It has been more than three months since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered a majority of US businesses and forced millions to work from home or wait for unemployment benefits.
Businesses are understandably wary as the economy reopens, eager to get back to work, but cautious to do so in a way that could increase the risk of infection in the workplace. A combination of federal, state and local guidelines is providing the roadmap many of these businesses need to get back to full operation while protecting employees from the risk of infection, but it’s a fine line.
Even with carefully implemented detection and monitoring protocols, there will always be a risk of infection. With a disease that can take up to two weeks to show symptoms, you’re likely to have one or more employees start to develop them while at work. That’s why testing is so important.
Testing Solutions for Private Companies
Until recently, testing has been offered by government entities, non-profit organizations, and healthcare facilities. There hasn’t been a single body administering tests, but they haven’t been something you can go and pick up at a local drug store either.
As the volume of tests produced increased and accessibility grew, it is now possible to order tests specifically for your employees and have trained medical professionals to administer them when needed.
Despite efforts over the last three months, testing still isn’t available at the scale of 1:1 to reach all Americans whenever needed, but targeted testing can be provided for organizations in certain states. New York City, for example, recently implemented new guidelines for how private companies and building managers can test individuals if they show symptoms of coronavirus. Michigan has passed similar directives.
There are several benefits to such a system. Even with the increase in test availability, many locations still require individuals to call and schedule an appointment for their test with a local testing facility – which itself can be a hotbed of potential infection. There is no way to guarantee such a test is performed or to see the results of that test without requesting it from an outside provider. By offering coronavirus testing through a partner, you can ensure a higher level of compliance, expedite diagnosis, and better protect your employees if a case of COVID-19 is detected.
Implementing Testing in Your Facility
Testing is incredibly important but is only one part of an overall assessment of someone’s readiness to return to work. Instead of going through their own healthcare provider, they can more quickly register with a private testing facility to schedule a time and place for their test, undergo an antibody test, and in the case of a negative test, obtain a molecular PCR test to better determine if the virus is present.
For those that test positive, future screening and testing are needed to determine when it is safe for them to return to work. Current CDC guidelines state that someone is safe to leave quarantine a minimum of 7 days after the onset of symptoms and 72 hours since a fever was last recorded. Your facility may have more stringent guidelines, which can be supported with testing, including scheduled antibody and quantitative tests, and evaluation in response to new reported symptoms.
Additionally, contact tracing data should be used to evaluate co-workers who were in close proximity to the infected individual. By monitoring for symptoms and testing if anything develops you can reduce the risk of it spreading. Combined with existing physical distancing policies, the use of PPE, and no-touch procedures at most work stations, this will help greatly reduce the risk of transmission.
Why Organized Testing is Important
To date, one of the worst localized outbreaks in the US is the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, Iowa. By the start of May, more than 850 employees had become infected with coronavirus and the facility was finally forced to shut down. To enable reopening and reduce the risk of the virus spreading further, the state opened a popup testing facility and Smithfield Foods has since organized making tests available for both employees and their families. The speed with which the virus spread, and the inability to offer testing for employees who have shown symptoms, combined with the lack of procedures in the facility to address the outbreak created a massive issue that couldn’t be addressed without shutting down the facility.
As millions of organizations reopened in May and into June, the need for reliable, rapid testing for employees has become more apparent. Combined with site-entry and symptoms detection protocols, physical distancing policies on the floor, and rapid response plans if a potential infection is identified, testing is a pillar of the private response to coronavirus.
Learn more about responding to coronavirus and keeping your doors open in our Safely Playbook. Download for free here, or visit our beta testing page to learn more about finding a testing partner in your area.