The Value of Covid Testing for the Workplace and In-Person Events

people in an office, chatting closer together without wearing masks

When the Covid crisis began, in-person events were canceled, postponed, or replaced with virtual events and many employees switched to remote work. Now at long last companies are beginning to consider returning to the workplace as well as holding in-person and international events. But such events still come with challenges.

Recently, we’ve seen some high-profile cases when companies went ahead with large events but the event planners didn’t follow CDC recommendations. The results were super-spreader events. A recent dinner at the White House was just one example. Numerous guests came down with Covid, including the Secretary of State and many reporters. The super-spreader event hosted by Disney at the Sunset Towers in LA was another recent example. At least 25 attendees have been found to have Covid. But why should leadership, HR and event teams be concerned about spreader events with the current low-severity omicron variants?

Today, considerable new data is surfacing demonstrating that while recent variants are not likely to lead to hospitalization or death for the vast majority of recently vaccinated or recovered individuals, a significant percentage of that same vast majority will become ill (anywhere from 2-5-10 days of significantly reduced productivity), and/or develop significant long-hauler symptoms regardless of the severity of their illness.

The AMA and others have published studies that demonstrate 10%-30% of those infected (even with reinfections) will end up with at least one long hauler symptom for over 4 weeks. Typical reasonable public health risks are often stated as being “one in 10,000 or less”. It is not an unreasonable extrapolation, given current long-hauler data, to anticipate that if only 10% of those with long-hauler symptoms get severe long COVID, then 1%-3% of attendees will be significantly impacted. As a result, if one holds an event with 300 individuals 3-6 individuals may have a good chance of being impacted long-term.

Since the objectives of in-person meetings are to drive improvements in innovation, community, productivity, and trust. A spreader event is counterproductive to this investment. This is where best in class protocols are becoming the new norm.

Each of the earlier noted events had something in common: although attendees were required to present proof of vaccination, there was no consistent requirement for a (accurate) negative Covid test. So anyone attending these events who unknowingly carried the Covid virus could potentially spread it to others at the event (i.e. ~50% of Covid-19 cases may be asymptomatic).

If you want to hold an event that doesn’t end up being another super-spreader, there are ways to provide best-in-class safety for attendees. Your number one way will be by implementing accurate point-of-care testing.

The Failure of Common Testing Methods

At the start of the pandemic, there were only two real options for testing: the lateral flow antigen test and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

Lateral-flow technology is what at-home tests use to check for Covid. You might think, with the number of at-home tests readily available, surely attendees will be able to see whether they have Covid and avoid attending if they do. But even if you assume every attendee will behave responsibly when it comes to testing, at-home tests are notoriously inaccurate: only about 50-70% (and surprisingly, accuracy levels can be as low as 38% with well-known consumer brands). The main reason these tests are so inaccurate is that they can only detect the presence of the Covid virus once infection has reached a certain point. So a lateral flow antigen test tends to be less accurate in asymptomatic cases and in the early stages of infection.

Plus, even if you test before leaving for an in-person event, there are no guarantees that you are negative a few days after the dinner you had at that crowded restaurant, or by the time you’ve transited a crowded airport, flown in the closed space of an airplane, checked into a hotel, and actually showed up at the event venue. So really, an at-home test has limited value for events.

What about in the daily workplace? These underperforming antigen tests potentially allow Covid to spread rapidly even while employees believe they’re doing their best to protect their coworkers and their families. That’s why it’s essential that you go into events and a return to the workplace with the best testing options available.

On the other hand, the PCR test is over 90% accurate, but it’s also slow. Normally, PCR tests can take days to give you results, so they’re not really practical for event testing, especially since, as mentioned, you could also contract Covid on your way to an in-person event.

Also, in certain circumstances, PCR tests can result in false positives (in terms of infectiousness) due to their high level of sensitivity (where only fragments of the virus RNA are present that turn the test positive, even though you are not infectious anymore). That means a PCR test might say you have Covid when you actually don’t. This is rare, but it does happen, especially if you’ve recently had Covid but are fully recovered. If you want to travel to an important in-person event that only happens once every three years, a false positive can really gum up the works. .

A Better Option

Innovative mobile POC diagnostic lab providers like AllClear Healthcare can offer better options: for example, they will arrive on-site to provide rapid microfluidics antigen testing, which provides PCR-level lab-verified results in just minutes, instead of hours or days. Plus, their mobile testing means you receive high-quality testing where you need it and when you need it, right at the point of care. Organizations like AllClear Healthcare can also offer rapid PCR testing that returns results in half an hour. This means your attendees can get their results and go straight into the event, or you can test guests or employees when they show up to work in the morning.

While Covid is still with us, there’s always going to be some risk in bringing people together in the workplace or for events. The question is, how much risk is acceptable to you?

If you’re using a typical rapid test, you’re accepting a risk that 30-50% of people going back to work or attending your event may actually have Covid. And, with the super high transmissibility of delta and omicron variants, you’re also accepting that a fair portion of those will likely spread Covid to others and potentially to their families. Plus, of those people who get sick, some will suffer from lasting, potentially life-altering symptoms. The long-lasting damage of Covid has often been called “Long Covid,” and it affects as many as one third of those who contract the virus with at least one symptom for over a month, regardless of how severe the infection may have been. That may not sound that bad with the current crop of less-severe variants, but let’s say a very small percentage of those come down with a severe case of Long Covid. As more data surfaces leadership is recognizing that’s an unacceptable risk.

For those who want to do more than just check a box when it comes to protecting attendees and workers from Covid you’ll want to provide best-in class safety, which typical testing methods can’t give you. Navigating the new normal will require fast, accurate and affordable testing right at your events or your workplace. There is no longer any need to sacrifice accuracy for speed and affordability. Planning for reliable on-site testing protocols will allow you to deliver desired improvements in innovation, community, productivity, and trust with your team, by safely bringing back your personnel for events anywhere in the country.