Will Workplace COVID-19 Testing Be The Key To Reopening Businesses?

With the rate of new COVID-19 infections on the decline in major economies, businesses globally are evaluating different strategies to bring employees back to the workplace safely. One strategy that firms are considering is COVID-19 testing at the workplace. For example, accountancy firm BDO is considering COVID-19 testing all of its 5,500 UK-based staff every two weeks. Amazon has set up an in-house COVID-19 lab to test employees at a US distribution centre. Mining firm Freeport Indonesia has purchased 50,000 diagnostic testing kits. Ferrari has tested over 500 factory workers for immunity using the antibody test.

Diagnostic testing through a nasal and throat swab is currently the only method to accurately determine if a person has the virus. Other health screening methods, such as temperature screening or health questionnaires, will catch far fewer cases as 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic according to the WHO. There are many ‘silent’ carriers. Widespread testing at the workplace could help firms to almost eliminate the risk of staff catching COVID-19 at work. Witness BP testing its workers in Aberdeen before they enter offshore facilities on the North Sea. However, employees will still face risks when commuting to work or meeting visitors.

While workplace COVID-19 testing offers many advantages, it is a challenging strategy to implement in the near-term. The primary challenge is that diagnostic tests are in scarce supply and businesses outside critical sectors will not want to be seen to be taking these resources away from hospitals. There are also legal risks to manage; most data protection agencies have not yet issued clear guidelines on whether and how businesses can run these tests. The strategy will also be less effective if employees opt-out of participation.

We anticipate workplace COVID-19 testing will gain momentum in the coming months as test kits become more available and cost-effective. Dr Walt of Harvard Medical School predicts that within six-months COVID-19 testing kits will become readily available at a price point of less than $10. The speed of diagnostic testing also continues to improve; Cambridge-based firm Diagnostics for the Real World has developed test kits that can diagnose an infection in under 90 minutes. We recommend that businesses closely track the development of this technology and the success of business-led COVID-19 testing programmes in the coming weeks.

To gain further insights on how to get your building and workers ready for the return to work, read our complimentary report Eleven Critical Actions To Take For Returning To Work Post COVID-19.

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