In Part 1 of our blog series on preparing your employees for a safe return to the workplace, Grand Rounds Co-Founder and CEO Owen Tripp laid out his reasons for why forecasting key data points such as peak infection rates and testing for the COVID-19 virus as well as studying policy should be at the top of your must-haves list. In Part 2 of this three-part series, Owen shares his second and third must-haves—testing and preparedness—to safeguard your employees when reopening the workplace.
Testing for COVID-19 Will Help Facilitate a Safe Return to Work
There is no bigger and more important lever that we need to pull than having an abundance of testing to make sure that we understand that our population can safely return to work.
There are two kinds of testing. The first is PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, which confirms whether an individual is currently infected with the novel coronavirus. PCR testing can’t detect whether a person had the infection in the past, however.
Though safe PCR testing is becoming more readily available throughout the country, it’s not a broadly scalable solution, because it has to be conducted under the watchful guidance and management of a healthcare provider. In other words, there’s no reliable at-home PCR testing for the COVID-19 virus at this time.
The second and more important kind of testing is antibody testing, which gauges whether the body has had the virus already and has ideally developed some immunity to it along with relatives of the disease. At the moment, the only proven antibody tests are done through a venous blood draw. I’m hopeful that in the not-too-distant future, at-home testing for the COVID-19 virus will become widely available.
That said, lower-tech options such as symptom testing and checking as well as symptom reporting for COVID-19 are still highly effective tools companies can use to work with employees on an ongoing basis to collect data—in a private and secure manner—and gain vital insights into their overall health and readiness to return to and remain at work.
How to Prepare for Employees’ Return to the Workplace
Business and benefits leaders should start thinking now about how to prepare teams and physical spaces for an eventual return to work following this first chapter in the era of COVID-19.
- Cleaning is, of course, top of mind for everyone. In addition to increasing cleaning at work facilities, companies should consider expanding cleaning to the daytime hours, with a focus on shared surfaces such as check-in desks, restrooms, elevators and whiteboards, where the virus is known to be transmitted.
- Masks are becoming ever more commonplace. Businesses may want to take this opportunity to create branded masks to share with your returning workforce in an effort to further reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
- Social distancing is achievable if companies can successfully reduce the density of people in their physical spaces. Having employees work in shifts may be a good way to help ensure that people are able to spread out and work six or more feet apart.
- Ventilation/airflow: Conference rooms and closed workspaces with poor ventilation should be avoided at all costs. Data show that the novel coronavirus can survive in aerosol form and can pass between people in close spaces. That said, consider reconfiguring your HVAC system to ensure there’s positive airflow out of these rooms and areas.
- Training managers and leaders to have conversations about COVID-19 is another key to getting ready to reopen the workplace. In addition, make sure they understand all of the administrative resources available to them. After all, the global pandemic is new territory for everyone. If you have a healthcare or benefits navigator, teach your team how to refer employees to them. That navigator can be the host of your workplace policy and help you administer to the results you need.
Check back for the final installment of this blog series on preparing your workforce for a safe return following COVID-19. In Part 3, I’ll take a look at why an urgent clinical response is essential as well as discuss ongoing considerations to help protect your employees against the novel coronavirus.