As much of the U.S. workforce returns to the office, employers are continuing to adjust to the new and evolving ways of handling Covid-19 in the workplace. This means implementing testing, enforcing processes and protocols when employees test positive, having a backup remote work plan in place, and more. Here’s what you need to know, and why you should consider mandatory Covid-19 testing as part of your overall plan to manage the “new normal” at your company.
Should you implement routine, mandatory Covid-19 testing in the workplace?
A mandatory Covid-19 testing policy is necessary for a strong, functioning workplace. Routine testing will not only help keep employees from transmitting Covid-19 to one another, but it will also assure your workforce and your customers that your office and facilities are safe. Testing doesn’t just help prevent Covid-19 transmission, it also will help you maintain a positive company culture and save on the bottom line.
Furthermore, mandatory Covid-19 testing helps to prevent “super-spreader” events in which one seemingly healthy individual inadvertently infects several others. Research has shown that as many as 60% or more of people who test positive for Covid-19 are asymptomatic -- people who otherwise seem healthy.
But if most of the general population is getting vaccinated, why is Covid-19 testing still necessary?
Testing is still necessary because vaccination levels are not yet where they need to be, to achieve herd immunity. A survey by the Kaiser Health Foundation in March 2021 showed that 37% of adults in the U.S. planned to either wait to get the vaccine or planned to not get vaccinated. So, it’s wise that employers implement a long-term testing strategy to protect their employees and customers.
What are the recommended guidelines for Covid-19 in the workplace? What should be in an action plan?
You can develop a strong action plan by answering the following questions, which will also help you determine the likelihood of new Covid-19 cases amongst your staff:
● When do you require your staff to be tested, and how often?
● Can your workplace shift to a remote work plan if employees test positive for Covid-19 and/or staff members are exposed?
● Do you have an isolation plan in place for an employee who tests positive, along with contact tracing procedures?
● What is your staff’s vaccination rate?
● How many of your employees travel, and where?
● How do your workers commute, and what transportation do they use in general?
● Do you have a masking policy in place?
● Do you have workplace mandates for ventilation, hand washing, and social distancing?
● How do you plan to enforce all of the above?
The stronger your Covid-19 workplace guidelines are, the more likely you are to lower the risk of an outbreak and its consequences.
What sort of Covid-19 testing does the CDC recommend for employees in a workplace?
The CDC recommends two types of tests:
The Antigen test is a fast and inexpensive option for employers to quickly identify positive cases of Covid-19 in the workplace setting. The quick turnaround time makes it easy to discover those with heavy viral loads and likely more contagious in the workplace.
Although Antigen tests are the preferred method of workplace-based testing, they show a higher false-positive rate than PCR test when testing asymptomatic employees. So, if a worker gets a positive result on an Antigen, you should have the result confirmed with a PCR test.
The PCR is a considerably more accurate Covid-19 test. It provides a higher level of sensitivity than that of the Antigen. The PCR is an ideal test to use in settings with large populations such as schools, universities, and corporate campuses.
In a PCR test, an individual's samples are sent to an accredited lab for analysis and confirmation. It’s crucial that a workplace have an effective quarantine plan in place while waiting on test results, if necessary.
After the lab receives the samples, scientists extract genetic material. The material is run through a machine called a thermal cycler with specialized chemicals and enzymes, and a series of heating and cooling cycles to amplify the genetic material.
The lab then reports the results through an online portal. When the results are reported to an employer, the human resources department is the first notified.
Many employers may be wondering how these costs will be covered. In California, the cost of testing is placed on the insurance carrier supporting the business. Due to this, private health care plans and disability insurance policies will cover Covid-19 testing without cost-sharing for both diagnostic and screening purposes. This same model is being considered in other states across the country, but varies state-by-state.
What should an employer look for in a Covid-19 testing partner?
If you want to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate Covid-19 from your workplace, you need a reliable testing partner. Selecting a partner who will deliver reliable, scalable testing solutions is essential to any mandatory Covid-19 testing plan.
Additionally, you should select a lab that not only has experience in Antigen and PCR testing, but one that can help you put together and implement Covid-19 workplace guidelines. Every company is different, with its own unique set of needs and challenges, so you will need a nimble partner who will adapt accordingly. Half of the battle in beating Covid-19 is identifying and preventing further spread of the virus - which includes working with a lab to assist you.
As every workplace is unique in its culture and priorities, you need a testing partner that is adaptable and willing to tailor its services to your specific needs. It is encouraged to look for a testing partner that will work with you to achieve your goals during this unprecedented time.