COVID-19 testing in the business: proceed with care

As someone who has a spouse donning personal protective equipment (PPE) and working in an NHS ‘hot hub’ every day, testing has been a constant topic of discussion at home for the last ten weeks. Like me, I am sure you have been following the UK government’s attempts for 100,000, now 200,000 tests a day and have been buoyed by recent news indicating antibody tests are arriving and even vaccines might be just around the corner.

Despite the risk of a second spike, governments around the world are easing lockdown and more people will be returning to work in offices and manufacturing facilities in the coming weeks. Since regular testing is seen as a vital tool to contain new outbreaks by isolating infected individuals early, employers in the UK are rightly considering using a form of testing as part of their return to work planning.

Some companies that have maintained operations through the pandemic such as mining giant Rio Tinto have been testing their workers (opens a new window) before flying them into remote iron ore mines in Australia. Retail giant Amazon has even started building its own COVID-19 testing laboratory.  There are a growing number of vendors offering to help with resources, tests and equipment. Lockton has been engaging with the clinical leads at insurers and health suppliers to discuss their views and advice. Whilst the situation is fluid and fast moving we have summarised some core information to help you make decisions based on today’s position.

There are two main tests: the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) swab which is designed to tell if someone has the virus at the moment in time that the test is taken, and the antibody ‘pin-prick’ test to identify if someone has had the virus (knowingly or not) and their body has responded to the infection – this may mean a level of immunity but much more science will be needed to clarify the extent.

None of the tests currently available are 100% accurate. There are false negatives and positives. The PCR test is only effective during the virus’ most infectious stage meaning repeat testing would be required for absolute certainty. For either test to be perfect, every positive result would mean you definitely had coronavirus and every negative result would mean you definitely didn’t. Sadly, this isn’t the case with many of today’s diagnostic tests and COVID-19 is no exception.

At the time of writing there were no commercially available bulk testing kits for use by UK employers and private individual testing is under great scrutiny (opens a new window).

Although COVID-19 tests may be available for purchase online from many sources, it is advisable to include advice and support from a clinician when applying them. The clinician should oversee the tests, the results and the follow-up process to ensure that the service is safe, effective, responsive and well-led. Home testing only adds to the risk of inaccurate readings.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, the medical fraternity has come across more and more symptoms which could be linked to the disease. It is well known that many may well have had the virus but developed only moderate symptoms or none at all.

Returning to work in corporate premises will be a steep learning curve for us all and testing is likely to be just one of a number of tools which will be required including temperature checks, physical distancing, face masks, additional sanitising and hand washing facilities as well as shift work.

As has always been the case, supporting our employee’s health and wellbeing will not be a ‘one size fits all’ and care will need to be taken to deploy the right tactics, at the right time and not be led simply by what vendors are recommending and looking to sell.

For further information, please contact: 

Chris Rofe, Senior Vice President, Employee Benefits Lockton

Tel: +44 (0)20 7933 2876 | Email: (opens a new window)