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Businesses consider testing employees to get them back to work

Businesses consider testing employees to get them back to work
Posted at 11:56 AM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 14:58:58-04

Despite criticism, the state of Georgia went ahead with allowing some businesses to reopen on Friday – barber shops, salons, gyms, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to name a few. Monday, restaurants and theaters can open.

One model used by the White House suggests Georgia should have kept social distancing in place until June 22. Dr. Anthony fauci, a leading member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, says more testing is needed in order to safely reopen parts of the country.

"I am not overly confident right now at all that we have what it takes to do that,” said Dr. Fauci. “We are getting better and better at it as the weeks go by. But we are not in a situation where we say we're exactly where we want to be with regard to testing."

Georgia's governor said his team worked closely with the White House and says the state’s decisions are informed by data and public health recommendations. Meanwhile, about a fifth of the state’s workforce has filed for unemployment since the crisis started.

Regardless of what states allow, some big businesses are staying closed for now. Macy's, GAP, and TGI Friday's have all said they won't be part of early reopening plans. They point to health concerns. They're also not sure how many customers will actually come back at this time. Best Buy and Starbucks are sticking to curbside pickup for now. Dick’s Sporting Goods has reopened some stores.

Testing workers to make sure they're healthy is a step companies are looking into.

Some employers put in an honor system, asking employees about their symptoms. Some are checking their temperatures. Other employers are considering testing to determine who is actively infected.

“So, imagine a large manufacturer,” said Dr. Neal Mills. “Maybe there's 20,000 employees showing up. That might be nearly impossible to do but if you begin with a randomized approach. Use the other screening methods and then you did serial testing to establish that the negatives were truly negative, that might be an approach.”

Dr. Mills is the Chief Medical Officer at Aon PLC, a professional services firm that advises companies on workplace benefits. He says he's seen voluntary testing to see if a worker is infected, but he says more than one screening is needed because of false positives and negatives.

Testing will be easier to implement for offices in the suburbs or with their own campus, compared to companies that are part of larger buildings. Companies are working through health care privacy rules.

“If someone in my workplace contracts virus what risk do I have?” asked Jim Winkler, Chief Innovation Officer at Aon PLC. “If a customer contracts the virus in my workplace what liability exposure do I have and how do I balance that business risk with the adverse impact of not being open.”

Winkler says most of their clients are setting their own schedules to reopen, not just because the government is saying their can. Many are bringing employees back in phases.

Some businesses are considering more flexibility surrounding time-off with school still closed.