The world has endured a lot in its battle against COVID-19.
We lost loved ones. We stayed home. We wiped down our groceries. We spent our days in Zoom meetings. We heard about testing, tracing and treatment, or variations thereof, and, as the wait for a vaccine draws on, we’ve started to realize that we’re going to have to live with COVID-19 for a while.
So, what have we learned? Has our dealing with COVID-19 taught us anything to help us through the rest of 2020?
Disease surveillance vacuum
In the world of biotech, we learned that laboratory testing capacity really isn’t the challenge. Disease surveillance is the challenge. Getting testing to the people and communities who need it, when they need it, in a place they can access it, is the challenge.
In the absence of a national COVID-19 testing strategy in the United States, much of the onus for building and operating a delivery model to administer and process tests has fallen on employers seeking to safely bring essential workers back. Though critical, testing alone without an underlying transmission mitigation protocol or framework is not effective, especially as employers and employees confront the realities of returning to work in a confined office or workplace.
COVID-19 has removed the majority of the workforce from the office. As companies and employees look to return, there are best practices that can be applied to help businesses reopen with confidence.
Workforce re-entry framework
When developing your workplace re-entry timeline, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Each business’ strategy should be considerate of the risk of various employee roles within the organization. How probable is transmission within each office environment? What’s the underlying health status and disease risk of various personnel?
- Return-to-work clinical and testing protocol
Basic clinical protocol for safe re-opening should combine symptom and exposure assessment, testing, contact tracing and notification, and quarantine and treatment of positive cases.
This protocol should be applied in varying degrees of intensity depending on the company. A high-intensity example would be a nurse going to a nursing home, where that person is going to be tested every 3-7 days. A low-intensity example would be a technology-based business executive returning to the office where they can easily physically distance, and thus test only based upon exposure or symptoms. Many businesses will fall somewhere in the middle.
When working with employers to determine protocol intensity, BioIQ, a health technology and care navigation company, for instance, uses standard population health management tools, including:
- Population segmentation by job type, function or department
- Risk stratification within each segment
- Targeted protocols applied to employees within each segment
It will be vital to understand the disease and outcome risks associated with different departments and individuals. Airline company segmentation, for example, may treat baggage handlers differently from home office or call center staff. University segmentation may similarly warrant different protocol for student athletes versus health staff or professors.
- Testing goals
What type of testing should you apply during the testing component of the protocol? There are two types of tests employers should consider:
- Diagnostic Testing
Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) is the current standard for the testing protocol emphasized in most workplace surveillance solutions. These tests let you know if you have the virus and are typically tested from a nasal or throat swab or a saliva sample. Emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created a new pathway to quickly get these tests to market, including an expanding pool of in-home test kits.
- IgM / IgG Antibody or Serology Testing
These tests let you know if you’ve had the virus or previously been exposed to it, and your body has registered an immune response. Tests typically require a blood sample. Although antibody testing is valuable to help us understand prevalence of the disease and what percentage of the population may have had it, a lot about immunity is still being researched. Major use for these tests will likely be to understand vaccine effectiveness as early candidates are available in the coming quarters.
Let’s learn to surf the first wave of COVID-19, strategically managing re-openings and returns to the office, so we can avoid creation of successive waves that could drown us and our economy. ”
— Justin Bellante, Co-founder, President & COO BioIQ share
- Managing the process
To maximize employee safety, testing needs to be supported by technology-driven methods of identifying and mitigating risk. A supporting platform is needed to effectively deliver and manage testing at scale. It also provides a centralized access point for employers and convenience for workers.
Conduct daily, online assessments for employee symptom and exposure screening where individuals can also tap into resources to guide them through next steps in the testing process, be it through home test kits, a worksite event or a local retail clinic. These resources help employees navigate and adhere to a protocol. They help employers track the protocol, determine who is able to safely return to the workplace, and track disease prevalence and recovery within the employee population.
We’ve learned that analytics are critical to understanding where COVID-19 is and what we can do about it. Better and quicker data is vital to a better response. Where are outbreaks happening? Can we predict where the next outbreak will happen? What can we do to minimize spread? How do we move critical resources such as communication, education, testing and treatment to hot spots?
A safe path forward
If we want to make progress against COVID-19, we must apply what we’ve learned so far. As we look back at the spring and summer, who’s done it right?
Effective responses have used technology to expand, refine and augment their testing system, which in turn is used to identify those with the virus or who have been exposed so they can get treatment and prevent further transmission.
The next seasons will be more complex and more demanding as flu cases introduce additional challenges. Let’s learn to surf the first wave, strategically managing re-openings and returns to the office, so we can avoid creation of successive waves that could drown us and our economy.
For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.