Community bank protocols remain same as Covid-19 variant spreads

Community bank leaders say Covid-19 protocols have not drastically changed following the onset of the delta variant. However, as some smaller banks say they are considering shifting back to remote work, larger financial institutions are already delaying the return of employees and instituting staff vaccination mandates. 

Darlys Hulme, president of Farmers Savings Bank & Trust in Traer, Iowa, said vaccinations are not required for her staff, a majority of whom have already been vaccinated, because she does not want to assume liability for any adverse impacts from the shots. Also, she views vaccinations as personal decisions. Vaccine mandates in the workplace can create complicated HR situations, and any such mandates must include exemptions for religious and health reasons.

She said the spread of the variant is not expected to change banking operations. Already, the bank closed in March 2020 but kept its drive-thru window, continuing to serve customers and keeping employees on-staff. Plexiglass dividers were installed in June 2020 to accommodate the reopening of the bank lobby.  

Nebraska Bankers Association President & CEO Richard Baier said bankers are once again considering how employees could be shifted to a remote working environment to combat the spread of the virus. Though he has not seen many Nebraska banks take direct action, he anticipates more will enact work-from-home policies. A few Nebraska banks have implemented vaccine mandates, but “not a significant number,” he said.  

Already, retail banks Wells Fargo, Truist and U.S. Bank pushed back the date employees must return to the office. Investment banking company Citigroup is requiring its workers to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus before returning to the office.  

The surge of the delta variant has been evidenced recently with daily cases topping 100,000, a milestone the Associated Press reported was last exceeded during the winter spike. Numbers are especially high in the South, where vaccination rates are below national averages. Nationwide, 50 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, and more than 70 percent of adults have received at least one dose. 

It took the U.S. about nine months to cross 100,000 average daily cases in November before peaking at about 250,000 in early January. Cases bottomed out in June, averaging about 11,000 per day, but that number has since ballooned. 

North Dakota Bankers Association Director Rick Clayburgh said he has not noticed any statewide banking shifts in response to the variant, but NDBA plans to soon survey members amid the increasing number of Covid-19 cases. Some community banks already have internal Covid-19 task forces consisting of employees who monitor and make recommendations. Also, Clayburgh noted North Dakota community bankers are starting to consider whether they will require their employees to wear masks.  

There are bright spots, however: During previous virus waves, some North Dakota community bankers were infected. Now, Clayburgh said community banks have updated their filtration systems and adopted protocols in case an employee gets sick.