September 21st, 2020 | Alla Schay, General Manager, Sterling - Industrials, Government & Education

Taking Back Control and Keeping Employees Safe with COVID-19 Testing

It has been more than six months since COVID-19 shifted from being a concern on the horizon within the United States to a deadly force. Beyond the staggering toll of those who have been sickened, the ways we interact with each other and conduct business have changed, possibly forever.

Early on, when  Sterling executed its COVID-19 business continuity plan (which included the transition of employees to work-at-home arrangements, and determining the best ways to continue our background screening work to enable safe and efficient hiring at critical businesses), I focused my team on one primary area—control the controllable. This is easy to say but harder to do, especially at a time of great stress and uncertainty.

Fast-forward to late-September, and the challenges of keeping businesses open are different than they were earlier in the year, as understanding of the virus and its associated risks have evolved.

Now the main concern is how organizations that continued to operate or closed, and have since begun operating again, can minimize health and safety risks among their employees, customers, and the communities they serve.

Role of Screening and Testing

A COVID-19 incident that causes more shutdowns can be devastating. Indeed, the stakes are high in environments where social distancing and other precautions are either challenging or almost impossible. Just look at what occurred in July at a garment manufacturer in Los Angeles. An uncontrolled outbreak can make the difference between success and failure.

Today, safe returns to in-person learning and other personal interactions have been a focus in many communities. Some colleges had planned an on-campus experiences during the fall semester, but have instead had to quickly close campuses and send students home, for a second time, at least temporarily.

By now, we are all accustomed to high-level screenings that occur in a range of settings—where foreheads are scanned for temperature checks and some basic questions about symptoms and potential exposure are asked. Some companies have made considerable investments in training or hiring staff and purchasing health check equipment. These tactics are a first line of defense that have also been extended to gatherings of crowds within the constraints set by state and local governments. Although not foolproof, individuals who exhibit symptoms or identify risks associated with COVID-19 can be excluded or isolated to reduce exposure to a broader population.

As testing has advanced and become more prevalent, this has become an important way to reduce risk. Identifying who has the COVID-19 virus, whether or not an individual shows symptoms, can allow the advance notice that is needed to keep your workers, and by extension the customers and communities they may interact with, safe.

Finally, after six months of uncertainty and limited control, tools are available to instill order. The key is efficient and reliable active virus testing.

Empowerment Through Testing

To be successful, you need to know if your business can remain open with measures in place to quickly react to threats. It is possible for a person to have the virus and display no significant symptoms. A more sophisticated, science-based approach involves testing individuals for the active virus (leveraging PCR), an indicator of the presence of COVID-19 at that specific time. This can provide a meaningful restoration of control, enabling additional exclusions of infected people to further reduce risk.

While clinical trials for a vaccine are underway, research is being done on the presence of COVID-19 antibodies among those who have been previously infected. Moving forward, it will be critical to remain cognizant of the latest EEOC guidance and considerations. The duration that antibodies are present and effective in preventing re-infection is still unknown, and this is likely to vary among individuals.

Additionally, antibody testing could become a greater focus, adding another tool to the available arsenal to help keep COVID-19 away from an employee population. This may occur in conjunction with the distribution of a vaccine to help ensure that anticipated protection has been achieved and remains active.

Program Considerations and Link to Background Screening

With little question about the need for testing, attention can turn to the best way to test. Here are eight important considerations:

  • Are results reliable? Active virus (PCR) tests, which search for unique genetic material, are among the most reliable at present. It is also critical that specimen analysis be done under controlled observation for greater accuracy.
  • Is privacy maintained? As with employee background screenings or other drug and health screenings, privacy is critical and legally required. The test provider that you choose needs to ensure that results will be securely shared with the employee or candidate and only select members of your staff.
  • Is the test easy to administer? COVID-19 tests typically leverage either saliva or a swab of the back of the nose or throat. Many consider the latter to be invasive, unpleasant, and even painful. A saliva test, on the other hand, that can be self-administered is likely preferable for many people.
  • Is there accountability? For integrity and to ensure the test has been conducted properly, saliva-based tests need to be observed. This can occur either onsite or through a remote connection if the test is done at home.
  • Are results available in a reasonable time period? When reliable, lab-based results are returned within 72 hours, isolation of any infected individuals can occur, and risk of spread can be mitigated.
  • Can the results be aggregated easily? Simple, easy-to-understand reports and dashboards can quickly indicate status.
  • Can the test be easily repeated? To respond to the ongoing nature of this threat, periodic tests need to be anticipated to quickly identify any infiltration into your population.
  • Can tests be quickly provided to those at higher risk? Invariably, regular temperature checks may reveal instances of fever. In addition, individuals may have flu-like symptoms or learn of exposure. It is important to proactively have an established process to access tests. Simply sending someone home and advising that a test is needed is not recommended since it introduces additional challenges and risks.

An effective end-to-end solution will be tech-enabled, providing easy access to both aggregate and individual results to help determine any next steps. The challenges of COVID-19 testing have strong overlap with random drug testing programs associated with US Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requirements. Record-keeping of massive quantities of data require an effective, pressure-tested solution.

Summary

All industries that require face-to-face interactions have been impacted by COVID-19. In addition to the manufacturing and education examples cited above and the considerable changes experienced every day in retail stores and restaurants, transportation and the delivery of government services look very different now than they did at the beginning of the year.

Through increased control, organizations can focus more attention on proactively pursuing their strategies. While the size and scope of the pandemic still looms large, a focus on restoring order, particularly through screening and testing, can re-enforce a commitment to safety that extends across the employees, customers, and communities you serve.

We currently know more about COVID-19 today than we did earlier this year, but there is still much left to learn. However, it is evident that an effective testing program, administered by a trusted partner, is the clearest pathway for organizations across industries to regain control.

Read more about Sterling’s suite of COVID-19 testing services. You can also reach out to us with any questions related to our distinctive testing program solution.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.