Charlotte businesses both big and small are starting to wrestle with President Joe Biden’s latest attempt to combat the coronavirus — a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for many private businesses.
Biden announced on Thursday that private businesses with 100 or more employees will have to require vaccination or mandatory weekly testing for their employees.
That will cover many Charlotte businesses that had previously stopped short of requiring vaccines.
Local doctors have been disappointed in Mecklenburg County and the state’s vaccination rates, which have largely stalled with just over half of Mecklenburg residents fully vaccinated.
And across the state, just 51% of NC residents are fully vaccinated. The new presidential mandate could boost those numbers.
The mandate comes as Mecklenburg County begins to report slight improvements in coronavirus indicators, including daily cases and hospitalizations, according to county data released Friday.
Still, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris told the Observer on Wednesday she expects to see those trends worsen once again in the next two weeks as they begin to reflect the impact of Labor Day travel and large gatherings like the Duke’s Mayo Classic college football games.
A number of employers did not respond to requests for comment on the president’s actions. Here’s how other Charlotte businesses are reacting to the newly announced mandate.
American Airlines, the dominant carrier at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, sent a letter to employees Friday morning.
The airline would likely fall under the federal mandate, though the company is still reviewing the details of the plan, American CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in the letter.
The airline and its wholly-owned regional partners employ about 13,000 workers at CLT.
No immediate vaccine requirement was announced, although Isom and Parker highlighted American’s incentive program to encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The airline said U.S.-based mainline employees could receive an extra day of vacation pay in 2021 and other perks after getting the vaccine.
“Our hope is that more and more team members make the decision to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Parker and Isom said. “And we put our incentive program in place because the science supports vaccination and has shown it’s the only way to fully end this pandemic.”
The big banks
Charlotte’s largest banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Truist — are taking a wait-and-see approach to the Biden administration’s news. The banks employ thousands in the city, with Wells alone accounting for more than 27,000 workers.
“We are reviewing the new requirements from the Administration and are determining how they apply to Wells Fargo,” the bank said in a statement to the Observer.
Truist expressed a similar sentiment, saying the bank will “carefully review” any new policies from the Labor Department or the CDC.
Bank of America declined to comment on the possible new OSHA requirement.
The three banks have stopped short of mandating vaccinations but have encouraged employees to get the shot. Truist is requiring that employees participate in a vaccine tracking tool to provide the company with data on its number of vaccinated employees. Bank of America is allowing only vaccinated employees to return to the office.
Duke Energy, which has about 6,000 employees in the Charlotte area and 27,500 workers spread out over seven states, is not releasing plans for a vaccine requirement immediately.
“We’ll evaluate the details when they become available and have nothing else to offer at this time,” spokesman Neil Nissan told the Observer in an email.
In early August, Duke Energy announced it would require all employees, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors. The company said at that time it did not track or verify vaccination status of employees.
Charlotte’s major hospital systems, Atrium Health and Novant Health, had already announced in late July a vaccine mandate for all workers.
The Novant Health deadline for employees, contractors, vendors and students to get vaccinated or have an approved exemption is Sept. 15. Atrium Health will require workers to do the same by Oct. 31.
Atrium Health called the vaccines “essential” to the community in a Friday statement.
“From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Atrium Health knew a vaccine would be the most important tool in our fight against COVID-19,” Atrium said in a statement. “When vaccines became available, they brought much needed relief and hope to tired and strained health care workers across the country, as well as the communities looking to return to the things they love most.”
“… A vaccinated person is our strongest defense against further spread of this deadly disease across our community.”
YMCA of Greater Charlotte
The YMCA will comply with any new government mandates, spokeswoman Heather Briganti said in an email, although YMCA officials “are confident in the safety measures we have in place.”
All YMCA of Greater Charlotte workers already must wear masks indoors or if they can’t stay at least 6 feet from others outdoors, she said. Lifeguards on stands and swim instructors are exempt from the mask order, although the swim instructors must face shields.
“We put this policy into place prior to local mandates being issued, and it applies to all of our facilities, including those outside of Mecklenburg County,” Briganti said.