An unexpected, unwelcome and unpredictable guest arrived in 2020 threatening our personal lives and business livelihood — SARS-CoV-2, or what is commonly known as COVID-19. Information regarding this virus shifts daily as world health and government leaders tackle issues related to its transmission, diagnosis, treatment, eradication, et cetera.
Top infectious disease experts note despite the increase in the population being vaccinated — and even when the pandemic subsides into an endemic virus — we’ll likely enter into a future world that we share with COVID-19. Business leaders and school officials, therefore, must develop, communicate and implement new workplace practices that address updated COVID-19 policies along with ongoing testing.
Having a comprehensive, communicative procedural plan promotes a safe and healthy workplace return of employees, teachers, students, customers and vendors. It also aids in maintaining continuity of business, culture and productivity, and in mitigating corporate risk. We all strive for the day to return when someone around us sneezes and we don’t think twice about it.
Create a Return-to-Work Plan
It’s important to assemble a team of internal and external professionals in human resources, healthcare, legal, operations, et cetera to develop a return plan that effectively focuses on employee/student safety, care and wellness as a top priority. New policies and updated employee handbooks covering COVID-19 are necessary for all employees, whether it’s for them returning to the workplace, working remotely or what is likely to be hugely popular — a hybrid work-from-home/at-work solution.
Planning should address PPE (masks) requirements, temperature screening, cleaning schedules, how an employee voices concern about others adhering to guidelines, employee education, exposure reporting, managing employees with symptoms, testing protocols while at work/prior to return-to-work, positive tests, contact tracing and much more. Prior to dissemination and implementation, the plan should be legally reviewed for compliance with Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, American Disabilities Act, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, et cetera.
Partner with a Diagnostic Testing Laboratory
If there’s an outbreak, is there a clear plan of action? What happens if an employee is at home and calls in sick? What’s the protocol for an employee to self-report an exposure?
“Medical experts and diagnostic testing laboratories are valuable resources to assist in workplace COVID-19 protocols and procedures,” says Ethan Sasz, founder and CEO of Paradigm Laboratories. Paradigm is a partner to state and county health departments, having collected and processed more than 720,000 COVID-19 tests since last summer. The company is now working closely with businesses, government and schools on return-to-work and return-to-school solutions. Sasz adds, “When establishing workplace testing protocols that adhere to HIPAA privacy regulations, we also suggest making tools available like a daily symptom tracker app or questionnaire to determine if an employee should stay out of the office and if testing is required. When symptomatic and asymptomatic employee testing is required, testing collection can be conducted on-site, or at mobile sites located around the Valley and be returned in 24-hours or less.”
Vaccination coupled with ongoing testing strategies for early detection and early quarantine is an essential line of defense for halting transmission, reducing risk of an outbreak and instilling employee confidence.
Testing Methods with Rapid Results
Symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 testing using these modalities plays a key role in workplace health and safety planning:
- Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): EUA/FDA validated COVID-19 RT-qPCR test using Nasopharyngeal swab collection method is considered the CDC gold standard. It’s extremely effective in identifying active virus. A saliva PCR test is also available for people more sensitive to the nasal PCR test. Twenty-four-hour results turnaround is crucial for monitoring the workplace.
- Quantitative Antibody: This test measures the actual neutralizing antibodies that the body develops naturally following an infection or through the vaccine, based on the World Health Organization standards. IgG antibody testing that gives a quantitative result (measuring antibody amounts) provides important insights to people as they recover from COVID-19 and helps evaluate a person’s immune response to a vaccine.
- Antigen: Antigen tests are relatively inexpensive and results typically come back in 15 minutes. Antigen tests for SARS-CoV-2 are generally less sensitive than real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), but can be very useful as part of a testing protocol.
Communicate and Monitor Plan
Once the plan is reviewed for compliance and ready to share with employees, it’s important to formulate multiple communications outlets to reach employees and to ensure they’re aware of new procedures being enacted for safety and the continued growth and success of the company. Staff should be made available to answer questions and to guide employees through the process. It’s also important to outline social media strategies; companies know all too well the good and the disastrous that can occur in today’s social media.
Organizations will also need to tailor a communication and COVID-19 monitoring program that includes HIPAA-approved tracking information like summary of positive and negative results.
Resecō Advisors helps businesses identify opportunities and risks in areas like safety, human resources, employee onboarding and claims. According to President Steve Hanrahan, “COVID-19 has led us to take our own reflective look, as should all businesses, on ways to pivot our environment and practices to lessen exposure and to make a safe, comfortable environment for everyone.” He adds, “It’s critical for employers to effectively implement infectious disease, preparedness and response plans because, generally, OSHA requires it.”
As long as COVID-19 is around with unanswered questions on the vaccine efficacy over time, virus transmission from vaccinated to the non-vaccinated people and emerging virus variants, new workplace guidelines with ongoing testing remains. Community resources and medical experts are available to assist. It’s about employers doing what they can to show they care about their employees and striving to deliver a safe environment for everyone.
This article is part of the cover story section, which includes the main story:
And three accompanying articles:
The Ongoing Role of COVID-19 Testing