With our nation’s largest construction and critical infrastructure projects returning to work, teamwork, data, and COVID-19 employee testing are keys to ensuring workplace safety. Accurate and sensitive viral testing helps large worksites to remediate and clean high-risk locations.
A $6 billion construction project in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, is almost back to full capacity. This 8,000 employee worksite was shut down in early spring, and getting the project running again was no small feat. But an on-site employee virus testing lab and rapid results allowed the site to continue adding workers through the summer. The mobile testing laboratory allowed for testing all employees, with results in just four hours, instead of several days or a week through traditional clinical laboratories. This capability gives the company a holistic view of employee population infection metrics by integrating sample analysis, tracking, and reporting. Rapid test results also assist with contact tracing, as the company can let close contacts know about positive virus testing results quickly.
Employee access to the worksite requires a negative COVID-19 test. After all employees have tested negative, testing is reserved for symptomatic employees, new hires, and those who show higher-than-normal temperatures at daily screenings. The company also offers a COVID-19 hotline if employees feel symptomatic outside of work, connecting associates with a clinical provider.
While not all worksites have the resources to develop on-site virus testing, a combination of the antigen and antibody tests that are now available have rapid turnaround times and should be included in smaller companies’ back-to-work strategies. Also, smaller facilities can focus on plant safety documentation or do smaller-scale on-site virus testing, with samples shipped offsite to a dedicated lab that offers 24-hour testing. While not as fast, dedicated testing can help facilities avoid the slow traditional health care supply chain and keep employees from having to leave work to test.
Operations such as refineries, food processing, manufacturing, and large-scale construction and government worksites are already learning to distance and revise processes to mitigate viral risk, but it still feels like the nation is in a limbo mode as we wait for a vaccine. “Wait for a vaccine” may be a long-term hope, not a short-term business strategy. Even as several drugs are in phase-3 testing trials, but trials may not prove efficacious, and it will take many months to manufacture and deliver enough doses for our population.
We could be living with this virus for much longer. Employee COVID-19 testing with quick turnaround times should be a part of back-to-work planning for major U.S. facilities to keep our nation producing, building, and thriving.