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CDC Updates COVID-19 Employer Screening and Testing Guidance

July 25, 2020

By Michael Burns, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided employers additional information and guidance on conducting employee COVID-19 screening and testing.

The CDC identified five testing categories where conducting viral testing is appropriate. Viral testing is a test that checks samples from your respiratory system, such as a swab from the inside of your nose, to tell you if you currently have an infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The CDC site explains that viral testing is diagnostic when directed at persons with symptoms as well those that are asymptomatic but were identified as having recent exposure.

The five testing populations are:

  • Individuals with signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19;
  • Asymptomatic individuals with recent known or suspected exposure to control transmission;
  • Asymptomatic individuals without known or suspected exposure for early identification in special settings;
  • Individuals being tested to determine resolution of infection; and
  • Individuals being tested for purposes of public health surveillance.

Viral testing is differentiated from screening and surveillance where a check is done by asking questions or visually observing for symptoms. It is conducted among asymptomatic individuals without known or suspected exposure to COVID-19. The CDC says surveillance is conducted among asymptomatic individuals to try to detect transmission hot spots or to characterize disease trends.

The CDC recommends the following actions should an employee show signs or symptoms consistent with COVID -19:

  • Immediate separation. Workers with COVID-19 symptoms should be immediately separated from other employees, customers, and visitors, and sent home or to a healthcare facility, depending on how severe their symptoms are.
  • Screening should be private. To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, the CDC recommends that employee health screenings be made as private as possible. Consistent with CDC’s recommendations, workers with COVID-19 symptoms should be referred to a healthcare provider for evaluation and potential testing. Preferably, the test results should be received before the worker returns in order to keep potentially infected workers out of the workplace.
  • Flexible sick leave and supportive policies. The CDC encourage[s] employers to implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices as part of a comprehensive approach to prevent and reduce transmission among employees. The agency pointed to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and its requirements.
  • Positive tests. The agency reminded employers that positive test results using a viral test means that the employee has COVID-19 and should not come to work, but instead should isolate at home. Decisions to discontinue home isolation for workers with COVID-19 and allow them to return to work may follow either a symptom-based, time-based, or a test-based strategy. (CCH HR Answers Practice Tip 7/14/2020)

The new guidance information also addresses what employers should do in the event of a person that is known or suspected of recent exposure but is not showing symptoms.

Upon return to work after a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case, employers are advised they have the option to make a decision to allow the person back to the workplace if the time between illness on-set and time since recovery is sufficient or they may use test-based determination (a negative test after illness).

Employers may require a healthcare provider note verifying the employee is healthy and able to return to work. The problem the CDC and others note is medical facilities are extremely busy and obtaining documentation could be difficult.

The new CDC guidance also addresses differing testing approaches and public health surveillance actions with this new information.

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