If 2020 was a year of change, 2021 is a year of transition. There has been a palpable shift in workplace habits, geared toward building a COVID-conscious work environment. Workplace safety has always been an expectation, enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but it began taking on a newfound importance with the arrival of the COVID-19 virus.
In 2021, workplace safety goes beyond general accessibility and emergency protocols; regular COVID-19 testing is now at the core of all operations. Accessible and efficient testing is crucial for workers in every industry operating in-person and on-site. Even with the promise of a globally implemented vaccine, the virus will continue to evolve, similar to the flu, and require ongoing screening and risk management.
To simplify an otherwise complex landscape, we’ve created this comprehensive guide to testing employees for COVID-19. Information and regulations will continue to evolve, but here’s what you need to know about critical areas of concern today.
Screening Versus Testing for COVID-19
Screening and testing are both necessary to protect your business. You can’t guarantee that asymptomatic workers will never enter the workplace, but crafting a strategy that will minimize exposure and allow you to act swiftly can save time and lives. The right system will make potential hotspots manageable before they put your entire workforce at risk.
Types of Screening for Visitors and Workers
For many employers, it just isn’t possible to test every person that walks through the door. That’s where screening comes in. These three screening options don’t replace COVID-19 testing, but they can be effective ways to reduce exposure risk starting at the front door.
- Temperature screening: Since the early days of the pandemic, temperature screening has been a quick way to check for fevers and reduce risk in public places. Although a normal temperature doesn’t come with any guarantees, removing the threat of an abnormally high one is a smart and simple way to minimize risk. Make sure screenings are completed by a medical professional or an employee trained not only in how to properly handle a thermometer but also in HIPAA-compliant communication and privacy.
- Symptom screening: Provide a questionnaire or verbal interview with a list of COVID symptoms. Temperature screenings can feel invasive for some, impacting company culture and morale. By comparison, symptom screenings can be completed in private.
- Self-certification: Ask workers to certify they don’t have COVID symptoms, haven't been in contact with anyone who has tested positive or is showing symptoms, and have not been asked to self-isolate because of COVID. This option offers the most privacy. It can be a standalone screening process or added to other screening methods.
Why Employers Should Still Require a COVID-19 Test
Ultimately, screening only goes so far. Testing employees for COVID-19 assures a responsible approach and provides employers with the ability to manage potential exposure, transmission and outbreaks. According to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is perfectly acceptable to require a negative test before entering the workplace. Employers should ensure the following:
- Tests must be accurate and reliable. Poor testing means poor results.
- A third-party medical professional should administer tests. This means choosing the right COVID testing partner. At BRIO, we maintain an extensive network of accredited labs, provide custom testing plans for employers, and maintain an intuitive dashboard to ensure you get fast, reliable, actionable results.
- Test results should be treated by employers as confidential medical records.
Types of Tests: What You Need to Know
Choosing the best testing process for your organization will come down to the size and the physical limitations of the workplace — for example, ventilation and workers' ability to social distance. Some employers are implementing a testing regimen that requires all employees to be tested every two weeks. This allows for fast and efficient tracking of potential outbreaks. Others only require testing if the worker doesn’t pass the screening measures.
There are two categories of coronavirus tests. One is diagnostic, which tests whether a person has COVID. The other is an antibody test, which looks for previous infections. The most accurate and common way to detect a current infection is with a diagnostic PCR test, which stands for polymerase chain reaction. These tests take a swab sample from the back of the nose and detect coronavirus genetic material. Some tests can provide a result in as little as 20 minutes. While these are a fast way to get results, they can lead to false negatives. Most companies choose to send their samples to a reliable lab for better testing accuracy.
The antibody test looks for two types of antibodies: IgM, which indicates a current COVID infection, and IgG, which indicates a past COVID infection. This is a blood test, so it doesn’t require a nasal swab. It is also more widely available, so it’s more competitively priced. However, the antibody test may not detect acute infections, and it produces a high number of false negatives. There is also no clear evidence at this time that those with antibodies are immune or protected from future infection. Antibody testing is not a stand-alone solution for workplace COVID testing.
Rapid Antigen Testing
Antigen tests, also known as rapid antigen testing, collect respiratory material via nasal swab. They are FDA-approved, and they are considered the easiest test to scale and administer. They also boast a lower cost per test. However, they are considered slightly less accurate than PCR tests.
There are also an increasing variety of home tests available that offer value to organizations for several reasons. They offer employees more privacy and make it easier to comply with HIPAA and the Americans with Disabilities Act, to ensure confidentiality and anti-discrimination requirements. They also provide more flexibility. For example, if you require an employee to test after illness, exposure, or travel before they can return to the workplace, sending an at-home test keeps them off-site until cleared.
How BRIO Can Help
BRIO can help you define your testing goals and implement efficient processes to keep your company safe and productive. We’ll help you design a custom testing plan that perfectly suits your workforce and fits seamlessly into your everyday operations. We’ll match you with the best test for your workplace and everything you need to ensure tests are administered safely and in alignment with compliance standards.
Then we'll make sure your tests get accurate and timely results. We’ve cultivated a network of courier and lab partnerships that ensure fast, reliable results. And we have an easy-to-use dashboard so you can make informed decisions and take action. Plus, employees get the insights they need to make decisions that will best serve the health interests of their businesses, co-workers, and families.
Create a Testing and Best Practices Policy Sooner Rather Than Later
Everyone wants to be healthy, safe, and productive. But you can’t just offer employees testing and be done with it. Mandating health screenings or medical testing for employees must be handled from a place of sensitivity and knowledge.
Some employees may even deny being tested over privacy concerns. During the pandemic, employers have been given the authority to enforce testing or offer emergency paid leave for employees who refuse to test. Once the pandemic ends and COVID more closely resembles seasonal flu patterns, best practices will evolve. But creating a proactive testing policy is crucial for protecting your business long-term.
Including employees in the creation of such policies may lessen any pushback. By including employees in the brainstorming and decision-making processes, they’ll take ownership of their space and their safety.
Best Practices for the Office
In addition to your testing policies, you can remind employees of the need for social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing, using signs, memos, and verbal reinforcement. Other best practices include:
- Reconfiguring your workplace to promote social distancing.
- Implementing sanitation stations at each door and medical mask supply stations in all gathering areas.
- Encouraging employees to take extra precautions to sanitize their work areas.
- Replacing the singular pen holder at the front desk with two separate ones: one for sanitized pens and another for used pens.
- Opting for single-use condiment packages in the break room.
- Keeping disinfectant at all shared workstations for equipment such as copiers, fax machines, and entry keypads.
Medical testing is highly regulated. Disability and anti-discrimination laws require testing to be completed under a regulating authority. Employers may be asked to provide infection results to authorities for contact-tracing purposes, so they must keep accurate records.
Here are the CDC’s recommendations for testing policies:
- Anyone who shows clear symptoms should be tested, whether at work or on their own.
- Anyone who has come in close contact with an infected person should be tested. However, because it can take time for the infection to take hold, there should be a short delay between exposure and testing; an immediate test won’t be conclusive. Ask employees to self-isolate for a few days prior to testing and until the results are returned.
- Due to the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers, creating a fair testing program for those who don’t show symptoms and haven’t been knowingly exposed is still essential. For these cases, organizations may opt for widespread testing at regular intervals.
- If you’re considering imposing a widespread testing program, seek legal counsel and ensure all testing is aligned with state law, local health authority guidance, HIPAA, and the FDA.
Create protocol to address every outcome. Document how work will continue should an employee or set of employees test positive. Make room for false positives by allowing an employee to retest and return to work with a negative test result. Figure out how an employee’s results will be communicated, how their information will be stored, and with whom their information will be shared.
If someone needs to take time off work after a positive test result, be clear about pay and resources. You may even offer mental health resources to help employees cope with pandemic anxiety.
While COVID is still an evolving situation, Brio understands that getting back to work is vital. And protecting the safety, well-being, and productivity of your workplace is the first step. Contact us for more information about creating a custom testing plan for your workplace.