Best Practices

Re-Opening? Have A Plan For Contact Tracing, Testing Before Workers Return

“You have to provide clear messaging”

As the U.S. begins to report lower numbers of COVID-19 deaths and transmissions, many employers that had been shut down are beginning to bring workers back into the office — a move wrought with implications on safety and regulations.

With the upcoming flu season, lags in COVID-19 testing, differing state and local rules on symptom screening and the challenges of contact tracing, employers eager to gets some of their workers back in the workplace face myriad uncertainties and need well-thought-out plans to deal with symptomatic or COVID-19-positive workers, experts say.

“You have to provide clear messaging and let (workers) know that policies and procedures are being developed to address the risks as we understand them today and the prevention measures,” said Tim Davidson, Franklin, Tennessee-based senior consultant and health care thought leader at Aon Risk Solutions.

This should also encompass the employer’s rules for symptom screening, testing, contact tracing, quarantining or self-isolating, said Dr. David Zieg, Denver-based partner and clinical services leader at Mercer Inc.

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance Aug. 5 to help companies develop contact tracing programs for identifying potential workplace exposures, he said with concerns over delayed diagnostic tests — which can still take two weeks for a result in some areas of the country — employers need to develop plans to go off of worker symptoms and potential exposures when making their decisions on quarantines, Dr. Zieg said.

“Employers don’t have medical expertise or epidemiology experts” and need to ask employees who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibiting symptoms to simply ask the question, “Were you around anybody for 15 minutes or more?” he said. “Then have them isolate. Just stick with the guidance and keep it simple.”

Employers who have the capacity to take a more conservative approach and quarantine any worker who had contact with a symptomatic or positive employee may want to do so to mitigate the spread, Dr. Zieg said.

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