Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at Primary.Health, an organization that designs testing and vaccination programs at scale for public and private sectors. They are working with organizations in California, Colorado, Minnesota, and others to make workplace testing accessible and affordable. Enjoy the read!)
While there are an increasing number of good stories in the media that the COVID-19 omicron variant has “peaked” and it appears that cases are decreasing, we’re still going to be managing COVID-19 for the near, and likely extended, future. In fact, medical professionals are saying that the next logical transition with COVID-19 is from a pandemic to an endemic.
The CDC defines endemic as “the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area.” Endemic doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is less contagious or less severe. It means that COVID-19 is a little more predictable. I’m not a medical professional, but it seems to me that as COVID-19 becomes endemic, we will still need protocols in place to deal with infections. That’s why organizations need to consider having a workplace testing program in place.
Workplace Testing Programs Provide Organizations with a Plan
A workplace COVID-19 testing program is exactly what it sounds like. It improves the safety of work environments by identifying positive cases, either by testing at-home before the employee arrives, or onsite, and this allows for quick and targeted intervention. The reason a workplace testing program is so important is because one of the biggest challenges with testing is time. A workplace testing program using rapid antigen testing protocols can reduce the amount of time it takes to identify positivity (i.e., generally in less than 15 minutes). This allows HR teams to take swift measures to protect the workplace by minimizing exposure, and to provide guidance and support to the positive case employee.
The benefit for organizations is that a workplace testing program can help reduce the costs from lost work and productivity, increased sick leave, and employee turnover as well as the disruptions in business operations and any associated customer dissatisfaction. In addition, testing programs can help organizations that are looking to resume group meetings and business travel. A workplace testing program can facilitate safe interactions and compliance with country, state, and/or local requirements.
Primary.Health is at the forefront of providing low cost, comprehensive programs for testing and tracking. Their futureproof platform meets employers where they are now and allows HR and environmental safety teams to focus on their broader responsibilities, without time-consuming administration.
A little history: Primary.Health was born of a volunteer effort in a little California town to protect the health of one community and has grown into a company committed to protecting the health of every community through easy and affordable access to diagnostics. They provide program management software and program design services that let employers, schools, and communities administer testing to comply with government guidelines and follow the recommendations of healthcare professionals. Through their work with some of the largest, most complex organizations at the height of the pandemic, Primary.Health has earned the experience and trust to provide superior diagnostic testing for COVID-19, flu, and other conditions that threaten population health.
How Workplace Testing Programs Work
Before we talk about testing, I want to mention vaccinations and boosters because Primary.Health provides both. They work closely with organizations to create the right mix of onsite and at-home protocols. In addition, their support platform provides employee education about the different types of vaccines, boosters, and testing. So, HR departments do not have to become part-time epidemiologists for their employees to be safe.
This being said, I realize the Supreme Court recently opposed the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) vaccination and testing mandate for large businesses with over 100 employees. However, this doesn’t mean that organizations don’t have to deal with this matter. By now, I’d like to think that employers are well aware of the impact that illness, and in this case, the COVID-19 contagion, can play in the success of their organization. So, one way to interpret the Supreme Court ruling is that now employers have the freedom to determine their own best solution for maintaining workplace safety and business continuity.
Back to workplace testing. I’m sure everyone wants to know what happens if an employee tests positive while onsite. According to Primary.Health, here’s what takes place:
- The employee, manager, and HR receive notification of the test result. Please note that employee communications can be tailored and automated via the Primary.Health platform.
- The employer would take the appropriate safety actions to remove the employee from the workplace or instruct them not to come into work. Side note: If you’re looking for some best practices on “What Should Employers Do When a Workers Tests Positive for COVID-19?”, check out this article from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
- Positive cases receive clinician outreach within 24 hours of reported results from one of Primary.Health’s network of providers, for example SteadyMD.
- A follow-up testing cadence is determined before a return to work. So, the employee is not putting themselves or anyone else at risk.
Primary.Health provides employers with an analytics dashboard that helps the organization monitor, track, and contain outbreaks. This actionable data on testing protocol adherence, outbreak severity, and positivity trends enables HR and management teams to manage testing programs and orchestrate targeted interventions to reduce outbreaks, increase safety in the workplace, and facilitate productive workflow. For example, an employer can filter for all employees who haven’t tested in the past 7 days and send them a reminder via email or SMS.
Speaking of data, one of the questions I had for Primary.Health was about data security. They told me that all information stored and collected in the Primary.Health secure platform is identifiable, protected health information (PHI) and therefore governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)along with Primary.Health’s robust data security policies.
Some readers might be saying, “This is great. But we don’t need to do onsite testing because the White House just announced that people can get free tests.” Not so fast.
Yes, it’s true that the President announced making 500M tests available and significantly increased the number of tests available to schools and community groups, but there was no mention of employersreceiving free tests. Individuals can order 4 free tests per household via COVIDtest.gov and they will be delivered via the U.S. Postal Service within 7-12 days. But realistically speaking, I’m sure individuals want to save their free tests for travel or family visits or anything else other than work.
And, as of January 15th, the White House announced that “private insurance companies will be required to cover up to 8 at-home COVID-19 tests per month”. However, insurers “are not required to provide coverage of testing for employment purposes”. This means these tests cannot be used as part of a workplace testing program.
So as of this moment, an employee’s workplace-related testing options are to either 1) use their personal free government tests (which they probably don’t want to do) or 2) take advantage of the multiple free testing sites available in their communities. Both options take time.
That’s why having a workplace testing partner just makes good business sense. Organizations can use a workplace testing program as an option to keep employees healthy and working without significant downtime. And without having to secure and maintain a stockpile of testing kits onsite. Oh, and don’t forget the part where you don’t have to stay current with epidemiology. All that is done for you!
Show Employees that Workplace Safety is a Top Priority
After all the time we’ve spent in this pandemic, now is not the time to blow it with a half-baked plan. As employers are thinking about their safety protocols, workplace testing is a natural conversation. And it will be for quite some time.
Employees might find it very comforting to know that they can immediately get tested when the need arises. It shows that the organization cares about the health and safety of their workforce.
I’ve said this before when it comes to HR and how we spend our time, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. I have no doubt that we can come up with a plan ourselves. But in a time when voluntary quits are at an all time high, and we’re trying to find the best talent, is researching COVID-19 testing protocols the best use of our time? Probably not.
Consider leaving workplace testing to the professionals. HR has a partner who will manage the process. If you want to learn more about workplace testing, check out Primary.Health’s employer testing and vaccination webpage. It includes a video with additional details that you can share with the rest of your organization.17