A Blueprint to COVID Population Testing for Businesses
The Massachusetts High Technology Council has dubbed COVID-19 testing a “critical bridge” to bringing employees back to the workplace and, in turn, getting our nation’s economy back on track. Even with widespread access to vaccines in the United States, population testing is recommended by many in the medical profession. Testing protocols will vary but they remain an important mechanism to help us in our mission of remaining vigilant in the face of uncertainties including more infectious and severe COVID variants such as Delta, duration of vaccine efficacy, and the population of individuals who are unable to, or do not wish to receive a COVID vaccine.
With many craving a return to the office to reignite their corporate culture, testing your company’s employees for COVID-19 on a routine basis is a proven way to detect transmission early before they become disruptive hotspots in your office. Testing alone is one component of a broader return-to-work protocol. To improve effectiveness, testing can also be paired with contact tracing, symptom screening, and obviously appropriate self-isolation upon notification of infection in order to be effective.
However, implementing testing for pre-defined populations of employees may seem easier said than done. Putting a testing system into place for your company has complexities, we’ve put together some easy-to-follow suggestions for any businesses considering implementing this strategy using detailed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
Which Workplaces Would Benefit from Population Testing?
The CDC recommends rolling out testing for your workplace to better understand COVID-19 trends in high-risk settings with potential for rapid and widespread dissemination such as:
Workplaces in which it is difficult to comply with social distancing guidelines
Workplaces in which employees are in close contact with co-workers or the general public (such as retail businesses)
Workplaces in remote locations, far from medical facilities
Workplaces in which the continuity of operations is a priority, e.g. essential sectors such as healthcare, finance, transportation, construction, I.T., government, water, food and agriculture, energy, communications, emergency services, and commercial facilities, among others
Workplaces that provide housing for their employees, e.g. fishing vessels, offshore oil platforms, or farmworker housing
[SIDEBAR] Looking for more detailed guidance and protocols as you consider COVID-19 health monitoring and management solutions? AllClear Healthcare’s mission is to help businesses better navigate the new normal with rapid, accurate, and more affordable COVID-19 testing. Schedule a consultation with our experts here.
How Often Should Companies Test Their Employees?
There are a number of key factors to take into account before deciding how often your company should be testing. These include:
Availability of testing (at office, or mail-in)
Accuracy of testing technology
e.g. traditional lateral-flow tests have proven 50%-70% accurate in the field increasing the frequency of False-Negatives – you’re told your fine but are instead a spreader.Timing from sample collection to result
PCR tests while having high 90’s accuracy often take days for results
Latency between exposure and development of a positive test result (it can take up to a week after exposure for a positive test result to appear)
Prevalence in the surrounding community
Percentage of vaccinated individuals in your workforce
Rates of positive test results within the company
Experience with outbreaks in the workplace
Contact tracing capabilities
The Logistics of Testing
Logistically-speaking, managing routine COVID-19 testing for your business can be a daunting and complex process, depending on how many employees you have.
To start with, there are several things to factor in: federal and state licensure requirements, enough space to test groupings of people within a defined timeframe, a safe distance guidance, regular disinfection of surfaces, as well as state reporting requirements.
With AllClear as a partner we have taken much of the complexity out of the equation. Our digitally-equipped mobile testing teams arrive directly to your workplace in compliance with federal and state requirements (we are CLIA certified and HIPAA compliant). We work within a small footprint on-site or via our mobile vans. We are able to set up in minutes with state of the art testing equipment to provide rapid testing with lab-equivalent accuracy – reducing compliance risk, making the logistics of testing considerably easier for your team while ensuring best in class protocols to more efficiently and effectively manage the health and safety of your team.
PCR versus Antigen Testing
When it comes to diagnostic tests for COVID-19, there are two primary options: PCR and antigen tests.
Molecular (PCR) tests are designed to detect the genetic material inside a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle that causes COVID-19. They conduct a polymerase chain reaction, using a machine to run a series of reactions that convert RNA into DNA, and then make millions of copies of the DNA to magnify it and test it.
Antigen tests, on the other hand, detect proteins (antigens) from the surface of the virus particles that circulate in people infected with the coronavirus. They work by mixing the sample with a solution that breaks open the virus, freeing specific proteins.
If it’s speed you’re after then don’t worry, the runtime for both of our microfluidics based point-of-care testing instruments is 25-minutes for PCR tests and 12-minutes for antigen tests.
PCR tests are known as the “gold standard” of testing. This type of test has very high levels of accuracy, which translates into a low rate of false-positive and false-negative results. Organizations like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) have mandated PCR testing until October 2023. On the flip side, many lab-based PCR tests are so accurate that they will show a positive test results even after the infected person is no longer contagious because they identify remnants of the dead cells. These “False positives” lead to the unfortunate consequence of unnecessary quarantine.
Antigen tests, on the other hand, are processed slightly faster. As noted earlier, the disadvantages of traditional lateral-flow antigen tests are that they are based on decades-old technology and less accurate compared to PCR tests, and therefore produce more false-positive and false-negative results — an inconvenience that can be remedied by with more frequent testing and confirmatory testing.
Newer ultra-high accuracy antigen tests employ more sophisticated detection methods that are essentially equivalent to the accuracy of PCR tests, providing a good measure of how infectious or contagious a person is. At AllClear, our ultra-high accuracy antigen tests leverage game-changing, highly sensitive microfluidics technology (again, clearly differentiated from the traditional decades-old antigen testing technology pervasive in the market). We remain committed to constantly researching new technology and will continue to update our test offerings as new advancements are made in the field.
Keep in mind that no single test method is perfect, and different tests are appropriate for different applications. Whether you are looking for routine population monitoring, a one-off test or surveillance in a low prevalence environment it is critical you align the right protocol to the situation be it returning to work, attending a meeting, event, or a trip away. Schedule a consultation with an AllClear Healthcare expert to determine the appropriate protocol for your situation.
Privacy Elements to Consider
If you plan to test your employees for COVID-19, one of the most important things to remember is to ask for consent. And when it comes to consent, we mean disclosing as much information as possible about the testing initiative. This is best done by putting together a company testing policy that can be shared internally among employees.
Once this policy is shared, companies should actively encourage their employees to ask questions about the testing procedure to give them a voice in the discussion.
Transparency and communication are two of the very best ways to generate confidence and trust among your workforce when it comes to COVID testing regimens.
Some testing-related points for disclosure include:
The name of the COVID-19 test and its manufacturer
Type of test
How it will be performed
What the purpose of the test is
Why employees are being tested
Potential risks involved in taking the test
How frequently employees will be tested, and how often they will be asked for their consent
What happens if an employee declines to be tested
Actions and implications if employees test positive or negative
More information about the information companies should consider disclosing when testing for COVID-19 can be found on the CDC website.
Beyond the disclosure of this information, management should also ensure that safeguards are in place to protect employee privacy and confidentiality regarding test results. These must comply with privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and any state-specific confidentiality laws such as the Massachusetts General Right to Privacy Law which states that any “disclosure of confidential medical information, in violation of [a] professional duty, can constitute an actionable tort, or an invasion of privacy.”
These privacy policies ensure employees will only be tested for pandemic-related reasons, that their results will be kept separately from employee personnel files, and not be shared with any other parties.
How your business chooses to go about testing for COVID-19 depends on its size and how many employees, vaccinated or not, need to be tested. Here at AllClear HealthCare, we are focused on being an authentic partner. We can help you navigate the complexities of workforce monitoring, management and onsite testing, with best-in-class technology and protocols to provide the certainty you need while mitigating risk.
With so many protocols to consider and boxes to tick, we’ll help you to keep the main goal of population testing for businesses in sight, which is ultimately to improve the health and safety of your workforce while restoring a real sense of confidence and normalcy as you bring your team back to the office in whatever form that makes sense for you.