As the country reopens, employers are looking into how to safely bring back their workers. One recurring question: Should they be tested for the new coronavirus?
Some businesses are moving ahead. In Indianapolis, the family-owned Shapiro’s Delicatessen tested about 25 employees in its parking lot this month.
Amazon plans to spend as much as $1 billion this year to regularly test its work force, while laying the groundwork to build its own lab near the Cincinnati airport.
Las Vegas casinos are testing thousands of employees as they prepare to return to work, collecting nasal samples in convention halls.
And Major League Baseball, eager to begin its season, is proposing a detailed regimen that involves testing players and critical staff members multiple times a week.
While public health experts and government officials have emphasized that widespread testing will be critical to reopening, there is little clear guidance from state and federal agencies on the role employers should play in detecting and tracking the coronavirus. As a result, businesses are largely on their own in sorting out whether to test — and how to do it — to reassure employees and customers. For now, many companies are just waiting.
“It is a really hard conversation because people want absolutes: ‘If I do this, will it guarantee I’ll have a safe workplace?’ None of the testing is going to provide that right now,” said John Constantine, the chief executive of ARCPoint Franchise Group, a nationwide lab network offering virus testing to employers. He added that if done smartly, testing could reduce health risks. “Even if it’s not perfect, some testing is better than no testing.”
Despite rapid advancements in testing, there are still limitations. Diagnostic tests, for example, only detect infections during a certain period. And while blood tests administered after an infection can find antibodies that might offer some immunity, they should not be used alone to make decisions about when people can return to work, the Association of Public Health Laboratories and Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists