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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Tri-State CEOs Talk COVID-19 Challenges, Triumphs And Prevention Measures

downtown cincinnati
Ronny Salerno

Tri-State business leaders say they're continuing to take measures to ensure their employees and customers are safe during the pandemic. A handful gathered online Tuesday to outline steps they're taking to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"We're getting the message out there and we're reaching folks who are not normally reached," said Deloris Hargrove-Young, vice chair of the board of d.e. Foxx, and a member of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber'sRESTART task force. "We're reaching the vulnerable. While we're lifting up our voices, we're making sure that we're listening to the voices of the people that are impacted by this each and every day."

Business leaders sought to drive home the importance of following safety measures such as wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and washing hands.

"Businesses really have to speak out clearly about the precautions everyone should be taking regarding COVID. No one is COVID-proof," said Barbara Turner, president and COO with Ohio National Financial Services.

"Don't politicize this," added Leigh Fox, president and CEO of Cincinnati Bell. "Very candidly, this is the easiest, simplest act of kindness you can show another human being, period, is to wear a mask and be safe."

The process has been challenging, said Melvin Gravely, CEO of Triversity, which works with many contractors. However, the company is taking a new, firmer stance when it comes to mask wearing.

"We're going to simplify our message because it's gotten too complex - 'You wear a mask here but you don't have to wear it there' ... We're going to wear a mask. Period," he said. "You get out of your car, you put on your mask and you don't take it off until you get back in your car."

Attendees also discussed some of the safety measures they've taken within their companies, including plexiglass dividers, health screenings, mask requirements, additional access to hygiene items and sanitizers, enhanced cleaning measures, and how they're keeping employees and customers safe and informed.

Steve Johnston, president of Cincinnati Financial Corporation, said in recent weeks his company has particularly thought about what the return to school - specifically virtual or hybrid schooling - means for employees. He noted the company wants to provide flexibility and retain employees.

"As we thought about coming back (into the office) faster with more associates, we've slowed that down because we recognize that our associates, in particular our female associates, are under additional stress given the school situation. We've slowed that down and allowed people to work from home and kept an eye on turnover because we've been reading in the broader community that it's been particularly hard on women."

Recent reports show women are being forced to leave the workforce because of pandemic pressures. NPR reported women are leaving the workforce at four times the rate of men.

Several leaders indicated they expect to continue seeing employees working from home for a while, and some may not return to an office because employees are being successful from a home work environment. Some companies experienced problems early on in the pandemic with getting employees set up with virtual private networks (VPNs) to ensure company and customers data remains safe and secure. Cincinnati Bell's Fox says that no longer appears to be a problem. Barbara Turner adds that her company has the same privacy and safety programs at home as in the office.

They're also encouraging employees to maintain safety precautions at home and in their private lives.

Craig Brammer, CEO of The Health Collaborative, observed that hospitals found themselves in an odd situation of thinking about how to influence their employees' personal lives. He recounted a conversation with a local hospital leader who said he felt like his employees were the safest when at work.

"He felt like they were safer in a hospital room with a COVID-positive patient than they were when they went home," he said. Hospital leaders, Brammer said, "have spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to respectfully try to tell people what to do in their private lives."

The Zoom news conference was convened by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Cincinnati Business Committee/Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, and the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky African American Chamber.

Participants included: Leigh Fox, president and CEO, Cincinnati Bell; Mel Gravely, CEO, Triversity; Steve Johnston, chairman, president and CEO, Cincinnati Financial Corporation; Mary Miller, CEO, Jancoa; Barbara Turner, president and COO, Ohio National Financial Services; Paul Verst, chairman and CEO, Verst Logistics; along with Eric Kearney, president and CEO, Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky African-American Chamber; Gary Lindgren, CEO, Cincinnati Business Committee & Cincinnati Regional Business Committee; Jill Meyer, president and CEO, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber; Regina Carswell Russo, executive director, Regional COVID Communications Center.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.