Herd immunity for COVID-19 through vaccination is still months away, according to U.S. health experts, but even then, many epidemiologists warn that the pathogen, in some form, will circulate for years, requiring employers to take long-term steps to protect employees.
Low-cost interventions such as symptom screening and physical distancing provide some protection but often miss asymptomatic virus carriers.
Regular COVID-19 testing of employees offers greater assurance of detection, but comes at a higher cost, borne by the employer.
Standing up an ongoing testing program requires time and resources. In most cases, employers will bring in outside expertise to direct activities that range from lab setup and site management to test administration and requisite public health reporting.
Is the effort and investment worth it? In many cases, the answer is yes. Here are 5 reasons employers say they are using or considering COVID-19 testing for their employees.
Prevent Costly Business Shutdowns
Businesses that simply can’t afford a lengthy closure equate worksite testing to an insurance policy. Regular testing helps mitigate the risk of revenue loss associated with a COVID-19 shutdown.
Early in the pandemic, many food processing operations shuttered for weeks due to COVID-19 spread among employees. In response, Ark.-based Tyson Foods says it has invested more than $540M in testing and other mitigation activities to ensure employee health and reduce the likelihood of plant closures.
Physical Distancing Isn’t Possible
Manufacturing and Service sectors may lack the space requirements to maintain a recommended six feet of physical distancing, and remote work is simply not an option in many businesses. Because the risk of spread is heightened in densely packed workspaces, a testing program, combined with other preventative measures, such as masking and contact tracing, can reduce risk by identifying infected employees and moving them to quarantine.
Employee Peace of Mind
Regular testing demonstrates a commitment to employee health and improves morale. As one Amazon employee responsible for setting up testing at their warehouses explains: Workers who test negative "feel safer going home. They feel like they can go up and cuddle their kids. Knowing that this is creating some relief and some ability to exhale and breathe is really rewarding."
Community Health Considerations
Preventing workplace spread through testing benefits more than employees—it’s good for the community-at-large. Testing, as part of a larger mitigation strategy, can help dampen COVID-19 rates in a town or region, especially if the business has hundreds or thousands of onsite employees.
In some states and industries, businesses are required to consider or have testing plans. California-based employers must “provide testing to employees who are exposed to a COVID-19 case, and in the case of multiple infections or a major outbreak, implement regular workplace testing for employees in the exposed work areas,” under CAL-OSHA emergency regulations
Worksite COVID-19 Testing Webinar
Our recent OnDemand webinar featuring major employers explains how to set up a worksite testing program, and best practices for large-scale COVID-19 employee testing programs.
Case studies from the event included lessons learned from testing at a 1,000 person BD manufacturing facility.
To view this free, OnDemand session, register here. This event is ideal for any business considering or conducting employee COVID-19 testing and offers valuable insights for executives responsible for operations, health and safety, human resources, finance, and legal/compliance.