Pennsylvania’s businesses have spent months on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, finding creative ways to keep operating while trying to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.
The emergence of vaccines has brought some sense of relief, but public health experts caution this is no time to let down our collective guard.
“The development of COVID-19 vaccines is great news, but we can’t let it lull us into complacency,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, the chief medical officer at Capital BlueCross. “Even with a vaccine, there’s still a need to take common-sense precautions like wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands. Using all of these strategies together will be the fastest way to end this pandemic.”
Her advice echoes that of Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who has repeatedly cautioned the public to continue following preventive practices like mask wearing.
“We anticipate we’re going to be rolling (vaccines) out through the winter and then into the spring and into the summer,” Levine said. “It could take a significant amount of time to immunize everyone in Pennsylvania. I anticipate we’re going to be wearing masks well into 2021, maybe to the end of 2021.”
Business leaders have come to realize they can play a critical role in reining in the virus. By enforcing practices like mask wearing and social distancing, businesses can help their communities avoid spikes in COVID-19 cases.
The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce is among those who stepped up in the COVID-19 fight. The chamber rolled out a “Vow of The Valley” campaign last year to show a collective commitment to fighting the virus. Businesses pledged to follow agreed-upon safety protocols regarding everything from safe cash handling process and surface sanitation practices to enforcing on-site social distancing and mask requirements.
Businesses that agree to the chamber’s pledge use signage so customers know about their commitment to COVID-19 safety. By the start of 2021, about 230 businesses in the Lehigh Valley – ranging from banks and bookstores to restaurants and realtors – had signed the pledge.
Other businesses, primarily in the non-retail sector, have enacted remote work policies in an effort to keep employees safe. Capital BlueCross is among the regional employers that called upon most if its employees to work from home when the pandemic began last March. The company’s work-from-home policy will remain in place at least through mid-2021.
“The good news is we can see an end in sight, but it’s still going to take some effort to get there,” said Dr. Chambers. “That effort has to come from each of us individually and from our business and community leaders collectively. If we all follow safe, healthy practices that we know work, we can end COVID-19 for good.”