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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Coronavirus Update 5-13-2020: Workplace virus screening tools aren’t perfect, but they are at least part of a solution


How do you protect your employees during a pandemic? This is the question this New York Times article asks. As states reopen and businesses recall employees from furlough or temporary work-from-home arrangements, employers are trying to figure out exactly how to best ensure (without guaranteeing) the health and safety of their employees.

Some options highlighted by the NYT piece? Apps that let employees log symptoms, daily health self-assessments, mandatory temperature checks, and immunity badges for those with COVID-19 antibodies. 

The problem is that these solutions are far from perfect. Apps, assessments, and temperature checks ignore the problem of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers, and that many carry and can transmit the virus without showing any symptoms at all. Any tests that claim to establish one's COVID-19 immunity is not reliable because the science behind this immunity is incomplete and uncertain.

This does not mean that employers should ignore these tools. But they also cannot exclusively rely on them to provide a safe workplace for their employees. Instead, employers must adopt a holistic approach to health and safety in a world of COVID-19, and develop an overall COVID-19 reopening strategy, which must also include the following:

  • Allow employees to work from home whenever possible.
  • Require all employees to wear facial coverings (subject to limited exceptions such as a bona fide medical accommodation or safety issue).
  • Ensure a minimum of 6 feet between people, and if not possible then install barriers.
  • Space work areas to allow for distancing.
  • Limit travel as much as possible.
  • Stagger arrival of all employees and any guests.
  • Close break and lunch rooms, or limit their use to help maintain social distance.
  • Require regular handwashing by employees and place hand sanitizers in high-contact locations.
  • Require sick employees to stay home.
  • Disinfect of desks, workstations, and high-contact surfaces frequently.
  • Disinfect of common areas daily.
  • Establish a maximum capacity.
  • Reduce the sharing of work materials.
  • Post signage on health safety guidelines in common areas.
  • For suspected cases, immediately isolate and seek medical care for any individual who develops symptoms while at work, contact the local health department, and shut down the shop or floor for deep sanitation if possible.

Apps, health assessments, and temperature checks are one part of this reopening puzzle, but they cannot be the only part. They must work together with all of the above safety measures to create an overall reopening and return to work program that is best positioned to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep employees safe. If we're not doing everything we can to combat this virus, we are doomed to fail.

* Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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