Should Employees Who Are Returning to Work Be Tested for COVID-19?

returning to work

During the entire COVID-19 crisis, many of us have been consumed by a single question: when will things get back to normal? That question is actually pretty deceptive. Because before we can even get a good look at “normal,” we need to find ways to control and contain COVID-19. And that brings up another big question that is shared by employers, employees, and the entire country: should employees returning to work be tested for COVID-19?

In order to find the answer, let’s do a deep dive into this subject.

Effects Of the Coronavirus

It is not an exaggeration to say the COVID-19 (better known as the coronavirus) has completely changed our way of life. People are finding new ways to stay in touch with friends and family, and employers are getting creative with work from home solutions.

At the same time, countless businesses have had to close up, either temporarily or permanently. And the American unemployment rate which had been looking so healthy is now ballooning.

All of this, however, is in the name of saving lives. Even after months of study, we are still discovering unexpected new coronavirus effects (including strokes and blood clots). Until a vaccine is developed, social isolation is one of the most practical ways we can keep ourselves, our families, and our friends alive.

Harsh Unemployment Numbers

COVID-19 has affected the U.S. unemployment rate in a devastating way. As of this writing, unemployment in the country is now at 20%.

Another way of looking at that is that 26.5 million jobs have been lost. For every 5 people you meet, one of those people is likely to be out of work thanks to this virus.

Keep in mind that these are the COVID-19 specific unemployment numbers. As Fortune Magazine points out, if you throw in the 7.1 million who were already unemployed by mid-March, it is over 33 million people.

To put that in context, this country has not seen such an unemployment level since the height of the Great Depression.

Business Impact

One obvious reason why the unemployment numbers are so high is that COVID-19 has affected businesses (especially small businesses) in an unprecedented way.

For example, research by Homebase found that over 50% of the small businesses they were studying were not operating at all by the end of March. In some cases, these were temporary closures mandated by state guidelines. In other cases, businesses that were already struggling ended up closing for good.

The stimulus checks from the government were intended, in part, to help Americans stimulate their local economy and keep struggling businesses afloat. But considering how long people had to wait (and some are still waiting) for their checks, the stimulus money may be “too little, too late” to save businesses who have been affected.

The New Economy

Perhaps the scariest thing about all these economic impacts is they are likely to last a long time.

For example, let’s say it takes a year to develop a vaccine. What is going to happen to all those unemployed and underemployed workers in a span of twelve months?

Many of them will be clinging to credit cards and loans in order to survive, creating an even more serious debt problem within the country. And their inability to get new work or pay off growing debt will continue to have a ripple effect within the economy.

This is true on the macro-economic level as well. Government debt will continue to grow as our government tries to solve this issue and return life to normal. But the truth is that “normal” may forever be out of reach for a people and a nation crippled by staggering amounts of debt.

The Threat of Round Two

In the absence of a vaccine, most of our COVID-19 hopes revolve around flattening the curve. The hope is to get things under control and get past the worst of the virus so we can return to our old way of life.

However, there is the constant specter of a round two of the virus. Because COVID-19 originated in China, and because China is in danger of a second round, then the entire world is in danger as well.

That second round may be seasonal. Some fear a winter outbreak along the lines of the flu–a scary thought considering the record 80,000 flu deaths last winter.

Of course, the second round may come much quicker. As various states relax their stay-at-home orders and re-open businesses, most of the country is holding our breath to see what happens next.

Returning to Work: The Need for Testing

All this brings us back to the central question: should employees returning to work be tested? The short answer is yes, they should.

Most workplaces are crowded, and many of them bring workers into contact with customers. All it takes is a single infected worker to put your entire staff and most of your customers in serious danger.

Additionally, you are going to have staff and customers who are at a higher level of risk because they are older and/or immunocompromised. Mandatory testing for returning employees is the only way to keep everyone safe.

Ongoing and Random Testing

Unfortunately, testing cannot stop when employees return. For the foreseeable future, businesses will need to employ ongoing testing to keep the workplace safe.

That’s because your workplace is not a completely contained area. Even if an employee is free of COVID-19 before returning to work, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t contract it later on and put the office at risk once more.

Employers must embrace ongoing and random testing as a way of keeping their workplace and staff safe. While it would be ideal if employer insurance covered all costs of such testing, the truth is that different insurance companies have responded to this crisis in different ways.

With any luck, there will soon be at-home testing similar to our current mouth swab drug tests.

What Comes Next?

Now you know whether employees returning to work should be tested for COVID-19. But do you know who can help you with traditional drug tests and screenings?

We sell kits to help individuals and employers screen for a wide variety of drugs. To see what we can do for your business, contact us today.

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