How to overcome the three biggest challenges of testing for COVID-19 in the workplace
Prioritizing testing as employees return to the office
Many businesses are asking employees to return to the office this fall, but the COVID-19 storm is far from over. Cases are up across the US, largely due to the Delta variant, which is more transmissible, and slowing rates of vaccination. Also, we're seeing situations in which vaccinated individuals, many of whom are asymptomatic, are carriers of the virus, spreading it to unvaccinated populations and landing them in the ICU.
If the US economy wants to stay open and businesses want to bring employees back safely, we need a collective solution to address the evolving and precarious state of the pandemic. Medical experts agree that testing and vaccinating should go hand in hand. But testing rates have fallen significantly. This needs to change. Testing should be brought back as one of our primary tools to protect people against the virus.
Businesses play a big role in this. As employees are being asked to return to the office, safety protocols must in place so outbreaks don't occur. Testing will also create a sense of wellbeing and provide peace of mind for employees and help enable normal business activities to go forth uninterrupted.
Even though testing is just as important now as it was at the start of the pandemic, guidelines and protocols from state and local governments as to how to set up rapid testing at work remain limited. At Genpact, we are a founding member of the Rapid Action Consortium, which provides support and resources to help US companies overcome the challenges of realizing testing programs.
Generally, there are three hurdles that businesses face: the cost of tests, the complexity of the process, and communicating with employees about a new testing program. Here is how the Rapid Action Consortium is addressing these hurdles and helping member organizations quickly and effectively test employees.
First, the virus itself is highly complex. We are still learning about new variants and how the virus transmits. As evidenced by the breakthrough cases among eight vaccinated players on the New York Yankees baseball team, transmission can still take place even if you've had both vaccines. Scientists expected this, but it signifies the need for testing to play a role in improving safety.
Many businesses don't know where to start though, and their internal processes can hamper the implementation process, particularly for larger companies that are less nimble.
When most businesses begin to research how to set up employee testing, they usually encounter what's called a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) waiver and are under the assumption they need to have one to start testing. But getting a CLIA waiver is often time-consuming and complicated, posing a major barrier to setting up workplace testing.
To create an easier path for businesses, the Consortium encourages the use of over-the-counter (OTC) tests because they do not require a CLIA waiver. The Consortium provides clear guidelines for OTC testing, so businesses have a simple yet effective solution for keeping employees safe.
Many businesses reason that they don't have the budget to support a testing program. And based on some of their understanding and hearsay, they presume that each individual test costs upward of $100. When you do the math, particularly for a larger company, this can seem exorbitant. Also, most state and local governments do not yet offer free or subsidized tests, making it difficult to find affordable prices.
To offset these costs and make in-office testing programs accessible to more businesses, the Rapid Action Consortium gives members access to economies of scale, reducing the cost of OTC tests by about 33%.
For employees, returning to the office from a long hiatus will be anything but normal. Though the Centers for Disease Control routinely provides guidelines about effective preventative measures, the burden falls to the private sector to determine which measures to adopt. All this can cause confusion in the workplace because employees may hear one thing while watching the news at home and something else when they enter the office.
Having clear employee communications on in-office testing programs and safety measures to protect them from the virus are imperative for morale.
To that end, the Consortium provides advice, including the following:
As the US economy reopens against the backdrop of new variants and increasing rates of infection, we need measures that will take the pulse of employee and community wellness. Vaccines plus routine testing are the surest solutions for preventing outbreaks. And by banding together and helping each other through the challenges of setting up testing programs, we can combat the virus while making our workplaces collectively safer.
For more information about the Consortium, or if you're interested in participating, visit the Rapid Action Consortium page.