August 2, 2020 1:01:32 AM
By now, employers know what to do when a worker reports symptoms of COVID-19. Those guidelines haven 't changed: The employee is sent for testing and required to self-quarantine.
It's how -- and when -- to bring those employees back to work that has been an evolving discussion.
"A lot of employers have been requiring that the employee be retested," said Amy Bogue, executive director of Allegro Clinic in Columbus. "That's particularly true for the large companies that have multiple operations in several states."
Bogue said that about 20 percent of those tested at Allegro Clinic are company-required retests.
Based on a briefing earlier this week from Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state's health director, Bogue said retests may do more harm than good.
"One of the newest things he shared from the CDC is that if you have tested positive, it can stay in your system for up to 90 days," Bogue said. "Given that, there's no real reason to get retested. What it does is prevent people from going back to work longer than is necessary. People need to get back to work, and I know companies want that too."
With private labs struggling to process tests in a timely fashion -- it can take up to two weeks to get the results -- Bogue hopes employers will reconsider policies that require retesting.
"I don't think it's a question of safety," Bogue said. "Everyone wants their employees and customers to be safe. But as we get more information, we're having a better understanding of what that means."
Bogue said the CDC has changed other back-to-work recommendations, as well.
"Now, the recommendation is that before an employee can safely return to work, it must be 10 days since the symptoms first appeared, with 24 hours of no fever or symptoms without taking medication. The recommendation has gone down from 14 days."
Robert Maner, general manager at Columbus Brick Company, said the company's corporate policy requires a retest before an employee diagnosed with COVID-19 can return to work.
"We have had our experiences with this," Maner said. "At this point, we continue to require a negative test result before allowing those employees to come back to work. We've had one, maybe two, employees who did test positive (on the retests) and did have to sit out longer."
Maner said he has discussed the latest recommendations with Bogue and had forwarded that information to the company's headquarters in Johnson City, Tennessee.
"I have communicated that we may need to rethink this a little bit as the thoughts of the medical community change," Maner said. "As responsible employers, we want to stay abreast of the latest developments. Whether it's the CDC or state guidelines, we want to align our policies with their thoughts. At this point, I don't know if we have a comfort level on this new information about retests yet, but it's accurate to say it's something we will consider."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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