reduced to a trickle. This summer, the highly contagious delta variant entered the scene, setting us on the path where we are now.
In June, the Dallas regional chamber launched a vaccination campaign with the goal of bringing north Texas to a 70% vaccination rate. The chamber has taken up this cause to protect people and paychecks: Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and 1 in 3 small businesses in North Texas have closed during the pandemic.
In southern Dallas County, Concord Church and other churches have strongly and vocally supported vaccinations, following many Sunday services with a vaccination clinic.
In West Dallas and Oak Cliff, the Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic provides vaccines as well as resources and information to a predominantly Hispanic community. The strategy of these partnerships is to persuade the “mobile community” – those who are on the fence about immunization, who, with a little more information and easier access, would choose to be immunized. Another 477,000 North Texans have been vaccinated in the past 10 weeks.
Despite these efforts, we are not where we need to be.
On September 7, the day after Labor Day, many companies had planned to bring their employees back to the workplace. The elementary precautionary policies enacted in spring 2020 will have to be dusted off again: vigilant hand washing, social distancing, temperature controls.
Vaccine suppliers are ready to set up mobile clinics in office buildings; business leaders just have to make the call. Mobile vaccination clinics are one way to increase employee vaccination rates, and they don’t cost a business anything – but we pay a price when a worker tests positive.
Consider the invisible costs associated with the illness or absence of an employee in quarantine: increased workload and stress for those who must recover that worker’s assignments; lower morale and productivity; increased overtime and training.
As business leaders bring their teams back to the office, they want the environment to be welcoming, but most importantly, safe. Constant worry about whether or not coworkers have been vaccinated and whether it is safe to participate in team meetings with or without a mask makes it difficult to move forward.
A common theme expressed by people hesitant to get vaccinated is that there are too many unknowns. Business leaders can help by organizing town halls so that employees can hear directly from local doctors who can provide factual information to answer common questions and concerns. Hopefully, the full approval of the vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration will help convince more people to take advantage of life-saving vaccines.
There’s another figure to share here: 9,640 Northern Texans died from COVID-19 as of August 18, 2021. Each of these precious lives mattered deeply. We hope that encouraging people to get vaccinated can prevent others from being part of this grim statistic. It’s time to act.
The fight against COVID-19 has turned out to be a marathon, with roadblocks and course changes along the way. Maybe those people who were initially unwilling to get vaccinated thought we would get herd immunity without their help. But the delta variant proves that each of us has a responsibility to protect ourselves, our families, neighbors and co-workers from the virus.
North Texas business leaders have a proven track record of coming together to tackle great challenges that threaten our community, our business climate and our quality of life. By working together to do our part, we can get back on the road to recover from the worst pandemic of our lives.
Is it worth it.
Michelle Vopni is managing partner of Ernst & Young’s Dallas office and chair of the Dallas regional chamber board of directors.
Bryan Carter is Senior Pastor of Concord Church.
Leonor Marquez is the Executive Director of the Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic.
They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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