Why COVID testing in workplaces is not enough
Workplaces today are trying a two-pronged approach to ensure worker safety and operational excellence: increasing on-site coronavirus testing and encouraging vaccine adoption in employees.
But, relying on just these methods leaves a lot to chance, and here’s why: Testing only tells you when a person tests positive but doesn't prepare you to conduct contract tracing—which is the way to identify and isolate at-risk individuals quickly. On the other hand, vaccine rollouts are definitely a step in the right direction but for employers, this is a nuanced situation. You can employ measures to promote vaccination in the workplace but experts advise against making vaccination mandatory.
In this article, we unpack why testing is not enough and how employers can use testing as an extra layer of safety that is a part of their overall employee health and safety strategy.
Testing is Not Enough
Testing only identifies affected individuals after the event. You need to consider installing preemptive measures in your facility that prepare you for the worst-case and support you if an employee tests positive.
For example, Amazon has been following rigorous testing, social distancing protocols, and enhanced safety measures since the start of the pandemic. However, recently their warehouse in Ontario was shut down due to a significant COVID-19 outbreak and mandatory quarantine for all employees for two weeks.
The shutdown will no doubt cause performance setbacks and possibly diminish employee confidence in leadership.
Even after a positive case is identified, you need to track their interactions to trace any secondary individuals who might be at risk. Which involves a lot of time and labor - two resources that many businesses lack. Without accurate and timely information, contagion risk amplifies.
Automating contact tracing could help you stay prepared in the face of adversity, allowing you to make data-driven decisions suited for your people and your business.
Additionally, it’s essential to be aware of the limitations of the tests themselves. Private companies, campuses, and facilities use the rapid testing version known as the Rapid Antigen Test.
These are tests designed to detect the virus at the point of care (or at the time of testing). The rapid antigen test can return results showing whether the patient is infected with acute COVID-19 the same day, often in minutes, instead of the 3-5 day estimated wait for most nasal swab tests. Because of this, individuals often feel a false sense of security based on tests that immediately come back negative.
Unfortunately, there are many points at which a rapid test can fail:
They are less reliable than tests usually used in a laboratory.
They may fail to detect a significant number of infected people, providing a negative result even though they are infected.
They may provide false-positive results for not infected people (up to 5% in some studies).
Due to false positives, people who experience a positive result must have that result confirmed by a laboratory test using extra time and expense.
As mentioned, testing can help determine if people are infected with COVID-19, even if they don’t know it. This helps identify cases of a virus that doesn’t always present symptoms, and seemingly healthy people may be carriers.
That said, it’s important to remember that testing is a reactive - and not a preventative - method of trying to protect your workplace. By the time someone is tested positive, it’s already too late. It’s essential to take measures that prevent the spread of infection in the first place. Only when these strategies are developed and implemented will we all be able to get back to “normal.”
Add Testing to Your Overall COVID-19 Preparedness Plan
Without a thoughtful COVID-19 strategy, even the most accurate tests will fail you and your employees. An integrated, multi-faceted approach keeps your workplace healthy while keeping your business open.
Employers should understand that even with employ facility-wide testing, multiple asymptomatic workers could be carrying the virus. What then?
Create a holistic safety plan that includes testing and other preventative measures that help you move swiftly and prevent an outbreak.
In other words, look to testing as an added measure, not the only measure.
Focus on a Proper COVID-19 Response Plan
Forward-thinking business leaders understand that a proactive and comprehensive response to the COVID-19 emergency shields their business from potential shutdowns, builds resilience, and creates trust and confidence among employees. An efficient response plan will prevent or slow the spread of the virus in your workplace on a practical level.
We suggest that employers continuously review and refine their response plans according to any changes in transmission risk. Effective response plans will include activities in the following areas:
Maintaining critical business operations
Ensuring employees are safe and know how to protect themselves
Reducing transmission among employees and the public they interact with
Creating a healthy work environment
Discussing change management and flexible work arrangements, particularly around remote work and automation on factory floors
For more guidance, you can view the CDC’s Critical Infrastructure Sector Response Planning documentation here.
Proactive companies should also do their best to stay a step ahead of the virus. A social distancing and contact tracing solution gives business leaders the power to make data-driven decisions to protect their employees and their business. Safeteams provides access to real-time employee interaction and movement data so that one positive case can be managed quickly, rather than shutting down all operations.
Remember that it is an employer’s responsibility to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 within their workplace.
In addition to building out a robust response plan in the case of infection, you’ll want to put these directives into place across your facility to prevent infection in the first place:
Wear a face mask.
Maintain social distance with at least six feet of space between people.
Encourage remote work if possible. If not, stagger shifts.
Temperature screen at the beginning and end of every shift.
Tell people to stay home if they experience symptoms.
Organize physical workplaces to avoid employee “clusters.”
Clean and sanitize often.
Remind employees to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly.
Automate contact tracing to identify and isolate affected employees quickly.
Safeteams is used by over 27,000 employees across 100 facilities in different industries of all sizes. By using our robust technology, you will have access to accurate contact tracing data and will be ready to act fast if someone at your workplace gets infected. Talk to one of our experts to see how we can customize our services to fit your needs.