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Priest

EAU CLAIRE — Two more major health care providers in the Chippewa Valley announced Wednesday that they will require their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Prevea Health notified staff that they must be vaccinated or complete an exemption process by Oct. 5, while Marshfield Clinic Health System is giving its employees until Nov. 15 to get their shots.

“These vaccines are the key to stopping this virus, and it’s essential we take this important step in providing the safest possible environment for our patients, families, visitors, providers and staff,” Dr. Susan Turney, CEO of Marshfield Clinic Health System, said in a news release.

Coronavirus case numbers, the spreading Delta variant and the widely reported fact that nearly all people recently admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 treatment have not gotten the vaccine contributed to the decision to impose the mandates.

“Those admitted to our hospital are individuals who have not been vaccinated,” said Bill Priest, chief administrative officer for Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire.

Since the start of July, that’s been the situation for 100% of people admitted to Marshfield Clinic’s facilities for treatment of COVID-19, he said.

“Data also shows us positive cases of this virus and its highly contagious Delta variant continue to rise to very concerning levels, with an overwhelming majority of positive cases affecting unvaccinated individuals,” Prevea Health CEO Dr. Ashok Rai said in a news release. “As a trusted source of health care in Wisconsin, it is critical we take this next step to protect our patients, staff and communities.”

More than 75% of Prevea Health’s employees have already voluntarily gotten vaccinated against COVID-19.

At Marshfield Clinic’s facilities in the Chippewa Valley there is a vaccination rate of just over 70% among all employees, according to Priest. But specifically for physicians the rate is 99.2% across Marshfield Clinic’s entire system, Priest added.

While the other health care providers mandating vaccinations chose an earlier date, Marshfield Clinic opted for a mid-November deadline because that coincides with its longstanding requirement for employees to be vaccinated against influenza.

In addition to a growing list of providers, the move to mandate vaccines is recommended by the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association.

“We’re not alone in this,” Priest said. “There are many health care organizations that have done this and will continue to mandate vaccines.”

Mayo Clinic Health System stated last week that it will be require employees to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 17. Staff who decline vaccination must complete educational modules addressing myths about the vaccine and they will be required to wear face masks and socially distance while at work.

When Mayo Clinic made its announcement, between 75% and 85% of its total workforce had already been vaccinated. Among Mayo physicians, the rate was closer to 95%.

Vaccination rates at area health care providers are significantly higher than the general population. In Eau Claire County, 51% of the population had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday. That’s slightly better than 49.5% of Wisconsin’s population that is vaccinated against COVID-19. (Those percentages include the total population, which does include children under 12 that are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.)

The health care system that runs HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls has not announced a vaccination mandate for employees, but has not ruled out the possibility.

“At this time, HSHS hospitals in Wisconsin do not require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19, but continue to highly encourage it and are evaluating the option,” according to a statement from the provider.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter