For months, Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health has been telling Ohioans to wear a mask, wash their hands and social distance to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Now, as cases have spiked and hospitalizations are at record levels, the state’s employers want to try another approach.
The Ohio Business Roundtable on Tuesday started a campaign, called the Coalition to Stop the Spread, in which businesses will ask their employees to take on leadership roles in the fight against the virus.
The work by Ohio public health officials hasn’t been enough on its own, said Pat Tiberi, the president and CEO of the roundtable, a group made up of some of Ohio’s biggest businesses.
“There needed to be private sector support and leadership,” he said.
The coalition is open to all employers interested in helping state government and health officials, he said.
Tiberi envisions CEOs, associations, chambers of commerce, economic-development organizations, not-for-profits and educational institutions to join the cause by getting employees willing to lead with words and by example.
These employees are expected to become models for mask-wearing, not just where mandated in public but in gatherings of groups of small friends and family beyond their immediate household. They would avoid social gatherings such as game-day celebrations and dinner parties and reconsider plans for indoor gatherings over the holidays.
“We are asking our employees to lead,” said Tanny Crane, president and CEO of the Crane Group.
While employers have largely been able to keep workplaces safe, the virus has been spreading through small groups of family members and friends, she said.
She said employees can be effective in talking with their neighbors, friends and relatives. Many want to tell their own stories about how the virus has affected them and their families, which she believes can be effective in the fight.
“Individual responsibility at the grassroots level is the only way to get COVID under control,” she said.
She said she expects employers to provide tools that employees will need to become leader and models.
“The message is simple,” she said. “We can’t afford more illness, hospitalizations and more death in our community.”
Tiberi, a former U.S. Representative, said the spread of the virus goes beyond the health of workers to threaten the state’s economy, small businesses and employment opportunities. More unemployment claims have been filed this year than in the prior four years combined.
“An Ohioan who contracts COVID-19 cannot go to work, provide for their families or support local businesses,” he said.
Once vaccines become available, Tiberi said he expects the campaign’s focus also will include a campaign to persuade people to get the vaccine.