Corporate COVID Testing: The New Normal for Peace of Mind, Employee Wellness and Safety

The Challenge for Employers

As the world moves into year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly apparent that COVID-19 will be a part of everyday life for the foreseeable future. Many epidemiologists use the words “endemic” and “hyperendemic” to define our new normal. Vaccination and treatment have been tremendous in preventing severe illness and death, but highly transmissible variants like Omicron continue to emerge and spread through both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The continued presence of COVID-19 presents a dilemma for companies, both large and small. They cannot operate their businesses in a protracted pause forever, but they must also retain, care for, and protect their employees, particularly in such a tight labor market. Employee wellness, safety, and loyalty are mission critical.

The risks and impacts of COVID-19 on employers have been demonstrated vividly. Thousands of flights were canceled over the 2021 holidays as crews with COVID-19 diagnoses or exposures multiplied quickly.[1] As the Omicron variant swept through New York City, banks closed dozens of branch locations and subway service was suspended as more than 20% of subway workers were out sick. [2] And in the first week of January 2022 alone, hundreds of first responders in Los Angeles were out sick due to Covid-19 and a hotel staffing company was flying housekeepers to Florida and Texas to work shifts for staff out sick.[3]

Beyond challenges operating businesses and meeting customer needs, COVID-19 spread is driving up the health care costs for employers. Private health insurance costs are $25,000- $50,000 for each COVID-19 hospitalization, compared to outpatient treatment costs of $500-$1,000 per patient. Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations cost nearly $14 billion between June and November 2021, prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant. [4] Testing and moving those who test positive quickly into treatment can reduce human and monetary impacts.

The Testing Solution

Fortunately, there are examples of how to contain COVID and continue everyday life. Professional sports organizations have been able to quickly detect and prevent COVID transmission on teams by implementing regular testing protocols. For example, NBA league protocols for 2021 were for the vaccinated to be tested weekly and the unvaccinated daily, but as case counts rose testing was adjusted to daily for all players.[5]

Vault’s turnkey COVID Solution helps fight workplace disease spread and gives employers peace of mind. Our end-to-end platform can track the vaccination status of each employee (if desired) and can ship COVID-19 tests to employees at regular intervals. Vault also provides onsite and/or telehealth proctoring of both rapid antigen and PCR tests. Test results flow automatically to the employer’s comprehensive dashboard for real-time results while employees are informed of their individual results through Vault’s secure, HIPAA-compliant patient portal and via email. Our all-in-one system provides clear, actionable information to company leadership about viral prevalence and testing amidst staff.

This White Paper explores three major implications of endemic COVID for employers and how testing (both routine testing and just-in-time easily available testing) can play an important role in the new normal.

Endemic COVID-19 Implication 1: In an unpredictable environment of new variants and fluctuations in case rates, constant vigilance brings peace of mind.

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Vaccines or antibodies from previous infection do not completely protect against new variants, and breakthrough cases in the vaccinated are one way variants like Delta and Omicron are spreading. Routine testing is the best option for limiting disease spread as employers look to resume in-person meetings, return to corporate travel, and continue mission-critical work.

To keep your business running smoothly and your health insurance costs down, testing can prevent outbreaks before they spread. A November 2021 Mercer survey of over 500 employers found that nearly all – 84% – planned to offer testing to protect employees who are returning to the workplace, most on a weekly basis.[6]

Vault’s COVID Solution offers numerous benefits to companies:

  • Convenient: Our simple, turnkey product takes the burden off employers, with a platform to monitor current and future vaccination status, implement weekly testing, and track and act on test results.
  • Scalable: Vault’s COVID solution can scale up or down quickly when needed and has multiple weekly testing options to meet your specific needs.
  • Flexible: Vault offers several types of tests, including lab-based PCR tests and rapid antigen tests to meet every business need. Tests can be mailed to the home or conducted at work sites and conferences.

Pros and cons for Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and rapid antigen tests

  • PCR Tests
    • Gold standard of testing with the most accurate results, especially for asymptomatic individuals
    • Detect a lower viral load than rapid tests, such as for asymptomatic cases. Rapid tests require 10-100x higher viral load for detection
    • Samples can be sequenced to identify existing and new variants, aiding public health efforts
    • Slower turn-around time than rapid tests (6 to 48 hours from lab arrival)
  • Rapid Antigen Tests
    • Provide results quickly (as soon as 15 minutes)
    • Helpful for large groups and symptomatic individuals, when results are needed quickly to isolate positive cases
    • Increasingly accurate, particularly for symptomatic individuals, though not as accurate as PCR tests
    • Need a higher viral load to detect the virus, so are less likely to catch asymptomatic cases
    • Offer a shorter shelf-life than PCR test kits

Endemic COVID-19 Implication 2: Employee safety will be a key consideration for the foreseeable future.

Workplace safety has always been top of mind for physically demanding industries like manufacturing, energy, and meat processing, but now workplace safety is critical for ALL industries. Preventing and containing COVID-19 infection secures the workplace and keeps your employees healthy during peak business seasons (e.g., tax season, harvest season, peak tourism times). Every workplace will continue to see infections among employees. Regular testing can keep vaccinated and unvaccinated employees as safe as possible by ensuring infected workers do not spread COVID-19 to their colleagues and your customers. Similarly, having easily available testing for just-in-time needs such as employees who become symptomatic during the work day demonstrates employer commitment to wellness and testing access.

If you’re hosting a large event or conference, Vault’s end-to-end solution tracks vaccination status and offers onsite testing and/or testing ahead of arrival for your guests. Test results flow automatically to a comprehensive dashboard for real-time monitoring while individuals are informed of their results through Vault’s secure, HIPAA-compliant patient portal, as well as via email for those who opt in. Rapid tests can also be pre-placed in guest rooms or in gift bags. Frequent antigen testing can be a quick and affordable means of corporate reputation management, ensuring your event does not become branded as a super-spreader event.

Regular testing can help business travelers get back to in-person meetings with clients and colleagues. Vault COVID tests mailed directly to the home enable travelers to test before and after their trips, and have peace of mind that they and their families know whether they have COVID-19. Similarly, Vault can provide antigen kits ideal for the regular traveler.

Endemic COVID-19 Implication 3: Employee health, wellness, and loyalty are front and center.

Economists expect historic labor market challenges in 2021 to continue in 2022, as there are many more jobs than there are people to fill them. Simply put, there is a mismatch between supply and demand in the workforce. In 2021, the US added a record 6.4 million jobs but by December there were more than 11 million open jobs.[7]

Almost 4 million people quit their jobs each month in 2021, increasing to 4.5 million – 3% of the workforce – in November 2021. [8] The percent of Americans looking for work has plunged since COVID appeared and is currently at the lowest levels seen since the 1970s, when many women were not in the labor force.[9]

COVID can spread in the workplace and in the community by those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t. The stress of COVID symptoms and finding a test impacts employee wellness and productivity, and the impact is even bigger if the COVID test is positive. That stress is lessened for the employee who can walk over to a common area in the office and grab a rapid test as soon as they learn of an exposure or begin to experience symptoms. As a means of communicating how much the employer values employee health, many employers now offer the at-home worker PCR or antigen testing for employee or family member use as needed. Testing availability can minimize absenteeism for those who test negative, prevent spread in the office when there is a case, and send a message to employees that their health matters.

With new treatments available in pill form, testing and receiving treatment quickly can prevent severe disease, along with lost productivity and costly hospitalizations. Employers know all too well how a few serious illnesses can significantly alter the company’s health insurance trend rate and total compensation cost structure.

Vault’s easy-to-use dashboard displays vaccination and testing data in one place for seamless tracking, including positive and negative test results as they become available. This can be used to proactively reach out to positive employees and link them to treatment quickly, as new oral medications reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by almost 90% if taken within 3-5 days of symptom onset.[10] Your employees are – and feel – cared for, and your health insurance costs are better managed by avoiding costly hospitalizations. Additionally, exposed employees can be quickly isolated, repeatedly tested and promptly treated with an aggressive employer testing system.

The sooner a company knows that an employee is positive, the sooner it can show them and their family that they are valued and supported. During the Spring 2021 Delta wave in India, Cisco set up a dedicated 24/7 COVID helpline managed by a group of Cisco volunteers who assisted employees and their family members in getting hospital beds, oxygen support, plasma, medicines, and ambulances, in addition to financial donations.[11]That same year, Cisco ranked first in Fortune Magazine’s Top 100 Firms to Work For, rising from fourth in 2020, based on employee surveys. As Fortune put it,”the takeaway seems clear: Businesses that treat employees well during the toughest of times will attract talent, even when the war for talent heats up.”[12]

Conclusion

As the U.S. experiences continued growth in its winter surge of COVID-19 cases and the rapid spread of the Delta and Omicron variants, there are no easy answers for companies in 2022. In an era of endemic, long-term COVID, a combination of vaccinations, mask usage, and routine testing enables everyday life to continue while managing risk.

Vault’s turnkey COVID Solution helps keep workplaces safe and gives employers peace of mind. Whether a company needs a platform to manage onsite testing and vaccination status for conferences, routine testing to maintain maximum productivity in the workplace, or provide at-home and rapid tests for travelers, onsite and remote workers, Vault has a solution to keep workers safe and businesses running.

To learn more about our COVID testing solutions, visit this page or email us at [email protected]

References

  1. Sider, A. (2022, January 8). After Two Weeks of Flight Cancellations, Airlines Assess What Went Wrong. WSJ. https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-two-weeks-of-flight-cancellations-airlines-assess-what-went-wrong-11641551402
  2. Gold, M., & Wong, A. (2022, January 7). As Omicron Infects Workers, Subway Service Suffers. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/06/nyregion/nyc-subway-covid-omicron.html
  3. Simon, R. (2022, January 7). Omicron and the Week America Is Calling In Sick. WSJ. https://www.wsj.com/articles/omicron-and-the-week-america-is-calling-in-sick-11641571925
  4. Unvaccinated COVID-19 hospitalizations cost billions of dollars. (2022, February 8). Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker. https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/brief/unvaccinated-covid-patients-cost-the-u-s-health-system-billions-of-dollars/
  5. Golliver, B. (2021, December 15). Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden enter protocols as NBA’s coronavirus problems worsen. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/12/14/giannis-antetokounmpo-james-harden-coronavirus/
  6. Over half of U.S. employers will require employee vaccines, Willis Towers Watson survey finds. (2021, November 31). Willis Towers Watson. https://www.wtwco.com/en-US/News/2021/11/over-half-of-us-employers-will-require-employee-vaccines-willis-towers-watson-survey-finds
  7. Maurer, R. (2022, January 7). Hiring Stalled in December. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/bls-hr-jobs-unemployment-jan-2022-covid19-coronavirus.aspx
  8. Leonhardt, M. (2022, January 4). The Great Resignation rages on as a record 4.5 million Americans quit. Fortune. https://fortune.com/2022/01/04/great-resignation-record-quit-rate-4-5-million/
  9. van Dam, A. (2022, January 13). 2021 shattered job market records, but it’s not as good as it looks. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/01/08/2021-shattered-records-but/
  10. Zimmer, C., & Robbins, R. (2021, December 15). Pfizer’s Covid Pill Works Well, Company Confirms in Final Analysis. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/14/health/pfizer-covid-19-pill-paxlovid.html
  11. P. (2021, May 11). Cisco India earmarks Rs 63.5 crore to provide financial support to staff amid Covid-19 crisis. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-bytes/cisco-india-earmarks-rs-63-5-crore-to-provide-financial-support-to-staff-amid-covid-19-crisis/articleshow/82550258.cms
  12. Fortune Editors. (2021, May 5). 100 Best Companies to Work For. Fortune. https://fortune.com/best-companies/2021/

DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be relied upon for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, dial 911 immediately.