COVID-19 Testing For Employers

With the uncertainty around COVID-19, employers are implementing policies and establishing an open dialogue about how the workplace should change to improve safety. vybe urgent care can help support this with coronavirus testing.

vybe can’t make recommendations about your policies, but we hope you find this helpful background as you create your own company’s approach.  

Your company’s testing policy

Many employers are developing policies to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 infections in the workplace.  An employer may ask an employee to be tested for COVID-19 to guide decisions about when employees can return to work.  For employees, safety protocols like testing go a long way toward reassuring them that their employer is looking out for their well-being.  As with any employee policy, the key is to apply it consistently.   

There are two types of policies to consider, and the approach you take will inform your guidelines about a return to work:

Clearance to work without a test

In this scenario, you will set up a policy around symptom checking and employee self-reporting.  You might find this helpful in where employees do not have immediate access to testing.  The company’s other HR policies should support this approach.  For example, many employers are updating their PTO policies to promote the idea of not coming to work when sick.

Test-based clearance

Your approach to testing may differ based on your business needs:

  • You may simply require a test, and rely on the clinician to determine which test your employee needs based on screening.
  • You may request a specific test, based on a need to minimize the risk of employees returning to work with an active infection.  
  • If your employees work in close proximity or interact closely with your customers, you might require multiple tests conducted 24 hours apart to rule out any false results.

COVID-19 tests available at vybe

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 infections as people return to work, vybe is offering COVID-19 employee testing. Here’s a place to learn more about vybe’s full Occupational Health offering.

Diagnostic tests (for active infection):

  • PCR test: A nasal swab test that tells sick or exposed employees whether they have an active COVID-19 infection. Since those currently infected can spread the virus, this helps employees to take proper health precautions for themselves and the community.
  • Rapid antigen test: Used for early identification of an active infection in asymptomatic employees. Antigen tests detect proteins from the virus, and this means a positive result is highly accurate. There is a risk of a false negative with all tests, and antigen tests are generally considered not as sensitive as PCR tests. This means that a negative result does not rule out infection. Still, the rapid antigen test produces accurate results for employees in 15 minutes and may be ideal for regular testing programs.

Antibody test (for prior exposure):

  • Serum antibody IgG blood test: Determines if employees have had prior exposure to COVID-19 and have built an antibody for the virus. A positive result indicates prior exposure to the virus, even if the employee didn’t show symptoms. Since we’re still learning about COVID-19, it’s unclear if positive coronavirus antibody test results can protect someone from getting infected with the virus again, or how long that protection might last. For most viral illnesses, an antibody means prior exposure and some degree of immunity to future infection. There’s still much to learn about COVID-19.

vybe’s rapid testing program

vybe is actively offering the Quidel rapid antigen test to employers and academic institutions as a solution for return to work programs or for ongoing business continuity.  The vybe program offers the choice of testing at any vybe location or on-site COVID testing events in a safe environment set-up by vybe and includes:  

  • Needs assessment and program development with clinician-informed protocols
  • Onsite licensed clinical team for testing and support
  • Online scheduling and sharing of results
  • All necessary releases, disclosures, and consents
  • Future solutions for vaccinations, such as seasonal flu

What locations can my employees visit for COVID-19 tests?

If your testing program is based on PCR or antibody testing, all visits will begin with a telemedicine visit. At the end of a telemedicine visit, an employee will likely receive a referral to a nearby vybe urgent care location for coronavirus testing. 

If your testing program is based on the rapid antigen test, your employees may schedule an appointment at the most convenient vybe urgent care location.  On-site testing events will have separate protocol & pricing based on vybe’s clinical and operational recommendations.

How long will it take for employees to receive their results?

Generally, it will take 3-10 days for employees to receive their results unless the rapid antigen test is used—in which case results will be known in 15 minutes. Actual timing may vary based on the volume of tests being processed by our Lab partners.  A vybe urgent care representative will contact them via phone to share their results and to answer any questions. Employees can also get their results from their patient portal.

Diagnostic tests:

  • Negative: Infection is likely not COVID related.  Employees should continue to exercise precautions such as frequent hand washing/sanitizing, wearing a mask in public, social distancing, staying home as much as possible, and other CDC recommendations.
  • Positive: Infection is COVID-19. Employee should stay home, separate from others in the household, continue to monitor symptoms, and call 911 if you have an emergency.

Antibody test:

  • Positive: Indicates the presence of antibodies to COVID-19 and a high likelihood of prior infection. Some employees with past infections may not have experienced any symptoms. It is unclear if a positive test result means immunity against future COVID-19 infection. You should encourage healthy preventive measures in the workplace, including frequent hand washing/sanitizing, wearing a mask in public, social distancing, and staying home as much as possible.
  • Negative: Indicates tested negative for the COVID-19 IgG antibody. This means you have not been infected with COVID-19. Please note, it may take up to 21 days to produce detectable levels of antibodies following infection. If you had symptoms consistent with COVID-19 within the past 3 weeks and tested negative, repeat testing in 1-2 weeks may yield a positive result.
  • Equivocal: Your test results could not be interpreted as positive or negative. You may get this response if the test detects an immune response but it’s unclear if the cause is COVID-19 or similar infections (the common cold is a type of coronavirus). You may wish to wait 14 days and repeat the test for more reliable results.

Guidelines for back-to-work

Depending on the approach you’ve taken, you may wish to follow these guidelines for a back to work policy.

Clearance to work without a test

Employers may want to refer to the latest CDC guidance on allowing individuals to return to work without requiring a test.

  • At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since the employee has recovered, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and,
  • At least 10 days have passed since the employee’s symptoms first appeared or, for asymptomatic patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test.

Test-based clearance

Employees must meet the same criteria as non-test-based clearance with the additional requirement of an FDA EUA authorized test, which could include either or both test options currently available:

  • PCR test, which identifies the virus in a sample from the respiratory system, from someone actively showing symptoms or with confirmed exposure.
  • Rapid antigen test, detects proteins from the virus, and a positive result is highly accurate. This may be the ideal test for use with asymptomatic employees or for more frequent testing than what’s practical with the PCR test. The test produces results for employees in 15 minutes. Like all COVID tests, a negative result does not rule out infection and may reflect the timing of the test compared to when the infection began.
  • Antibody test, which indicates whether the patient most likely has been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I ask an employee if he or she has the coronavirus? 

Employers can ask an employee how he or she is feeling in general but should not inquire about a specific illness, which might be seen as a disability-related inquiry under the ADA.

Can I tell employees if a co-worker has tested positive for the coronavirus or other communicable diseases?

No. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) privacy rules restrict employers from sharing personal health information of an employee. Employers should inform employees that possible exposure has occurred in the workplace without disclosing any identifying information about the individual who tested positive.

What should we do if an employee discloses close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19?

According to CDC guidance, essential employees who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 may continue to work as long as the employee is asymptomatic and protective measures are taken. This includes screening the employee each workday for fever and other symptoms, having the employee wear a mask, and regularly disinfecting work areas.

Can I take employees’ temperatures to ensure they don’t have a fever when reporting to work?

Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged the community spread of COVID-19, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. As with all medical information, employers must maintain the confidentiality of employee temperatures and other symptoms as required by the ADA. 

Should employees be required to wear face masks in the workplace?

The CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering their nose and mouth in community settings. In addition, some states and localities have implemented face-covering requirements for certain establishments.  Face coverings are only part of keeping employees safe and should be accompanied by frequent disinfecting of surfaces, social distancing, and other protective measures.

Can I require an employee to go home (or stay home) if he or she is sick?

Yes, employees who show signs of respiratory illness can be asked to leave the workplace and stay at home until they are symptom-free.

Can we require a doctor’s note before allowing a sick employee to return to work?

If an employer applies the practice consistently, clearance from a health care provider to return to work can be required. However, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests employers remove such requirements during a health crisis as access to health care providers may be limited.

Do we have to allow employees to work from home?

While not required, telecommuting may be a practical measure to reduce exposure of the virus in some work environments. Employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection during a pandemic.

How To Start Sending Your Employees For Testing:

For more information about vybe’s COVID-19 testing for employers, or to set up your company for our full range of occupational health services, please contact Laura Kavanaugh.